Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Final Fantasy XIII-2 Contributes to Time Travel Folklore

I know, I know. It's Sci-Fi month and I'm writing about a Final Fantasy game. But with all the time travel, futuristic cities, and robots in this game, I just can't see the fantasy through all the science fiction. 


     Writing about time travel is difficult, especially if you are not a physicist. I'm going to try to give it a shot. Over the years, a number of works -- both scientific and fictional -- have given us a set of standards to expect when encountering a story that uses time travel as a plot device. Some time travel stories don't give detailed explanations of the mechanics of how time travel works. They just go with it and hope that the audience will suspend their disbelief long enough to watch a silly time travel scene (here's an example appropriate for the holiday season). Other stories do a better job of explaining how their time travel system works. Being a J-RPG (and thus being a very long game), Final Fantasy XIII-2 attempts to explain the time travel that drives the plot (while also trying to be less opaque than its predecessor) in great detail. The avenue through which the protagonists travel through time in this game is called the Historia Crux, and is described by the game's narrator as, "the
crossroads between the Time Gates. It is a separate dimension connecting one age to the next." While this description is wordy and confusing, a playthrough of the game allows the game's audience to see exactly how the timeline is shaped and changed through the creation and fixing of time paradoxes. Below is an image from the game that shows the timeline with all of its paradoxical time periods along with the correct (or fixed) time periods. Each numbered spot is a place in time that the player can visit throughout the journey in the game.


     The next image is the selection screen where the player chooses which time and place to visit.


   Those familiar with time travel lore and classic '80s movies may feel that the timeline matrix shown above looks a bit familiar. This would be because it follows the theory of alternate timelines explained by Doc Brown in "Back to the Future: Part II". 


     Where "Back to the Future: Part II" shows merely one alternate timeline, however, Final Fantasy XIII-2 creates numerous alternate times that players will encounter, which can be quite confusing. To try to make the Historia Crux less daunting, different instances of a time the player has already visited are denoted with an X in the numbered part of the year. For instance, if the player has already visited the year 10 AF, an alternate version of that time is listed as 1X AF. 
     So how can we consider this a contribution to time travel folklore? Up until now, one of the most detailed and well-remembered definitions of time paradoxes in popular science fiction was the one presented by Doc Brown. Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes the same theory and ,provides many more examples, or incidences, to help its audience understand the daunting concept of multiple time dimensions.

   As an aside, because this post is a part of Sci-Fi Month, and because I'm sure someone who is reading this is thinking about it, I want to mention the TV show "Stargate: SG-1." Over the course of ten seasons, three movies, and countless spin-offs, this tv show has confused me to the point of extreme frustration when it comes to its creators' take on alternate dimensions and time travel. They couldn't just travel through space: they had to travel through time, as well, and boy did they make a mess out of that. I'm sure someone out there understands that timeline/dimension-line perfectly, but I sure don't. Honorable mention in the hall of time travel confusion goes to both "Star Trek" and "Superman".

     For more discussion about time travel theory, watch this clip from the tv show "The Big Bang Theory": 


    And again, remember that there is one week left to enter the big Sci-Fi Month video game GIVEAWAY! There are only a few entries so far, so you have a good chance of winning a game if you enter now!


Saturday, November 15, 2014

To the Moon: 16-Bit Graphic Style Does Not Equal Poor Storytelling!


     As usual, a few disclaimers first: yes, there may be spoilers in this article. This time, however, I must confess that I have not quite finished the game (I have been so busy working on my thesis, playing games is almost a thing of the past these days). So I do request that no one spoil the ending for me this time! Also, I understand that this game is not technically 16-bit because that would require that it play exclusively on a 16-bit console. The art style is definitely inspired by 16-bit era games, however.

     To the Moon is a small game that has a story that could be easily sold on the big screen. Like The Time Traveler's Wife, the story involves an unusual form of time travel and a tragic romance. The story begins with a dying man and two scientists who are tasked with bringing about his greatest wish: to visit the moon. In order to do this, however, they must use futuristic technology to enter his mind and view the history of his life one moment at a time -- in backwards order. Though they are not technically traveling through time (they are, in fact, standing in the room with the man while they operate their machinery), their consciousnesses are transported into the man's memories, and they must use important objects that he remembers to continue to travel further back into his older memories. All of the characters in this story have deeply three dimensional personalities (even if they are portrayed in a two-dimensional art format), and the player is able to become very empathetic with them early on. For instance, it is made clear that there is something unusual about the dying man's wife. Eventually, players discover along with the two scientists that the woman had Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Players live this man's life, albeit backwards, through the course of the game.

     The concepts presented in this game are new, unusual, and highly literary. There is the traditional format of romance and science fiction, but these are only large blanket terms that barely begin to describe the complexity of the time travel dynamic involved in the science fiction, or the irregularity of the relationship between the central figure and his wife. Some may dismiss the game because of its older graphic style and assume that because the graphics aren't flashy, the game must be very primitive. In truth, however, the simpler graphics allow the player to become more immersed in the story, since he or she is not distracted by the graphics. There is no lack of beauty in the game's visuals, though. 16-bit graphic styles can be very pretty (and have a cult following because some believe they are the most beautiful graphic form), and in place of cut scenes, there are some gorgeous works of digital art dispersed throughout the game.

Even with an already intense plot to rest on, the game adds other entertaining elements to the mix. For instance, there is one hilarious moment early in the game where the RPG genre (to which this game arguably belongs) is clearly parodied. One of the scientists (whichever one the player picks to control) is taking a tour of the grounds with the housekeeper's two children. The children begin to discuss fantasy role playing, and the scientist, trying to seem cool, begins a "random battle" with a squirrel. See the scene on YouTube here.

    As with many a complex story line, fan theories abound with this game. If you have already played and finished the game, browse the Steam community discussions to see what I mean.

Finally, don't forget to enter the GIVEAWAY for Sci-Fi Month! The giveaway ends November 30th.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ready Player One: Teaching Research Methods with Video Games

     We did something really cool at my library this semester. Every year, incoming freshmen at Georgia College and State University are assigned a book to read which is chosen for the students' enjoyment, but also for its ability to impart wisdom to unsuspecting college students. Every year in the library, we also host a scavenger hunt that teaches new students about how to use the library. This year, the book that was chosen for the Freshmen to read was Ernest Cline's Ready Player One


     In tandem with the Ready Player One spirit of hunting for clues within a video game (which is essentially an extremely condensed plot of the story -- click the link on the book's title for more information on the book itself), the library's annual scavenger hunt was centered around 8- and 16-bit games from the '80s and '90s. First students had to find clues that taught them about the library and how to use it for their research needs (an example of a clue used is as follows: "In the book Ready Player One, Wade Watts shares a piece of dialogue from a John Hughes movie on page 62. Find the movie in the library. Flip over the DVD. There’s a painting at center in a picture on the back. Give the name of the painting to the Gatekeepers at the print desk as your pass key.") Once a student solved the day's clue, he or she had to take it to the circulation desk. If the student had the correct answer, a special room was unlocked where they would play one round of a game (the game and the clue changed each day of the event) and then record their score on a scoreboard (just like the scoreboard in the book). At the end of the event, all of the scores were tallied and the students with the highest scores were awarded prizes. 


     This is an excellent approach to using video games and popular literature as both incentives and actual tools in teaching students how to use their educational resources and succeed in school and in the rest of their lives. Though many people who are unfamiliar with the complexity of video games as a media form would claim that video games have no educational value whatsoever, this event clearly established that video games can easily be incorporated into academic life.

    Cline's book was also used as a venue to introduce students to various entertainment choices held within the library's collection. Because the decade of the 1980s is so central to the book's plot, a display of '80s movies was erected in order to introduce students to the vast collection of movies and other media that the library owns. As any literature scholar or bibliophile knows, introducing impressionable young minds to the wonders of the library is always a wonderful thing!

(An aside: don't forget that the GIVEAWAY is still going on until the end of the month!)



Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sci-Fi Month GIVEAWAY!


You heard that right, I'm doing a Giveaway! This is my first time doing this, but if all goes smoothly three happy people will end up with video game prizes at the end of the month! So here's what you want to hear: how to enter!

Rules:
  1.  Post this giveaway page to a social media outlet of your choice. To make it easier, you can use the buttons at the bottom of the page. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Livejournal -- anything goes.
  2.  Make a comment in the comments section of this post, and name a game or two that you think would fit the theme of video games as literature. If you want, you can give a short explanation about your choice. 
  3.  At the end of your comment, include a link to your social media post. Also provide information that will allow me to contact you (your Twitter, Facebook, etc. will suffice).
  4. Entrant must be age 17 or over AND must either have a Steam account or be willing to make one (the Steam platform can be downloaded for free here). 
  5. Only one entry is allowed per person.


Three winners will be chosen randomly from among the commenters. And here are the prizes!


Overlord
Fallout 3
Darksiders

First place winner gets one game of choice, second place chooses from among the remaining two, and third place wins the last game available.

The giveaway ends on the last day of the month.

These games were chosen as the prizes for a number of reasons. Fallout 3, of course, is one of the games I have already discussed on this blog, though there is a good chance I will have more to say about it in the future. Overlord is a great game that parodies the many cliches of the fantasy genre (especially those presented in The Lord of the Rings) -- it's also been called "Evil Pikmin". I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's certainly a thing. Darksiders similarly uses literary influences to tell its own story. Most importantly, (with the possible exception of Overlord) these are all relevant to Sci-Fi Month -- the reason for the Giveaway!



Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sci-Fi Month November!


     This month I will be participating in Sci-Fi November! This is an event hosted by the awesome girls over at Oh! The Books and Rinn Reads. Though the majority of participating blogs are book blogs, there are definitely a plethora of Sci-Fi related video games! Two video games I intend to write about this month are Final Fantasy XIII-2 (yes, it has "fantasy" in the title, but in my post I will definitely show how it is more of a science fiction story than fantasy) and To the Moon (as already promised). If you want to read my thoughts on any other science fiction video games, just let me know in a comment!