In the last month, my part-time job became “part-time” in wage and title only. I haven’t played nearly as many games, nor written nearly as many posts as I would have liked. Here’s a quick rundown on what I have been doing outside of the store.
The Legend of Korra
The Legend of Korra occupied a disproportionate amount of my attention in June (and most of July). The first season recently wrapped up with one of those strange finales where a lot happened but none of it really mattered. The series started strong when it set up three parallel conflicts in the first three episodes:
- Korra’s personal journey to master the four elements and become more in-tune with her spiritual side
- Korra’s pro-bending team’s fight for the city’s championship title (and all the lessons about teamwork that come with it)
- The systematic oppression of non-benders in a world in which bending is increasingly seen as essential
As of the season finale, none of these conflicts are resolved; Korra may have reached the end of her personal journey—mastering air and unlocking the spiritual Avatar State—but the means to that end were unsatisfyingly passive for her part. In the end, that was the case for most of the series: while there were plenty of big, exciting moments none of them felt earned by Korra or any other character. Fortunately, The Legend of Korra still has all of the pieces of a good show, and the addition of two more veteran writers from Avatar: The Last Airbender is already a step in the right direction for its second season. I hope we’ll get to see Korra learn from her mistakes and earn her mastery next year; with luck, she’ll also learn what it means to be the non-bender’s Avatar, too.
E3 and the Aftermath
This year, we learned that videogames are violent to the point of self-parody. Unfortunately, none of the triple-a publishers that presented at E3 seemed to be in on the joke. At best, the parade of faceless shoot-em-ups culminated in eye-roll-inducing excess like what we saw at EA’s conference. At worst, it was cruel and exploitative, as was seen in two highly-publicized misteps from Square-Enix. Likewise, the biggest personal disappointment for me was Naughty Dog’s showing of The Last of Us.
The Sony conference demonstrated how violence wasn’t as necessary in The Last of Us as pre-E3 press lead us to believe. No less than twice did the white protagonist have the upper hand in the press conference demo–one when he had a hostage, another when the final gang member was on the floor begging the player for his life–and Joel kept shooting. While I still hope the final build will give players the chance to negotiate–or at least have Assassin’s Creed-esque enemy behaviors in which low-level enemies let the player flee the scene in exchange for their own lives–the fact that Sony and Naughty Dog thought this sort of brutal violence was a crowd-pleaser is disturbing. I like violent videogames as much as the next person, but I want the dude I’m chainsawing in half to be busy gnawing off my arm, not begging for his life.
At least in the Twitterverse, the violence of this year’s E3–undoubtedly coupled with the explosion in harassment of Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian–seemed to be the last straw. Square-Enix’s Hitman and Tomb Raider continue to endure criticism for their use of sexual assault as not only a cheap narrative hook, but as a selling point (The Border House provides a great list of notable posts on the topic). Unfortunately, for every handful of thoughtful, articulate posts championing videogame criticism, a large gaming site affords real estate to one weirdly earnest appeal for “freedom of speech.” Most recently, IGN published Chris Moriarty’s The Problem with Political Correctness in Video Games, which pulls all of the usual stops: minimizing the offense (the “few” ruining the fun for the many?) while shrugging that developers can’t hope please everybody, so why try? The ultimatum “don’t like, don’t buy” rings loud and tone-deaf. Fortunately, other high-profile gaming blogs have already published responses to Moriarty’s opinion piece, including Kotaku. Just take a look at Kate Cox’s excellent takedown, Criticism Does Not Actually Stifle Creativity. I’m choosing to read the sheer visibility of criticism–and the increasingly nonsensical op-eds serving as its opposition–as a good sign for gaming.
Looking ahead, I’m now eagerly anticipating two games I didn’t even know about before E3: Assassins’ Creed 3: Liberation and Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale. A woman assassin (complete with Bat for Lashes soundtrack) and a smackdown between Parappa the Rapper and Big Daddy? What’s the phrase I want to use here?
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Brave. I was excited when the film was first announced. After all, it was the first (pre-Cars 2) Pixar movie with a female lead directed by a woman. But the firing of director Brenda Chapman did not bode well; neither did preliminary reviews citing pacing issues and “safe” “Disney cliches.” Now having seen the film, I agree with many reviews that it drags a little in the middle; I also concede that Disney has successfully branded the princess concept (in the US). However, I wouldn’t call Brave “safe.” Brave is quietly subversive.
Brave might start as the story of a spunky princess (as if there were any other kind), but it diverges from its Disney predecessors by ending as her story as well. Where a Disney film like Aladdin poses the princess as a prize, or The Little Mermaid burdens the king with the bulk of the hero’s arc, Brave is unquestionably Princess Merida’s journey from beginning to end. What’s more is that Merida comes away from her journey with a better, mutually-respectful relationship with her mother. As Lili Loofbourow points out in her excellent essay, the queen is a character that would not have made it past the opening credits in other Disney films, never mind have a Bechdel-test-passing relationship with the protagonist. In the end, I enjoyed Brave.
The Walking Dead
I’m slowly but surely making my way through the TPB volumes. I recently pulled the fourth volume, The Heart’s Desire, from my local library. It turns out that The Heart’s Desire is the one with the infamous “WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!!” Reading that last page, I felt like I’d reached a rite of passage in zombie geekdom, but I still don’t get what all the fuss is about. Rick remains unlikeable in a way that’s less antihero and more poorly defined outside of his own unjustified self-importance. Lori doesn’t fare much better, what with her only perceivable purpose being disagreeing with Rick. A lot happens–so much so that the non-Rick characters read as little more than cannon fodder–but none of the consequences are felt. Hershel’s girls were murdered?! I was shocked (shocked!!) until I arrived at the next crisis a page and a half later, effectively erasing the girls’ existence from both my and the characters’ memories. I suppose this is a consequence of the medium itself; perhaps I wouldn’t be so critical of the pacing if I was forced to wait a month between each action.
The subsequent volumes also follow the sexist blueprint outlined in the very first book. I think the strangest part of this whole thing is the way in which the writers attempt to dodge accusations of sexism by addressing the charge and naturalizing post-zombie apocalypse patriarchy in the text. One especially silly example takes place in volume four, when Rick (of all people) points out that their newly elected leadership committee doesn’t include any women. Dale explains that’s it’s “HOW THEY WANTED IT;” it’s as if Kirkman is crying from the page, “don’t blame me for failing to write any interesting female characters, blame those silly characters!” In a weird way, I have a new appreciation for the show; it’s still terribly written, but I understand now that the source material didn’t give it much to go on.
The second episode of the superior videogame adaptation arrived on Steam last Friday, and I managed to download my copy before our electricity cut out. It’s on my to-do list, though voluntarily putting myself under stress doesn’t seem like a good idea right now. Speaking of which…
Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut
The first round was so emotionally draining that I can’t bring myself to play the “Extended Cut” DLC just yet. I’m not getting my hopes up (I have kept my EMS up via the Datapad app–when it works), but I’ll refrain from commenting until after I’ve played it.