Monthly Archives: October 2013

Suspend your disbelief

[There are spoilers in the last two paragraphs for “Beyond: Two Souls.”]

My husband and I just finished another game last weekend. “Beyond: Two Souls” is the new release by Quantum Dream, a French game studio headed by David Cage. “B:TS” is a sort of game-movie hybrid. It stars Ellen Page as Jodie, a girl who has been linked since birth to an invisible, intangible entity named Aiden who has various powers, like talking to the dead, and breaking shit. Her story is told non-linearly, from her childhood raised by scientists in a government facility, to her time in the CIA, to a life on the run wanted for treason. The game has a two-player co-op mode, which worked very well for us. I played as Jodie, walking around, choosing conversation options, and sometimes fighting. My husband took over Aiden, flying around and messing with things psychokinetically. The controls are very simple, even more streamlined than Quantum Dream’s previous project “Heavy Rain.” The highest-adrenaline sections come when Jodie is in combat – you direct her actions by flicking the joystick in the direction of her momentum, and sometimes by furiously shaking the controller up and down. It is a fairly ambitious game, meant to be more cinematic and “adult” than other big-budget mainstream games out there, with the intention of showing that gaming can be a serious art form worthy of critical consideration outside the gamer community. This has led to some blowback and criticism from gamers.

Jodie

In the spirit of building things up rather than tearing them down, I’d like to talk about what I really liked about “B:TS.” In short, the main character, Jodie, is, to the best of my knowledge, unique in mainstream gaming. While female leads are becoming more prevalent, there is almost always a sense of distance between the character and the audience. Female characters, particularly in action-y games, tend to be defined as more-or-less sexy, kickass ciphers. Whatever is happening internally is not generally explored very closely. But while Jodie certainly can whoop some ass when she needs to, far more time is spent detailing her interior life, her past, and her unique situation in the world. This is probably the only game I’ve ever played that holds the camera on multiple extended close up shots of a character’s face, and the animation is sufficiently subtle to capture the nuance of expression necessary to allow access to her thoughts. Continue reading

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Successful and unsuccessful parody

“She had the kind of face that made you want to say hey, look at your face.”

— Clara Weinstein

The above sentence was an honorable mention in the 2012 Little Lytton contest. If you haven’t heard of it, Little Lytton was created by Adam Cadre to come up with the best worst first line for a novel. The explicit goal is to create intentionally unintentional humor – something deliberately crafted to look like the product of a bad writer attempting to be serious and coming across as absurd.

Another internet personality, Lindsay Ellis (aka. the Nostalgia Chick) and some of her buddies recently embarked on a project that takes the idea of Little Lytton to its natural extreme. Instead of creating just the first sentence to an intentionally unintentionally funny novel, they created the whole damn thing. The 50 Shades of Green project aimed to crowdsource a parody of a supernatural romance novel of the type made obnoxiously popular by “Twilight.” They took suggestions from fans for the plot and characters, and engaged a team of eight writers to produce the beast in a shockingly short period of time.

Although I sort of missed the project as it was unfolding, I did watch through the video series after the launch party, and found myself wanting to read the book. The supernatural romance is a genre that deserves the large amount of criticism it has received. The gender politics tend to range from icky to abhorrent, and from what I gather, the quality of writing is often no better than the low standard set by Stephanie Meyer. The genre experienced an explosion in popularity for a while, exploiting every supernatural niche it could find. Vampires, angels, demons, fairies – nearly every mythological creature is apparently more than capable of falling in love with your average high-school girl. At first I was critical of the premise selected by the 50 Shades of Green project. They based their romance off of the Lovecraftian universe: a romance between a hot, teenaged Cthulu and the girl he decides to not destroy the universe for. But I quickly realized that it was a genius premise for a parody. The clash between the Elder Gods – immortal and uninterested in the unimportant flecks that constitute humanity – and the sappy, sentimental, beauty-obsessed romance genre could not be more absurd. So I invested $5 and bought “Awoken” for the Kindle.

awoken cover

Of the submitted cover designs, this was not my favorite.

“Awoken” succeeds at one aspect of parody – accurate identification of tropes and trends in its genre. The protagonist, Andromeda Slate, is appropriately boring, personality-less, and willing to destroy herself rather than lose the dude she’s dated for two weeks. Teen Cthulu’s sexiness is exhaustively chronicled, and his personality is sufficiently creepy, controlling, demeaning, and emotionally opaque. Near sexual assault is used as a plot point to draw the romantic leads closer together, and the victim is quite efficiently blamed. “Awoken” is clearly aware of the literary and sociological issues with teen romance novels, and points them all out very competently, without being pedagogical about it. Continue reading

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