Wyrd & Wonder 2022

 

Drawing of a wolf made of branches. Text says Wyrd & Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic 1-31 May
Once again I will be participating in Wyrd & Wonder this month! Wyrd and Wonder is an annual blogging event where a variety of bloggers come together to discuss fantasy literature. I, of course, will be taking this theme in my own direction and will discuss not only fantasy books, but also fantasy themed video games. May will be a busy month for me, as I am also preparing to run a panel at Momocon at the end of the month, so I may not do as much for Wyrd & Wonder as I would like this year, but I will definitely be participating in the group reading of The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. I've been excited to read this particular book for a while now and I'm glad to finally have a good reason to do so! If you are interested in participating in the group read, you can click below to purchase the book through an affiliate link, which will give a small commission to the Video Games as Literature blog.





You can also follow the Wyrd and Wonder Twitter page for more information on upcoming discussion topics, events, and articles! 

Thank you to the hosts of this event, LisaJorieArianaAnnemieke, and of course Imyril! Thank you also to  chic2view for this year's logo image.


Announcement: Video Games as Literature Panel at Momocon 2022 in May!

Announcement! I will be running a panel on Video Games as Literature at Momocon 2022! Momocon is "an all-ages geek culture convention" taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, May 26-29th, 2022. Keep reading for more information on my panel, entitled "Video Games as Literature 101," and on Momocon in general!

Momocon in Atlanta logo

Momocon is one of the largest fan conventions in Georgia (and possibly in the entire southeast?). You can read more about Momocon here. Fun fact: I attended the very first Momocon back in 2005 and have been going almost every year since! This is the first time I'll be running my own panel.

Video Games as Literature 101 will be happening on Thursday evening at 8:30pm. (That's Thursday May 26th) in Panel Room 208. See the full Momocon schedule here, and don't forget to download the Momocon app if you're going! Trust me, it will be extremely helpful. The panel will include discussion of Shadow of the Colossus, Final Fantasy (multiple series entries), and more! Feel free to come with questions and thoughts about any literary games you want to discuss.

I am also planning to stream the panel on Instagram Live for accessibility purposes for anyone who is unable to attend in person due to disability/illness or any other reason. Don't forget to follow Video Games as Literature on Instagram to see the live recording. Keep in mind that it will be taking place Thursday, May 26 at 8:30 pm Eastern Time.

Speaking of disability, please remember that masks are required at Momocon. I am still high risk, so I am only safe at Momocon as long as everyone follows the masking protocols! Thank you for keeping me alive to blog another day.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions! I can't wait to see you at Momocon!


Don Quixote and Gaming Disorder

 "Gaming disorder" is a relatively recent diagnostic invention by psychologists who believe that too much gaming is evidence of a mental illness. According to the World Health Organization, 


Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. (Source)

 

As an introvert who naturally abhors social interactions, I was immediately skeptical of this newly invented diagnosis, and as an academic who spends a lot of time researching societal impressions of disability, I feared that this diagnosis would be yet another method doctors could potentially use to discriminate against their marginalized patients (which is surprisingly common). I also immediately thought of Don Quixote, a beloved character from the early 17th century who, like many modern gamers, faced discrimination and scorn from his peers simply for enjoying less popular forms of literature.


Original Don Quixote Illustration by Gustave Dore

The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote was first published by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605. If you're like me and can't easily do mental math with big numbers, this was 417 years ago, the same year that William Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra (source). Yet, even though over four hundred years have passed, Don Quixote's story is remarkably similar to current events and social beliefs, including the idea that video games are a far lesser, cruder media than "high" literature and film. There is no diagnosis that labels readers of books or watchers of film and television as mentally ill, but if you prefer to spend your time playing video games you may be at risk of receiving a mental illness diagnosis (please keep in mind that I do not believe that there is anything wrong with being mentally ill. I do believe that false diagnoses can divert resources from people who really need them, and will muddy the waters when activists are trying so hard to destigmatize mental illness). (This article copyright 2022 Kirsten Rodning.)


In Don Quixote's case, video games wouldn't be invented for a few hundred years, but he was labeled mentally ill by his peers simply for reading the wrong genre of books. Even Cervantes, the author who invented Don Quixote, seems to look down on his protagonist for this reason, writing, 


Be it known, therefore, that this said honest gentleman at his leisure hours, which engrossed the greatest part of the year, addicted himself to the reading of books of chivalry, which he perused with such rapture and application, that he not only forgot the pleasures of the chace, but also utterly neglected the management of his estate." (Cervantes 44)

 

Very early in this large saga, Don Quixote's "friends" decide they are fed up with his literary preferences, and march to his house to burn his books while he is asleep:


[H]is friends came, and demanded of his niece the key of the closet in which those books, the authors of his misfortune, were kept, and she delivering it with great cheerfulness, they went into it in a body, house-keeper and all, and found upwards of an hundred volumes, great and small, extremely well bound [. . .] "There is not one of them, replied the niece, which deserves the least mercy, for they are all full of mischief and deceit. You had better, therefore, throw them out of the window into the court-yard, and there set fire to them." (Cervantes 75)


Don Quixote shows us that society always has, and always will view some forms of media as being more worthy than others. Nowadays the books that Don Quixote loved so much and was hated for are actually considered to be stuffy old classics. So if your friends and relatives look down at you for playing video games, feel free to tell them that you are a modern day Don Quixote, and that one day those games may very well be considered stuffy classics, too.


For more reading on Don Quixote, check out my thesis The Horse and the Heroic Quest linked here.


Works Cited:

“Addictive Behaviours: Gaming Disorder.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 22 Oct. 2020, https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/addictive-behaviours-gaming-disorder. 


Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel. The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote. Translated by T. Smollett, Modern Library, 2001. 



Vita Island Game Club: An End-of-the-Year Retrospective

Header image for the Vita Island Game Club december pick, which features a player's choice game.
Source: @VitaGameClub

In early 2020, @GideonOnGaming had the great idea to start a virtual game club. The concept is similar to a book club, but instead of reading books we all play a chosen game and discuss it online at the end of each month. Naturally, I was thrilled to sign up! Anything where video games are treated as the literature they are is going to be right up my alley. Gideon has said that, "The general idea was a way for us to try to fit more Vita games into our catalogue. A way to encourage ourselves and others to play the Vita games we may have missed." Personally, the club has been a way for me to keep playing my Vita even after most gamers have moved on to other consoles.


Because we are all diehard fans of the Playstation Vita, we decided to focus our club on games that can be played on the Vita. This doesn't mean that you have to actually play said game ON your Playstation Vita, however -- if you own the game on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Steam, or any other platform, it is perfectly acceptable to play on your platform of choice. The Vita Island Game Club doesn't judge! 


The concept of "Vita Island" was first discussed on the podcast PS I Love You XOXO, and has come to represent Vita players who feel stranded on a desert island by lack of support for the console from Sony, as well as lack of a large player community (though the community that does exist is quite dedicated!). 


In February 2020, we played our first game: Claire. Over the months we played a great variety of games, all short enough that they can be comfortably finished within the month. The games we played in 2021 are as follows:


January: Rayman Origins
February: Odin Sphere
March: Papers, Please
April: Superbeat: Xonic
May: Ys I
June: Drive Girls
July: Fighting Climax
August: Russian Subway Dogs
September: Mary Skelter Nightmares
October: Dead Nation
November: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
December: Player's Choice (Catch up on a game you didn't finish.)


For this end of the year retrospective, I asked members of the Vita Island Game Club to talk about their experience, especially with a favorite game we played this year. Below are the responses I received.


Source: @VitaGameClub

From @GideonOnGaming:

The appeal of the Vita Island Game Club is it encourages me to try games I otherwise wouldn’t have or encourages me to play a game I haven’t been able to fit it into my gaming regimen. One such game is Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax. I’ve played Street Fighter x Tekken and DOA5 on the Vita but had not played any of the 2D fighters. While I enjoy fighting games, I tend to stick to the 3D ones because the 2D fighting games seem to cater more to the “serious” fighting game community, which I am not part of.

I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible Fighting Climax was. I only ended up playing through the arcade mode a couple of times. I didn’t get proficient at the fighting but I was able to cheese my way through battles easily enough. It seemed like one of those games that if you fought against someone who knew what they were doing you wouldn’t be able to land many hits.

I was unfamiliar with a vast majority of the characters on the roster which is an ensemble cast of existing characters from multiple properties. Learning about these characters lead me to some unfamiliar anime like Shakugan no Shana and The Devil Is a Part-Timer. This was an unintended benefit of the game. 

I was able to play an online match with another member of the Vita Island Game Club. While the connection wasn’t great, it was a fun experience. Aside from the couple of matches with the VIGC member I was unable to find a match, which is not at all surprising. A benefit of the VIGC is a willing group of people who are currently playing the same game as you.

While I probably won’t put any significant time into Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax in the future, I look forward to the next time the VIGV chooses a fighting game to play.


Source: @VitaGameClub

From @Dustman_B:

When it comes to the Vita Island game club there are two things that stand out to me.

 1. It's a great community with some wonderful people I'm very happy to have met.
 2. It really makes me play games I've overlooked or hesitated playing in the past.

I had previously played a few of the games that we played this year, and while they were still fun to go back to, the game that really made me shake my head asking myself why I didn't play it sooner is Uncharted Golden Abyss.

Yes that Uncharted. A game widely regarded as a system seller and known as one of the best games on the Vita, that I've owned since 2012. I put it off, because I generally really have a distaste for touch control. I heard Uncharted was full of them and that they were really distracting and off putting. A gimmick for the sake of having gimmicks that show off the Vita.

Some of that was true. They were obviously put in to show off the Vita's capabilities, but surprisingly I didn't mind most of them. Uncharted on Vita is a fantastic game through and through. A great story, fantastic voice work, and just fun to play. Some of the touch controls feel good and while some do feel a bit wonky, it doesn't really detract from the overall experience.  Without VIGC this game would probably still be collecting dust on the back of my shelf, and that's just really sad.

Source: @VitaGameClub

From @Schyzo99:

Papers, Please! Papers, Please!

This sounds like an injunction, an injunction to comply. It also clearly states who is in control, and let me tell you, you're not in control! But guess what? The one in control may not be who you think it is!

Papers, Please is an award winning game developed by Lucas Pope where you take the role of an immigration officer, checking the required official documents and deciding on the fate of the immigrants requesting passage.

It starts as an ordinary game where you try to do your best and just comply with the rules, allowing people in or just refusing entry whenever they don't have the right ever-changing documents. Nonetheless, the life of an immigration control officer is not that easy in the country of Arstotzka. Life is tough for everyone: immigrants and yourself. You will rapidly understand your role may not only be to be a diligent gate keeper acting like a robot. Your feelings, your awareness of your surroundings and the political climate will soon bring you to answer an unsolvable dilemma… 

Beyond the amazing gameplay mimicking the actual mess on your desk as well as the challenge to keep up with the new regulations published on a daily basis, you will soon have to find your own balance and goals and decide how your own personality and values contribute to your story. Each decision will guide your life, as well as your family depending on you to provide food and shelter. Making money by taking bribes, putting in jail innocent people, being the instrument of the party or helping terrorists are some of the decisions you will be making by accepting or refusing entry. 

Which of your family, your country or your values will you follow? What kind of person are you? Will you even stay alive? If you want to find out, please play this absolute masterpiece which is Papers, Please! I rarely played a game which has an amazing gameplay but also so many things to say.  

Papers, please is one of the games that moved me. I felt like beyond just having fun playing the game, it was telling me something, trying to make me think about difficult situations that occur in our real world. Not telling me what to think but smartly questioning my own preconceptions. In this sense, Papers, please is more than a game but a piece of art.

PS: if you wish to get a feel of the atmosphere, you should also check out Papers, Please! The short movie.

 

Source: @VitaGameClub

@vitagamergeorge had to get something off their chest with a bit of a different perspective on one of the games we played:

As many people on Twitter, I spend a not insignificant portion of my time becoming outraged at things people say on the virtual message board. Infamously, we are meant to let people enjoy things. But I can't. I can't let it stand that people promote Drive Girls as a viable part of the Vita library when there are so many better options. Do you like driving? Try Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed, Horizon Chase Turbo or Need For Speed: Most Wanted. You like mech fighters? How about Shin Gundam Musou, Super Robot Wars X or Muv Luv Alternative. Or let's be honest you just like cute big tiddy anime girls? Senran Kagura, Hyperdimension Neptunia and Monster Monpiece all exist. WHY WOULD DRIVE GIRLS BE THE HILL THAT YOU DIE ON?!?

So on this public platform let me tell you all why you are not allowed to enjoy Drive Girls. The story is repetitive, trite and nothing emotionally interesting or new. The characters are bland and unmemorable. The driving has absolutely no nuance to it, no difference between how the cars drive, controls are basic and the road is so littered with mines that it doesn't make sense to use this mode either way. The fighting is also basic. You can get annoyingly stun locked going from full health to death without reprieve, and if you spam the heavy attack you can do the same to the enemies. Oh yea, and it lags absolutely horrifically, and with sound effects that annoying it's a game best played on mute. If you play it at all.

On my journey to play the whole of the Vita library I have no regrets on sampling Drive Girls, but it is a fate I don't wish to put others through.

 

Source: @VitaGameClub

 Finally, for my own retrospective (@videogamesaslit), I chose Mary Skelter Nightmares:

The Vita Island Game Club has helped me play a lot of Vita games that I may otherwise have overlooked in my gaming journey. Mary Skelter Nightmares is a game that I was always interested in playing, especially since it is so famed for the rarity of its physical edition, but I may have easily passed it by and forgotten about its existence since it is not one that the online gaming community often discusses. From the moment I first started playing the game, the thing that most struck me was the soundtrack. The music in this game hit me with serious nostalgic feels, such that I could have sworn the composer must have been Tenpei Sato, famous for his work with developer Nippon Ichi. While Tenpei Sato was not connected to this project, I suspect he was the source of strong inspiration for Mary Skelter's music team. The music, characters, and color scheme in the game also strongly reminded me of the Nintendo DS game A Witch's Tale, which was another nostalgic favorite of mine from the early days of my serious game collecting journey. While the story of Mary Skelter has some of the oddities that its developer, Compile Heart, is often notorious for, I am really glad that I got the push to actually play this game, and I can definitely say that I enjoyed it.


I can't wait to see what the new year brings as we continue to play the Playstation Vita long after Sony's declaration of its demise! I'm sure we will find many options to choose from as we play our way through the year 2022. 

Review: Unsighted by Studio Pixel Punk

 

Artwork showing a variety of characters from Unsighted.
Source: link

For my first official act of Sci-Fi Month 2021, I played the new indie game Unsighted by Studio Pixel Punk (check it out on Steam here). While I played the PC version, this game is also available on Switch, X-Box, and PS4. Unsighted is an original game with a science fiction setting where the majority of characters are automatons, including the game's protagonist, Alma. Veteran gamers will notice subtle references to the Legend of Zelda series: in the music, sound effects, collection of items, and especially in the fairy automaton companion who travels with Alma in her journey to save her friends. References to other games and even to gaming culture abound, and my favorite reference is to @CanYouPetTheDog, which is apparent in achievements you receive when you, naturally, pet the dog. 


Screenshot of a hand petting a dog on the head.
Screenshot of a dog being petted by Alma.

I was not able to finish the game before posting the review, but in the approximately 9 hours in which I played the game I got a very good feel for all of the important elements you may need to know (According to HowLongToBeat.com, it should take most players between 7 and 15 hours to complete the main story of Unsighted, but if you know me you know I am usually the most leisurely of players and I take my time enjoying the story, characters, and environments so I tend to fall on the longer end of the play-time spectrum, meaning that I played maybe about half the game.)

The rest of this review will be divided into categories, in the order of which I think the game did best. My personal feelings about the game lean strongly on the positive side, but there were a few areas where I thought the game could be improved.

1) Characters

If there were a game of the year award for best characters, I would give it to Unsighted. The developers clearly put a lot of work into creating a wide variety of individual characters with their own personalities and attributes. The secondary characters are just as important to the story as Alma herself, since a main goal of the game is to save as many of them as you can. Alma's friends will truly tug at the player's heartstrings as they tell you about their past with Alma, their lives before the war began, and their goals for the future. It is also important to note that even though the characters are automatons, and were canonically manufactured by humans, they still represent a range of body types and racial features, showing players that there is no one "generic" look for humans or for automatons. My personal favorite characters, and the ones I first gave my meteor dust to, are Samuel and Tobias.


Samuel saying, "But... I... really value the time we've spent together."



2) Story

As you may have been able to tell in the previous section, the story is simultaneously heartwarming and sad, almost like a Pixar movie. This makes the game hook players in, as we want to reach the end to find out what happens to the characters and world we've grown to love. Some parts of the story do seem overly dreary from time to time -- a war is actively taking place and there are horrors roaming the land -- some of which were previously automatons who could even have been friends with Alma. These dreary parts are simply part of the overall picture, however, and if you are able to focus on the good parts (reuniting with Alma's friends and meeting new ones, collecting and crafting tools, etc.) you can easily get through the more scary parts. Think of the Fallout series, but with fewer zombies and more cute puppies. 

3) Accessibility

In terms of accessibility, I can't speak for everyone's accessibility needs. I can, however, speak for my own, and this game certainly has better accessibility options than most games. There are some areas where I feel the game could be improved. First, the difficulty settings are great, and even greater: there's an invincibility mode. There are also settings to make a lot of other aspects of the game easier for disabled people, including text size options (I'm glad these exist though I feel the difference in size for the three size options could have been greater), font options, and the ability to switch between keyboard/mouse and controller as needed. The biggest issue I faced as someone with low vision was that the environments were difficult to navigate, and I believe this would have been difficult even if I didn't already have vision problems. I'll talk about this more in the level design and graphics sections of my review. See the screenshots below for the option pages. 



This is not exactly an accessibility problem, but I will say it here anyway. The title of the game comes from the tragedy that occurs to automatons whose time runs out: they become "Unsighted." This is where they lose themselves and their personalities and basically just become killing machines. The wording used for this tragedy unnerves me -- is it ableist against blind people to equate loss of sight to loss of self? I don't want to be the definitive voice on this matter as I myself am not completely blind, but it is something to think about.

Edited on 11/30/2021 to add: Fernanda Dias, one of the developers of the game, messaged me on Twitter to clear up my confusion about the word Unsighted. She said, "UNSIGHTED in the game means "missing", not "blind". When an automaton is about to become unsighted, they often flee and hide in order to not hurt others around them."

4) Graphics

Graphics, of course, are a very subjective category. Personally, I have grown especially fond of 16-bit style graphics in recent years, in large part due to my love for Stardew Valley. While some players may not love the art style of Unsighted, which falls into the pixel-graphics category, it is still quite clear that the game's designers put a lot of work into the art of the game, from the individual characters who each have their own unique look, to the architecture of the setting, like the old gothic cathedral that is central to the main city in the game. Even the weather looks spectacular -- there are many instance when it is raining, and yet the characters and backgrounds stand out among the raindrops. The only problem with the graphics is that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the floor and the roof of the building next to you. Is that a building, a platform, or a pit where Alma might fall to her death? Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and just... find out, and with the *very* unforgiving HP bar you have in this game, testing a black section of the game and falling can mean game over. Thankfully, the game has that aforementioned invincibility mode, so if you're in an area (like the city) where there are a lot of deadly pits, you can just turn on invincibility as you navigate your way through the world.

5) Controls

The controls are... fine. They're fine. But they could be better. I am always happy when a game allows for controller or keyboard/mouse input on PC. That said, I feel like there are some things you have to do manually that could have been mapped to the controller/keyboard better. For instance, I couldn't find an easy way to switch between equipment quickly. It got really frustrating in certain parts of the game where I needed to switch between three or so different things on a very regular basis. Alma only has two hands, so of course she is only able to hold two pieces of equipment at once (including her sword, which I used for most of the battle in the game). I would have liked a quick switch feature like the one you find in most Zelda games, or in Animal Crossing New Horizons. Otherwise I had few gripes with the controls. They're generally pretty basic and easy to follow. 

6) Level Design & Puzzles

I hear some people really like puzzles in their adventure games. For some people, it's really exciting to push giant boxes around and try to figure out how to get to the next room (even though you have bombs and/or grenades in your inventory and... couldn't you just blow a hole in the wall?). If you didn't figure it out yet, I am not one of those people. This may originate in the fact that I was a "gifted kid" growing up and from an extremely young age I was constantly forced by the school system to complete puzzles and brainteasers, and that got tiring. But I digress. There are a lot of these types of puzzles in Unsighted, which you might expect from a game that is heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda. And of course, I can handle a puzzle or ten in my games -- I do play a lot of adventure games, after all. But when I have to do several puzzles that are difficult to figure out, I get tired, and I feel like Unsighted lands just over the line of what constitutes "too many puzzles." Unsighted's puzzles may not be so frustrating that I rage-quit the game, but they are often frustrating enough to deserve a mention. You will have to work your brain with this game. Whether that's an exciting prospect or not is up to you. And as I mentioned, there are issues with the perspective in the game's level designs that may have you confused about where Alma can and can't walk -- this in itself is a bit of an unwanted puzzle. 

A few notes to conclude my review: as I was playing the game the developers were regularly releasing patches, so if I mentioned an issue that you can't find in the game, it may have been patched before or soon after this review was published! This is one of the wonderful things about playing indie games whose developers really care about the game and its players. 


I received a copy of Unsighted for free in exchange for an honest review.


For more information about Sci-Fi Month, click here