Monday, November 16, 2015

What exactly is "Beyond" Good and Evil?


     I recently finished cult classic Beyond Good and Evil for PS3 (the HD re-release) and found myself asking what the title means. Of course, there are a multitude of books and papers that discuss the difference between Good and Evil, how the concepts started, and the grey area beyond. My musings here will only cover the meaning within the game, as I don't have time to analyze the most controversial concept in human, nay, universal, history. For that, you can read Nietzsche. But I must wonder, why did the creators of this game decide to give it such a lofty title? Is the game deserving of such a heavy burden? Does it actually have anything to do with the pre-existing book of the same name?

     First, let me break the game's storyline down into its most basic plot points and symbols:
  • Family and Friendship
  • Human trafficking 
  • Finances
  • Aliens
  • Photography
Photography aside, these are pretty heavy concepts, to be sure. There isn't much that can bring a jolly conversation to a screeching halt quite like the topic of human trafficking. Aliens are no laughing matter, either. And yet Beyond Good and Evil somehow manages to bring all of these concepts together without receiving an AO rating.
     The game's protagonist, Jade, becomes involved with an underground organization whose purpose is to expose evil deeds being committed by a militarized government. Jade's task is seemingly simple: using her trusty camera, Jade must capture photographic evidence of the government's misdeeds. Jade soon discovers, to the player's likely horror, that the government is literally kidnapping people and shipping them off to the moon to take part in a The Matrix-like alien slave trade. Throughout the story players follow Jade's interactions with her motley crew of different-species family members and friends, and constantly hear little bits of proverb about not leaving team-mates behind (particularly when a NPC party member gets stuck behind a door or otherwise falls behind). In some ways, the lessons taught here are simplistic and Sesame Street-like, though I must defend Sesame Street; at least, in my youth, it was a pretty complex show that taught valuable lessons to children and their parents while taking kids seriously. Maybe, like Sesame Street, Beyond Good and Evil intends to reach an open and impressionable audience and spread the message that family and friends are important treasures to cherish and protect. Cue the Yip Yips.


So, maybe familial and platonic relationships are beyond good and evil: maybe one must put aside all of one's personal affects when the life of a family member is at stake. Jade fights for good by exposing the evil being perpetrated by the corrupt government, but she is more personally motivated to action when her uncle is kidnapped. In this way, Jade sees her family as being more important than, or beyond, the philosophical fight between good and evil.

     Have you played Beyond Good and Evil? What do you think is beyond the concept of good vs. evil? How might the game developers have concocted such a title? Of course, the most pressing question for most gamers is: will there be a sequel?

     Don't forget: this month is Sci-Fi Month! What are your favorite literary sci-fi games?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Thoughts on Mattel's "Monster High"


In a word: "Fangtastic". Okay, so the series is filled with enough bad puns to make any English major permanently stick their face in a cringe, but I have been a long-time fan of Monster High and the ways that they are changing the game in girls' toys. How does this fit the blog's theme of Video Games as Literature? Well, I'll get to that in a bit -- bear with me. I just want to mention a few things I like about what the toy line and show are teaching young girls:
  1. "Be Yourself. Be Unique. Be a Monster." This is the motto of Monster High, and it encourages girls to be different and not to be afraid of who they are. This theme is perpetuated throughout the movies and toy line, and is very different from the traditional message that Barbie has been giving children since time began: "You can do anything as long as you have the right hair color, proportions, and boyfriend."
  2. Monster High teaches girls that they aren't required to play with "girl toys" and do "girl" things. For instance, take a look at this skateboard (skateboarding is traditionally considered a boys' activity due to the amount of physical exertion required) made for Monster High fans:

So, video games. While Mattel has released several Monster High video games (which I have not played), my impression is that these games are not the greatest literary achievements in the gaming world (this impression comes from the following Let's Play videos that I have skimmed on YouTube -- warning for language).
What has recently impressed me, however, is an initiative by Mattel to teach young girls the very basics of coding (check out the website for this movement here). There is a large amount of controversy regarding the need for more girls to be involved in STEM fields, and every time a new "girl toy" is released that seems to move girls away from being interested in science and math the internet begins to complain. This is why I was so impressed to see the following video from Monster High: 

While the principles taught in these browser games are very, very basic, they are intended to get girls interested in real coding, and that's what really counts here. 

How does this relate to literature? Well, the more viewpoints (women, minorities, etc.) we find involved in the creation process of our newest medium (video games), the more potential there will be for creative variety. I can't wait to see what this generation of young girls will contribute to literature in all of its forms in the future.


By the way, one "girl" game that I can highly recommend is Disney's Brave -- for a licensed game supposedly intended for young girls, this game is rich and challenging! And, of course, the heroine, Merida, is anything but a traditional girl. If you haven't seen the movie, that's high on my list of recommendations, as well.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Welcome to Sci-Fi Month 2015!



As it is now November, Sci-Fi Month has officially begun! This year I'll be taking the month a bit slower than before, as I have too much work in my personal life and can't give this blog my full attention, but rest assured that I will be writing on some very good, well received (and under-appreciated) games this month. Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments, as usual, and click on the Sci-Fi Month logo to check out some of the other blogs that are participating!