Diversity in Games (and Other Media)

Nothing like a sinus infection & viral bronchitis combo to slow your week, topped off with busting up your phone! At I can say that I am on the mend; as for the phone, that remains to be seen.

Since the Daily Post doesn’t have this week’s photo challenge up yet, here’s a topic that crossed my mind again recently and does on occasion when I’m writing or designing, or just reading about games and media in general: diversity. I’ll be talking mostly about games here, but a lot of this applies to other media like movies, TV, comics, and so forth, so expect some crisscrossing of that line.

It’s no big secret or shock that most game protagonists are the default white male. Most designers are white men, and historically their target demographic has been white males. It still baffles me that some people react some strongly against this “status quo” being changed or challenged, but that’s a different topic altogether. I understand why this is the default–the old adage of “write what you know” is a powerful and natural direction to take when writing. It’s easiest to imagine yourself as the protagonist of a story. If you were to take a look at all my writing and roleplaying characters over the years, you’d find that most of them were female, white, with red or brown hair. This, and likewise the default white casts or male white protagonists of TV shows, movies and games did not stick out to me as odd for a long time.  Read more


What’s Your Number Is a Pretty Good Movie

What’s Your Number? suffers from a stupid title,  some awful trailers, and release timing that forced it to live in the shadow of a much worse movie that people keep saying is great. Here’s the twist, it’s actually a good movie with relatable characters, some adorable moments, better realism, and a plot that doesn’t require its character to become deplorable assholes or mind-numbing idiots in the process.

The title is bad, but I don’t think France’s substitute of “Sex List” was any better.

Now, it’s not changing the world of rom-coms or winning any awards. But it’s a lot better than the trailers and title imply. It has some good comedy, a decent plot progression and resolution, and Anna Faris is really great comedienne, which is one thing that even the reviews that pan this movie acknowledge. Chris Evans as her co-star is adorable and enjoyable as well. And while I think this movie stands up on its own, it’s impossible to not compare it to Bridesmaids for a few reasons: the aforementioned timing of its release, everyone else does, and they do legitimately have similar plotlines. So here’s my breakdown on why I think WYN is not only a good movie, but why it’s better than Bridesmaids by a long shot. Some spoilers may happen, but let’s be honest, you all know how this movie ends already. Read more

Thursday Tropes: After the End

I love a good post-apocalyptic story. Hell, I even enjoy ones that aren’t that good, because just the hint of one will perk my ears. And given the proclivity of this kind of setting lately, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one. Just

It’s Ellen Page in the post-apocalyptic future! (Actually, the resemblance is a coincidence, but I’m sure she’d have something quirky to say if it were her.)

yesterday I came across some trailers for an upcoming game, The Last of Uswhere a version of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus that can create a zombie ant, has jumped to humans and created zombies and lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it. I know so very little about the gameplay, the plot, anything, but I know it looks gorgeous and I’m suddenly we’ve got a PS3 and I’ll be able to play it! I’ve also written before about another such setting I ate up (a coincidentally interesting choice of words on my part) when I wrote about Feed by Mira Grant, which features fantastic world-building. The third book and final book in that trilogy, Blackout, releases later this month and I can’t wait to read it.

When reading up on TLOU the other day, a few things occured me. One, this was a perfect topic for my next Thursday Tropes post! Two, I clearly have an itch to write my own post-apocalyptic story, so I should work on that at some point. And three, why are we obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories? I’ve come to at least one conclusion: it’s real-life fanfiction crossed with cautionary tale. Read more

Thursday Tropes: Badass Normals


Like everyone else in the world, I saw the Avengers this past weekend. And like at least 75% of the world, I emphatically implore you to go see it now, because it is everything a superhero team-up movie SHOULD be. Superheroes who war their uniforms with no sense of shame or awkwardness, being heroic without being cheesy, being realistic without being average…it was just a fantastic and fun time. And yes, obviously, stay until the end of the credits.

So, this being a Joss Whedon flick, there were Strong Female Characters. No surprise there. (Here’s where I tell you up front, I’m a big fan of Whedon’s work, so, FYI.) The most notable is Natasha Romanov, a.k.a Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. I absolutely loved how she was portrayed in this movie, for a number of reasons. One, I don’t think I’ve really ever seen Johansson in much, and didn’t have a real idea of her acting ability. She does a really solid job in this movie with a role that has considerable nuance required for it. Kudos to Johansson for her work here.

Black Widow also gets an impressive chunk of screentime, something I feel was a huge plus for this movie, and something that had a very Whedonesque touch to it. In this breakdown of screentime per major character, Black Widow comes in third, in fact. Considering her small role in Iron Man 2 and that she is the token female superhero here, as well as one of the only ones without a full movie of her own like most of the male heroes, I didn’t expect her to be doing a whole lot in Avengers. Boy was I wrong, and I am so glad for that. Read more

Thursday Tropes: The Love Triangle

The Love Triangle.  Because we all know that love and relationships are only complicated when a potential second suitor comes along, and apart from that, it’s all rainbows and good times and everyone gets along.

Waaaait a second.

Why hook up with the still living when you can have the undead popsicle, amirite?

My beef with the love triangle is how overused it’s become. Now, do love triangles happen in real life? Of course they do. And do they keep fiction interesting? They certainly can. But it’s become a staple, it often seems, rather than a useful tool among many others in the writer’s toolbox. I get the impression that a lot of them are added in because that’s what people are told will sell books (or other media), rather than it being in there because it helps the story and develops naturally.

Of recent love triangle fame is, of course, the Twilight series. Which is funny since this is a triangle that isn’t a triangle. Yes, I read them, and yes, I’ve seen the movies. Yes, I think it’s awful. It’s like a train wreck, I can’t look away! Plus the unintentional hilarity is fantastic. But I digress. This now hugely famous love triangle isn’t one because at really no point does Bella ever seriously consider Jacob. Briefly in New Moon, when it looks like Edward’s gone forever, but hot damn, she literally jumps on a plane to fly halfway across the world the second she learns that’s still an option! Jacob, buddy, that should’ve been your first enormous clue that she was just not that into you.

But thanks to this series, love triangles have taken on new life as a given in YA, it feels like, becoming cliche, boring, and overused in the process. Read more

Bridesmaids is a Bad Movie

Spoilers ahead, if you care.

I finally saw the movie Bridesmaids last week. Brandon and I were both fairly excited to see it at last, having heard so much about how it was hilarious, etc, all summer when it was released. It stars a number of talented and funny ladies. It had a premise we can all relate to–the stress of being in a wedding, planning things, spending money you may not have, and dealing with the rest of life at the same time.

None of these dresses were even IN the movie, either, for that matter.

It should have been so good, but I sit here now wondering what the hell everyone saw in this movie. Look, I know we’d all love a female version of The Hangover. It was a really funny movie. And it was way better than this drivel, so why was everyone rushing to hand out that title to Bridesmaids?

The sequence in the movie that clearly had THE most thought put into it in terms of the steps to the joke, the build-up of the joke, and the “payoff” of the joke was the food poisoning joke. Yep, that’s the one where every pukes or sh*ts themselves in a ritzy fancy dress shop. Yep. THAT is the joke that had the most attention given to it. That should tell you something about how “good” the rest of the movie is.

The main character, the Maid of Honor played by Kristen Wiig, is a mess of a woman who at no point both realizes she’s a wretched person who got herself into her own hole and tries to dig up out of it. When Melissa McCarthy’s character shows up to literally slap some sense into her, Wiig seems to understand that she is where is because she hasn’t done anything to prevent it at this point. (A few things were not her fault: the food poisoning was not her fault but the restaurant’s; and I’d say her acting out on a plane when the Rival Bridesmaid gave her some unidentified pills and scotch to relax is at the very least shared blame.) She’s driven away her friends, lost her job, her apartment, everything because she’s let it happen to her without trying to change and do better. So in a tried-but-true pacing challenge, what she should do here is go to her estranged BFF who’s getting married (who booted her from both her life and wedding and rightly so) and apologize profusely, right? Or at least do something to make up for it? Hey, she’s a baker, maybe she should, y’know, bake the wedding cake free of charge! That would be a good start on making up for what’s happened.

Instead, she bakes a cute little cake for the Nice Guy she slept with and then blew off. And…drives by his house a lot. And…that’s it. That’s ALL she does to try for redemption. Makes a passing gesture to the person she knows the least and owes the least to of all the people she’s been wretched towards. She does NOTHING to make amends to her friend who’s getting married. Except for when the wedding day comes and the Rival shows up not knowing where the Bride is, and Wiig harasses the Nice Guy (he’s a cop) into helping her find the friend at…her own apartment. The Bride was at her apartment. No calling, no checking, I realize it was meant to be a joke, but seriously? Are you freaking kidding me??

One review I read afterwards claimed this movie gave some kind of insight into how women really act around each other, that the idea was we’re just as raunchy and gross as boys when there aren’t any boys around. Sorry to disappoint, but we’re not. Oh, maybe some ladies are, it takes all types, but generally speaking? Almost NOTHING in this movie represents how women act around each other and how we treat each other. In fact, I’d hope this movie represents not a shred of how anyone treats each other ever, quite frankly.

The female Hangover may yet come, but this, folks, was not it. It wasn’t even close. It was a poor comedy and a poor movie, and we can do better, ladies. And gents.

Photo Challenge: Hidden, The Neverending Story, and Cognition

Photo Challenge catch-up continues! This past Friday had the prompt “Hidden.” The very open-ended themes have been really fun, and I love perusing the photos posted to see what kinds of interpretations people have, in addition to just enjoying some great photography.

And this week I found two inspiring photos! One for nostalgia’s sake, and one that’s giving me ideas for the next section of Ghostlight.

First up, this photo by Stir immediately reminded me of one of my favorite childhood movies: The Neverending Story.

Aww, cute doggy!
...oh god, no! No, bad doggie, back! Ahh!

Now I’m sure Stir’s dog is just lovely, but regardless you can see the resemblance in the staging. There is a shot where the G’mork is a little more hidden behind some shrubs and such, I think, but the image below is the best approximation I could find with a quick image search.

G’mork. Even his name is harsh and a little frightening. A huge, vicious, murderous direwolf (he’s not called that in the book or the movie, but he’s the best candidate to imagine such a creature in my mind), who nearly stops the one boy who can save Fantasia (Fantastica in the book). And why? Pretty much just because. One website I happened across while searching for an image called him a Nietzschian character, and that’s pretty on the money. He claims to be a servant of the power behind the Nothing, but this power is the lack of belief in fantasies and stories on the behalf of humankind. As near as I can tell, that quite literally makes the G’mork the product of someone’s nightmare, and I can attest to him being one of the creatures I imagined in the darkness of the far side of my bed at night as a child.

So this relentless beast, as black as the space where his soul never was, wants to destroy the world. To throw it into nothingness, bleakness, where’s there no such thing as hope. Even if it means his own destruction along with it, it seems.

Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!
Atreyu: Who are you really?
G’mork: I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing.

So it’s all about power, as it usually is with villains, and obtaining that power through Machiavellian-Nihilistic means. The authority he answers to isn’t just The Nothing–it iS nothing, it’s specifically a lack of something, an empty space where something should be or once was.

This, and how the story turns out, is why I very much disagree with the idea that it is better to be feared than loved. Fear is an emptiness, and love is filling. You can never make everyone love, no, but nor can you make everyone fear you. And those who have love, and therefore hope, will always fight back.

It would be fascinating to read more about G’mork. His life, the nightmare that spawned him, how he came to be where and who he is. Even if his motives are at their base very simple–power and control through despair and fear–we get the implication of a much more complex character as he states what he does and whom he serves.

And that animatronic G’mork is more terrifying than a CGI one could ever be, at least by current standards.

The second inspiring image was this fog-drenched photo posted by three sticks of watusi. This one is inspiring me specifically for my next chapter of Ghostlight, so I’ll plan to post that chapter (or part of it) here when I’ve written it.

Now time for some shameless self promotion!

I’ve written before about Phoenix Online, the independent game studio I work for in my free time. This past weekend, we announced the development of our first commercial game, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. An adventure game of the supernatural detective variety, it’s about an FBI Agent in Boston who’s hunting down serial killers with her ability of postcognition: one touch and she can see the past of an object, find clues no one else can, and see secrets no one wants known. Now someone is leaving specifically leaving clues that only she can find. Who knows her secret, and what do they want?

We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of the game, offering some really fun rewards for pledges, and it’s going great! As of today we’ve raised over $10,000! But our goal is $25,000, and we only receive the funding if we hit that goal. Every dollar helps, and we all greatly appreciate donations or even just helping us spread the word. If you can do either, thank you very much in advance for supporting our project and our dreams!