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Why the Representation of Minorities Matters

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The last decade has brought many changes to minority groups, notably to the Western LGBTQ community who started seeing a drastic difference on how our patriarch society perceives them. Sexuality and identity slowly became a more natural and recurrent topic, as did the discussion of black culture and how women are portrayed by the media. Yet, none of these groups managed to reach their desired utopias.

As a gay man, I see the change. I understand when people say we’re far better now than we were ten or fifteen years ago. But as many in the community, I don’t think it’s time to hang the hat and call it day just yet. Living in Northeastern Brazil, I’ve always had to be very careful when going out with guys. We could chat and look intimately at each other, but so much as holding hands would put our lives in danger. Although that’s changing, no one can say it’s completely safe to hold your partner’s hand in the middle of the street if they happen to be of the same sex as you.

Unfortunately, this reality is not exclusive to Northeastern Brazil and the struggle the LGBTQ community has with representation is not exclusive to movies, TV, and music. Video games are far more relevant now than they were ten years ago, but the industry is still plagued by many issues including its portrayal of minority groups.

“Why should I care?”

That’s usually the sort of question I see in discussions regarding minorities in video games. It’s far less common when the topic revolves around women and black people, yet alarmingly prominent when it involves gay people. Recently, we received a reality check with the news that Russia could ban FIFA 17 from the country should EA not remove the “gay propaganda” present as part of the Rainbow Laces campaign promoted by the Stonewall group. The general mainstream media sided with EA, a company known for its social inclusion. But scrolling down to the comments section of most articles and informative videos, we see different reactions.

Notes along the lines of “It seems Russia got more morals than our country. Homosexuality is wrong.” and “This is football, not a faggot propaganda.” aren’t difficult to find. Most people would say to ignore such behavior, to “stop feeding the troll”, but the fact it exists at all is part of the problem. Although the general public and the mainstream media are very supportive of the cause, discrimination is still a part of our lives. Sometimes people don’t even realize they’re being condescending when they say “we don’t care who you sleep with, but we find it sad that your identity revolves around sex.”, then using freedom of speech as an excuse for the offensive remark.

Everyone has problems no matter who they are or where they come from, but other complications may arise should the person not meet society’s standards. Black people are historically taken for granted because of their skin color and women are expected to behave a certain way due to their stigmatized social role. In the same manner, the LGBTQ community is supposed to hide their opinions and desires because they’re an insult to tradition. It’s important to stress that times are changing for those groups, that their situations are far better now than they were fifteen or twenty years ago, yet not everyone can say their problems are related to their skin color, their gender, or their sexuality.

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Ellie

We have seen a major change in how gay people are portrayed in the media with the aggressively flamboyant man and the extremely masculine woman being replaced by regular personalities and traits. That helps show how normal we are whilst being inclusive. However, not everyone welcomes the change of pace even when it’s meant to help others. Developers have been criticized for including emotional and intimate scenes between two men or by making an NPC be suggestive towards the player.

First released in 2013 exclusively for the PlayStation 3, The Last of Us is considered by many one of the most progressive games of its generation for how the character Ellie (Ashley Johnson) is presented. Players only came to know of her sexuality with the DLC ‘Left Behind’ in which she kisses her friend Riley (Yaani King), whereas in the base game that aspect is subjective. The bonding formed throughout The Last of Us and Ellie being such a regular teenager in both her personality and appearance triggered a very positive reaction in the DLC as players were already attached to her.

Ellie, much like Dorian Pavus (Ramon Tikaram) from 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, is a great solution for the struggles the LGBTQ community faces as a whole. Video games are the only fully interactive form of media, allowing players to experience realities they might never encounter in their regular lives, such as being close to a gay person. This sort of bond helps educate those who would otherwise never know what minorities go through, but it fails at explaining why they should be more conscious.

The good, the bad, the ugly

At one side we have developers and part of the community making a change by helping minorities. At the other, we have those who don’t accept any sort of change at the claim that it will affect their lives directly. In the middle the confused dwell, unsure of what to think or why any of this should be their problem. But what isn’t there to relate? Why is change so difficult to accept when it won’t take any of your privileges away? If we forget about skin color, gender, and sexuality for a moment, most gamers have a very similar story.

For example:

There once was a boy with an angelic name who always felt left out. His family had a strong opinion on who he should be and the friends he managed to make would sometimes suppress him. He struggled with grades and was always concerned with how he behaved around others lest they’d be offended by his mannerism. After he realized part of what made him so different, his family went on to fight against his nature. People he met along the way, while generally supportive, would still refuse him any moment of glory because of how irrelevant his situation was to them.

And then he found out he could be anyone. Not by watching a film or reading a book, but by taking control over someone else in a video game. All his doubts and struggles seemed like distant thoughts for those two or three hours he would spend in front of the computer, but in the back of his mind a voice would ask “where do you fit in this?” Finally, he had the chance to play The Sims 2. One of the first things his cousin mentioned was that he could be intimate and even marry people of the same gender. After being constantly reminded that he would always play a supportive role, it was time to be the lead of his own story.

Video games were very important for that boy as they helped him understand empathy whilst giving him the opportunity to lead the narrative. They helped him experiment with his social skills and discover the person behind the issues and taboos. Part of what that boy went through is exactly what most other gamers face, be they male or female, black or white, gay or straight. And yet, a large portion of the gaming community can’t relate to his story solely because of their choice of partner in The Sims 2.

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A conundrum

The general public is perfectly fine with a black or a female protagonist. The inclusion of such characters in the leading role may sometimes cause a stir, but at the end of the day, they’re not as controversial as an exclusively gay character. Video game fans throughout the years have been praising the industry for including people of color and women in major parts, but just the thought of a gay character is enough to originate hurtful memes and offensive comments.

Despite Ellie being so well received after the reveal of her sexuality and the fact she’s the main protagonist of The Last of Us Part II, the general consensus is that gay characters other than her don’t deserve the spotlight. Dorian Pavus is a beloved asset, but some consider his sexuality to be forced upon players. Many fans of Rockstar’s Bully refuse to acknowledge that the ‘Scholarship Edition’ offers a relatively large selection of boys who protagonist Jimmy Hopkins (Gerry Rosenthal) can date. Yet, everyone seems on board with the idea that Overwatch‘s Zarya is lesbian given her nationality and manly build–despite the many pejorative jokes the latter triggers.

Developers are left at an impasse. Plenty of them wish to include the LGBTQ community just as much as they include other minorities, nevertheless that often results in a severe backlash and a possible impact on sales. Forcing ideas is not the solution, but forming a bond between player and character also doesn’t seem to do much for the long run. As the first triple-A title to feature an exclusively gay protagonist The Last of Us Part II could be a great help in addressing the issue, but its restricted release for the PlayStation 4 largely limits its transformative capability.

In the end, no one has all the answers. As much as companies try, they can’t reach or be understood by everyone. There are many ways to teach about empathy, respect, and why minorities matter, but that’s not only a developer’s duty. As long as players are open to discussing and understanding the stories they experience through video games, we should someday reach a point where arguments like this are no longer necessary.

Born and raised in Northeastern Brazil, Gabriel didn't grow up with video games as many of his colleagues did. However, his dedication and love for the industry make up for his late start in the gaming world.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Sinsi

    December 18, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    What kind of weak minded people need to be represented in a video game to have their existence validated? How pathetic is that?

    • Mike Worby

      December 19, 2016 at 3:45 am

      What you might not realize is that a persons feeling of inclusiveness in society is representative of how they are depicted in media. We live in a visual society, and people want to see themselves represented. If you’re a straight, white male, I can see why you’ve never experienced this issue but for minorities this is a significant issue.

      • Sinsi

        December 19, 2016 at 8:34 pm

        Nope not a straight white male and I don’t need to be represented in a video game or anywhere else to feel good about myself.

        You might not realize this but if you need external validation to feel good about yourself. You are weak minded and will never be successful. I feel bad for anyone that lacks self worth that you need others to tell you are valuable.

        Successful people don’t care what other people think about them.

        • Mike Worby

          December 20, 2016 at 1:32 am

          Thanks for the hot tip. I’ll crack open a copy of The Secret and get back to you.

  2. John Cal McCormick

    December 19, 2016 at 8:25 am

    There’s some awesome comments on this article. Don’t even know where to begin.

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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garden story

Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together

Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.

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Death Stranding

Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.

While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death. 

Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.

Death Stranding

This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s. 

Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.

The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.

Death Stranding

The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .

In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.

Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope

One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community. 

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.

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‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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