Games to Play at the End of the World

Ah yes, the apocalypse, a favorite setting for game developers of all generations. While we waste away in our homes awaiting the end of days, we really should be playing some appropriate games for the situation, don't you think? But appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another, so I have compiled below two lists for two completely different purposes. The first is a list of games to play if you are preparing to face the apocalypse head-on. The second is a list of games to play if you wish to shut out all bad in the world and ignore the rising flames around you (Yes, this dramatic nature of mine got me into big trouble when I took journalism in high school). You decide which type of game is appropriate for your needs.

Games to Prepare You for the Apocalypse:

Cover image for the game The Last of Us

The obvious first choice for this list is The Last of Us, a game that takes us through the first moments of a deadly pandemic, then shows us what the world looks like approximately 20 years later. We see the perspectives of two protagonists: one is a man who survived those first moments and has continued to survive over the years, and the other is a young girl/growing woman who never knew the world before the pandemic devastated humanity. The Last of Us is a thoughtful look at the events of precisely the type of tragedy the world is currently facing (though it may be a small relief that the dead remain dead in our case). There are moments when the protagonists must navigate still-contaminated areas and need to wear gas masks to protect themselves -- this scene may seem very familiar to modern-day players. By strange coincidence, the sequel is scheduled to release during the current pandemic, though like many other games it may end up being delayed. The Last of Us is available on PS3 and PS4.

When any gamer thinks of the apocalypse, it's very likely they picture a scene from the Fallout series. This series takes place many years after a nuclear apocalypse, meaning that society is ended through war (war never changes) and not through disease, but disease abounds after the destruction of modern society as we know it. By the way, am I the only one who really wants to see a Fallout game set in another country -- not just in America? While the series has often made commentary on American culture and politics specifically, I really want to know what is happening around the world during the events of Fallout. If you want to play Fallout with friends, I hear Fallout 76 has gotten better with recent patches, but if you want to play the best of the series, I recommend Fallout: New Vegas. The Fallout series is available on most major platforms.

A game I have mentioned before and will likely write about again is Bastion, a popular indie title from developer Supergiant Games. Bastion is another game that takes place post-war, but this time there are very few living people left in the vicinity. The hero of the story must find these last survivors and lead them to the Bastion, a place of hope in an otherwise dying world. This game is beautiful and will probably make you cry. Bastion is available on most major platforms.

Promotional image for Fallen London

A trusty game that is a little different from the AAA fare already mentioned is Fallen London, a browser-based game that has spawned two spin-offs: Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies. Fallen London is set in a steampunk world and is a little difficult to describe. The following is a description directly from the developer's website:
Thirty years ago, London was stolen. Now it rests on the shore of the Unterzee, that old dark ocean under the world. Hell is close, immortality is cheap, and the screaming has largely stopped… (Failbetter Games)
This story is apocalyptic in a very -fantasy- sense and makes a decent bridge between escapism and realism for the purposes of this list.

I want to include some "honorable mentions" that have a post-apocalyptic feel but did not otherwise make my list:
Borderlands, a science fiction series that takes place on another planet, yet has a similar setting to other games in the post-apocalyptic genre.
Aladdin, a seemingly straight-forward Disney game with a very popular fan theory that suggests the setting may be post-apocalyptic (read more about the theory here).
The Wasteland Series, a spin-off of sorts from the Fallout series, which I personally haven't played yet and therefore can't review or recommend.

Games to Play When You Want to Block Out the World:

This list is going to be a little more obvious, as there seems to be a genre of games specifically intended to help you ignore the real world. Get ready to do a lot of farming.

Image of the player character from Animal Crossing and Beau, a deer, standing in front of flowers and smiling.

First and foremost, of course, is Nintendo's Animal Crossing franchise. When you wake up in the morning, you immediately start playing Animal Crossing. After catching some fish, planting some flowers, and identifying some fossils, you realize you never went to the bathroom, so you put the game down. On the way to the bathroom you realize it's oddly dark and your clock says it's already after supper time. Your psychiatrist might call this an unhealthy addiction, but gamers call it a day well spent. Animal Crossing is available on every major Nintendo console/handheld since the GameCube.

The next franchise on the list is a little confusing: Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons. The confusing part involves a change in North American publishers which led to a copyright battle over the name "Harvest Moon." I won't be able to tell you which exact games are good and which are the "fake" Natsume games, but fortunately other people have already compiled a list for you (see that list here). The Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons franchise tends to focus more on farming than on any other activity, but you will still find plenty to do! And of course, there are always a variety of bachelors and bachelorettes available and hoping to marry you! The Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons franchise is available on many, many consoles and handheld systems (though most are on Nintendo systems).

The Rune Factory series is essentially a spin-off from the Harvest Moon franchise, but a lot of activities are added to the roster in these games. While you can still farm, Rune Factory adds dungeon crawling, world exploration, and Pokemon-style beast raising. My favorite game in this series is also one of my favorite games of all time: Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (also known as Rune Factory: Oceans). The Rune Factory series can be found on Nintendo DS, 3DS, Wii, Switch, and PS3!

I'm going to give a brief mention to Stardew Valley, a delightful indie game that is very similar to Rune Factory, but its developer, ConcernedApe, listens to fans and regularly makes improvements to the game! Stardew Valley improves on the Rune Factory formula in several ways, including allowing same sex dating and marriage along with character customization. Stardew Valley is available on most modern platforms.

Last but not least is the old classic, The Sims. While you can have your Sims do some farming, this franchise is more about doing everyday things... like going to the bathroom and remembering to wash your hands. One might think that a game about telling virtual people to use the toilet would get boring very quickly, but somehow that is not the case. I, personally, have spent hours at a time in front of a computer simply micromanaging the minuscule details of my virtual citizens' lives. And in an age of uncertainty, a game about ordinary, every day actions might be just what we need. The Sims franchise can be played on PC, or you can play The Sims 4 on PS4 and X-Box One.

Biweekly Posts: March 13, 2020

Hello all!

To get myself back into the swing of writing regularly, I am going to attempt to post some more casual blog entries approximately biweekly. These will include updates on what games I have been playing, books I have been reading, and any other interesting tidbits I have picked up recently that don't warrant a full post. Of course, these posts will be much more casual than usual.

First off, I would like to remind anyone who is not following me on social media that I do often tend to be more active on Twitter and Instagram, so please feel free to follow me there, as well as on the blog.

As of the beginning of the year, I have already beat three games, though I've spent the majority of my time on much longer games like Persona 5 (which I will beat eventually, I swear!) and Torchlight 2, which has recently come to PS4 (yay!). The three games I beat include, well, Uncharted 1, 2, and 3. Finally. After years of trying, and failing, to get into this series I finally decided to just run through them on easy mode, and I certainly found them to be more enjoyable than I thought they would be! I'm really excited to play the newer games in the series now!

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection

 As far as reading goes, I've been in a terrible slump. I hope to escape this slump, however, with the help of book challenges! One challenge I have joined is the #ARMEDWITHABINGO reading challenge. This challenge is, as the title suggests, a bingo card which suggests different types of books to read. See the graphic below and click the link for more information:

Kirsten is #ArmedWithABingo: a casual book bingo for 2020 hosted by Ariel and Kriti at Armed with a Book

So far this year, I have only completed one book, but here's my dark secret: that's better than last year. My reading slump has been so genuinely terrible that I didn't complete any books last year. I started many, but was unable to complete any. The one book I completed so far this year was Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs -- one of my go-to authors when I need to fight my way out of a slump. I counted this on my bingo card as "A Book with Multiple POVs" as the story is told by two protagonists (see the bingo card at the bottom of this post). It was a rough book to get through at times due to the serious nature of the storyline, but thankfully it was engaging enough to start my journey out of the reading slump!

Thank you for sticking by me as I try to breathe some life back into this blog! If you want to see more activity from me, feel free to view/follow my social media accounts at Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Kirsten's Armed with a bingo bingo card!

Video Games as Literature 2.0

Felicitations, friends, family, and faithful followers!

Now that I've gotten my alliteration over with... Can you believe it, I'm alive! After a brief struggle with a doctoral program, I am now taking time to focus on my health and my writing for a while. Here I will outline my plans for the near future and some information you should know about:

I have been spending a lot of time focusing on my Video Games as Literature Instagram account. You can check that out here: @ringwraith_games_and_lit

My Master's Thesis has been published online. If you are interested in reading it, here is the link: Master's Thesis

I am late to the party, but I am planning to participate in SciFi Month November once again this month. Here's some information about that.

I will also be changing the way that I post on this blog, to make life easier for me and to make my posts more interesting for my readers. Instead of writing a scholarly essay for each post, I will be interspersing more casual writing like reviews and maybe a few opinion pieces here and there. Please remember that this is a troll-free zone -- all comments are moderated and trolling and hateful behavior will not be tolerated in any way.

I have several posts lined up to write, so please stay tuned for more stimulating material on the way!

Oh, I almost forgot! Happy N7 Day, everyone! May we all remember the days when Bioware made good games. If you want to see some N7 Day material, check out my Instagram account, where I have made a few posts for the occasion!

Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter for the latest updates!

I would also like to briefly thank a couple of blogs which have helped me to update the look of my own blog and make it more accessible:
Life of a Blind Girl
Jessica Out of the Closet

Update Time! I finished my thesis!

Hello all,

Long time, no write! I apologize for my vacancy on this blog and on social media lately -- over the last few months I have been busy with finishing my thesis! Now that it's finished, however, I am ready to get busy and create a lot of new blog content for you guys! I have several great entries in the works, so look forward to reading some interesting literary topics in the coming weeks. 

I have some questions for you guys:

In order to make more content for this blog, would you like to hear more about literature in general, rather than just video games? Do you have any suggestions for me or questions you would like for me to answer? Feel free to discuss these topics in the comments. I would also appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to fill out a survey I have created to try to gain a better understanding of what my readers want to see. Thank you for your interest in my humble blog!

The Cthulhu Mythos in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Video Games

     When I was a sophomore in undergraduate school I wrote a ten page paper on the influence of the Cthulhu mythos on popular culture. Since then I have come to realize that the Cthulhu mythos is such an overwhelming force that affects so many aspects of literature and popular culture it cannot be contained to a mere ten pages. While I no longer have a copy of my sophomore paper, I would like to tackle the subject of the Cthulhu mythos again, this time focusing on a few of my favorite games that fall into the genre of Lovecraftian horror or Cthulhu-inspired Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

     In case you're not aware, Cthulhu is a god-monster created by early 20th century author H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft created an entirely new mythos revolving around mysterious terrors like Cthulhu, and his works have influenced most modern stories in the sci-fi horror genre. Works of literature, games, and films in this genre are often called Lovecraftian horror, after the man who defined the genre. Genre-forming greats like Dungeons and Dragons and Robert E. Howard (author of Conan the Barbarian) have been heavily influenced by Lovecraft's creations, and thus the genres that these creators influenced have also heavily mirrored aspects of Lovecraft's writing. It makes sense, then, that video games have come to be greatly influenced by the Cthulhu mythos. If you want to know the exact scope of Lovecraft's influence on video games, you need only search for "Cthulhu" in the Steam store to see that there are hundreds of games claiming influence from Lovecraft -- and these are only the most evident PC games available on Steam. The list doesn't even count console-exclusive games.

A sketch of Cthulhu by Lovecraft himself.

     This article will focus on a few of the most interesting Lovecraftian games I have played, many of which have influenced my life as a gamer and as a literary scholar. First on the list are some of the most well-known games by mega-popular game developer and publisher Bethesda. If you're a major fan of Bethesda, you likely know that Bethesda LOVES Lovecraft. The Elder Scrolls games and the Fallout games are littered with references and influences from Lovecraft's work. I first noticed this trend when I played The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind over a decade ago. At first the game seems like a vibrant, exciting open world experience for players of all ages. That perception lasts until the first time you encounter an "Ascended Sleeper" -- a Cthulhu-like monster that quite likely will scare the wits out of your low-level character when you first see one in a dungeon. The name for this creature most likely originates from Cthulhu's position in the story Call of Cthulhu as a sleeping monster found beneath the ocean. The primary antagonist of Morrowind is also heavily influenced by Lovecraftian lore. Said antagonist, Dagoth Ur, is based on Robert E. Howard's Dagoth, who in turn is partially based on Cthulhu and other "old gods" created by Lovecraft. Like Cthulhu, Dagoth Ur originally sleeps under a volcano (rather than the ocean), and rises to spread terror across the land.

     The Fallout series is not without numerous references to Lovecraft. These are less evident than the influences found in the Elder Scrolls series, but if you have a basic knowledge of Lovecraft's stories you should be able to spot the references scattered throughout the series. The most obvious reference to Lovecraft is the Dunwich Borers company, which has locations in Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. Dunwich Borers is a play on the title Dunwich Horror, which is a key story in Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. When the player enters the Dunwich Borers location in Fallout 4, she is presented with the story of the company that was "mining" the earth as a cover-up for their search for the Lovecraftian creature that they worship. This story is shown through flashbacks and terminal entries. For the full story of the Dunwich Borers in Fallout 4, see the following video.

     Another game that draws heavily from Lovecraft is Sunless Sea, a PC game that is based on the browser-based game entitled Fallen London. The tagline for the game is "Lose your mind. Eat your crew. Die." This tagline shows the deep connection that the game has to Lovecraft through its primary themes: sanity/insanity, oceanic exploration, and the unknown. The horror elements of the game require no introduction, as the first few seconds spent playing the game will give most gamers a serious eerie sensation. Like its predecessor, Fallen London, much of Sunless Sea is text-based, but this does not detract from the horror inherent in the story.

Sunless Sea (Source)

     A list of Lovecraft-inspired games cannot exist without some mention of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. This Gamecube exclusive is a cult classic, though many have not heard of it. Like Sunless Sea, Eternal Darkness revolves around a Lovecraftian view of sanity, but this game takes the theme of insanity further in that it actively tries to make the player feel as though she is going insane. While the game does include standard jump scares and other tactics normal to the horror genre, there are other aspects of the game (I won't spoil them here) that the player does not expect. Nintendo patented the sanity meter present in the game (which is much like a health bar, but measures the player character's sanity) before dropping the game's developers from their payroll, thus preventing any other games from utilizing this feature.

     Many other games could merit a mention in this article, but these are a few of the most prominent games in the Lovecraftian horror/sci-fi genre that I have played. Many space-themed games also fit the genre, such as Dead Space and the good and bad games from the Alien/Aliens franchise. Space games are easy to fit into the Lovecraftian horror genre, as Lovecraftian horror hinges on a fear of the unknown, and what is more unknown to modern man than space? All a creator needs to do is add some terrifying aliens, and a Lovecraftian tale has been created almost without even trying. There is also a plethora of table-top games based on Lovecraft; most likely inspired by the mentions of Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian monsters in Dungeons and Dragons.

     What are your favorite Lovecraftian or Cthulhu-inspired games? Is there a glaringly obvious game that I missed? Did I use the word "Lovecraftian" often enough in this article? Feel free to discuss these and more in the comments!

Disabled Heroes and Heroines in Mass Effect

     One of the most popular and thought-provoking franchises in the Sci-Fi genre continues to be the Mass Effect trilogy (which will be receiving a completely original sequel sometime next year). There are numerous articles and videos on the internet about the ambiguous ending of the original trilogy's story, and any fan of the series you come across is likely to have a lot to say about the ending. I, personally, am usually a fan of bleak endings (unless it involves the death of beloved Harry Potter characters) and found the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy acceptable, if confusing. The developers re-made the game's three endings after receiving a huge amount of backlash from the fan community, and these re-made endings are acceptable to me, if unacceptable to most fans. Why do I find the ending acceptable? Because ultimately, no matter how much "control" the player has over the direction that the story takes, this is still a piece of literature that has been written by an author (in this case, the writers who created this story), and it is the brainchild of said author to be consumed and constructively criticized by players just as a book has a definite ending that one can like or dislike.

    But believe it or not, I'm not here today to talk about the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy. Many, many other people have already hashed out the good and the bad (and the very bad) of Mass Effect 3's final moments. Instead, I'd like to take a look at some of the characters in the series: specifically, Joker, Tali, and Wrex. What do these particular characters have in common? They each have complicated illnesses or disabilities that are intricately dissected and discussed throughout the trilogy. It is extremely rare for a video game to feature major characters with disabilities, and as a person who is disabled, I was surprisingly happy to find characters I could strongly relate to in a AAA video game franchise. Now, the argument has been made to me that Tali and Wrex do not qualify as disabled characters because their entire races suffer from specific diseases. I would argue, however, that in the universal world of Mass Effect, where many races from many planets intermingle in one society, the diseases that affect these particular heroes are setbacks that they must overcome, that other characters are unable to relate to.

     Tali's race, the Quarians, suffer from a fatally low immune system, and even a small scratch in her armor could cause a deadly infection to occur. Even though all members of the Quarian race have this immune deficiency, Tali is uniquely inconvenienced among the heroes of the Normandy crew in that she could suffer from a deadly infection at any time. The only thing that protects Tali from instant death is a specially sealed, technologically advanced suit of armor that her race invented to protect themselves from disease. This suit is as much a hindrance as a help, however. It is very difficult for Quarians to engage in sexual intercourse, and any form of physical contact is almost entirely out of the question. Their faces are concealed, as well, so they have more difficulty communicating with others than members of other species would. Check out the below video for some of Tali's own words on the subject:

   Wrex, another of the primary companions in the series, is a member of the strongest race in the known universe: the Krogans. Krogans are often recruited as mercenaries and used as soldiers in war because of their strength and battle-oriented disposition. Why, then, would Wrex, or any Krogan, be considered disabled? Because in the history of the Mass Effect universe, the Krogans were infected with a disease known as the "genophage" which prevents the Krogan from reproducing. All Krogan are infected with this disease. According to the Mass Effect wiki,
The genophage's modus operandi is not to reduce the fertility of krogan females, but rather the probability of viable pregnancies: many krogan die in stillbirth, with most fetuses never even reaching this stage of development. Moreover, every cell in each krogan is infected, to prevent the use of gene therapy to counteract it. (Source)
 While the genophage does not inhibit Wrex's ability to aide Shepard or perform his duties to his fellow Krogans, it is a disease that he is constantly battling with and aware of at every step of the story. Every decision that Wrex makes is affected by his disease, and ultimately the aide of the Krogans in the final battle of the story hinges on whether or not Shepard is able to arrange for a cure to be created and given to the Krogans. If the game did not constantly remind us at every turn that the Krogans are sick I might not have included Wrex in this article. But the genophage is a huge part of Wrex's personal identity, and it cannot be ignored.

     Finally, the most obviously disabled character in the Mass Effect series is Joker, the well-liked pilot of the Normandy voiced by Seth Green. Also known by his given name, Jeff Moreau, Joker is usually seen sitting in the cockpit of the Normandy. The Mass Effect wiki describes Joker's condition:
Joker's upbringing and career have been colored by his health. Joker has a moderate to severe case of Vrolik syndrome, which causes extreme brittleness in the bones; he was born with severe fractures to his legs and even with modern medicine he finds walking nearly impossible, relying on crutches and leg braces. (Source)
Joker's condition is usually only discussed in passing, and is often easy to forget as we normally never see him leave his seat. Joker tells us that he was able to become a pilot because, despite his condition, he was the top student in flight school and even surpassed many of his instructors in skill. In Mass Effect 2, Joker's illness is brought to the forefront of our minds, however, when Commander Shepard and the rest of the heroes of the Normandy conveniently leave the ship on a shuttle to perform a mission of some sort, and Joker is alone when the Normandy is attacked. The player suddenly finds herself playing as Joker, and must limp slowly through the ship to activate the ship's defense systems. The following video shows this scene (warning: there are a LOT of spoilers for Mass Effect 2 in the following video, so don't watch it if you're not ready!):

Though you may not be able to tell from watching the video, limping along as Joker at an agonizingly slow pace while aliens are attacking the ship is a terrifying experience. I think the scene does a great job of giving players a bit of understanding of how scary it can be to be disabled, especially in the midst of a crisis. I also applaud Bioware for creating one of the very first player-characters that is disabled, even if you only play as this character for about five minutes. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, disabled characters are very rare in video games, and playable characters with disabilities are almost non-existent. Occasionally you'll play a game where your protagonist has an eye patch (and is presumably missing an eye), but rarely does that actually hinder the character's abilities as it should (the main exception can be found in Metal Gear Solid 3, which I won't spoil here). 

     I find it remarkable that Bioware was able to delve so deeply into the topic of disability with their characters in the Mass Effect series, but then, Bioware is known for being very progressive for a game company. Tali is my favorite character in the Mass Effect universe primarily because I have never before been able to relate to a game character in terms of my disability. I am eager to see how disability, gender roles, and all sorts of other important topics are brought to light in the newest addition to the franchise, set to release next year. 

We've Made The New Yorker!

Rejoice, gamers, for a video game has been referenced in that oh-so-literary magazine, The New Yorker. It's not much, but an acknowledgement that their readership would understand a video game reference is certainly a step in the right direction for canonizing video games as a form of literature. The reference appeared in a cartoon published today, as seen below:

While "Mortal Kombat" may not be the most literary of games, and many New Yorker readers have already pointed out that Scorpion never actually says "Finish him" in the game, I still feel that this piece shows just how far we've come in the area of video game acceptance. Game developer Brianna Wu gave some interesting insight on this on Twitter:

What are your thoughts on video games being granted a presence in The New Yorker?

In other news, I do apologize for not updating regularly. I'm almost finished with my Master's thesis and I have had no time for any extra writing of any kind. I will be participating in Sci-Fi Month again next month, however, so you can look forward to some entries then!