Permission to Play

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For the last month I’ve been doing something rather uncharacteristic.  I’ve been powering through the Mass Effect trilogy along with as much ancillary literature about the Mass Effect Universe as I can cram into my overstuffed overworked brain.  Why is this significant?  I’ve always played games, here and there, but nothing to completion since… can anyone remember Turok Dinosaur Hunter on Nintendo 64?  Yes, that long ago.

BewareOblivionIsAtHand (master cheat)

Forget it.  I’m not patting myself on the back for finishing the ME trilogy, because I played in easy mode all the way through, even though I did fairly well.  I’m offering a virtual pat on the back to the massive talent over at Bioware for creating something so engaging that I couldn’t stop playing until it was complete.  A month.  I spent a month submerged in a character, Commander Shepard, who looked like me, and made decisions much the way I would have (or believe I would) in tough situations.

 

Does ME have its faults.  I think so.  Among those faults is the very dramatic premise that the fate of the entire universe hinges on my ability to unite fractured alien nations under one banner to fight a common threat.  The concept is melodramatic at least and utterly ludicrous at worst.  And yet, the story presents a certain urgency, a desire to do right, and a need to see what will happen next that kept me playing like a fiend.  Sometimes I even woke up early just to get in an hour of play before work.  I usually get up early to write.

In came the guilt.

I should have been writing instead. Right?

Oh, but I was.  I wasn’t actually putting words down onto paper, no, but I was writing in my head.  Heh.  I know that sounds lame, but allow me to explain.  Most writers would probably tell you that everything in their lives and the lives of others influences and informs their writing.  Me included.  Gaming, reading, work, exchanges in the grocery store, the news, daydreams, a conversation overheard in line at Starbuck’s.  All of these snippets find their way into our work in some form.

ME is a role playing game, wherein I get to be someone else.  I was someone else for an entire month.  Bioware created the premise but in a sense allowed me to write my own fate (to a degree).  I wrote my own story, so to speak, and I gleaned some terrific ideas for my own tales along the way.

I’m glad that I gave myself permission to play instead.  Now I have to give myself permission to get back to writing.

What guilty pleasures help you focus on your writing?

Something Entirely Unique In Gameplay

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I play video games with my children.  I think it is important that I do, that way I know what they are playing and thinking and what interests them.  We talk about the games and together decide what is appropriate.  We also have fun.  While I play games, I am no gamer, which means I pretty much suck, but that has never stopped me.

I prefer first person shooter type games with unique story lines and non-default titular characters.  In fact, few things annoy me as much as being forced to play as the default white guy.  Actually, no one can force me, I’ve just decided that I no longer will.  I appreciate games that allow me to customize my character.  EVE, a new online game sounds pretty interesting and customization seems limitless, but alas, my three year old laptop can’t handle the graphics so that game is off my list.  I still haven’t completed Mass Effect.  The storyline is complex and smart.  There is a challenging little mystery that keeps you intrigued and interested.  Even better, Commander Shepherd, the main character, can be customized as a male or female.

I imagine that the cost in time and and dollars is far greater when it comes to games that allow customization, which would no doubt influence the creation of such games.  Additionally, it may be critical to the plot of the game that the character not be customizable.  I can understand this, but I am averse to the same old tropes…muscle bound white guy with attitude rides in to save the day.   It’s just that it’s been done, over and over and over again.

There is one game that is a favorite among the women in my house.  Mirror’s Edge.

This game is sheer beauty to behold with its sweeping clean lines and bright primary colors.  The art is simply stunning and you probably won’t see anything remotely like it in another game.  The plot is unique to games but is one we know well from books.  Think Orwell’s 1984, or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Mirror’s Edge takes place in an unnamed dystopian city[21] where life is comfortable and crime almost non-existent. But the city’s state of bliss is the achievement of a domineering and totalitarian regime[22]which monitors all communication, controls the media, has policies which include the outright illegalisation of smoking, and, it is strongly implied, operates sham trials and a sham democracy. Eighteen years before the events of the game they had opened fire on a protest against their rule, killing many civilians… (Wikipedia)

The titular character, a woman named Faith, is a runner.  By runner, I mean to say that she spirits around her city using amazing parkour moves.  Check it out.

She is nothing to joke with.  She can fight, dodge, and deal like the best of them.  Besides the fact that Faith is a woman, a characteristic not all that uncommon in games, she does have three very unique qualities you’d be hard pressed to find in games today.

  1. Faith isn’t hyper-sexualized and dressed in a combat bikini or strategically ripped, body hugging gear that ignites the fantasies of young men and anorexia in young women.
  2. Faith isn’t comic relief, the ditz in need of saving, or the sidekick.
  3. Faith is Asian.

Why does it make a difference?  I suppose for some people it doesn’t, but for people like me and my daughters it makes a world of difference.  Why should we feel consistently marginalized by our literature and our art and our games?  Let me rephrase that.  Literature, art and games that consistently marginalize us don’t belong to us, the us that wants to see characters that are whole well drawn representations of the real people who live in this world.  We aren’t all white, or men, or hoochie warrior hoes, or comfortable stereotypes.

I would posit that such homogeneous representations don’t just harm the marginalized, but they also harm those who exist as members of the accepted inner circle.  How can we hope to connect with our fellow human beings if we’ve managed to erase them from our collective works of art and by extension our consciousness?

I highly doubt such exclusions are intentional (I pray they aren’t) but I do think that its probably easier to pretend the others don’t exist.  That means less effort on the part of game developers, right?  Well, if there are more people out there like me, that means less dollars in their pockets too, because I’m not buying it.