Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

How The Old Republic Could Spoil Me For Other Games …

September 13, 2017

So, I’ve been playing “The Old Republic” again. In fact, I just finished off my mostly Dark Sided Pureblood Sith Inquisitor. Calculating from when I got the in-game mails giving me all of the stuff that I get for being a subscriber, it took me about a month and a half of slightly more than once a week on average playing to get through the class story and all of the planet stories. I did enjoy it, although Drellik really, really irritated me.

At any rate, as I was playing and figuring out what other characters I wanted to try — next I’m planning on playing as Sabrina from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and then taking on a Dark Side Sith Marauder to get the Jaessa romance — I noted that Bioware is right when they say that there are essentially eight RPGs in this one game. Each class story visits similar planets, and all of the planet arcs are the same for each character (depending on whether you side with the Empire or the Republic, of course), but the actual class story differs markedly. This means that I could, in general, cycle through playing one class story after another and be okay with the similarities in planet arcs, since it takes me a while to go through a character. For the planet arcs, using this rate as about the best I could possibly do it would take me about 3 months to repeat one, assuming that I alternate Empire and Republic, which is more than enough time for me to mostly forget the details and so to not have it feel overly repetitive.

Thus, in theory, I could continually cycle through all of the classes, creating a new character, playing through it, and then starting another one. Arguably, this could continue indefinitely. Since I can only play one game at a time right now, this would mean that I’d be playing only “The Old Republic” for at least a year at a time, if not longer.

I don’t think this will happen. That being said, I have just finished one character, have explicit plans to do two more this year, and want to do Smuggler and Agent again at some point, as well as potentially Bounty Hunter. Given that, it’s not as far-fetched as it originally seemed.

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Reactions …

September 8, 2017

So, I was watching Chuck Sonnenburg’s review of Technobabylon and had an interesting reaction to it. At one point, the two detective characters are investigating the murder of a married couple, and a flashback shows that the couple is a same-sex couple. And I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “Of course”, in precisely the same way that I react to clearly pandering attempts to appeal to vocal minority/special interest groups. Except … that wasn’t an obvious case of that. Sure, it’s clearly an attempt to portray that sort of relationship, but since those things happen having it just be in the story shouldn’t have been enough to trigger that sort of reaction. Now, later, Chuck talks about how one of the characters is trans, Asian, lesbian and probably one or two other things as well, which does justify that sort of reaction, but why was I reacting to that there? I’d never played the game and there wasn’t anything that really stood out before that, and my reaction to the revelation that the lesbian character was a lesbian only garnered a “Huh” reaction, so why did that jump out at me? I won’t give myself credit for having seen the obvious pattern and so came to the right conclusion from the subtle signs, so why did I react that way when, objectively, I had no reason to?

I think the reaction comes from the current context around discussions of these sorts of issues. Currently, any game that isn’t seen as being “diverse” enough is criticized, and any game or media that is seen as “inclusive” is praised for being that rarest of the rare and doing something great and modern and sticking it to the Gamergaters and all of that crap. Sure, many of the sites I read — who for the most part aren’t gaming focused, interestingly enough — take on that mindset so I see it more often than a Not-So-Casual Gamer should, but it’s still prevalent in the media and in the discourse. And thus when I see something like that appearing in a game or other work my first reaction is to think that it’s there only to appeal to that market, stifle those criticisms, or because the designers or studios are led by SJW-types who think it is important to make sure that’s in there. And that might be unfair, but more often than not, given the state we’re in, it’s also often right.

And I think this sort of backlash explains some of the public reactions to recent movies and games and the like. From what I can tell, “Wonder Woman” didn’t get the same sort of backlash that the revamped “Ghostbusters” did, and when it did it was more from the women who were going on about how “empowered” it made them feel and somehow knowing what men had been feeling all this time — when most men generally didn’t feel anything like that from the male-led movies — than criticism over it being a female-led movie. And the strongest reactions I’ve seen to “Ghost in the Shell” are from the Social Justice side criticizing it for “white-washing” a character that might well have been white originally, not from people complaining that it had a female lead. Besides Sony and the producers/directors doubling-down on the sexism claims, I think one of the main reasons for the difference in reaction is that neither of those could be seen as pandering. If DC was going to start up a DCCU and do a Justice League movie, Wonder Woman had to be there and had to get a movie of her own. And Ghost in the Shell had always had a female lead, so the adaptation doing that only made sense. But when Ghostbusters did it, there was no reason to think that it wasn’t just pandering, and given the context it seemed pretty likely that that was the reason for it … which may or may not have been the case originally. So the same thing applies to my reaction: I had no reason to think that it wasn’t pandering, so it immediately struck me as pandering given the context that pandering is seen as a good thing by so many people.

So, it seems to me that saturating the landscape with these comments and criticisms and demands is a bad thing, and so the people who actually want more diversity in games would do themselves a huge favour by being more selective when they talk about this. The problem is that if they don’t talk about these things, no one will hear about them and so no one will do anything about them. So they’d have to walk a fine line between mentioning it enough and loudly enough that people will pay attention to them and being so loud and constant that they annoy people. However, I can say that this quote from a review by Carolyn Petit of Tacoma at “Feminist Frequency” is absolutely not the way to go about it:

Tacoma feels bold not just in its speculation about technological advancements, but also in its assumption of a present in which stories with a cast of six people and nary a straight white man in sight can elevate everyone’s humanity. So often when I express the need for broader, better representations in games, I’m met with a response that’s some sarcastic variation on “Sure, why don’t we make a game about a queer black Muslim bisexual trans woman?” As if such a character is inherently less human, less deserving of being the center of a story than a straight white cis man.

Tacoma features a black woman, a Muslim woman, and a queer Asian man, among others, and the humanity of every character is incidental, fully assumed and fully granted by each of the others; the game is full of conflict but none of that conflict is rooted in the specifics of anyone’s gender, race, or sexuality. The game envisions a future in which discussions like the one I’m having right now no longer need to happen, because everyone’s humanity is fully recognized. I look forward to the day when we no longer need to praise a game, film, or TV show simply for who it dares to be about, but although Tacoma imagines such a day, and although we need visions of what that day might look like, we’re not there yet.

A review that is praising diversity in a game for deliberately excluding white men is not, in fact, going to help. First, it’s going to draw attention to that fact, which will lead people to think that it’s pandering. Second, it’s highlighting there not being any white males as a benefit, which strikes against diversity. And third, the over-the-top praise for doing gives an incentive for game companies to do it and thus pander to these interests, giving an inherent reason to think that the company really is just pandering. All in all, all this will do is get people to notice these things and roll their eyes at the shameless pandering.

And the sad thing is that I expect that if I had simply picked up and played Tacoma — which I haven’t — without reading the view I wouldn’t have noticed that there wasn’t a white male character, and if I had it wouldn’t have bothered me, and that that would hold true for a large number of gamers. After all, it didn’t bother me in Fatal Frame, or with the female characters I played in Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Old Republic and, well, most games I play, and I don’t recall there being this reaction to those games or to Silent Hill 3, which had Heather as the main character. Outside of this context, if the game and/or characters are good few people will care if they are a white male or whatever. It’s when the context is poisoned by either the game or the media making a big deal out of it that it starts to look like pandering and the seams start to appear.

Even if they aren’t there.

Moralty Meters …

August 23, 2017

So I’m playing The Old Republic again, and am playing a Dark Side Sith Inquisitor … and running into fun with morality meters. Since I want my character to be fairly Dark-Sided, I’m choosing the Dark Side options as often as I can. TOR is very helpful in that it tells you which option is Dark Side and which is Light Side before you select it but some of the choices they make for that can be … jarring. Which leads me to consider issues with morality meters.

Shamus Young puts his finger on it while discussing the “Paragade” meter in Mass Effect:

One of my favorite illustrations of this problem is here on Virmire. The Salarians are going to attack Saren’s base head-on to create a diversion, while you sneak in the back. It’s basically a suicide mission for them. During your ingress, you run into several opportunities to make life easier or harder for the Salarians out front. You can destroy the Geth communications array. You can ground their air units. You can set off various alarms to make the enemy move into a different position. Each of these actions will allow you to fight more foes so your allies can fight less.

The paragon / renegade points are awarded under the assumption that taking more heat on yourself is altruistic and paragon-ish, and easing your way by dumping more foes on your allies is the renegade thing to do.

I saved Ashley because I love space-racism, but the game didn`t give me any renegade points for it.

Let’s ignore that fact that some of these actions (like blowing up the communications array) can easily happen by accident in a firefight, without you even realizing you’d done something other than shoot some robots. What’s funny about this situation is when I tried playing through this section as a renegade. I wanted to fight as many Geth as possible, because they’re filled with lovely delicious XP that will level me up and let me kick more ass. The game assumed that I was killing these Geth because I wanted to help my allies, but in reality I was motivated by simple videogame bloodlust. Helping your allies is undeniably the optimal thing to do, so you kind of have to screw yourself here if you’re fishing for renegade points.

While I think he’s wrong in arguing that his OOC gameplay reasoning where he was destroying things only because he wanted more of that sweet, sweet XP is something that should be taken into account, he makes a good point that morality meters go wrong because, in general, they have a hard time determining what the intent of the character is in making that choice if there’s any ambiguity in intent there at all. In TOR, in one sidequest you can tell the truth about who the Revanites are, or lie and tell the investigator that it is his Sith Master who is the leader of the Revanites. The game assumes that lying is Light Side because it is helping to keep the Revanites hidden and working against the Empire, and telling the truth is Light Side. However, my ambitious Sith saw advantages in lying about it, by shaking up the power structure above her leaving room for her to gain power and influence at their expense. This would seem to be pretty Dark-Sided, but I got Light Side points for it anyway, because the game had no idea of knowing why my character did what she did.

Another case is with the bones of Turak Hord and your companion Khem Val. The bones can be used to control Khem in some way, but he reveres them. You can choose to destroy them or not. If you destroy them, you get Dark Side points (I think) and preserving them gives you Light Side points. But a Light-Sider could destroy them as a means to help Khem Val move on from his dead former master, while a Dark-Sider might preserve them in the hopes of having another hold on Khem to enslave him even further. Because the game can’t determine your intent, it gives you Dark and Light Side points on the basis of relatively shallow determinations.

None of this would matter that much if the morality meter doesn’t matter that much to anything in the game. But if the morality meter doesn’t have an impact, then why is it there? In a Star Wars game, of course, it’s there because the setting builds it in, but in something like Mass Effect if it’s there it had better do something good. And it generally does, but then you have the frustrations of it not aligning with your character’s morality because it doesn’t take your character’s intent into account.

Chuck Sonnenburg at SF Debris commented in his playthrough of Dragon Age that he really liked that there wasn’t a morality meter, but that the actions you take have consequences in the world. Unlike the other games, Dragon Age doesn’t judge you on your actions, but instead tries to give you reasonable consequences for your actions, in terms of the reactions of your companions and of the people in the world. Yes, those actions often have consequences that might be considered negative, but as long as those consequences are ones that reasonably follow from what actions you take that’s fine. And I agree with him on that. If, for example, you defile Andraste’s ashes, you can certainly imagine that Leliana and even Wynne are going to be upset with you and even react violently. And if you think that you have reasons that make that worth attempting, then the game even manages to preserve character intent by letting the character decide if they made a hasty decision that had consequences they didn’t foresee, that they took negative consequences because they really thought it was the best choice, or even that they don’t think those consequences were bad at all, and were in fact all part of the plan.

It’s really, really hard to accurately capture character intent in a video game, but for a morality meter to really work you need to do that or else the meter ends up judging morality in ways that make no sense to the character and player. So it might just be better to stop trying and instead just give reasonable consequences. Of course, that itself has some issues …

Why Doesn’t Sabrina Count as a Role Model for Girls?

August 16, 2017

As you might be aware, I’m currently watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And it’s interesting to note that it was a remarkably successful series. It ran for seven seasons and spawned a relatively successful cartoon spin-off. It also managed to outperform a number of male-led contemporaries. And it ended in 2003, so it hasn’t been that long since it was on.

And yet, when people are talking about the need for female role models, they neither mention the series as being an example of a series that worked, nor suggest reviving it to be that series that girls purportedly need. Instead, all the talk is about there not being any such examples and for the need to convert all of the male-led series to female-led ones to promote “diversity” and “inclusion”. Why is that?

In a comment on my post about a female Doctor Who, Nate suggests that what they want is a cultural institution, or at least to have something with that sort of name recognition. However, given its long prominence in Archie Comics, Sabrina has that name recognition, and there are a number of other characters and series that also have that that they could promote, and yet they still don’t. Sure, Sabrina isn’t as well-known as The Doctor, but nothing is, and that hasn’t stopped them trying to convert less well-known properties (like Thor). So I think that there is a simpler interpretation here: they don’t push for these things because they aren’t aware that they exist.

A lot of the recent pushes seem to have something in common: a link to popular culture. When Doctor Who was just a show for science fiction nerds and nerd culture was something to be mocked and avoided, there wasn’t a huge push to make it diverse, or criticisms of its diversity. Sure, they existed, but in general they were small comments inside the science fiction community. But once nerd culture started to become “popular”, then the criticisms started. But those criticisms, then, came from people who were mostly inside pop culture but weren’t at all inside nerd or science fiction culture. Thus, the people complaining about it were people who in general didn’t care for science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, video games, and so on, but were instead people jumping onto the new big thing and criticizing it for not being exactly what they wanted it to be. But their criticisms were, therefore, always shallow criticisms, as they only had a shallow understanding of the field, and so didn’t know what things already existed that they might have liked better. They only got what had broad appeal and then criticized the entire genre for not having things that appealed to them specifically.

This explains why no one is talking about “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, even though most of them can cite “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, despite the fact that the two series ran at the same time (Sabrina ran from 1996 – 2003, while Buffy ran from 1997 – 2003). Sure, Sabrina is more obscure, but many of these people consider themselves to be insiders who are doing massive amounts of research and making strong, facts-based arguments, and so you’d think they’d come across it at some point. This also explains why Anita Sarkeesian’s research is so shallow and ignores things like Fatal Frame, Silent Hill III (which is the game that Silent Hill: Revelation is based on), Suikoden III, Final Fantasy X-2 and the female City Elf storyline in Dragon Age while being cited by her fans as, well, actually having in-depth knowledge of video games based on stringent research. What gets referenced in pop culture gets noted, and anything else is ignored because it doesn’t exist for them.

Thus nerd culture was criticized as soon as it entered the sphere of pop culture. Never mind that the people criticizing it had no idea what it actually was or entailed; instead, they took the things they had seen as the totality of the field and praised and criticized it accordingly. The same thing happened to anime when it was in vogue, and also spawned the criticisms of violence in video games and the criticisms of hard rock/heavy metal music. In all cases, a bunch of ill-informed people took on what they were now noticing because it was becoming more mainstream.

This explains why most of the attempts to create these new “inclusive” works tend to fail miserably. The people advocating for them are not, in general, people who actually like those things or people who know a lot about the genres, but are instead bandwagon-jumpers demanding that the bandwagon take them where they want to go instead of where most of the others want to go. If they manage to get there, they find that almost everyone else has gotten off already and so it’s not popular anymore … and that it was popular was the only thing that attracted them to it in the first place. Thus, people attempting to follow their directions end up losing their core audience — who were interested in the field in general — while ultimately losing the fickle “Pop Culture Warriors” who didn’t actually like those sorts of works in the first place. If these people liked those genres and simply wanted to add a few more “inclusivity” elements, that wouldn’t be a problem, but they don’t and so don’t know anything about it, and so end up trying to remake it into what they think they want … but which they don’t really want.

You could easily remake “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, either as a teen comedy, or a normal sitcom, or as horror. That no one even bothers to think of it suggests that they aren’t creative and don’t know what they’re talking about. Either way, these are not the sort of people you should let tell you how to write your stories.

Folding Ideas’ “Thermian Argument”

August 4, 2017

So, while reading the comments on a post about the new female Doctor, someone linked this video from “Folding Ideas” about the “Thermian Argument”, which is in its roughest form an argument against criticizing part of a work because it is consistent with the universe that it is in. As you might expect, the main examples are of typical Social Justice type situations. The specific example used in the beginning is that someone is watching an anime and finds the constant depictions of Orks raping and brutally murdering female characters disturbing, especially given the presumed frequency of those scenes and how long those scenes go on for. The reply is that the Orks were established as being like that, and so the work is just showing us what their established behaviour is, and I will go no more into what the typical response would be because the original video doesn’t really do that and it’ll be more important as a counter later.

So, let me go into the video’s actual argument. The argument is that things like consistency and purity aren’t relevant to fictional worlds because they are fictional, and thus don’t really exist. For all of the time he spends talking about it, what he never manages to do is, well, make this an actual argument that has any heft to it whatsoever. Yes, fictional worlds are not real worlds, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have rules and that it doesn’t establish any kind of “objective truth” that writers need to hew to. To take his example of how to kill a vampire, he at the start asks how to kill one, and then at the end insists that it is irrelevant because vampires are fictional and so there is no objective way to kill them. Which is in some sense true, as different works may use different means to kill them. However, what we are talking about is consistency in-universe, and in-universe there will be established means to kill vampires. If the writer wants to suddenly make one of those means not work on a particular vampire, they are going to need to explain why in this case it doesn’t even though it was established that it would, indeed, kill a vampire. If it doesn’t, then what we have is a hack writer who is essentially “breaking the rules” in order to tell the story they want to tell, but can’t either find a way to make that work given those constraints or isn’t willing to compromise their vision in order to be consistent with the universe they’re writing in.

But, the reply can go, does that even matter? Well, yes, it really, really does. In order to get engrossed into a work, we have to accept that the events in the universe are, in fact, really happening. Part of that is understanding how, in fact, the universe works, which means knowing what the rules are. Thus, the writer needs to set expectations for us so that we can, well, know what to expect and so don’t start questioning everything that happens. So if a writer wants to have magic, they need to establish that magic exists in the universe, and ideally wants to set up as much as possible — without boring the audience with technical explanations — what it can do so that the audience doesn’t spend their huge dramatic character moments wondering if magic can really do that. Once we understand the rules of magic, anything consistent with that will be just ignored, allowing for the writer to just presume that we accept it and then be able to use it to drive things like plot, drama, and characterization. This even — and perhaps especially — holds if there are no set rules. If that’s established, then we stop looking for rules and just accept that anything that needs to happen will happen, and that it won’t happen when it needs to not happen. Since this still tends to kill drama — because the audience will simply expect a solution to appear when it needs to and so won’t be wondering if the hero can get out of this jam — it has to be handled very carefully as well.

What this all means is that if a writer starts breaking the established rules of a universe, people will notice. This will break immersion and require the writer to have a good explanation for why the rule was broken before they can be re-immersed into the universe. What a writer really wants to avoid is for the audience to start evaluating their work from a third-person perspective and opposed to feeling like they are observing an actual world. And in order to do that, they need to establish expectations and avoid violating those expectations without proper reasons and set-up. To return to the Ork example, if the expectation is built up that they would act that way, showing them acting differently would break immersion. That being said, that reply wouldn’t work against an argument that stated that they don’t need to spend so much time showing that, since we aware of it and will write it in if it isn’t explicitly shown, and that time might be better spent establishing other things.

At any rate, the main issue here is that in his Ork example the initial and more reasonable response isn’t the one he cites here. It is instead a simple “The maybe this work isn’t for you and you shouldn’t watch it”. If a work wants to be brutal and so focus on brutality in many scenes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that some people are not going to want to watch that sort of thing. And that’s fine. But we see in the video that he describes the real criticism as being a criticism of the choices the writers made, and here we can see the real objection in his example: he thinks that showing this brutalization of women is really there for no other reason than to brutalize women, which is bad. But this, then, takes the counter-argument to a completely different place than he accepts and argues against. The counter-arguments, in general, for such things — if made properly — would be along the lines of arguing that either a) this is a brutal universe and brutalization is shown consistently (implying that his objection is only to the brutalization of women for out-of-context reasons and, likely, personal ideology) or b) that the scenes are necessary to establish and remind the audience of just how brutal the Orks actually are. Both of these can be debated, of course, but none of them can be debated by arguing “This is a fictional world so we don’t need to follow the rules of the universe!” All of them require looking at the work and what the writer was trying to do and show either that what the writer is trying to do is wrong, or that they are going about what they are trying to do the wrong way. So, yes, you can criticize the choices of the writer, but doing so isn’t as simple as the video makes it seem. You can indeed invalidly criticize the choices of the writer, and the video’s defense of doing so doesn’t work for any of those cases.

This is essentially Sarkeesian’s comment that the world is fictional and so the writer can do whatever they want, which is a really bad argument, because the writer can’t afford to violate expectations too often without ruining the work. If the writer is trying for historical accuracy, then criticizing them for not including minorities in roles they would never have had in that timeframe is criticizing their goal, which is almost always not valid. And this holds even if they add some fantastical elements to their work; just because some parts don’t conform doesn’t mean that the parts that do can be simply changed without consequence. While the video insists that talking about consistency shuts down discussion, the reply actually does that even more so, because it refuses to engage with the universe at all and instead puts all of the discussion outside of the work itself, allowing no arguments that it would hurt the work itself or wouldn’t fulfill the purpose of the work. That it’s actually at best incomplete and at worst invalid is just the icing on the cake.

Yes, a simple reply of “This is consistent with the universe” is not enough to invalidate a criticism of a problematic scene. But a reply of “Fictional works don’t have to be consistent” is not enough to invalidate that defense and is in fact entirely false.

Back to TOR

August 2, 2017

So, I did actually resubscribe to “The Old Republic” and have started playing a new female, pureblood Sith Inquisitor. I lasted about seven months. To be fair, though, it wasn’t the main game and story quests that convinced me to stop subscribing to it, but just the fact that I had no interest in the “Eternal Throne” story arc after the disaster — at least for me — of “Fallen Empire”, and wasn’t going to have the time to play the game anyway. But after getting through the recruitment stages of Dragon Age Origins and then burning out on it — although I may still finish that character at some point — and hearing about SF Debris going through more of the class stories and also rewatching his Imperial Agent videos I started to miss it a bit again, and so decided to try it out.

With how they’ve made the missions easier and, in general, XP gain faster, things go much smoother than they did in earlier releases, meaning that it’s much more painless to just do a class story run. I’m running this Inquisitor as a dark side character, with a heaping of racial superiority. I’m also giving her a similar backstory to my previous Inquisitor — based on Galen from Babylon 5 — where her being a slave is more a ruse and part of her Grand Plan than a real starting point. As such, she’s often going to take actions to weaken the overall power structure so that she might be able to benefit from it — like lie about a powerful Sith Lord being the Revanite leader so that his apprentice will get him eliminated — but isn’t insane and so won’t do that if it looks like it might overly weaken the Empire. She will have a cruel streak, though, and is more than willing to apply copious amounts of Force Lightning if it seems like it would be effective or, well, fun.

I was originally going to go for a Sith Warrior because I want to go Dark Side and romance Jaesa, but also wanted to do a different race this time and didn’t want to have that character be a pureblood (which would clash with the romance). So I might do that one next, if I manage to stick with this one.

What has been really nice so far is that stopping in the middle of a planet isn’t actually a problem. It will be a little more annoying later when I get to the more spread out planets, but here I had to meet Zash in the cantina, was told about something else I needed to do but that I wasn’t sure I’d have the time to do, so I just stayed there. With fewer quests on the go and so less to keep track of, it’s pretty easy to stop at the end of an area, go back to your ship or a cantina to get that sweet, sweet Rest XP, and pick up where you left off the previous time.

We’ll see how long this lasts for me, as again right now I’m pretty much committed to only one game at a time, and right now this … is it. I’m suspicious that if I get through this one I’ll have an issue, because since I like to do the planet missions, too, I’d end up thinking “This again …” if I just start the Imperial side over again, but I’m not sure that I want to do any of the Republic side classes again, except maybe Smuggler, while I would indeed like to do pretty much any of the Imperial ones again.

The List – Year 6

July 26, 2017

So, this is the sixth year of my list of games to finish. As I type this, I haven’t run the numbers yet, but I expect to see very little progress made because my impression of this past year is that I spent more time poking around with various things and less time finishing games. However, I know that I finished at least one game, Persona 5. So let’s see what happened this year. Maybe I’ll be surprised.

So, this year, I’ve finished 23 games out of the 49 I have remaining. That’s a 47% completion rate, which is just slightly better than what it was last year. Assuming that I’ve been updating the total including drops properly — as new games need to be added to the total — I have a 35% completion rate, again just slightly better than last year. To put this in the least complicated terms possible, however, as far as I can tell I … finished two games last year, one of which was Persona 5. And the other was probably Huniepop.

With my video game time curtailed and The Old Republic tempting me again, I may not finish too many more games this year. It’s just not the priority for me that it used to be. But let’s see how things work out.

The REAL burning question of Persona 5.

June 14, 2017

I don’t care what you say anymore this is my waif(u)
Go ahead with your own waif(u), leave mine alone!

Okay, so the other constant big question in Persona 5 is: is there a canon or semi-canon love interest?

In general, in game, the Persona games don’t have a canon love interest. You can pick whichever girls you want to date or not date and not much, if anything, changes in game. However, Persona 3 seems to have broken that, both for its own game and for the previous game, Persona 2:

1) In Persona 3, there’s an S-link based around an MMO version of Persona 2 that links Tatsuya and Maya, and that S-link, when completed, links to a romantic interest (that is never consummated, even as an implication).

2) In the Answer, it seems at least clear that Yukari had strong feelings for the MC, and was jealous of Aigis for that reason (which is also what drives Yukari to want to go back and interfere in the final battle). The implications of that can also make Aigis a canon romantic interest.

Some will argue that this only means that they cared about the MC, not that the MC cared for them, but that’s a shaky argument. And there are some arguments that Jun might be more canon than Maya in Persona 2, but given Persona 3 I find that hard to swallow.

In Persona 4, there doesn’t seem to be a canon love interest. Yukiko is the one that is presented as being closest to the MC in story, but Rise is the one who is most aggressively pursuing the MC. There’s also Marie from Golden. But Golden and Arena didn’t make any strong hints about relationships like the Answer did, and so it’s pretty hard to determine if there is a canon love interest there.

So what about Persona 5? We don’t have any works that expand that universe yet, and so we don’t know if they are going to steer this towards a conclusion like they did with the Answer. But there are arguments for each:

1) Joker, when he first sees Ann, is struck by her looks. She also is said to be the most aggressive at expressing her feelings for Joker and pushing the S-link towards romance. The counters to this are that her main character trait is striking looks and in the other story sections she doesn’t really seem all that interested in Joker, and vice versa.

2) Makoto gets in story seemingly romantic scenes with Joker, like when she turns to him to protect and comfort him while frightened in Sojiro’s house and when he shoves her out of the way of a falling rock in Futaba’s palace. You can say that those are just scenes and aren’t canon, but her being the one in that situation has to mean something. Her S-link also treats the romance part like a bit of an aside.

3) Futaba’s S-link directly takes on the romance option. However, a lot of the interactions are more brother and sister than romantic.

4) Haru is probably the most upset if you turn her down for a romance. However, there’s really nothing else to indicate that she’d be the canon love interest.

My opinion? If there is one, it’s probably Makoto, because of the focus that she gets in the game itself and because of those extra scenes. Futaba would work as well, but the relationship with her and Sojiro really seems like Nanako and Dojima 2.0, so making that the canon romance might be a little awkward. I’ve always found Ann to have more chemistry with Ryuji, and again there is little in story to indicate that Joker and Ann might be interested in each other. And Haru comes across as too minor a character to make the canon romance. And the other, non-party S-links are too easily ignored to count as canon romances.

That being said, unless and until we get expanded universe works that make one of them canon, the Persona series has been incredibly good about making each love interest viable, which means that you can pick the one that makes the most sense for you and the story/character you are playing, even if that happens to be Haru. So go on with your own waifu … and leave mine alone [grin].

The burning question of Persona 5 …

June 9, 2017

So, now that I’ve finished it and read around online a bit about it and talked a lot about Social Justice angles wrt Persona 5, seemingly the key question is this: should Persona 5 or Persona 6 have a female protagonist?

Note that there are two main ways to do a female protagonist in this series, and the Persona series has done both. First, you can give the player the choice of whether or not they want to play as a male or female protagonist, which is what they did with P3P. The other way is to create a game that only has a female protagonist, which they did with Maya in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. So, since they’ve done both before, surely they could do at least one of them again, either in an extended Persona 5 — which given P3 FES and P4 Golden is almost certain to happen — or in Persona 6. So let’s look at how and if that might work.

In Persona 5, there are a lot of anime cinematics. If you wanted to give the player a choice of protagonist, you’d have to do scenes for both the male and female protagonist. Also, you’d have to make sure that any line that refers to “he” is also re-voiced to use “he” or “she” for the appropriate protagonist, or else try very hard to never actually do that like they do for the protagonist’s name, which is going to be a lot more work. And then you might have to rework a number of the S-links, including the dating ones, allowing pretty much any character to be romanceable — and thus have Christmas and Valentine’s Day scenes reflecting that — if you don’t go the better route of rewriting them to make sense for male and female protagonists. For example, Iwai is far less likely to involve a teenage girl in his conflicts with the Yakuza and Ohya is not all that likely to pretend that she is dating a female protagonist to hide the fact that she’s investigating her partner’s disappearance (even if she leaned that way). In short, making a dual protagonist is a lot of work, and some story elements won’t work as well if you do that. So, in general, I think that for the most part they should pick one and have that as the main for the entire series. While I enjoyed the option in P3P — and found that the female protagonist was a more interesting character than the male one — I can see that adding the option again would be too much work for what you’d get out of it.

Okay, so then should Persona 6 go with a female protagonist? At first blush, my first thought was that it wouldn’t be a problem at all, given how much I liked the female protagonist in P3P. But on reflection, I noted that it would cost me something that I really liked about the Persona series: the ability to react to it roughly like how _I_ would have reacted to it, including who I hang around with and, importantly, who I dated. Obviously, with a female protagonist I wouldn’t be able to do that, and so would have to base it entirely on what character I was playing at the time. Which isn’t generally a problem for me, but it would take something away from the Persona series that’s pretty unique for me.

Now, people can say — rightly — that at that point I’d know how female players feel wrt the series, since they don’t get that. And that’s a fair point. But the issue here is that, for me, the Persona series has been that way for me for so long that I wouldn’t quite get the feel from Persona 6 if they did this that I got from the other games, which can’t help but feel like a let down. While I’d almost certainly be okay with it, other fans might not. Thus, that might hurt sales or the impression people have of the game and the series, which will hurt the franchise. Are there going to be enough female gamers deciding to jump onto it now for their unique experience to make it worth the risk? I doubt it, personally.

And so I think the best advice here is to let Team Persona decide what they want to do with the series. If they want to tell a story that works best with a male protagonist, let them. If they want to tell a story that works best with a female protagonist, let them. And if people really want to see a Persona-like series with a female protagonist then starting a new series with that is the way to go. After all, we’ve seen a number of these “dating/life sim JRPGs” starting up since Persona 3 at least partly rode that to success, and so a game that takes the Persona elements but starts with a female protagonist from the start should be do-able, if there’s a sufficient market for it. And since if it is done well there’s a good chance that I’d buy it and play it, this would be the ultimate chance to prove that, yes, there’s a market for these kind of games.

I suspect that the typical “Social Justice” objector will bristle at this suggestion, but hopefully some company will think that maybe they can get some mileage out of this — if the market is really there.

And the winner is …

June 7, 2017

… Dragon Age: Origins.

For a long time it really seemed like The Old Republic was going to be the game. Other than the possibility of wanting to park in a cantina when stopping for the night — and so having to travel back to it from where ever I happened to be at the time — it seemed to fit reasonably into the schedule — I’d probably be able to finish one planet each session, while having to leave the inter-planet quests for the next one — and had interesting stories to work through that I hadn’t gone through in a while. I’d be able to create new characters and do different things, which would be interesting. So it seemed a pretty good choice.

And then I remembered about the updates. Typically, updating after a long period away takes hours, and so at least one session. Updates week-on-week might not take that long, but then there might be periods where I had to put the gaming on hold for a few weeks due to other issues, and thus I’d end up spending that session updating and not playing, which isn’t fun. Or I could try updating the evening before, which I don’t have time to do. None of that really worked for me.

Dragon Age: Origins has none of that. Its biggest detriment is that I might want to play Inquisition after playing Dragon Age 2 to complete the set, and I trust myself to either not play Inquisition or resign myself to slogging through it again.

I started as a Noble Dwarf Warrior, and made it out of the intro story and through Ostagar, ending my play session when arriving at Lothering. I’m playing on Casual, and so far Alastair almost got knocked out by the ogre (troll?) in the first tower, but otherwise my health is good. We’ll see how long that lasts. I enjoyed the intro story, and so far am playing my character as an incredibly polite, loyal and dedicated person who has a dry sense of humour and is a little bitter about all the betrayals, and so comments when Alastair suggests going to Arl Eamon because Eamon is honourable that, hey, Loghain was honourable, too. But I loved the comments he can make like calling Alastair a very strange human or, when Alastair goes on about Callain getting him to wear a dress and dance some kind of dance that Alastair has a very odd idea of the king, while knowing that Alastair was being sarcastic.

He was also very polite and respectful to Morrigan and Flemeth, which they both appreciated (and I managed to surprise Morrigan with that, which makes me actually like her more than I did on my first playthrough).

So, that’s the game I chose, and the reasons for the ultimate choice.