MomoCon 2023 Panel Announcement

Announcement image for Video Games as Literature 102 panel at MomoCon

Announcement: for the second year in a row, Video Games as Literature will have a presence at MomoCon in Atlanta, GA! MomoCon is "an all-ages geek culture convention" taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, May 25-28, 2023. Keep reading for more information on the panel, entitled "Video Games as Literature 102," and on MomoCon in general!

Momocon 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! Click here to see the event schedule for MomoCon 2023


The Video Games as Literature 102 Panel will be at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 28th. You can click here to add the event to your Facebook calendar, or click here to add the event to your Google calendar


The panel will also be streaming on Instagram Live, so if you can't make it to Atlanta please follow the Video Games as Literature Instagram account to watch online!


Don't forget to download the MomoCon app so you can stay up-to-date on any changes or other events at MomoCon! You can download the Android/Google Play app here, or download the Apple app here


Please keep in mind that because I am high risk due to chronic illness, face masks and social distancing (when possible) are requested in the Video Games as Literature panel. MomoCon is not requiring masks this year for the general event, but masks will be appreciated by our panelists. 


I can't wait to see everyone again this year at MomoCon! 

Gaming and Environmentalism: Opposing Goals? Some Thoughts for Earth Day 2023

Screenshot from Planet Zoo, features a panda eating fruit.


    Recently I've been enjoying the heck out of 2019 PC game Planet Zoo. Planet Zoo is a simulation game by simulation masters Frontier Developments, who are known for their earlier games Roller Coaster Tycoon, Planet Coaster, and Jurassic World Evolution. I had played Jurassic World evolution a few years ago, and I've been excited to play a game about, well, modern animals. Part of the appeal of this game, for me, is its educational aspect. Planet Zoo includes a "Zoopedia" with detailed descriptions of all of the animal species you can include in your zoos, along with information boards that you can erect around your zoo that provide real information about ecological issues like poaching, the amphibian extinction crisis, climate change, and more. This is a game that I would have loved to own when I was a kid, back when my primary option for nature-based educational games was The Amazon Trail (which I have written about more than once on this blog, here and here). Now, I was a very proactive learner in my youth, and even if I hadn't had access to early video games I would still have been pouring over encyclopedias and non-fiction books, while holding mini fundraisers in my front yard (I netted a few quarters from neighbors, which then went into the donation box at the National Aquarium). But many kids don't have access to the resources that I had as a child for various reasons, and I believe that educational games are integral to raising concerned youth with active critical minds (one of my favorite examples was the time video games made me smarter than my science teacher). 


Screenshot of the animalpedia entry on Black and White Ruffed Lemurs from the game Planet Zoo
Animalpedia entry on Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs from Planet Zoo


While I love educational games and the impact they have on kids (and adults!) in this modern age, in the back of my mind I am always concerned about the environmental impact of using electricity-dependent technology for environmental education, or for leisure, work, or any other things that we do with the computers we are so dependent on. So in this post I will explore the pros and cons of gaming while staying environmentally conscious and provide some details readers can use to make their own choices about their impact on the environment. 

The first question I want to answer is: how large is the impact of gaming technology on our limited resources (namely electricity consumption)? If you're a modern console user, Eco Energy Geek has some answers for you: "The official power rating of a PlayStation 5 Disc Edition console is 350 watts, while the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition has a power rating of 340 watts. Normally the console will draw a lot less than this – expect to use around 200 watts while gaming." (Source) This is an average estimate, based on testing and on Sony's official statements about energy consumption, for how much electricity is used while the console is in active use. If you're like me, however, you're probably also concerned about how much electricity is being used while your console is in so-called "rest mode." Eco Energy Geek also answers this query: "In rest mode, the PlayStation 5 draws around 1.5 watts. Even when completely switched off, if plugged in the PlayStation 5 will draw 1.3 watts. The only way to stop it from drawing any power is to completely unplug it. You can change the settings for Rest Mode from the PS5 menu." (Source

The above information doesn't account for the energy used by your television, however. Fortunately Eco Energy Geek also accounts for TV data: "The average TV uses 57 watts of power, so combined with the PS5 when gaming they would draw around 260 watts total. Most TVs draw between 27 watts and 134 watts, while the PS5 uses between 50 and 200 watts when switched on, depending on what you’re using it for." (Source) If you want more detailed information about specific types of televisions and how they use electricity, check out the full article from Eco Energy Geek. The same article also draws comparisons between the PS5 and the other leading consoles on the market. As one might expect, the X-Box is comparable in energy consumption, but the Nintendo Switch uses a SIGNIFICANTLY smaller amount of energy. If you're really concerned about using the most energy efficient gaming console, the Nintendo Switch is the way to go.

If you're a PC gamer, the numbers are not quite as simple. Because no two PC gamers use exactly the same components (processors, hard drives, monitors, or even keyboards), energy consumption estimates can vary widely. This article entitled "How Many Watts Does A Gaming PC Use?" crunches some numbers on energy consumption from various different PC components. 

What does all of this mean, though? Let's take a look at something most of us use: air conditioning. While some homes still don't have central air conditioning, in the year 2023 the vast majority of Americans and residents of countries with similar economic standing use central heating and cooling systems. According to InspireCleanEnergy.com, "On average, a home air conditioner can use about 3,000 watts of electricity an hour. If you have it on all day, that's 72,000 watts of electricity a day! However, running it on the 'fan-only' mode will only consume about 750 watts an hour." Looking at these numbers, on a very hot day when your air conditioner is running constantly, your PS5 will use less than a tenth of the amount of electricity that your air conditioner is using. This basically shows us that the best way to cut back on electricity consumption is to play games while you suffer through the heat and keep your air conditioner on fan-only mode (and since I live in the deep south, I have a LOT of experience with suffering through the heat!). 

In the next post, I will take a look at materials used to make consoles and other gaming necessities and possible misinformation one might learn from various supposedly eco-friendly video games. I will also delve a bit deeper into why nature-based video games are so important. Stay tuned, the next post will be available to read on Arbor Day: April 28, 2023!


Tales of Arthuria: Arthurian Legend Gets the JRPG Treatment in Tales of Berseria

      If you follow Video Games as Literature on Twitter, you may have seen my recent tweet about how, once again, it took me several eons to realize that a literary retelling was staring me right in the face. The tweet states, 


Oh sure, I wrote my master's thesis on Arthurian legends, but it still took me a year to connect the dots and realize the villain in Tales of Berseria was supposed to be a version of King Arthur. šŸ˜‚šŸ˜­ (@videogamesaslit Jan 24, 2023 https://twitter.com/videogamesaslit/status/1617762174138716160)

 

      I'm not afraid to admit that sometimes when I'm gaming I turn off the critical part of my brain and just focus on having a relaxing gaming session. I'm sure we all do that from time to time. It finally hit me when I started playing Tales of Zestiria that this duology (Berseria is a prequal to Zestiria) is filled to the brim with Arthurian references, if not direct retellings of the Arthurian stories. Had I started the games in their release order I may have picked up on this sooner, since Zestiria seems to be a bit more transparent in its Arthurian inspiration. Nevertheless, as I did write several papers and my Master's Thesis on Arthurian legends, I probably should have picked up on this a long time ago. Since I haven't yet finished playing Tales of Zestiria, the details I share in this post will be limited to what I've encountered in the games so far (I have finished Tales of Berseria, at least). Beware spoilers, especially spoilers about characters and character development in Tales of Berseria. This post will be similar to my previous one about Final Fantasy XV and Hamlet, and I will focus mainly on characters who are equivalent to figures in Arthurian legend. Spoilers start now.


Arthur/Artorius Collbrande, AKA King Arthur


Artorius Collbrande, a man with a long blonde ponytail, raises a sword and has a serious expression on his face. There is light shining down on him from somewhere above.

This character is an obvious and typical depiction of King Arthur, and yet I was stumped for the entire year that I played Tales of Berseria because, unlike the illustrious King of the classic literature, he is the villain of this story. Tales of Berseria deftly turns the story of King Arthur upside down and shows the death of Arthur as a necessary act to save humanity.


Velvet Crowe

Tales of Berseria Velvet Crowe, a fair-skinned woman with very long black hair and torn, skintight clothes.

The game's protagonist, though maybe not a hero, Velvet seems to be an amalgamation of two or three Arthurian characters. The most obvious is Mordred, King Arthur's ill-begotten son who was conceived that one time Arthur accidentally slept with his sister (isn't classic literature fun?). Mordred is most often depicted as the instrument of Arthur's undoing, as many of the legends have him giving Arthur his mortal blow. Velvet's violent tendencies and hunger for revenge tie her to Mordred in the legends. But in Tales of Berseria, she is Arthur's sister-in-law (usually referred to in the game as his sister). She does also resemble two of King Arthur's sisters: Morgause (Mordred's mother), and Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's most magical sister. 


The Knights of the Round Table


In Tales of Berseria, Artorius surrounds himself with close companions called exorcists. These characters can be equated to King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. Some of these characters have obvious ties to Arthurian figures, while others are a little less clear. Shigure Rangetsu, for instance, takes on some of Lancelot's qualities, but is not a true recreation of the character. His most Lancelot-like characteristic is that "His sole joy is to fight tough opponents and seems to enjoy it when his opponent is stronger. He will never turn down a new challenge whenever it arises" (Source: Tales of Wiki). Other exorcists will be covered in more detail below as their characters are more clearly tied to specific Arthurian characters. If you want to learn more about King Arthur's knights, I can verify that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a surprisingly accurate account of these characters in that it focuses on their most ridiculous qualities as written in the original medieval texts.


Eleanor Hume 

Eleanor Hume, a woman with pale skin and red hair, fighting with a spear. She wears a blue, silver, and gold outfit.

Eleanor Hume may be the most fascinating character in the game, not only because she has an unusual connection to Arthurian Literature, but because her character is actually based on a real-life philosopher: David Hume (b. 1711 d. 1776), founder of Humeanism. In Tales of Berseria, Eleanor begins the story as one of Artorius's exorcists. Artorius teaches his followers that the most important thing in the world is "reason" which he posits is the opposite of emotion. In fact, late in the story Artorius uses his magic to remove emotion from all (or almost all) of the people in the towns nearest to him, and this causes a large number of problems that the protagonists must set out to solve. Eleanor's character development arc in the game sees her changing gradually from a undiscerning follower of Artorius's teachings on reason, to an individual who thinks for herself and sees the importance of human emotion. Her eventual justification for opposing Artorius is that people need their emotions and she won't let him take them away. This thinking follows the writings of her namesake, philosopher David Hume, whose beliefs are described as follows:


An opponent of philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passions rather than reason govern human behaviour, famously proclaiming that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions" (Hume, David (1739). A Treatise of Human Nature. London: John Noon). (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Both Eleanor and David Hume believe that emotions, or passions, are essential to reason, and you cannot have true reason without emotion. 


Eleanor is also connected to Arthurian Literature, albeit in a somewhat tenuous way. Eleanor's given name was very popular in the middle ages: "The popularity of the name Eleanor in England during the Middle Ages was due to the fame of Eleanor of Aquitaine" (Source: Behind the Name). By the time Thomas Malory wrote his book Le Morte d'Arthur, which served as the primary inspiration for most modern retellings of the Arthurian tales, the name Eleanor had been a popular one for several centuries. Instead of using the name Eleanor in his book, however, Malory latched onto a new name that was very similar to Eleanor: Elaine. Malory uses this name for several different characters is his book, to the point that "Elaine" is almost as confusingly common in Arthurian legends as the name "Mary" is in the new testament of the Christian bible. According to Behind the Name, 


[Elaine] appears in Arthurian legend; in Thomas Malory's 15th-century compilation Le Morte d'Arthur Elaine was the daughter of Pelles, the lover of Lancelot, and the mother of Galahad. It was not commonly used as an English given name until after the publication of Alfred Tennyson's Arthurian epic Idylls of the King (1859). (Source: Behind the Name)

 


Melchior Mayvin AKA Merlin


Melchior, an old man with a long beard and a wide-brimmed hat. He is stroking his beard. He wears a white robe and a monocle..


One of Artorius's primary allies is a very, very old man named Melchior (the wiki says he is 130 years old). He is an expert magic user and one of the final obstacles in the protagonists' quest to defeat Artorius. He very clearly fits the visual stereotype that most people will recognize as Merlin, or as any generic wizard (Merlin, Gandalf, Dumbledore -- who can tell them apart when they're all old men with long white beards?). Some older gamers like me may even notice his monocle, which proves that he is a wizard (this is a joke from an old video). Melchior's age also lends to the idea that he is a recreation of Merlin, as Merlin is said to age backwards, or to be immortal, depending on which story you read. In either case, his age is mysteriously connected to his magic. The most notable aspect of Merlin's story that comes into play in Tales of Berseria, however, is the way he is finally defeated in the legends, which brings us to...


Magilou Mayvin AKA Nimuƫ


Magilou is a blond woman with a pink witch outfit, including a big pointy hat. She has a mischievous look on her face.

Magilou is Velvet's most mysterious companion: especially early in the story, no one knows her age, her real name, what motivates her, or even why she is present in the party. All they know is that Magilou is a self-styled witch who wants to leave her past behind her. Similarly, NimuĆ« (or Nymue, Nyneue, Nyneve, Nynyue, among countless other variations) has always been a very mysterious figure to medieval storytellers, historians, and modern scholars alike. The important connection between NimuĆ« and Tales of Berseria's witch Magilou is that NimuĆ« is often portrayed as being Merlin's apprentice, who ultimately defeats him by trapping him inside a magical cave. By the end of Tales of Berseria, players learn that Magilou was once daughter and student/apprentice of Melchior, and she is pivotal to his defeat. NimuĆ« is also often said to be the identity of the Lady of the Lake, who is most well known as the guardian of King Arthur's sword, Excalibur. The Lady of the Lake is often portrayed as being a number of different magical women, not only NimuĆ«, and this tradition is carried on in the "Tales of" games. 


Lailah, The Lady of the Lake



Lailah is a major character in Tales of Zestiria, which takes place several centuries after the events of Tales of Berseria. When players first encounter her, she is the guardian of the Sword in the Stone, a device that is taken directly from Arthurian legends. Though the townspeople can't see her, they worship her as the Lady of the Lake, an apparent title that has been passed on to Lailah from a mysterious predecessor. Lailah is there when Sorey, the protagonist of Tales of Zestiria, attends a festival in which people attempt to pull the sword from the stone, usually with no success. This may sound familiar, as you have probably either seen the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone (based on the T.H. White classic) or heard the legend. Like young Arthur, Sorey is able to pull the sword from the stone, in this case with the help of Lailah (whom he can see while others can't). 


Tales of Zestiria is full of other, smaller references to the Arthurian legends. Many place names come from Arthurian names, such as the Galahad RuinsBors Ruins, and other dungeons named after knights, and city names like Taliesin, which is actually named after an early medieval bard whose work was recorded in a famous manuscript. The castle Roundtabel Palace is of course a reference to King Arthur's round table, though I noticed that the table we see inside the palace is actually rectangular -- perhaps as a nod towards the greed of the men sitting around it (Arthur's round table was supposed to be a circle so that no one could sit at the head of the table -- everyone at the table was equal). 


Did you notice any references to Arthurian literature that I missed? Please share your observations in the comments!


Suggestions for Further Reading:


"The Horse and the Heroic Quest: Equestrian Indicators of Morality in Lancelot, Don Quixote, and Tolkien" by Kirsten Rodning


Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory


The Once and Future King by T.H. White


The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart



This Way Madness Lies: My Game of the Year?!

 This Way Madness Lies is the latest game from developer Zeboyd Games, creators of indie classics like Cthulhu Saves the World and Cosmic Star Heroine. When I heard that Zeboyd was creating a game based on the works of Shakespeare -- starring magical girls -- I literally jumped for joy. Then I asked for a review copy. I couldn't imagine exactly how a game about magical girls in the stories of Shakespeare would work, but I knew it would change my life for the better. 



If you've been following this blog for any amount of time you are probably aware that I have spent a lot of time writing about Shakespeare's influence on the video game medium. In fact, earlier this year I wrote about the vast quantity of games that are based specifically on Hamlet. Hamlet is all but absent from This Way Madness Lies, and I suspect that's because the game's creators knew that the bard's other plays needed a bit more attention in the video game realm. I was impressed by writer Willow Boyd's knowledge not only of the contents of Shakespeare's plays, but of the scholarship and historical discussion surrounding the plays and their author. I studied Shakespeare throughout college and two levels of graduate school but I still learned a thing or two from this game. Truly (verily?) the game's writer is a genuine bardolator. 


Screenshot of Imogen saying, "It's a real term, look it up."

The most notable aspect of This Way Madness Lies that a new player will undoubtedly appreciate is the soundtrack. Immediately upon starting the game and viewing the opening menu, players are hit with a truly rocking symphonic metal banger, which I had to sit and listen to several times before I was willing to move on to playing the actual game. From this menu players can navigate to the credits, which show  that the music was composed by Joshua Queen, while the vocalist is Sarah Queen. Note that I still have this song stuck in my head as I'm writing my review, and I haven't even played the game today. The soundtrack throughout the game is just as good, and I felt nostalgic for the Persona series as I was listening to the soundtrack of This Way Madness Lies -- perhaps it was an influence? 


After the musical score, my favorite aspect of the game is its referential humor. Not only are there clever little quips about Shakespeare, but in true Zeboyd Games style there are lots of references to older games by the same developers, and to their favorite sleeping god, Cthulhu, and his otherworldly brethren. Every piece of dialogue in This Way Madness Lies is dripping with my kind of humor (mostly cheesy), so I couldn't help but have a big grin on my face throughout the 14+ hours I was playing the game. 


Rosalind, a character from This Way Madness Lies, says, "I  bite my thumb at you, plant monster!"

I can't consider this review complete without mentioning the beautiful pixel art. Each character is incredibly detailed and unique and players will get to see these details on full display every time the protagonists complete their magical girl transformations -- a necessary staple of the magical girl genre.

 

While I loved this game with all my heart, I would be lying if I said I didn't have any less than positive thoughts, however small. First: accessibility options are practically nonexistent. HOWEVER: I didn't find that I personally needed any accessibility accommodations in this game. I played the game with a controller and selected easy mode, and those seemed to be all the accommodations I personally needed. The game was very easy for me and I had no difficulty with controls or with my ability to see or hear the game. That said, I am only somewhat low vision and I suspect there are players who would benefit from some accessibility options like different text sizes and fonts, etc. The developers have been very good about updating the game after listening to their players, however, so accessibility options may be added in the near future (or they may already have been added as I haven't played the game in the last few days). 


I enjoyed the decision to start the story in the middle of the action -- we don't have to slog through origin stories for our magical girls, and I approve of that decision. I do wish we had a bit more background and character development for the girls, however. Is it too early to hope there will be a sequel or prequel to This Way Madness Lies


To answer my question in this post's title: yes, I would say that This Way Madness Lies is my game of the year for 2022. Does that mean I am comparing it to titles like God of War and Elden Ring? No, because I didn't play those games. I tend to spend most of my time playing more niche titles, so my closest runner-up that I played this year would be Kirby and the Forgotten Land. But I can't deny that This Way Madness Lies moved me in a way that I haven't been moved since the first time I played Supergiant's Bastion. It wasn't just the Shakespeare angle that hooked me -- I genuinely connected with the characters and the world of the game. I felt like this game was made for me, specifically, and that's a rare feeling. I greatly look forward to seeing where Zeboyd Games goes from here.


I received a copy of This Way Madness Lies for free in exchange for an honest review.


Welcome to #SciFiMonth 2022!

     It's Sci-Fi Month! Every November a bunch of blogs, including this one, celebrate #SciFiMonth and read science fiction books, play Sci-Fi games, and generally geek out. This year is the tenth anniversary of the event! It's hosted by OneMore.org and Dear Geek Place. 


Square banner that says Sci Fi Month 2022
Artwork by Simon Fetscher

    As usual, I plan to have a fairly chill month since I am also participating in Nanowrimo. Last month I boasted on Twitter that I was thinking about doing a Resident Evil marathon, but since that has fizzled out for me I will probably focus my time on different games. I have been wanting to get into the Star Ocean series for a very long time, and I think now, during Sci-Fi month, and so near the release of the latest Star Ocean installment, would be a great time! Now, I know that different people have different opinions on where I should start in the Star Ocean series (I did some research on social media), but since the PS3 game, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, is within easy reach I plan to "dive in" with that one (pun totally intended). If that doesn't fill up all of my gaming time for the month, I will probably also go back to trying to finish Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which I have already started a blog post draft on. I need to stick to my resolution to finish a Tales series game this year, so I will also keep working on beating Tales of Berseria. 

Cover of Star Ocean: The Last Hope on Playstation 3Cover art for Assassin's Creed: Odyssey on Playstation 4


    As far as reading goes, I'm not sure what all of the books I read this month will be, but I will try to stick to the Science Fiction theme. The first one I'm reading for the month, which I started last night, is Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders! The story is really different so far -- which is always a good thing! I'm only a few chapters in so my full review will be forthcoming. There is an official #SciFiMonth readathon taking place, in which participants will be reading The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. I haven't read the rest of the series in which that book takes place, so I might be skipping the readathon this time. 

Stay tuned for more #SciFiMonth updates! And happy gaming/reading. 

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