Madness in the Method: How You Do Something Says More than What You Do

On Sunday, March 10, 2013 1 comments

Context is everything. Roughly 90% of games send you on a quest to save the world. But like we covered before, the way you accomplish a goal is every bit as important as the goal itself. For example, consider Okami. In Okami, players are yet again tasked with saving the world. However, instead of some buff warrior, players assume the role of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. Since she is a nature goddess, her can restore harmony by purifying corrupted spots of land. The player isn’t supposed to just save society, but the very land itself. By placing the focus on saving nature, the game suggests that nature is both valuable and powerful. It also suggests that nature is something that needs to be protected. While the game has no overt environmental themes, it still communicates an ecological message through the game play.

Eveything about this game sets it apart, including the goals.
Sometimes, goals communicate a message not intended by the developers. Even if a message is unintentional, the programmers set up the system for the world. They make up the laws of that fictional world, and their imaginary land reflects how they believe the real world should work. For example, in Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy the main goal of the game is to transform your friend back into a human. There are threatening monsters called Lurkers, but when players fight them, it is only so they can advance their journey. Even doing good deeds has a selfish purpose. The local townspeople always bribe you upfront with Power Cells, so you don’t help them out of the good of your heart. While the player does end up saving the world, it is less out of intentional effort and more due to unlikely happenstance. The entire game is about serving self-interest. Even if the developers weren’t consciously putting that into the game, the way they set up the system reinforces the idea of looking out for yourself first and foremost.

In the sequel, Jak II, the goal is to overthrow Baron Praxis’s totalitarian rule. The goal is a generally noble one, but the methods involve terrorism, bribery, and blackmail. Even if the player doesn’t agree with the morality of a mission, the only way to move forward is to do what the game wants. Through the set-up of the game, it suggests that the ends justify the means when it comes to overthrowing a corrupt government.  Sometimes the strictness of a game can be rhetorical by only allowing one solution to a problem, suggesting that is the best solution.

Jak II teaches us that if violence isn't solving your problems, you aren't using enough of it. 
BlazBlue, on the other hand, encourages the player to use as many different methods as possible. BlazBlue is a fighting game, which means that the game play consists of one-on-one battles. In most fighting games, the story will be tournament style, with players having to beat several opponents in order to progress. BlazBlue takes a different approach, with branching storylines that take multiple play-throughs to reach. The only wat to reach some of the branches, players must lose certain battles. In fact, in order to achieve 100% completion the player has to lose all possible battles once. By including losses as part of the completion requirement, the game suggests that both winning and losing are valuable experiences.

Blazblu shows us that if violence doesn't solve your problems, you aren't smashing the buttons fast enough. 
Goals suggest something is worth value, but making something a goal does not make a convincing argument by itself. Video games are often criticized for glorifying violence, but “violence is an element of play that serves specific purposes.”1 Because players are aware that it is only a game, they do not see the things they kill as living beings, but as challenges and hurdling blocks. Whether or not the violence in video games has negative effects on people is a subject of much controversy, and no conclusive evidence for either side has emerged. At the moment, though, the goals in video games are not always directly parallel to actions in real life, but remain abstracted. In order for the creator to persuade the audience that game goals apply beyond the game, they must create a system that is comparable to real life. Then, they need to show real-life rewards that could motivate the player. “Immediate goals provide immediate rewards,” and the success the player feels over small victories will motivate them to continue through the game to achieve larger victories.1 Developers need to provide adequate reason for the player to become invested in the stakes. 

This concludes the goals section of video game rhetoric. For Part 1, check here. For Part 2, check here. Make sure to check out the main Rhetoric directory, and check back for the next section, where we delve into choice and effect in video games! 

Oh, and if you want to make me really happy, check out my novel. You can get it for free with the coupon code YP65T.

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Tsunderes: Hot and Cold Heartthrobs

On Thursday, March 7, 2013 14 comments

I’ve been watching Shakugan no Shana, because I was curious about why the show was so popular. After much investigation, I have a startling deduction. People like Shana. Why? Because tsundere. There is something about those grumpy little lolis that drive people crazy (in the best way possible). I like ‘em too, as they are a far more compelling romantic lead than the usual hopelessly insecure high school girl. But why are tsunderes so fun to watch? After many hours of psychoanalysis (ie me sitting on my bed having a Toradora marathon) I have developed a theory. Tsunderes are popular because they are the perfect combination of hard-to-get, emotionally fragile, and flattering.

Look at this sassy little sheila. What's not to like?
People like a challenge. It validates your existence when you do something that ordinary people can’t. So the idea of a tsundere, or someone who is not normally cold, suddenly being torn by their emotions, is captivating. Being in a relationship is hard enough. But winning over a tsundere is like completing a marathon with one leg tied to spare tire. It’s not something the average mortal can do.

But in a nice little paradox, most tsunderes are emotionally fragile, which means that they would be easy to be in a relationship with. Like Shana, who emotionally withdraws because she doesn’t know how to handle her own emotions, tsunderes are a “go at your own pace” romance. Tsunderes are too stubborn to admit they like someone and enter a relationship. At the same time, they immaturely refuse to let someone go. This leads to a sort of push and pull, a sweet-spot of noncommittal love. The merry-go-round of emotion means that a relationship with a tsundere can continue indefinitely without ever being constricting or binding. They aren’t ready to completely commit to a relationship, so why should you?

Just because she makes you a gourmet dinner doesn't mean she likes you, okay?! 
 But let’s not forget the most important aspect of any hypothetical relationship: they make you feel good about yourself. Tsunderes are usually tough, hardened people. Like the ferocious Palmtop Tiger from Toradora, they are quick to judge and condemn. But their special someone magically makes them melt into a pile of squishy goo. Surely someone capable of such a marvelous feat must be amazing! Either that or the designated male-lead. But the fact remains that tsunderes are flattering because their love is so begrudgingly given.

If you can win over this, then you deserve a medal. 
It would be an oversimplification to say this is a complete analysis of what makes tsunderes the go-to for romantic leads. There are a wealth of other factors out there. However, you can’t deny that there is something so psychologically satisfying about the love-hate dynamic. So if you can’t get enough tsundere, have some recommended viewing:

And if you liked this post, check out my other articles!

Shounen: Soft-core Porn for Girls: An explanation of why shounen is so popular with the ladies.

In Defense of Vocaloids: A series of posts about why Vocaloids are so dang awesome.

Oh, and if you want to make me really happy, check out my novel, Peter Pays Tribute. You can get it for free with the coupon code YP65T.

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Damian Wayne: Gone but not for long

On Wednesday, March 6, 2013 1 comments

Grant Morrison is batshit insane. Everyone knows it. And in his latest flight of insanity, he killed one of my favorite characters: Damian Wayne. Yes, it’s official. Damian dies in Batman, Inc. #8. But I will bet good money that he isn’t going to stay dead. In fact, if you pay close attention, hints at his resurrection are everywhere. Read on, and dry those tears, you big baby.

Don't worry; he's just sleeping. And that's just V8 juice. 
I’m a huge fan of Grant Morrison. He’s one of the most brilliant writers in the comic industry. Heck, he wrote a story where the Doom Patrol defeated the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse with Dadaism. Anyone who does that is solid gold in my book. And something you have to understand about him is that he loves playing with expectation. He understands not just the medium of comic books, but the fan culture surrounding it. Remember Batman R.I.P.? Where it was clearly set up that Bruce was going to die, but then didn’t, but then died immediately after in Final Crisis when everyone was off guard? He likes to take people by surprise. And Damian’s death was not surprising.

I've never taken LSD, but I imagine it looks something like this. 
 And it doesn’t matter how gruesome Damian’s death was. Grant Morrison isn’t afraid to embrace the kookiness of comics. In fact, he relishes in absurdity. He wouldn’t be above writing some crazy plot arc or resurrection story to bring Damian back.

And I think he will. Why? Well, back during the Batman and Son arc, there was a mini-arc about three false Batmen. In an interview, Grant Morrison talked about his inspiration, and how hard it was to come up with new ideas for comics. He wanted to do an arc with imposter Batmen, but found out that it had already been done way back in the Silver Age. No one remembered or cared about that story, so he could have just retold it. But noooooo. He had to reinvent it, adding in some drugs and guns and some sort of apocalypse.

This is the third fake Batman, who may or may not be the anitChrist. I'm not sure. It's all very confusing. 
How does this relate to Damian? Easy. The story of Batman losing a Robin has already been told (thanks, Jason). In fact, not only has it been told, but pretty much a decade after that was spent on Bruce angsting over not being there in time for Jason. The story has been done to death. I highly doubt a writer as original as Grant Morrison would be content to rehash the same tale.

No, he has bigger plans. He’s been planning on killing Damian since day one. Ever since he started Batman, Inc. he wanted the story to focus on Damian and Bruce’s relationship, culminating in Damian’s death. Keyword culminating. Damian dies in issue eight, but the series is supposed to last twelve issues. There is still much more story to be told. And really, if he did want Damain’s death to be his great message, his lasting contribution to comics, then he would have saved it for the climax. But he didn’t, which means that he still has plans. There are only four issues left, so the plot isn’t going to shift away to some other struggle. No, the focus needs to stay on Bruce and Talia and their son.

Also according to Grant Morrison, this whole arc is supposed to have divorce undertones. Talia may be an uncaring bitch, but the second after Damian dies, she starts crying. Obviously she is already rethinking her decision. Gee, what’s a woman with access to a Lazarus Pit going to do over the loss of her child? Beats me.
This slut showing an emotion that isn't flagrant sexuality? That's a sure sign of the apocalypse. 

On the other end of the writing spectrum, Peter J. Tomasi, the current writer for Batman and Robin, talked about his future plans for the series. To sum it up, they don’t intend to bring back Tim as Robin. They don’t want to do another “Batman needs a Robin” story. And they refused to comment on any long-term plans, but he did have this to say: there's a big, epic picture in view over the horizon, but there's plenty of lightning storms and hurricanes for myself, Pat Gleason and our partners in crime Mick Gray and John Kalisz to still fly through before it all becomes clear.” Yeah, it’s vague, and yeah, I shouldn’t read too much into it. However, the Batfamily has been going through quite a few shakeups recently. I’d like to think the writers aren’t stupid enough to throw a new character into the mix while the waters are still muddy. So I don’t think it’s likely that they’ll introduce a new Robin. And Tim is not coming back as Robin. And the title Batman and Robin is not being cancelled.

This is all speculation based, so let me wrap this up with the cold hard facts: Damian makes money. Right now the character is growing in popularity. Popularity sells books. You know what sells even more books? Media hype. Just check out ebay and see how much an issue of Batman, Inc. #8 is going for. The only reason DC would slaughter the golden goose is if they had a way to bring it back laying more eggs than ever. *coughLazurusPitscough*

I thought you were a bro, Grant Morrison. I trusted you.
 So like I said, I am willing to bet good money that Damian makes a comeback within a year. In the meantime, don’t panic. Just enjoy these coming issues for the emotional issues they explore. Don’t be upset over Damian’s death. Instead, enjoy the (hopefully) psychologically complex stories coming out. And try to act a little surprised when they decide to bring Damian back. It makes the writers feel good. 

If you like this article, make sure to check out my other stuff!

I Demand Stephanie Brown: How bringing Steph back could improve all of the Bat-comics

Don't Cry For Young Justice: Why Young Justice being cancelled isn't the end of the world

Your Objective is Anarchy: How video games encourage rebellion.
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