An Open Letter to Jennifer Hale, Momocon, and the Cast of Overwatch

Dear Jennifer Hale, Momocon, and the Cast of Overwatch,

First of all, thank you for all that you do for fans and gamers. Ms. Hale has given life to many of gaming's most beloved characters, and I have watched Momocon grow from a small, college-run convention to one of the greatest conventions in the southern United States. This letter is not a call to cancel Jennifer Hale, Momocon, or any other actors. I am simply writing to point out a harmful misconception on the part of Ms. Hale that has hurt me and likely other members of the disabled gamer community.

The misunderstanding in question occurred in a YouTube panel run by Momocon, which was presented online rather than in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic (and by the way, THANK YOU for making the effort to put these panels online! I have had to miss a few past Momocon events due to my disability and chronic illness, and it was wonderful to be able to hear actors from one of my favorite games speak on my computer screen). Below is a screenshot of the YouTube video so readers can search for the video and see it for themselves:

Screenshot showing Jennifer Hale speaking in an online Momocon panel

The video's title on YouTube is: "MomoConline: The World Needs Heroes: Overwatch Voice Actors Panel" and Ms. Hale brought up her misconception about disability at the 1:28:28 timestamp. At this point in the video, the cast have had a running joke about a well-known actor, and Ms. Hale brings up that she is disappointed in said actor because she saw him walk "perfectly well" to a car that was parked in a disabled parking spot. This statement reflects a misconception that many, if not most, abled people have about disabled people: that if we don't LOOK disabled (to the abled eye) we must not actually BE disabled. The disabled community has had to fight this misconception tooth and nail for a very long time, and we're tired. It's bad enough when some stranger in the parking lot at Kroger makes a disparaging comment about us as we walk to our cars (usually in so much pain that we have no energy, or "spoons," to retort), but when a celebrity uses her public platform to make similar statements to a viewership in the hundreds or thousands, disabled people can be seriously harmed. What's more: none of the other actors in the panel spoke up in defense of disabled people. Some of them even gasped as if they had heard some juicy gossip.

To set the record straight, here is a brief summary of the steps disabled people must go through to obtain a placard that allows us to park in disability parking spots (I am focusing on the specific rules in Georgia, as that is where I live and where Momocon takes place): first, we must obtain a MV-9D Disabled Person's Parking Affidavit. This must be filled out and signed by our primary care physician or other licensed doctor who is treating us, which can be surprisingly hard to accomplish considering many doctors are overworked and have little time to fill out forms for patients. The form specifies the types of disabilities that qualify, as seen in the screenshot below:

Screenshot of parking placard requirements, from form MV-9D

As you can see on the form, several of the eligibility requirements could include people who APPEAR to walk "perfectly well" for fewer than 200 feet. For instance, many celebrities of an older generation smoked regularly and may now have lung disease, which is one of the potential qualifiers for a placard.

Finally, I wish to tell a story about something that happened to me less than a year ago. I have multiple chronic pain conditions which make it difficult for me to walk, (as well as medications which make me dizzy and cause a fall hazard) especially without an assistive device. I usually use a rollator, or sometimes a wheelchair, when I leave the house, but on this day I was only out of my car for a few minutes so I left my device in the car. I had stopped at Walgreens to pick up my medicated shampoo, which I can only obtain there (usually I get groceries and essentials brought to my car at Kroger), and when my service dog and I went back to the car a lady raced out of the store to follow us. She knocked on my window and gave me what she thought was a stern but necessary talking to about how I was selfishly taking that disability spot away from people who needed it (the parking lot was almost entirely empty at this point and there were about five other disability parking spots to choose from). Her assumption was that because she had seen me walking and because I wasn't driving a van (my wheelchair fits in the trunk of my compact car), I must not need that disability parking spot. This is an unfortunately common occurrence for disabled people, even for people who are considered "visibly disabled." Abled people, for reasons I cannot comprehend, love to police peoples' disability. 

In conclusion, Ms. Hale: please educate yourself about disability issues. Please practice not making assumptions about people based on your personal experiences alone. If possible, the disabled gamer community would LOVE it if you would take the time to educate yourself and THEN speak out about misconceptions against disabled people -- become a champion for disabled rights! I know you have it in you to make the right decisions and to help your fans in the disabled gamer community. And thank you again to Ms. Hale, Momocon, and the rest of the Overwatch voice cast who put forth this welcoming and inclusive online panel! This is certainly a step in the right direction towards including disabled fans.

Kirsten Rodning

In Celebration of Arbor Day: 5 of Our Favorite Trees in Games

In appreciation of the trees we all rely on, I have decided to make a special post for Arbor Day, which is celebrated in most of America on the last Friday in April (other countries also celebrate Arbor Day, or Arbour Day, at various other times -- you can read more about this on Wikipedia). Here I will discuss five of my favorite video game trees and what they have meant to me.

1) The Great Deku Tree (Legend of Zelda Series)

Artwork from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, where Link first encounters the Deku tree
Source: link
Of course any list of video game trees would not only be incomplete without the Great Deku tree, it would also be flat out wrong. When most of us think about trees in video games, our minds first go to this greatest of Deku trees. The Great Deku Tree can be found throughout the Zelda franchise, though its appearance in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is probably the most memorable. Like many video game trees after it, The Great Deku tree is the force that pulls Link from his bed and sends him on his epic adventure (with a little help from Navi, of course). The (mild spoilers) death of this great tree in Ocarina of Time legitimately made me cry when I first played the game.

2) Yggdrasil (Dragon Quest Series)

The main heroes from Dragon Quest XI standing in front of a huge tree
Source: link

Many games invoke the World Tree, Yggdrasil, of Norse legend, but none center the great tree as clearly as the Dragon Quest series does throughout many of its volumes. Not only is the tree the center of the worlds in which the games take place, it is also central to the story -- literally in some cases -- in Dragon Quest XI, specifically, a major plot point that occurs in the middle of the game focuses on the tree and even takes place within its branches. Yggdrasil also plays a pivotal role in the story of Dragon Quest IX, and has a slightly smaller role in many other games in the series (the spin-off game, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below, even references the tree in its title).

3) Sudowoodo (Pokemon Series)

Artwork of the pokemon, Sudowoodo, which looks like a small brown tree with green balls (like leaves) on its arm-like appendages.
Source: link

You may be surprised to see Sudowoodo on this list -- you probably remember it as that incredibly annoying Pokemon that was supposedly blocking the road, though you totally should've been able to walk around it. Sudowoodo was also annoying because once you caught it you learned that it's not a grass type... it's a rock type?! If it's a tree, why is it a rock type? Maybe that didn't annoy you as much as it annoyed me, but I had trouble wrapping my head around it at the tender age of 12-ish when I first played Pokémon. Regardless, I placed Sudowoodo in one of the highly coveted spots on my main team and it eventually grew on me... even if it is a rock.

4) The Money Tree (Animal Crossing Series)

A protagonist player character standing in front of a money tree in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Source: link
We all know what our actual favorite tree is. It may not grant epic quests or block roads or even be the source of all life, but it sure makes us rich! It's the Money Tree from Animal Crossing! The Money Tree is so prolific in today's society that it even recently received a write-up on Forbes, a traditionally serious news site about the economy (Read the article here). That's pretty fancy!

5) Sakuya and her Trees (Okami)

Character design sketches of Sakuya from the PS2 game Okami.
Source: link

Even though Capcom has released countless remasters of Okami by this point, I haven't played this excellent game since its very first PlayStation 2 release back in 2006. That means that I remember very little about the actual story. One thing I do remember quite well, however, is the excellent characters that you meet throughout the game. One of the characters you meet early on is Sakuya, a tree spirit who needs help healing her trees that appear throughout the game. Like Issun, I may have had a bit of a crush on Sakuya. Just a little.

Those are my five favorite video game trees -- what trees do you think I missed? Which trees are your favorites? If you are able, don't forget to plant a tree for Arbor Day, or cultivate a plant of some kind! You can also learn more about Arbor Day by visiting and following the Arbor Day Foundation on Twitter.

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!