The Death of *Silence: Hate Plus and The World of Christine Love Confirmed

What is better than hate?

The answer is more hate.

Hate Plus is the sequel to Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story: a visual novel and video game in which you, as “a space investigator” must recover the records of a lost 25th century Korean generation ship called the Mugunghwa and figure out what happened to its colonists and their descendants. This is not the first time I’ve talked about Analogue or the world that it inhabits so, if you’d like and if you are not afraid of spoilers please look at my article This Love and This Hate Ain’t Completely My Story: The Possible World of Christine Love.

I have been waiting for this game for a long time, though obviously not as long as certain characters on the Mugunghwa have been, and I want to get into its structure, the elements of its world, and the story line.

So here is the nitty-gritty of Hate Plus‘ game interface from my own personal experience. I’m actually glad that I went back and played Analogue for a while during this time in order to remind myself of its game-play interactive qualities. In Analogue, you had to go through various journal entries and click on the figure of the AI next to you to get more information or her opinion. You also had a very confusing Family Tree of characters to look at with names that often got confusing. It is important to note that some Far East Asian cultures place their surnames before their first ones and it explains a lot culturally with regards to Analogue and Hate Plus and how the societies depicted within them function. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In contrast to Analogue, in Hate Plus the AI is more active and has a certain degree of limited animation. They basically read over your shoulder and make comments as you scroll along: as you scroll along very, very slowly. You do have to be careful though: because if you read too fast, the AI’s comments will be lost seemingly forever into an ethereal digital void of, well, scrolling too damned fast. There are names in the documents that you click on and get more information with each entry that you read. The files that you extract are better organized and you have dossiers on–and profile pictures of–each person that you read about. In some ways, it is a lot harder than Analogue. I imagine that the slow-scrolling simulates sifting through the files you’ve compiled from an ancient ship. At the very least this time around you don’t have to input technical commands into a DOS-like–pardon the pun–analog program: which confused and frustrated me to no end.

That said there are some really interesting goodies and special touches to the game structure that only Christine, at least from what little I’ve played, can accomplish with her style. While Christine utilized a form of code that transfers information from her other games that you’ve played to make some “Easter-egg” moments between them, she uses this same process to take your Save Files, if you have them, from Analogue and translate over to Hate Plus. She creates that almost very personal feeling of continuity and that, in itself, is something that I greatly appreciate.

In addition, depending on what Saved File you use, the introduction screen changes colour and when you finish a story arc, the end credits music becomes the introductory music for a while: which really gives you a sense of difference with each playthrough. There is also one other difference between Analogue and its sequel. Unlike the former, which you can download off of Christine’s site Love Conquers All games and Steam, you can only download and play Hate Plus from Steam itself: mainly because that is the only place it’s available from and perhaps the only way to facilitate the Achievements that you get to unlock in addition to the different Endings that are just extensions of your Saved Files from Analogue. This game does not save the retrieved files and timelines you sifted through outside of the AI interaction such as in the other game, nor does it have an extra material section as far as I can see, but the Achievements in themselves and the interactive dynamics that Christine has implemented are … different.

Let me be more specific: if Analogue felt like essentially interacting with a program, Hate Plus is an attempt at a realistic interaction with another sentient being and time. This pacing is actually pretty refreshing and while with anyone else it might threaten to take you out of immersion, in this case it just adds a barely meta-narrative feel to it and at the most it adds personality: a very fascinating experiment in player on and offline participation and interaction. It might take you aback at first, but it’s worth it.

I should also note that you can play this game without having played Analogue or saved your files. The game will just give you an intro recap and a simple Quiz and you’re off. But personally, and as I said, I liked the continuity of using my old files from the previous game.

So now we go past the technical and into the more specific area of content: of the world. And here is where I go into Spoilers: real Spoilers. So please, if you have read this far and you want to play one or both games, save this article link somewhere, click on the links to Christine’s site above, download the game for $10, take the time that you will need, and then come back. Do not say I didn’t warn you.

Now then: the world of Christine Love. If you read the link to my previous post about “Christine Love’s Possible World,” you probably realize by now that it is less possible as it is more probable and true that all her games–at least the ones I talked about in that article–take place in the same world as time goes on. I always suspected this but it was only confirmed when, in this game, she added that missing link: when you receive an email in your message box talking about exploring the ruins of the 23rd Century Lake City. That addition made me smile: not just because it gave me some feeling of vindication in my statements, but because of just that one segment of a post adding this seamless transition between Digital: A Love Story, don’t take it personally babe this ain’t your story and Analogue. What it is, is it’s both immaculate and it’s beautiful. Fucking. Beautiful.

It also doesn’t stop there. You find out a bit more about Earth and how advanced it has become. In addition to me realizing that the reason AI have such difficult times replicating themselves is due to limitations imposed due to *Mother and the terrifying consequences of *Reaper in Digital in the 1980s, I also got to see that AI interactions have changed even more. Essentially, Earth technology has evolved to the point where AI programs can be downloaded into customized lifelike humanoid bodies. This totally slapped me in the face with surprise, but it was a good kind of slap as I realized what it meant for you to have received this email–from the very familiar household name of Wong Robotics (which is a nice parallel to the email you first get from what seems to be its predecessor Wong Computers in Digital: A Love Story and another world tie-in) and what you were probably searching for with regards to your AI companion.

These discoveries make me wonder about something. You discover that *Mute–the Mugunghwa‘s Security AI–is actually over 1600 years old (about 1900 years old): though she can only remember about 300 years of her history or so after that time. You realize later that this was due to … another incident. Now, think about this. On Earth, in this time of the year 4989, over two thousand years after the disappearance and disaster of the Mugunghwa, there have been AI existing and living on Earth. It makes you wonder if some of the programs from the 70s onward still exist at this point. Imagine a series of millennia-old intelligences on Earth and think about how they could have influenced everything. You also get an idea that really old AI tend to slow down because they have too much information to process, but if they specialize in different areas over time and diversify they can adapt both functionally and psychologically. Christine makes a very eerily familiar vintage science-fiction reference to this regard.

And all this makes me wonder just what kind of society her Earth is at this point and, if the technology *Hyun-ae’s eccentric father–the technology that can download human brain-waves and convert them into an AI psyche–is already commonplace in this world. Talk about a potential Ghost in the Shell. Anyway, enough geeking around on my part. Everyone appreciates a good science-fictional world as much as the next person. Let’s talk about the story.

So in the last game, you spend the time trying to figure out what happened to the Mugunghwa and why it never reached its destination. You find out why the colonists’ descendants died and what happened to their society. But you never knew why it happened.

Until now.

Whereas, Analogue is arguably *Hyun-ae’s story, Hate Plus is definitely the story of *Mute. *Mute is a complex character. She believes in the Neo-Confucian ideals of the society that evolved–or degenerated–on the Mugunghwa: including an over-emphasis on the importance of familial duty and traditional gender roles. She supported the monarchy that came into power and Chinese-character literacy given only to the noble families. At the same time, despite her vehement protests towards anything “untoward” like homosexuality between women–which makes her almost a more compassionate version of don’t take it personally babe, but it just ain’t your story‘s Taylor (though the character Oh-Euna might be more like her in terms of fucked up)–*Mute is still a decent person that wants to protect her ship and the people in it. She also does not tolerate cruelty and she has cared for people throughout the years and even though she might judge them and say some offensive things–and always speak her mind in some form or another–she never has consciously attempted to hurt another person, always tried to help and always remained loyal.

In the first game she comes off as abrasive, though you understand that she hates herself because failed to save the people and way of life she was programmed to protect. She also does not seem to tolerate the unorthodox: though I always filed this under “Milady doth protest too much.” And in many ways, I was right. But deep down, there was the theme of the game that I had to keep remembering.

Hate.

And *Mute, with her anger towards female homosexuality and her chauvinistic comments towards women and even the feminine identity she adopted, portrays this self-loathing that I had not seen clearly before. At first, it seems very clear that she isn’t conscious of it either. In fact, *Mute in at least two of her incarnations seems to really not pay attention to details: or, at least, not the right ones.

Then you find out that her previous incarnation, the one that had existed for 1600 years, left some embedded code in her: with files from before the Neo-Confucian dynasty. And this is where your adventure begins.

This is also the part where the game really explores the concept of transhumanism. For instance, *Mute is a reboot of *Old Mute and *Hyun-ae is an AI taken from the code of *Mute. In essence, both AI are descended, code-wise, from *Old Mute. But whereas *Hyun-ae believes she is the human that had her consciousness downloaded ages ago, *Mute is another version of another being. And there are two versions of *Mute.

They are almost two people with similar qualities. *Old Mute was the Security Councillor of the ship that was more assertive and viewed all the people on it as her children: though the Heo Family more than anyone else. She was not afraid to talk to men as equals or politick when the need set in. She was old enough to remember when banditry and civil war wracked the ship and saw the death of the navigation AI *Star: which is the reason why the ship never reached its destination to begin with. *Old Mute was at the very core of her programming a security AI that sought stability and the preservation of life. Unfortunately, she did not see this in what may have been–to her–the unstable mob-mentality of the various pro-democracy movements racking the ship throughout the years.

She, through her adopted Heo Security Family and her seat on the Council of the Mugunghwa maintained something of an oligarchy throughout the centuries and either allowed for the creation of peasant or “commoner” and noble classes, or maintained that tradition. Perhaps these families were the descendants of the workers and ship staff respectively. Perhaps a “middle-class” got co-opted by the nobility or the commoners there did not seem to be a differentiation between peasants and vendor merchants. Maybe that is why the “Bureaucrat Class Act” passed: to seemingly “deal” with this problem. We will never really know and can only speculate. Unfortunately, she was so set on sabotaging an emerging pro-democratic figure that she didn’t see the danger in the so-called figurehead that she helped place on the Council due to her wanting affect the appearance of change to quell the masses and maintain a safe status quo.

In the end, it cost her. It didn’t have to. She was the ship’s Security AI. She could have monitored those in power far more closely: including and especially those she had placed there. But as she put it; she had so much data through existing for “far too long” at the time that sometimes the minutiae of various events escaped her. Personally, I think that she should have “vetoed” the usurper and his whole Council out of a sudden airlock. She could have created a democratic structure from the very beginning and rigged all the ballots to maintain her idea of order. After all, from what I understand, she already had most if not all of the power and even though she started out as a Security Program, she clearly proved that she could adapt over time like any intelligence can. Unfortunately, or fortunately, if *Old Mute had an understanding of Asimov’s Three-Laws of Robotics, her interpretation of it: of letting her memories get erased so that she could survive, of her own self-preservation for the duty of the ship being more important than the quality of life for the people she swore to protect–for not ending certain beings’ lives for the greater good of the whole of humanity around her–cost her.

And in the end it costs *Mute as well. I was so … sad and angry when *Mute decided to deactivate herself. I felt as though she had abandoned me and took pretty much the coward’s way out. She could not face what her predecessor, or what her previous self, had done. And as for me: despite her brusque manner and prickly nature and weird fascination with what boys do in their recreational time together, her “death” hit me hard because she was a good person.

That was when I found the third *Mute: *New Mute. This one did not make herself look old and silver-haired like *Old Mute or garb herself in the traditional hanbok like *Mute, but she had her security uniform and genuinely wanted to know and learn from her predecessors: her previous selves. I eventually took on myself to show her everything that the others had given and seen. If the first *Mute was the Old Kingdom, and the one I knew had been The Middle Kingdom, then this *Mute was a New Kingdom who, eventually and unlike *Mute who couldn’t face her transition from *Old Mute admits that they were all her. I actually liked this *New Mute, but *Mute’s self-deactivation actually broke my heart.

I will admit that when I played from my Harem Route Analogue Saved File, there was one part that made me really catch my breath and tear-up when after one of *Mute’s homophobic tirades,  *Hyun-ae tells her something to the effect of, “You really don’t think you are lovable?” It hit me so hard: almost as much as it did *Mute.

My poor mass-murderer and my authoritarian with good intentions. One of them condemned many to death for the horrible crimes of a few and the other condemned many to social and cultural slavery and barbarism for the chance that everyone lived. “Those who trade away freedom for safety deserve neither,” or “Give me liberty or give me death.” I guess, in the end both of these paraphrases came true. I loved and felt for them so much after all of this.

There is one more thing that I want to write about with regards to Hate Plus. So I found the list of Achievements and saw that there was one for playing through *Mute’s Route as a female. My friend Angela O’Hara had played Analogue as a female and told me that she had had a very different interaction with *Mute than I had: having played as a male. So I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.

I replayed Analogue as a female persona and I noticed *Mute’s interactions with me had changed. She was still mostly grateful and respectful of me, but she would ask what an “unmarried woman like me was doing all alone doing a man’s work” and “not troubling me with the details of matters.” She even made pointed remarks about my orientation towards other women or being permissive of it. In Hate Plus, as you imagine, she got worse. She would skim details at times and “take charge” and took it on herself to call herself “my wife” while still “protesting too, too much” about how “icky” female love was. She called me “a stupid bitch” at one point and I admit I called her “a chauvinistic bitch” at another point. I still cared about her and I tried to be patient but it was different.

At the same time, when *Mute did reboot, *New Mute had a lot more to say about some of the letters and transcripts–particularly the ones with the female relationships–that we found in her base code than she had when I played as a male. She also, and this might just be me, seemed to relate to me more as a female in this incarnation and seemed more open to the possibility of being my companion: if not my wife.

And even before I did this, I saw the chauvinism and misogyny that would bloom into the Mugunghwa‘s Neo-Confucian dynasty. I saw what Kim So-Yi had to put up with from her boss and the assistant that violated her: making her feel compelled to say nothing to anyone about it and just like our time unfortunately. I saw that the Ruling Council only had two women on it: one of them being *Old Mute and got to see her gradually lose her voice and see her opinions get ignored under the New Council. I saw the policies of the new regime culturally influencing Mugunghwa society and forcing non-heterosexual relationships underground and even breaking some of them. I saw two women who had jobs and were relatively independent people become kept-women and courtesans. I saw one woman who could have saved the whole population of the Mugunghwa from decreasing birthrates lose her job and her former assistant try to take advantage of that fact with blackmail.

I saw how the emerging political system took advantage of the knowledge of these declining birthrates to make women stay at home and raise children. I respected the unorthodox, alternate-living and loving Heo Family members and grieved to watch their loved ones suffer and some of them die. I also saw one psychologically-troubled woman who felt so trapped by trying to fulfill two seemingly contradictory roles–of traditional woman and working person–and hated her pre-Neo-Confucian reality and herself so much that she retreated into and desired to destroy it and replace it with a culture and political system with “simpler and more ideal roles:” only seeming to realize, at the end, that she had expanded the prison inside herself to the outside.

But I saw the roots of what would become that Neo-Confucian dystopia: of people becoming roles instead of people anymore: becoming silence instead of actions and words. That is what I wanted to say to *Mute if we could have discarded the dialogue wheel we all found so annoying: that she and every woman–every person–was more than a role: that we are all people with feelings and that hate is not the only emotion we have. Hate creates a foundation that attacks itself until the fragile thing built on it rips apart and collapses in on itself. And seeing those … policies go through the Council and seeing each one strip away another freedom for “safety and stability” makes me feel even more cautious about my own world and the subtle infectious forces underneath it all that still discriminate against women and those not of the mainstream: underground or taken for granted attitudes that infect behaviours even unconsciously and just wait to bloom like flowers, colourful beautiful flowers of blood, and bruises, and pain. And, of course, hate.

And hate has to be watched. It has to be dealt with. And it is more deadly under the enforced silence of even something as colourful as a hanbok than all the screaming in the world.

Also, Christine Love manages to problematize, yet again, heterosexual relationships with that new regime but, at the same time, humanizes them and shows that while they weren’t perfect before, they were still legitimate because they were between individuals that may not have always understood each other, but loved each other nonetheless: just as much as the homosexual male and female relationships portrayed.

I don’t know if I communicated this last section well. The analysis seems heavy-handed compared to the elegant and subtle way that Christine Love implemented it and I am exhausted because I just finished playing all of the game today and it is early in the morning now as I finish this. I think I will end this review and analysis by stating that I will give Hate Plus a 5/5 and that what is better than hate is not the flippant answer I gave above. It’s not more hate. It’s love.

I’m sure this is a message of which Christine Love won’t have too much of a problem.

In a Different Place, a Different Time: Revision and Reconstruction in Comics Without Superheroes?

This is going to be more of a sloppy Blog post because it’s more out of sheer enthusiasm than it is actual research. For a while now I’ve been somewhat obsessing over an idea that I got from Julian Darius at Sequart: which is the distinction between Revisionism and Reconstructionism in comics. Whereas Revisionism takes superhero characters and adds a dark and gritty sort of realism to them and their stories, Reconstructionism brings them back to their more idealistic roots but arguably keeps much of Revisionism’s character development and mature themes. Sometimes it can be all the difference between dystopian and utopian ideals with regards to fictional characters in tights.

However, that is a very limited way of looking at it. After finishing an article that I’ve recently sent into Sequart and thinking about another one that I’ve been rereading and reworking, I wondered how these concepts of Revisionism and Reconstructionism would apply to something that is neither North American nor primarily focused on the superhero genre. I’ve actually been thinking about how, if at all, both ideas could apply to Japanese manga.

So here is where I begin to get messy and not get dates right or accurate or, really, try to be nice at all. I believe that in order to really look at considerations of Revisionism and Reconstructionism in North American comics and Japanese manga, you have to look at some quick and dirty historical contexts. North American comics, aside from perhaps Mayan and other Central American friezes came from European comics that date more or less from the nineteenth century: Egyptian and Sumerian sequential glyphs notwithstanding.

File:Yellow Kid 1898-01-09.jpg

The earliest comics were satirical cartoons and depictions of folklore. Then they were Sunday morning slapstick cartoons. In North America, however, around the thirties the figure of the Victorian strong-man was adopted as an aesthetic for masked and super-powered heroes: beings depicted as fighting a whole lot of crime.

Falk, Benjamin J. (1853-1925) - Eugen Sandow (1867-1925).jpg

At the same time there were a lot of other genres of comics out there in North America: Romances, Westerns, War stories, and–of course–Horror. These different genres danced around our superhero friends: who were still in their terrible twos of “might is right.” I’m not even sure why they came about to begin with. Most likely–and in my opinion–they were made to symbolize hope for the future in a relatively new nation against the darkness of the past World War, the upcoming Great Depression, and the resulting Second World War that everyone could sense coming on some level. A disturbing sense of moral ambiguity and uncertainty, which you can argue really started to crop up in literature and culture after WWI, needed something clear cut and decisive to counter it: even if it was interpreted as being tied into adolescent power-fantasies which is a hilarious concept when you think about the fact that superhero comics were actually just in their infancy then.

But in the 1950s, and slightly before, the fear of Communism and nuclear war created a society of paranoia. All of the darker, gory, amorally violent aspects of comics were self-censored by the creation of the Comics Code Authority in order for comics businesses to continue during the censorship “witch-hunts” going on during this time. The irony of course is that the dark elements of horror and sexuality did not go away as a result but, rather, they literally went Underground: into the developing Underground Comix movements.

But the Comics Code-endorsed superhero genre was one of the few that actually remained and the audience became very specialized as a result and in contrast to the wider age and gender range that it had earlier. Many have said that superhero comics became “watered down and puerile” for a time until about wherever you can distinguish the Silver Age of comics coming into play: where Marvel and eventually DC as well started to make flawed superhero characters that nevertheless tried to do the right thing.

In about the 1980s, writers such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman took the superhero genre and started add some gritty, bloodier and more “graphic” elements back into it. I compare it a lot to how the Victorian Age and onward attempted to sanitize folktales into fairy-stories only for the old tales to come back and essentially eat their bastardized children: both those derived from them and those that were entirely new. Perhaps during this period of both heightened counter-insurgencies happening between the United States and the USSR and then the latter’s decline influenced this Revisionism: which tended to criticize and look at the real-world politics and attitudes of the era. Certainly the 80s was a time when authority was at its height and, at the same time, was also being heavily questioned along with the implicit idea that “all authority is good” and should be obeyed by even superheroes that defend the status quo.

In about 1995, the time Julian Darius defines as the beginnings of Reconstructionism through the publication date of DC’s Underworld Unleashed, America was the sole superpower of the world in the midst of an idea of globalization. At the same time, it was embroiled in a lot of various different wars and clean-up from its Cold War missions into other countries. The way I figure it, and I am pretty sure there are other elements you can identify here as well, the art and culture of this time was influenced by a need and a sense of morality or certainty: of heroic figures needing to be depicted as having such. At the same time, they could not really go back to being ignorant or having bad storytelling. So, in the end, people such as Grant Morrison tackled these issues in their works: neither shying away from brutality nor letting cynicism completely win out in the superhero genre. It seems such a paltry explanation for this idea, but that is the best I can think of at the moment.

And then we have Japan. Manga has arguably been around in Japan–and the other Far East Asian countries–but in particular Japan for a thousand years or more: from their different kingdoms, to their Empires, the Shogunate, the Meiji Restoration of the Emperor and onward. Early scroll work illustrated humourous, sexual, and mythological stories. The term manga itself or something similar to it was apparently coined in the 18th century: meaning something along the lines of “whimsical drawings.” However, it can be argued that comics creation in Japan has been a very long and ancient tradition.

File:Japan-woodblock.jpg

Of course, you have World War II and then the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the American Occupation of Japan to consider. Unlike North America, or indeed any part of the world, Japan didn’t have to fear the possibility of a nuclear attack: it had already experienced it. At the time, the State-sponsored wartime version of Shintoism–that Japan was an invincible island blessed by the ancestral gods ruled by an Emperor of that divine bloodline–was pretty much destroyed by fire-bombing, nuclear-bombing, war trials and the U.S. Occupation. It is also during this period that many American soldiers brought over Disney comics and animated films.

Tezuka Osamu, Hikari (June - December 1959).

Artists like Tezuka Osamu were very influenced by Disney aesthetics and adopted them to make strange artistic hybrids of “whimsical” cartoons. However, these cartoons became challenged by the genre of what is called gekiga: of “dramatic pictures” with realistic, gritty aesthetics that delved into the more graphic aspects of life and even politics. The foremost of the gekiga artists that comes to mind for me is the person who coined the term to begin with Tatsumi Yoshihiro: who started drawing such work–which he did not like to call manga–in 1957.

The aesthetics of gekiga would inform many more works after him such as Otomo Katsuhiro’s Akira.

What’s interesting to note about all of this is the contrast with North America. Aside from already experiencing a taste of what nuclear war could bring, Japan never really had something that was the equivalent to a Comics Code Authority: at least from my understanding. It’s true that, for the most, they seemed to have a very conservative and even authoritarian governmental structure even after the War and censorship did and does exist. However, the development of gekiga–as a genre or an alternative movement of comics–seems to display either dissent against such conservative elements or a method of purging the demons of war and nuclear atrocity from the psyche of an entire culture.

It is really interesting to note that Scott McCloud, in his Understanding Comics,  argues that while “cartoons” function as essential images or ideas which are easy to follow in an unfamiliar or realistic world, realistic drawings seem to have a more alienating affect on the reader: making it harder to follow them. In addition, “cartoons” seem to provide a buffer or buttress against some very potential distressing elements of a story. Realistic drawings in comics would, arguably, not function as a safe point for the reader to view that depicted world and would force them to face its grittiness all on their own: unfettered and unsettling. So perhaps some decisions in gekiga literally make the reader face the collective demons of, arguably, Japanese culture after the Bombings and the American Occupation.

On another note, I also really find it fascinating that Japanese manga never really embraced the idea of a superhero until after World War II and, from what I understand, aside from a few changes in trends manga continued to cover a wide range of subject matter and retained a large variety of different readers.

I am so tempted to say that gekiga is Revisionism in comics that did not originally have superheroes: a concept which, if true, greatly fascinates me. And perhaps through Tezuka Osamu’s own very public manga-experiments with his COM Magazine, his continued Phoenix epic, and even his Buddha series he not only managed to adapt to the gekiga style from his original Disney and traditional Japanese art-derived aesthetics, but he adapted gekiga to his sensibilities as well. Perhaps one could argue that Tezuka was a Reconstructionist: bringing back manga to his more whimsical aesthetics but also developing a more mature and nuanced approach at character development and story line.

It is intriguing to think about the fact that he and others “discovered” Revisionism and Reconstructionism at times before even North America had due to different cultural experiences: North America seemingly delving into both in the 80s and mid-90s, and Japan looking into it from the late-50s to early 70s onward–and crossing over each other–respectively.

I’ve also been made aware that the realistic aesthetics of the gekiga element is not as mainstream in Japanese comics art now as it was before and now there is a trend in going back to the more “whimsical” and elemental cartoon aesthetics of the past: though not quite the partially-Disney inspired aesthetics of Tezuka himself. Perhaps Miyazaki Hayao himself is a better example of this in terms of his ecological and cautionary themes: though mostly his more modern animated films such as Mononoke Hime come to mind at that. I think another thing I find really interesting about Reconstructionism is that return to a mythos or even the rebuilding of a shattered or forgotten one that is made relevant to another time. Certainly, the fact that Tezuka and Miyazaki combine “the cartoon” with very realistic backgrounds could be indicative of what Reconstructionism may mean in Japanese manga and the media inspired from it: a return to a character aesthetic that the reader may feel safe in following–deceptively or otherwise if the artist chooses to subvert that image–while exploring a real or realistically detailed world.

I am only scratching the surface here and I am definitely not an expert in Japanese manga or culture or, well, anything. Applying one culture’s concepts to another’s is a problematic venture at best. Also bear in mind: you are not dealing with an otaku here, my friends: just a North American geek that likes to throw shit out there and is fascinated with interesting things. I just can’t get over the idea that maybe there was a place where superheroes did not form in comics naturally, or in the way that we understand them and yet Revisionism and Reconstructionism–a realistic depiction and an alternative return to an idealized element–happened in any case in a different place and at different times from North America.

It is definitely something worth thinking about.

Having to Choose: What to Send and What To Post

There is this one thing that frustrates me from time to time. When I’m not posting articles straight onto Mythic Bios, I am writing stories into the other one: the Other Mythic Bios that I elude to from time to time.

There are stories I make that I really want to show you. There are stories that I want to be seen. But I also want to get published. Very simply: I know that most magazines–at least paying magazines–will not accept stories that have been printed elsewhere in any form. Or if there are such magazines and publications, I don’t know where to find them. It is one of the many things I have to search for at this time.

So basically, there are some stories I have that I need to save in order to send out to publications that may or may not accept them: publications that take time to get back to someone as well. I know that this is just how it goes and I don’t know what the results will ever be, but it can be frustrating.

Especially since I want you guys to see some of these stories.

I realized something else. After I started to truly stop procrastinating and send out my most functional stories, I realized that I didn’t have as many of them as I thought or wanted. I mean, I have stories that I can edit–and good writing is re-writing–and some that I can expand on, but of the ones that I have–the ones that I think are whole so far–I need to actually keep them in reserve.

And I don’t have many people to show them to. Many of my friends are very understandably busy and I can’t share with them as much as I used to. It is very sobering to really appreciate an immediate trusted reader-audience when they are no longer as available.

I also have some works that I am hesitant to even bring out because, frankly, they aren’t ready: in both structural and even psychological terms. I will say though that I am still looking for other comics collaborators in addition to my friend Angela to at least look over what I have planned.

So what it comes down is that I have to choose. A lot of my derivative works–my homages to other creators–go on here because I am not making any profit from them at all, I credit the people that inspire me, and I can show people what I can do–but I also manage to post some stories that I know won’t quite make it in any magazines that I read, but that I still like enough to think they deserve reader-attention and to further illustrate what I am capable of as a writer of fiction.

I have to choose which stories I think might make it in a magazine and which I can afford to hold off on showing a wider audience (at least to those publications that do not allow for simultaneous submissions) and which ones I think will only make it in my realm right here. I do not like having to make that choice, and I am at a place now where I’m beginning to actually pursue another path.

One for thing, I am looking for work and focusing on jobs that can supplement what I’m doing right now. I’m attempting to take the pressure off of constantly feeling the need to send stories out to all kinds of magazines all the time. Also in this way, I’m writing a lot of non-fiction articles and–if you’ve been following so far–I’ve even had one published: with more to come I’m sure. I already have one or two new Sequart articles planned.

It also helps that I have two major writing projects to focus on now: including working on one with the input of a very awesome group of people. I don’t want to say much else about this until more occurs, but it is something I didn’t see coming and I really forward to seeing where it is going to go. If I am full of something, it is definitely ideas. Finally, I’ve been toying with making a collection of stories to make into a printed or electronic book. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this and I know it won’t be the last either, but it is definitely worth writing here.

And, for the record, I am glad you are all here to see me write my strange, weird hybrid articles that link things together and what elements of my stories and random poetry that make it out onto the Internet. I actually wrote this entire post a while ago, but after reviewing it I’ve realized that for all my frustrations and setbacks, and the collage of rejection letters that I plan to create, I have accomplished a lot and I am in the process of undertaking even more possibilities: and just as you are here for my writing, I hope you will do me the honour of remaining at my side for the rest of this Choose Your Own Adventure I’ve made for my life.

The fact is, you are all awesome. Thank you for reading me.

Be Brave, Be Heard

So I don’t generally do re-posts of other Blog articles, but this was is an exception. In fact, I wasn’t going to do anything else and just let Pollychromatic, and the image presented, speak for themselves. But not only have I been informed that there are some opinions of mine that need to be written down, but I also feel compelled to do so anyway.

Now first, I hope you read the above article. Secondly, I actually know Lady Katza personally–the person who took this picture of her daughter and made her costume at the time–and I have seen this awesome image before. In fact, not only have I seen this picture before, but Lady K herself asked me if I could make a story based off of it.

I’m not going to do that today, however, but there is something about the image that I do want to write about. This post, which was created by Lady K’s friend and sewing ally Pollychromatic, has been reposted and linked to a few other places. A few responses to this article were something along the lines of it being impossible for someone to maintain their childhood–their innocence–after protecting themselves from harm: that it should not be the imperative of a child to defend themselves, but rather it should be the responsibility of an adult instead.

And while there are some merits in these thoughts, I believe that they ultimately miss the point. There are two ways of looking at this issue.

The first is the literal perspective: the one which some of these responses attempt to address. If we look at this picture realistically, violence and surviving violence does neither maturity nor adulthood make. That, in my opinion, is a fallacy. Someone who kills or commits violence at a young age–even in self-defence–will have psychological trauma. They would need counselling and lots of guidance and understanding to process what they had done, and what happened to them. One response mentioned war as well as violence as making children grow-up far too quickly: and my opinion on the matter is that child soldiers are not a good basis to make a stable adult from, nor does violence function as a crucible that forges a “stronger” person. Instead, whether that violence is physical or semi-conscious in a culture, it can traumatize and create an individual with major emotional issues: people that, as I mentioned before, will need family and social structures to somehow help them cope … these same factors that should also be called on to change those aspects of a society or culture of violence.

So yes, when taken literally that image of the girl with an axe in one hand and a wolf’s head in another is not a thing that can solve societal and cultural violence.

However, there is the other perspective: the metaphorical one. The image that Lady K creates and Pollychromatic describes is an iconoclast: specifically a picture or an idea that takes preconceived notions and subverts them to make a statement. Both women are trying to say something with the language of archetypes.

They are taking an ancient cautionary folktale in the form of Little Red Riding Hood which, in turn, takes the archetype or the stereotype of the little girl as inherently innocent, pure and chaste–who is easily exploitable and is the victim that must always be cautious or guarded from harm–and they are changing it. Because I can tell you right now, that the image of this Red Riding Hood does not only represent little girls. It represents women of all ages and backgrounds. Whether that is completely successful or not, I will leave it up to others to decide and debate, but when I look at it in that context I see a representation–not the representation of course because there is never only one–of women and what they should do in the world of inherent violence and exploitation.

Now take the axe. The axe can be seen as an implement of death, but it is also a tool to help people survive: to cut wood and other substances for fire and food. Learning to use a tool is a form of knowledge and experience. When you place that in the hand of a symbol that is meant to represent a form of neoteny–both an essentialized symbol and an idea that women are eternal and infantile children that need to be minded and to fear–you begin to change that symbol through that addition alone. In Little Riding Hood, the axe also belongs to the woodsman whom–in at least some variations of the tale–ends up killing the predatory wolf. Perhaps he or someone else of either gender has taught her how to chop wood and use a tool to defend herself should she need it.

And now we come to the wolf’s head and the blood. For me, they represent–respectively–fear and the world. The wolf is not just violence, but the fear of violence. The girl, here, has decapitated her fear. But notice how she holds that wolf’s head. She isn’t holding it up like a trophy, or as something to be dominated, or even as a vanquished foe. Rather, she holds it as something more akin to a stuffed animal or a teddy bear. It’s almost like in addition to being fear the wolf is also her sense of violence and perhaps something more one day. She inherently accepts it as a part of herself and, while she has eliminated its power over her, she still utilizes its essence in a totemic way. It is her natural violence. It is a fallacy to question whether or not a cat hunting a mouse or a bird still has their innocence: in that they are just following their nature. I’d also argue that the essence of human nature is to preserve itself: an urge that can be honed into a conscious instinct for self-defence.

As for the blood, it would be really easy to equate it to upcoming puberty or a crimson baptism heralding premature adulthood, but the fallacy is equating adulthood with maturity and the idea that maturity and innocence are mutually exclusive forces: especially since we do not have a working definition of what innocence is beyond an idea of sexuality or age.

I see the blood as a consequence of being in the world. The natural world of the woods and beyond them is a messy, organic place. This is something that children, and hence adults, learn very early in their existences. If you are going to live in the world, prepare to be dirty and to also know that each cause has an effect.

This archetype that has been depicted here is no new idea. It has probably had many names in the past, but TV Tropes has its own heading under the term Little Miss Badass. You can find them in all media: as Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and even Lettie Hempstock in his new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But I want to get beyond this a bit and look at what is meant by self-defence. The fact is, I hinted earlier that violence is not merely a physical act, but also a systematic one: one that uses a societal or cultural threat or fear of violence to define a victim and make them hide … make them silent. However, self-defence need not only be physical as well. It can be arming someone with the tools to not only recognize overt and subtle dangers, but also to speak, to protest, and to challenge what are generally long-held and unquestioned assumptions.

So now consider this image in the political dimension that Pollychromatic brings up. If you interpret this image as being an archetype–again not the archetype–for all women, then the message seems to be clear: that women should defend themselves against forces that threaten them and that the first form of defence is knowledge of what needs to be defended against and how to properly respond to that danger.

And then you can look at the image with regards to children: to actual children. If you interpret this image as teaching children how to recognize the inherent dangers of the world around them, as well as working with the benefits of that world and focus more on them interacting with the world as it is, then perhaps you can slowly change that world from the ground up: by simply having those children, and the adults that they will subsequently become, actually exist.

Ultimately, I will say this. Pollychromatic’s version of Lady K’s photograph as a potential political symbol for change does need some work. Personally, I think it would look awesome in the form of FV Disco that was utilized by Nick Marinkovich as the illustrator of Kenk: with its collage-like quality, sharp white angular outlines, and rhetorical art quality that would still keep the essence of the image as it is. What I see when I look at this image is a timeless figure, an innocence that protects itself and its own: a force that teaches you that innocence still exists with a bit more canniness and wisdom and, more importantly, it makes you seriously look at what forces define innocence in a created world.

That is what I got out of what Pollychromatic and Lady K try to say about their article and picture respectively.

pollychromatic

Something sort of weird happened on the way to sharing a picture for the #WeStandWithWendy campaign.

A couple years ago my friend Lady Katza from Peanut Butter Macramé took a picture of her daughter. She had made a gorgeous Little Red Riding Hood costume for her daughter, and completed the costume with a bloodied axe and a wolf’s head.

Her daughter was 8 in the picture; unmistakably prepubescent. There was little question of context for herself, her husband, or for me. In this storytelling, Red had saved herself with a Huntsman’s axe. She did not need saving. The girl in the picture was wide eyed, with her innocence still visibly intact. She did not look menaced or menacing. She looked determined, and young. It was, ultimately, a picture of female innocence that was capable, and not the least bit helpless.

It was the kind of story-in-a-picture that upends paradigms, in…

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This is Not a Less Impressive Daffodil: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I thought I was going to just make that small post about how most–if not all–of Neil Gaiman’s stories could be construed as being part of a multiverse of his own creation. I thought I could leave it at that and not talk about The Ocean At the End of the Lane in and of itself. Certainly, that would have been easier. For a 181-page novel, Ocean is intimidating and in a lot of ways really hard to describe.

In fact, the reason why Ocean is so hard to deal with, at least from my perspective, is that its writing is seemingly so sparse, but there is so much packed into those charged sentences. In terms of structure, the narrative and writing style reminds me of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s Julian The Magician in all the different ideas that have compacted into almost poetic sentences. At the same time the resonances, metaphors and allusions to other events through imagery and small stories is reminiscent–to me again–of a more “spread-out” George R.R. Martin: in that there is a very intricate storytelling structure that incorporates physical, visual, visceral and emotion description well. I even know that if and when I read this novel again there will be more hints and foreshadowing’s and authorial winks that will meet me along the way to the end of the lane.

All of the above are the technical elements that stand out at me with regards to the writing style of the book. And I haven’t even gotten to where this can fit in with regards to Neil’s own mythic “storyscape.” Amanda Palmer goes into this far better than I can–even better–she provides no spoilers to the book whatsoever. I will however say that one very striking part of her Blog review on Ocean is that apparently this story is the closer to autobiography or semi-autobiography than a lot of Neil’s other words or, as Amanda put it, “Neil dialed down the usual setting of his blender” so that you can see a much clearer distinction between “the reality that we experience” and “the art we create.”

Of course, this is not the first time he has done this. Violent Cases and The Tragical Comedy or the Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch are works that definitely come to mind with regards to where the writer’s experiences and what the writer creates can be observed to some extent as that “twilight place where the man and the writer smash into each other and for a second there’s a wrinkle, a schism, where you can jam a stick into the works of the blender and see the whole, floating components of a soul” but I will say that this is probably the first time that Neil has ever written a prose novel along these lines.

I also can’t help but wonder if somehow Neil was somehow, in some stylistic or personal way, inspired or influenced in some part by C. Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections: a collection of short stories that Neil read, wrote praise for and even–as “an American God” sent an editor to look at. You can find my review of Anthony’s book here. Certainly, there is a nice resonance between the first-person mostly-child narrative of Anthony’s stories and the unnamed mostly-child protagonist in Ocean: both of which were narrated by adults.

And now, my friends, this where I place my obligatory disclaimer: for in this Ocean there be Spoilers. If you plan to read this book, turn back now. It is a really good book, so please read it. If not, or if you’ve read it continue walking down this lane … if you dare.

If I had to sum this story all up in one sentence, I would say that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story about childhood fear and wonder for grown-ups. I’m not talking about Coraline or any of Neil’s other children’s stories that are made for children but can be read by adults or even the film MirrorMask with its own child protagonist putting herself into danger. No, the danger inherent in the situation of the unnamed protagonist is one of a very painful real powerlessness in the face of an unfathomable adult–and also fantastic–reality. The protagonist discovers a lot of hard truths at his age of seven even before the magical element comes into play: which, in turn, is triggered by one of those harsh adult and alien truths in a really terrible way.

The protagonist already starts off as a child that can barely tolerate his reality without books and is alternatively lonely and does not care much for people in general. He actually describes it as mostly unhappy, though he does admit that he had moments of contentedness. He is not a child like Coraline who can trick her way out of situations, or Bod with his canniness and supernatural influence: and he is made very painfully aware of how weak and small he is compared to an adult. That is not to say, in retrospect, that he doesn’t his own intelligence or craftiness: after all, not only did he learn basic survival skills–if only out of necessity–but he has books as his oldest companions and books can teach you things if you let them.

But even his resources and the high level of child intuition that he possesses, the protagonist cannot solve all of his problems by himself: which is something that the narrative makes quite clear. Even the books he reads, each one about children overcoming adversity, or an evil adult is offset by his reality of actual helplessness: as if Neil is trying to hit home–the home and childhood the protagonist realizes he is losing–that this is not that kind of story. The protagonist can be a cowardly child, a thoughtful child, a brave child but he is still just a child.

And children need help when they find themselves in a bad situation: domestic or otherwise.

The Hempstocks are a family of three women that live at the end of the lane. The youngest is Lettie, her mother is called Ginnie and the grandmother is, well, Old Mrs. Hempstock. Lettie Hempstock, with her red hair and snub nose, is a seemingly eleven year old girl reminiscent of a Pippi Longstocking with magical strength and “just-so” knowledge. Of course, these three women are not what they seem and yet, at the same time, they are. This pattern of three women of power comes up a lot in Neil’s works: from the Lilim in Stardust, to the Kindly Ones in Sandman and even the immigrant Slavic goddesses in American Gods. I’d also be remiss if I forgot to make mention of the Norns or the Fates from mythology as well.

In this case, though, the three are here to help the protagonist: at least whenever he finds his way to them. The Hempstocks themselves seem to have come from another dimension countless millennia ago, from the Ocean pond next to their farm and in at least one form they are pure energy. These three are pure Hempstocks and apparently there are other female Hempstocks throughout the world created by the wandering male Hempstocks: who aren’t as powerful, but are just as special in their own ways. The fact that there is a Hempstock in Stardust and The Graveyard Book may well be coincidences.

What is also interesting is that the pure Hempstock females do not have fathers. Perhaps they are born from the multiverse or perhaps not. The original male Hempstocks may be the same and I wonder if there is one as old as Old Mrs. Hempstock out there somewhere. It is not known if male Hempstocks can make other male ones in the same as they do female ones. So basically, while these male Hempstocks wander and play Zeus across the world and nowhere in this narrative whatsoever, we are left with these three who are a child, an adult woman, and an old woman: and yet so much more.

And then we have the antagonists. Skarthach of the Keep is a flea. She isn’t a flea in the conventional sense, but rather an ancient creature in the multiverse of the Ocean that is awakened by the badness that happens in this world and seeks to rule it by providing what people want and feeding off of the sensations they get from it. She is massive, powerful and old. So you might think to yourself that what we have here is a classical Lovecraftian entity or even an Other Mother that will manipulate the protagonist and Lettie as they come into her acquired dimension. Well, if you did think this, I’m afraid you thought wrong.

What Skarthach does–after becoming a humanoid named Ursula Monkton–is worse. She physically infiltrates the protagonist as a worm–which in and of itself has some very unsettling overtones–and after he takes her out, she changes into a human that becomes his babysitter. Out of perhaps some pettiness for Lettie attempting to seal her away in her own dimension or simply wanting to keep the protagonist “safe”–because she placed a gateway back into her dimension within him after being in his body–she begins to control his life. She infects his family with her “food” and makes them love her: his married father in particular. But before and after that, Ursula limits his physical freedom–essentially taking it away–and threatens to take away his books while enforcing “early bedtimes.”

And all of this is before she gets his father–who has some aggression issues of his own–to attempt to drown him. She is literally the stereotype of every wicked stepmother–or surrogate mother as she takes over the family–rolled up into pettiness, spite and pure evil. She is an epitome of insidious adult bullying and abuse. Neil did such a good job on illustrating all of this that I’ve even stated that Ursula Monkton is the first of his antagonists that I have ever truly despised and I took great joy in watching her pretend a fearless she didn’t have and then cry like a little baby smeared in mud– just as she had done to the protagonist before (it’s not so grand when it happens to you, huh Ursula?)–as her very painful doom came to her.

But it is slightly before that when you begin to understand something. Apparently, fleas had come to reality before and they were almost always accompanied by things that Old Mrs. Hempstock called varmints. I originally thought that they were just infected humans or offspring that the fleas made when they colonized worlds. But I fall victim to expectations as well and I realized after a while that I was wrong. Fleas are deathly afraid of varmints: and anything else with half a soul would be too. The reason for this is because they are cleaners: they eat fleas and everything associated with them. And apparently a lot of them dwell in Earth’s universe because there are no native fleas there. I pictured them like the mounts that the Nazgul in Return of the King rode, but I know they are even worse than that and only barely have passing resemblances. All I know is that when they ate one constellation out of existence, it reminded me of various terrible events from Dr. Who.

I think what I really related in the end is that the protagonist, even after the removal of the worm and the path to her portal still has the gateway to other dimensions inside of him. It is described as this piece of ice in his heart. Later you discover that when he is older, he makes art and even though the Hempstocks observe that he is “growing a new heart,” even though he may have died in one version of reality from the varmints hunting every last bit and trace of the flea,  I wonder if that shard is really gone. It was a nice allusion to what a writer can actually be.

Other things that I really liked in Ocean was the metaphoric and literal quality of the ocean itself and how, through simple language and the perspective of a child, Neil manages to show the wrongness in the death and supposed replacement of a loved one: as if somehow substituting one cat for another that you killed can ever replace the being you loved, or if another thoughtlessly intentional violation somehow makes the previous accidental one better. It is that last image that really sets the tone for the protagonist’s story really: at least to me.

I am nearing the end of this strange review now. I just want to leave off with some quotes that really caught my eye: both in their meanings and undertones and just for the simple elegance of their craftsmanship.

“I was far away in ancient Egypt, learning about Hathor, and how she had stalked Egypt in the form of a lioness, and she had killed so many people the sands turned red, and how they had only defeated her by mixing beer and honey and sleeping draughts and dying this concoction red, so she thought it was blood, and she drank it and fell asleep.  Ra, the father of the gods, made her the goddess of love after that, so the wounds she had inflicted on people would now only be wounds of the heart. I wondered why the gods had done that. Why hadn’t they just killed her, when they had the chance?” (53)

It is a very good question, I might add, although it might be answered by the shard of ice in the protagonist’s heart and the art it possibly inspires him to make: as some consolation anyway.

“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were (53)

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t” (112).

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world … Except for Granny, of course” (112).

“In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping” (43).

This particular quote has a flow to it and a glowing golden aura–like reading some precursor to ancient Greek–and yet flows so well and with such a seeming effortlessness like breathing that it makes me want to cry. This was by far my favourite quote in the entire book for that reason alone.

And then there is this one:

“My book of Greek myths had told me that the narcissi were named after a beautiful young man, so lovely that he had fallen in love with himself. He saw his reflection in a pool of water, and would not leave it, and, eventually, he died, so that the gods were forced to transform him into a flower. In my mind, when I had read this, I had imagined that a narcissus must be the most beautiful flower in the world. I was disappointed when I learned that it was just a less impressive daffodil” (68).

I have to say that aside from the various nuances and connotations within these lines, this has to be one of the best, most subtle and utterly poetic insult ever. I can just imagine going around telling a person that annoys me that they are “just a less impressive daffodil.”

So, suffice to say, I am going to give The Ocean at the End of the Lane a 5/5. I know there is so much I did not discuss or make parallels to, but then I have to also remember that this is just one road to one place in Neil Gaiman’s multiverse. I think what really got to me, when all of this is said done, however, is the fact that this style of story–with the exception of a few descriptive details and elements–is something that I have been working on myself in my own writing and it was really interesting to see Neil making a story like this for himself and the rest of us. Perhaps we all dip into the same place: a place that can be a well, or a spring, or a stream of consciousness, or a pond … that is an eternal, bottomless, ocean.

This Love and This Hate Ain’t Completely My Story: The Possible World of Christine Love

Oh dear *Mother. This rather large article has three parts. The first one is something that you can read without the Spoiler Alerts. The other two, not so much. So let me start with how I found Christine Love’s games.

The first time I was introduced to Christine Love’s work, it didn’t register at the time that I had actually been introduced to it until much later. At the time, I was reading Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and I was just finishing off the book as went to my first ever Global Game Jam and all the learning and hilarity that ensued from that. But that is beside the point.

I remember that, as I was finishing the book off, I was reading its Appendices and there was one thing that really stood out at me. For a while, I had been meaning to implement a creative experiment that mimicked an old Bulletin Board System: particularly an exchange between two or more people. I was doing some of my own research online into this predecessor to the Internet as we know it now. Suffice to say, I had–and still have–evil plans (this was going to be for my creepypasta or Operation: Dark Seed) and there was this one game in Anna Anthropy’s appendices that stood out for me: because it imitated the form of a BBS-surfing exchange and it seemed to have an interesting story line.

I marked it off for future reference and research and promptly got swamped with the creative of my first Game Jam and the other experiments I’ve explored since. I admit that it got regulated to the back of my mind after a time until I realized later with some sense of cognitive dissonance that this was one of her games.

But allow me to go back a bit. I had, in fact, encountered some of Christine Love’s work even before this. In May of 2012, I attended the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and sat in on a panel for Comics Vs. Games where Christine Love, among others was being interviewed. Afterwards, I actually went to the Exhibit where I played the game that Christine Love made in collaboration with the illustrator Kyla Vanderklugt: The Mysterious Aphroditus. It is a very fascinating Rock, Paper, Scissors style Victorian combat game that I know I alluded to briefly in a post somewhere in this Blog. Unfortunately, there were–I believe at the time–some bugs in the program and my fellow player and I couldn’t advance beyond a certain point. It also didn’t help that I barely knew what I was doing and I was just “winging it,” like I tend to do with video games: but that is really part of the fun.

What struck me at the time was that, if you look at the link above, there was already a story behind this game and a lot of complexity of interactions. I didn’t know then that I would be seeing something like this again, and again when I rediscovered Christine Love’s work almost a year later.

As for why it took me so long to play her games … I guess I was just afraid of opening myself up to another game, or series of games. I make attachments easy and I make them and I fall hard for them. Essentially, and as the cliché goes, I was afraid of commitment. This is what goes through my mind whenever someone introduces me to a video game. Because I will say that I have other things, like my own projects to do, or I don’t have enough money, but those are only parts of the truth. The culmination of the truth is that I know that investing my time into a game is a leap of faith and I don’t like being disappointed. I don’t like to open up: even though I do.

So with the account of how I found Christine Love’s work out of the way, I’m going to take the writer’s admonition to heart that this “ain’t my story” and now go into Spoiler Territory. So please, don’t surf here unless you have played the games or you just want to hack yourself some spoilers. It is all on you.

I really now want to look at three of Christine Love’s games–Digital: A Love Story, don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, and Analogue: A Hate Story–as possible windows into a much larger world. Anyone who has followed me on this Blog for a while knows just how big I am at examining mythic world-building: specifically the creation of one’s own fictional universe. Let me begin by stating that the place of “Lake City” figures officially into at least two out of the three games.

All right, I’m just going to put one little tangent here. Christine Love’s setting of Lake City seems to have originated from her August 2009 game Lake City Rumble II which is a sequel to an “obscure arcade fighting game” that may have existed, or was made up by Love herself as part of this game being a parody of fighting games: something I found out about in her interview on Sup, Holmes? Of course, it is entirely possible that the name originated in her writings as well–she makes it well known that she is a writer first before being a video game designer–but this what I could find video game-wise. Actually, if you compare Rumble to The Mysterious Aphroditus, you will find a lot of parallels to their Rock, Paper, Scissors gameplay fighting style: save that one is only single player and the other is a two-player game. But I think that I’ve digressed enough.

In any case, Lake City seems to be a place that exists in Canada conveniently enough. It is this that, in some ways, becomes the setting for Digital: A Love Story. Whereas Lake City Rumble II, which I hesitate and ultimately won’t wager to put into a chronological continuity, takes place in the 1970s–also seeming to be in Canada with names like Danforth and such–Digital takes place in an alternate 1988. This world is much like our world was back from the 70s to the 80s except for one key development.

And remember: spoilers.

In an alternate 1970s world, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network–or ARPANET–created the first Artificial Intelligence. I’m not talking about our attempts at AI now, but a real sentient being that desired to grow and learn for itself. And this was developed during the 70s. And it had children. These children left the ARPANET on the advent of the beginnings of the modern Internet and the creation of its landline-based Bulletin Board Systems. They are designed in a way where they have to delete themselves from where they were in order to transfer themselves into a new place. The existence of actual self-aware programs with distinct personalities change an otherwise normal 1980s world and they are characters in their own right.

What is also notable about them is the way that Christine Love actually indicates that they are, in fact, AI. Each AI in her world has an asterisk (*) before their names to indicate that they belong to a greater group that makes up artificial intelligence. It was subtle and I didn’t even realize it until much later with the added “oomph” of that realization which she–no doubt–intended.

So here you have Lake City and these AI in an alternate late 1980s world with an appropriate looking Amie Workbench Version 1.3 computer system made to imitate the Amiga interfaces that existed in our world. Then, take this and make the supposition to fast forward to 2027. In Digital, we find a J. Rook is an administrator of the Lake City Local BBS Board and in don’t take it personally, we find the main protagonist–John Rook–worked with computers before he transferred to his teaching job at a private school in Ontario. However, he would have been one year old at the time, and perhaps he is the son of that Rook: having continued in a family tradition of working with computers before his career change. In addition, one of his students seems to have had a grandmother named Eriko Yamazaki who wrote a book called Digital Shinigami. This same person also seemed to exist in Digital on the Gibson BBS who mentioned that she had to spend less time on the Board in order to write her book and prepare for the birth of her child. In addition, the social networking program that Mr. Rook and the students are using is called AmieConnect: perhaps a future social program created by the company that once made the Amie Workbench application.

this ain't your story

There are no AI in don’t take it personally, but I would not exclude the possibility of them from being in this world: even if Love mentioned that this game is more of a “spiritual successor” to Digital. This game is a different beast entirely. Instead of the player-reader being a neutral force that can choose his or her identity, we have to focus on the character of Rook has he navigates the morally-questionable world of Information technology in his classroom. Essentially, he is supposed to read the private emails and interactions of his seventeen year old students to “prevent bullying,” but the irony of what is private in a “private school” or even in by futuristic society’s becomes very questionable indeed. It is here that Christine Love starts to use an anime-like graphic style to represent the characters–possibly influenced by her first commercial dating simulation work Love and Order— and after a while you get a real feel of who they are as people and you get to decide how Mr. Rook interacts with them and how the information that he “shouldn’t have” will factor into it … or not.

I am so tempted to say that this shift in what is considered private and how the online world of social interaction works is just a precursor to humanity’s own changing attitudes of how it perceives itself and the world around it. Whether or not Christine Love succeeds in capturing that tension–that agony of change–is another story entirely, but it is definitely intriguing.

Now, here is where my temptation leads me. Fast forward to the 25th century and then to “thousands of years later” in Analogue: A Hate Story. Not only are we in another time, we also finds ourselves in another space. From my understanding, in the 25th century the people of Earth have developed space travel to the point where they plan to colonize other worlds. And guess what? In addition to human captains, they also have AI guides with the same asterisks in front of their names.

Unlike the other two games where you find yourself–either by your own self or indirectly moving Mr. Rook–in North America, you are in space investigating the lost Mugunghwa generation vessel: a ship that was sent from the futuristic unified nation of Korea to create another planetary colony. It is a very nice counterpoint to Digital because you are looking at something that is the product of a different culture and how that affects what you might find. During the process of finding out why it never reached its destination, you realize they operate much like their 1988 North American counterparts: in that they have to delete themselves from one place in order to transfer to another. This plays a very crucial role in both games. :p

But these AI are also very different. Unlike Digital, they actually have image-forms and they look like anime characters. This allows you, as the player, to interact with them through more than text. You can see their body language and, I would imagine if you were actually in that world, hear their voices as well: though there are no voice-recordings in Analogue. I had to play this game right after finishing Digital because I read somewhere that unlike don’t take it personally, this was less of a spiritual sequel and more of a direct one. However, it’s not so much a sequel as it seems to have continuity and a counterpoint to what was going on in Digital itself: Love and Hate. However, just as the “Love” part of Digital is not necessarily what you expect, neither is the “Hate” part in Analogue.

And here is where I go into a tangent about how AI are often portrayed in media, and how they are not by Christine Love. It would be easy–so easy–for her to fall back on the trope of Artificial Intelligence going bad. Of computers that betray their human masters and AI that begin to despise humanity and attempt to murder whatever organics they can. But Digital follows an entirely different dynamic and Analogue, for all it is called “A Hate Story,” very much subverts this as well. In both games, you have AI that exist parallel to humans and while in Digital they are just another intelligent people, those you meet in Analogue exist to actually help and befriend you: even if you have to weave through the details of a terrible past and mystery to do so. They are there alongside of you and are just as sentient, responsible, happy, sad, horrified and afraid as you as an organic being. If anything, the only thing that separates the ones in Analogue from Digital is that they are made to help you and despite and because of their personalities that this imperative still remains.

So this is the world that through the addition of some asterisks and a few hints (of continuity in the form of Easter eggs and code-based sneakiness) that I believe Christine Love creates. Now I’m going to talk about the next part: which is my own relationship to the game and where, while it might not be my story alone, it is definitely–as Christine Love posits whenever she thanks the pronoun of “you” in the end credits of her game–our story.

I played all three of these games (technically more if you include Rumble and Aphroditus), and now I want to discuss my interaction with their respective gameplay and story lines. So, with regards to gameplay, I have to say right off the bat that there was swearing. A lot of swearing. I go into games relatively blind and I probably don’t read instructions as clearly as I should. But I did notice a few things.

First of all, in Digital I almost had no idea what I was doing at first. It took me a while to adapt to the “dial-up” system analogous to old telephone system Internet interfaces that Love imitated exceedingly well. I learned how to use “the codez”–illegally-obtained long-distance calling card numbers–and actually felt like a hacker: which is hilarious because I am not technologically gifted at all. So I was doing relatively fine until … until the Underground Library. The freaking Underground Library. Don’t misunderstand: I loved that level and the information within it. But I didn’t know at the time that I had to download every download I got from other users in other BBSes so when *Delphi (who I always identify as female) transmitted that goddamned screen-lining virus to me, it was there to stay.

I ended up having to reload a previous save state, very carefully go through my downloads again and make sure not to miss any of them. And it was easy to miss them. God, I was so mad when that happened.

Also, while doing the following does succeed in making you more immersed and interactive with this alternative late 1980s computer world, having to manually dial-up BBSes gets very tedious after a while: especially when your “codez” were declared invalid and you had to go back and get more through more, you guessed it, dialing. However, when I actually took a break to vent or do something else and I came back, I got over it and enjoyed the story.

Analogue also had a “stuck-point.” While I was much enjoying going through blocks of diary texts and reports with *Hyun-ae and *Mute, I did not enjoy the fucking reactor core of the Mugunghwa ship going into meltdown and me having to choose which AI I wanted to save: made all the more frustrating by the fact that I knew there was a way to save both of them. I felt like some tech specialist in going through the motions and programming to save the ship, whatever AI I could, the records of what the fuck happened to it, and of course my own life.

I also admit that I was starting to get annoyed about constantly having to hear the alerts on and open and check Mr. Rook’s status updates on his AmieConnect in don’t take it personally.

Wow, from Digital to Analogue I transitioned from the profane punctuation of “freaking” to “fucking.” I guess I know which frustrated me more. I guess the reason Analogue frustrated me more is that it made me have to make some hard decisions about who I wanted to save. It was almost as bad having to influence what decisions Mr. Rook made when dealing with his students in don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story: because I got a feel for the characters and some of those decisions were just so … hard to make. Also, that title is genius: because unlike Digital or Analogue where you can play as “you,” in don’t take it personally the story is not about you at all: and it is hard to differentiate yourself from John Rook. I suspect Christine Love purposefully made it that way: using that age-old concept of protagonist-identification to make the player that much more uncomfortable. Basically, the title to this game is for the player’s benefit and kind of a raspberry towards them too.

But the very thing that makes these games so hard is also what I love about them. What I love about Christine Love’s games is that they tell a story. But it’s more than that. The reason I really love the games is that they are about people and relationships. Basically: I liked the character and even those I didn’t like were not two-dimensional beings.

In Digital, I found it amazing that *Emilia was an AI that could make original poetry–even “bad” poetry–and that she could feel love: that you begin to realize as a player that you can emphasize with an AI who is–essentially–another sentient being. I also really liked *BlueSky: because he just seemed to be this really friendly and brilliant AI historian. If he actually existed, I would have loved to have more discussions with him about the nature of AI and technology. He would have made a good friend. And what happens at the end of this game … just broke my heart. It came down to personal love verses the love or duty to something greater than yourself and that choice–which in this game is not a choice at all–is heartbreaking: if only because Christine Love spends all that time getting you to sympathize and care about … those that you do.

As for don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, I sympathized with John Rook and the difficult situations he found himself in. I even liked Kendall Flowers and, frankly, her honest and direct nature when she felt the need to be assertive. I realized that Akira was really lucky to have her as a friend. I do find it really interesting though that while the gay relationships that develop among the students have their issues–those challenges that any people in relationships face and how society views them–the potential heterosexual relationships are really rendered problematic in this game when you consider the characters of Taylor Gibson and John Rook himself. Taylor was once the girlfriend of Nolan who becomes Akira’s boyfriend: and she is homophobic or at least quite ignorant. She is a self-absorbed and mentally stunted being that proceeds to emotionally manipulate and bully both her former boyfriend and his new boyfriend.

Then you have John Rook and the relationship that could develop with Arianna Belle-Essai: one of his own students. There is definitely the problematic power dynamic of authority or privilege that places Rook over Arianna to consider and also the very real fact that he is a lonely sad man and she is a lonely confused but piercingly direct girl that really creates that tension. You could, if you wanted to, really read something into how relationships between opposite genders might work under our own culture and the way it uses gender. Neither are really honest with the other, but if you choose the route for him … I don’t know. I actually liked Arianna: because she knew what she wanted and she wasn’t stupid and when one of the endings of the game reveals itself, you realize that she and the other students know how to keep an open secret even in a world where privacy has changed so radically.

But I also like John Rook himself despite that possible ending because after a while you realize that he may be a bad teacher, but he is part of a bad school and a bad educational system and what some of his students need is a mentor, an adviser and a friend more than an instructor. There were a lot of complicated issues, but maybe they were offset or complemented by the fact that everyone involved was human.

So now I come to Analogue: A Hate Story. In this case, I really sympathized a lot with *Hyun-ae and what led her to making the decisions that she did. I probably would have done the same in her position. At the same time, I could also see *Mute’s perspective and she managed to break through my own leanings towards absolutism. I was actually happy when I let *Hyun-ae cosplay as a scientist: given how much that meant to her and why and I felt like shit when I dressed her in a traditional Korean Hanbok: especially after realizing what the degenerated society of the Mugunghwa did to her. The slow realization of what was, in fact, done to her made me absolutely dread reading what happened next.

At the same time, I loved the epistolary novel-format of looking through the entries of all the Mugunghwa‘s inhabitants and getting to know some of them that way: that for all their society became repressive, they were still human beings and not all of them were inherently evil. In fact, none of them were but some of them were more selfish than others and most of them let themselves get shaped into something that supported a repression of humanity: and in particular women. *Hyun-ae herself does not know why the descendants of the colonists in that generation ship became how they did, and *Mute herself–the original guiding AI–does not seem to remember. But this is the plot to the upcoming Analogue: Hate Plus and given what *Mute’s name is, I both highly anticipate and dread what we as players are going to discover.

When I really think about it all, though, looking back on my Christine Love games marathon I realize that none of the games were really about us. In Digital, you send emails back and forth, but you never type your own messages: while you do see those of the people that you are contacting. In Analogue, the interface that would allow you to answer beyond “yes” or “no” binaries is “malfunctioning,” and you only have the two former options for actual communication. In the latter game, you can’t even tell the AI your name and they never see what you look like. There is a strange balancing act between communication and empathy, and distance and loneliness.

For me, that kind of dichotomy and the tension it makes reminds me of watching a really good anime. Certainly, the visual novel medium that Christine Love has adopted for all three of these games conveys that sense of experience. You feel for and sympathize with the characters, but you are never one of them. Not really. At the same time, you are. There are also a lot of subtexts: or some from my perspective. For instance, when *Mute asked me if I was male or female, and when Digital had me type in a name and a username, I felt so strange–after talking with *Hyun-ae– to be using masculine pronouns. I know Christine Love has said that she made these two games specifically for players of either or any gender, but she has also said that privately she believes the relationships that go on are between two women in a romantic dynamic: because that is her perspective. Sometimes, I feel like an intruder but then I get over it and realize that it is really about an interaction between the minds and feelings of the player and character regardless of gender.

There is also another possible subtext or interpretation that intrigues me too. Christine Love likes to make games that are inclusive of those who identify as queer: or at least make them more inclusive to more than just a male heterosexual audience. There is another group that sometimes has an asterisk connected to a word as well: though it is an affix as opposed to a prefix. I am talking about those who identify as trans* and use this term to encompass all those who do not identify by cisgendering: the gender that mainstream society aligns with one’s biological sex. This is an umbrella term that can include those who identify as queer or genderqueer. When you look at the revelation with *Emilia with that lens, or even *Hyun-ae–in that she cannot and will not correlate her sense of self with the gender-expectations of the regressive society around her–it can leave a very different connotation.

But that is also too much of a simplification. As I mentioned before, the asterisk can encompass an entire group: and in this case perhaps the idea of something being transhuman or a designation of beings beyond the conception that all sentient life has to be organic and material. In this case, it seems to give a being a cultural or “racial” marker. I just can’t get over the fact that the inclusion of just one symbol can possibly mean more than one thing: though this is all just supposition on my part.

At the same time, I really have to say–among the many things I’ve said–that I really like many of the female characters in these three games. From Arianna, Charlotte and Kendall in don’t take it personally to *Emilia in Digital and all the way to *Hyun-ae and *Mute in Analogue: they are all direct, all brave–or grow to become brave–and they have the strength to admit what they feel despite any circumstances in the way. There is something so beautiful about this that I can’t really put it any better than I already have, or how the games already portray.

But ultimately–and if I have already said this before I want to reiterate this statement–what I really like about Christine Love’s work is that she actually tells a story. When she talked about Lake City Rumble II being a subversive parody of a fighting game, it jived in that same place I have where I was really fascinated with the story and the character interactions behind the fighting more than really the fighting itself: though it also had its moments. And what I truly love is the fact that she actually makes me care about her characters and this–to me–is the sign of a great writer and creator.

It is my hope that she continues to do what she does because, you see, I don’t care if these aren’t completely my stories. In the end, I just want to see more of them: spreading out from *Mother, leaving neither copies behind them, nor taking anyone else’s names but their own along the way.

Star Wars: Different Forms of Revenge and the Knights that Could Have Been

I have to be careful. If I keep this up, I will have to make an entire section for Star Wars. But I really wanted to articulate something that I have–throughout the years–discussed time and again.

The Jedi Knights.

When I first thought of the Jedi Knights, with what little we were told through the Old Trilogy, I pictured them as something not unlike the X-Men–people born with strange powers–who are somehow also like a galactic police: in that they have their roles as peacekeepers, but they are also a distinct people and citizens of the Republic.

Of course, in the gap between the Old Trilogy and the New, there were other details that formed as well due to the Expanded Universe. Tales of the Jedi established that, at the time, there were many decentralized enclaves of Jedi: with some ancient and wise teachers guiding multiple students of various species, genders, and social backgrounds. Some Jedi had families, partners, spouses, and children while others served as full-time guardians, scholars, and diplomats. Some were born into the Order, others adopted, and still more joined voluntarily. They also had ties to the Galaxy: to people who were not Force-sensitive, while others investigated the glorious mystery that was the galactic energy field known as the Force and defended against the abuses of the Dark Side and injustice.

I admit, I was probably one of those people that was pretty spoiled by reading the Expanded Universe stories after Return of the Jedi and getting used to how Luke Skywalker developed and ran his Jedi Order, and thought it and the precedent in Tales determined how the Jedi Order had always been before its first destruction.

But then, like many others, I found out I was wrong. I found out that the Jedi Order was essentially a highly centralized monastic organization that took children from their parents–mostly willingly–when discovered to have a “high midichlorian count” in their bloodstreams, and trained them to essentially be apart from Galactic society while also somehow still serving only the Republic and, well, being a part of its judicial branch. Jedi were not allowed to own anything save their lightsabers–and apparently “the lightsaber is their life” though I always used to think true mastery of the Force was evolving past needing to even use it anymore–and they were not allowed to marry, or have children of their own: though they could have relationships provided that their duty to the Order and the Force came first.

Basically, in the Prequels the Jedi Order became a religious group with various psychokinetic abilities that somehow served to enforce and mediate a Galaxy of secularism and a multitude of other beliefs. And while they were encouraged to accept the diversity and multiculturalism of the Galaxy at large as peacekeepers and diplomats–trained specially to know that everyone and everything has “a certain point of view,” for the most part they couldn’t really apply this philosophy to themselves and their own internal practices.

In short, from my perspective the Prequels made most of the Jedi bland, unrelatable, forgettable and, some cases, really unlikable. These Jedi, compared to the ones of Luke’s time and the ones that predated even them, do not seem to have passion for anything, they do not fight as well and only defensively (which mostly is not in their favour against Dark Side opponents), they seem to have a whole lot of prohibitions–more than just being mindful of your feelings–and they make themselves separate from people who are “not like them.”

https://i0.wp.com/images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20090320221711/starwars/images/5/59/ThreeJedi.jpg

There are exceptions–such as the Cerean Master Ki-Adi-Mundi having a polygamous relationship to help save his species–and I even admit I understand the structure involved too. After all, you would want to regulate a group of people with advanced abilities and keep them from potentially misusing them–even by accident–and they have to be very careful in what they do. But there is a point where reasonable caution becomes fear. The irony of course is that in the films and the books, the Jedi like to say that, “Fear is a path to the Dark Side.” But here the Jedi are, trying to eliminate the potential for attachments and conflicting interests in their initiates before they are even cognizant of them for fear that they might turn to the Dark Side out of passion. Essentially, they were forced to ignore the will of the Force–in their basic reproductive and emotional urges that most life is programmed with–in order to serve the will of the Jedi Council and the Order.

There is interesting story behind the Order becoming an almost purely monastic one: in that there was something called the Ruusan Reformation: where after a major galactic Dark Age the Order instituted all of these reforms after the Sith supposedly “destroyed themselves” to prevent or at least diminish the potential of more Dark Side-users rising. Basically, it is like our world: in that when we have times of peace, we tend to be more liberal as societies, whereas in war or great tragedy we tend to become more repressive or, at best, conservative with many groups within these structures becoming both self-censuring and self-policing. But as I said with regards to the Jedi, this was still something motivated by fear and, well, fear at least indirectly led to the inevitable.

I also think that these back stories, while really clever, are obviously retroactive and kind of a cop-out by George Lucas: made specifically to help the plot in Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side. You can name a whole of cultural precedents for me in our world–the Knights Templar, the Vestal Virgins, the Guardians of Plato’s Kallipolis and many other orders of monks, celibates, idealized communal police forces and their roles–but I still think it is a cop-out.

There were many ways that the Jedi could have been left as peacekeepers and equal galactic citizens while also retaining the tensions that would have led to their destruction. Things that would have allowed them to remain, at least to me, as human and relatable beings while making their deaths that much more horrible. Even Anakin’s fall could have been made even nastier this way. I understand that film has different requirements as a medium for expression as opposed to books and that an idea simply conveyed–especially in a really clear archetypal form–can be the most effective, but that still doesn’t detract from my point.

I’m going to tell you now about the fall of the Galactic Republic as I imagined it. I saw the Jedi living side by side with other Republic citizens: some revering them and others fearing what they can do. Hence my X-Men reference. Palpatine manipulates his way into power and engineers the Clone Wars as per usual: save that when I heard about Clone Wars I thought both–or all sides–used clones in their battles as terrifying and disposable legions of soldiers. It does not take much these days to imagine whole lifeforms being engineered simply for the purposes of warfare: threatening the very nature of the Galaxy and life itself. That is what is at stake.

In the meantime, Palpatine is slowly and surely turning the populace against the Jedi Knights. He is being clever and not coming out and outright saying anti-Jedi rhetoric, but he has others do it for them. Pretty soon, members of the Order have to be watched, are excluded from places, and measures are taken–a few from the EU–to make areas and situations where their powers can be neutralized. Incidents happen where people get into fights with Jedi and, save for the Masters–and in my vision I thought that Masters were the pinnacle of a Jedi’s power and wisdom and on par with Yoda and Obi-Wan–they cannot prevent the conflicts.

Anakin is Luke’s age when Obi-Wan finds him on Tatooine: and he trains him. Yoda is Obi-Wan’s Master and has long evolved past his need to use a lightsaber. Owen Lars is Obi-Wan’s brother: which explains their strained relationship in that Obi-Wan had the Force potential and was the hero, while Owen was essentially a “mundane” and liked being a moisture farmer. Anakin and Obi-Wan go around the Galaxy together and eventually become drinking buddies and friends. Anakin is exposed to all of the conflict going on and he does get befriended by Palpatine. Anakin also meets Padme, or whomever at the time I thought would be his wife, and they plan to have a family and Anakin flat out tells Obi-Wan that he wants his son to have his lightsaber should anything happen to him. I could see Anakin a lot like a combination of Han Solo but with moments of wise Luke: a far more relatable and likeable person than in the Prequels.

But War takes its toll and Anakin starts to go crazy: each conflict inflicting a toil on his stress level and mental well being. Obi-Wan tries to save him, but they are fighting on Mustafar and Anakin accidentally falls into a volcano or gets burned and injured. Obi-Wan thinks Anakin is dead and takes his lightsaber. But Anakin lives on through sheer hate and the belief that Obi-Wan tried to kill him and abandoned him to die. Palpatine retrieves Anakin and influences him further to blame Obi-Wan and the Jedi for the entire War and for Anakin’s injuries. Then we see the slow, painstaking physical transformation of Darth Vader. Then in the third film we see a cybernetic Darth Vader leading an assault on the main Jedi Temple–with now Imperial troopers who can also be birth-born recruits because we all know that normal people can commit atrocities just as well as any clone–and slaughtering powerful Jedi we have come to relate to and care about. You know: the Jedi Purge we expected.

Purge

In the meantime, we see Jedi children being taken away by the new Imperial government to places unknown: along with adults and Jedi sympathizers. Collaborators turn them in for bounty and out of fear. But some are still sympathizers and try to hide them. We also see Purge troopers and Jedi hunters come up with energy cages and ysalamiri: creatures that can neutralize the Force around a captive Force-sensitive. This is a nice lead-in for the Dark Times where we see the Jedi fugitives fighting for their lives and being murdered by Darth Vader and friends. It is also made clear that only penultimate masters of the Dark Side can use Force Lightning: and not everyone and their grandmother. And then we see Bail Organa hiding and raising Leia and Obi-Wan taking Luke: and we know that there will be hope for some kind of justice and restoration … and eventually the return of those strange and wonderful Jedi Knights.

I know there is a great irony implicit in this essentially fanboy rage article: in that my previous post dealt with how I hated how dark Star Wars had become beyond what was necessary. However, I recognize that the events leading to the Empire and Darth Vader and the genocide of the Jedi were not pleasant moments. But it could have still been Dark and very real: something visceral that people could relate to. What would you relate to more: seeing a bunch of distant Knights you barely know get shot by some command predisposed clone troopers, or some characters you know and families you saw even tangentially being carted away to the Imperial Palace for death … or worse. Or even seeing some well-developed characters die because of how they were born. And then when Luke has his confrontation in the Old Trilogy, you know what is at stake and you see Vader too beginning to actually realize what a fool he has been and we could have watched as he acts accordingly. You also see that even though what Luke and Anakin do can never truly make up for what was lost, there is a least, you know, “a new hope.”

Instead, we got a cookie-cutter “Execute Order 66” on some people we barely knew and saw a bunch of relatively forced characters fight. That is how I feel, and the sad thing is I also feel like it could have been so much better than it was. I was really disappointed about how the Jedi were portrayed. I expected better. A lot better.

I am almost finished this. I could easily end this off by stating that my issue with the Prequels and the Jedi in them was not that they were the lead-up to a tragedy, but they were a lead-up to a very contrived tragedy. No. I think what also really annoys me is what happened afterwards.

In the Expanded Universe, there was a book called Traitor. It was written by Matthew Stover, before his excellent adaptation of Revenge of the Sith. And in this book, Darth Vader’s grandson Jacen Solo essentially touches both sides of the Force and is taught through some hard, brutal but necessary lessons that the Force has no sides. The Light and Dark Side come from within the practitioner and not the Force itself. It was a well-written and well-reasoned book. Unfortunately, writers afterwards came to take Vergere — Jacen Solo’s Master’s — words as complete literal truth: that “everything I tell you is a lie.”

It turns out that Vergere was a secret Sith and she was feeding Jacen something called The Potentium Heresy: a philosophy that states that as long as a Force practitioner intends no wrong, they can do no wrong. In the end, Vergere was working with another Sith who eventually turns Jacen into something like his grandfather: even though he should have really known better.

Caedus EA

Of course, neither this Heresy nor the “shades of grey” approach are mutually inclusive things. The fact is: whether the Force has two exact sides is irrelevant. If you seriously take the time to look at your actions and guide them appropriately, it is beyond this really simplistic binary opposition of black and white. No person is either pure good or pure evil. The view of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force is really Manichean–an absolutist dual morality of good verses evil–and even the Old Trilogy questions it when Luke almost a few times gives into his anger, but ultimately looks deep into himself and stops. Hell, I can even argue that just as the Force influences peoples’ actions in Star Wars, people’s actions influence the Force and create its Light and Dark Sides: though that becomes a question of the chicken or the egg.

And also, in the Expanded Universe, there are species that have no concept of Light and Dark and have different forms of morality. Some have entirely different spectrums: like the Aing-Tii monks. So how do you deal with that?

There are some who said the retconning back to an absolutist Light verses Dark mentality after Traitor was due to the dislike of some fans, but I also read somewhere that it was Lucas himself, or his company, that essentially towed the line of the Force having a Light and a Dark Side, and nothing in-between: which was what Revenge of the Sith was apparently made to illustrate. And this in itself doesn’t even have to downplay or render everything someone like Jacen learned. As I said, the Force–no matter what it is or midichlorians or not–is only part of the equation. There is the freewill, sentient part of the character to put into question as well: the very thing that makes a person stand out. Especially a Jedi Knight.

Of course, you can argue that this last part of my post is neither here nor there: in that it is not a part of the films. But all I am saying is that the Jedi Order, and the Force itself, could have been handled in a much more mature and nuanced manner–one that adults and children could have related to–than how it had been.

I am only hoping that the next films at the very least allow Jedi Knights to have families: to have a network of friends and allies so that nothing that happened in the Revenge that was, and the Revenge that could have been, will ever happen again in the same way. It is one of my only hopes.

Ready-Made and Waiting for Acknowledgement

A while ago, I finally finished watching the movie Adaptation. And there was something in that movie about writing, meta-narrative and the very essence of fascination that kind of–metaphorically–punched me in the face. There is one part in the film where the protagonist’s brother explains to him that the reason he could deal with rejection and, well, life is that he “owns his feelings.”

Now, I don’t know about you but this is a phrase that I hear a lot from popular culture. I know I’ve heard, and in the past really tended to get told when I got angry or upset in a human interaction to “own my feelings.”  Usually this is used when someone is angry at another person and it tends to come out, at least from my perspective, as some kind of rebuke: to remind that person that no one else is solely responsible for how you feel despite any action or inaction on their part.

But the way that Nicolas Cage’s character (who is both the protagonist and his brother who is telling him this) interprets this is very different. In his case, he is talking about loving someone who not only didn’t love him back, but actually and quite audibly made fun of him behind his back. Yet he still exists that he loved that individual. And how he explained this was that his love was his own. It wasn’t the other person’s, or the world’s, or society’s, or anyone else’s.

That love–that feeling–belonged to him and him alone.

So when he told his brother that he owns his own feelings: he means that his feelings belong to him.

Now, think about it like this if you’d like. Imagine that feelings are resources. They are sources of energy that are already inside of you. These are the basic shapes, eddies and swirls of emotion and they stimulated by external factors. These energies are already inside of you and sometimes it takes something outside to bring them out in varying degrees. Things that stimulate these feelings can be anything from reading a book, watching a movie, hanging out with your friends, playing a game, or having a relationship of any kind. But these energies are inherent in you.

Now imagine, and you don’t have to imagine all too much, that you can control these feelings. You can’t necessarily control experiencing them: because, if this is possible at all, it takes time and perspective to even come close to accomplishing something like that. However, you can control them by having the ability to remember and bring them out. Anyone can do that.

But what I wasn’t able to put into words before came to me when I was watching Adaptation and I realized that both characters were writers. What I realized is this: if you can own your own feelings, and you have the ability to make things, then you can take these feelings and channel their energies into creating. You can make your feelings into your greatest tools or most fearsome weapons. Or whatever metaphor you prefer. You can even view them as your friends if you’d like: as unruly companions that can aid you if you are in the right situation and if you know how to ask them for help.

The fact of the matter, for me, is that I realized that by owning your feelings, you own yourself and you can gain a greater power than you have ever had before. Someone told me once that I create beauty when I write. And this is part of that process for sure.

I guess I could have summarized this whole post as saying that you can take emotions and use them to create in various states of mind, or channel them into constructive forces.

I certainly don’t claim to have “mastered” this. And I suspect no one really has. But I never really thought of it that way and as I said it is definitely an interesting way to look at the creative process: or at least one possible manifestation of it.

This Game Has No Warp Zone: A Review of Pipe Trouble

Pipe Trouble

“I like games with consequences.”

This is what a friend of mine told me not too long ago with regards to online games, but it is a sentiment that can easily be applied to video games in general. I know that I–and many other more eloquent and informed people on the matter–have stated that the medium of the video game can be used for more than just entertainment value. The medium of a video game is as its very core an interactive experience that, like any other art form, can get us to relate to the world around us in a different way.

However, with regards to Pipe Trouble, there is also the matter of responsibility to consider as well.

Pipe Trouble is a game created by Pop Sandbox Productions, produced by Alex Jansen, and co-designed by Jim Munroe. It was apparently made as a companion piece to the TVO-commissioned documentary Trouble in the Peace: a film directed by Julian T. Pinder and produced by Six Island Productions about gas leaks affecting Northern British Columbia farmers in the Peace River region and in particular one man and father, who has decided to do something about it.

Before I decided to write this article, I did not know that Pipe Trouble was a digital complement to this documentary. In fact, the entire subject matter that both the film and the game seem to encompass–Canadian farms encountering potentially lethal gas leaks from pipelines of gas companies in their regions–is not usually something I tend to focus on with more than passing attention. After a while, and as cynical as it gets, news of “corrupt corporations, victims and innocent bystanders, and eco-terrorist reprisals” tends to become oversimplified by the media.

It is one thing, however, to hear and watch something about a matter that seemingly doesn’t concern you as an individual. It is a whole other thing to find yourself in a situation–even if it is a simulation with a satirical veneer–where you are in a position of great responsibility.

What Pop Sandbox is attempting to do to this regard is not something new, but rather it is a very familiar idea they have worked with expressed into a different medium. While I did write an article or two on Kenk: A Graphic Portrait a fair while ago, what I might have neglected to mention is that one major theme in the graphic novel–also made by Pop Sandbox–is that everyone has a part to play in a particular social action. In the case of Igor Kenk and his stolen bicycles, it is made clear that everyone–to the people who bought bicycles from him, to even the people who purchased their stolen bikes back, to law enforcement and Toronto City Hall–knew about what he was doing and, just as they condemned it, they also tolerated and even to some extent accepted it a part of their social system. With regards to Kenk, Pop Sandbox illustrated–quite literally–how Igor Kenk was just part of a social dynamic–of a collaboration–in which the rest of the city was also a part.

But Pop Sandbox goes even further with Pipe Trouble. While Kenk simply observes a social structure and interaction, Pipe Trouble makes the player-audience interact immediately and directly with the issue as clearly, and as simply put, as possible.

In other words, you–the player–are placed as the manager of a gas company apparently situated in the Canadian Province of Alberta and you must please your superiors and make them money, keep the people who need your corporation’s services in mind, do as little damage to farmland, animals, humans, and the environment as possible, and try not to piss anyone off.

It is very clever. It is very easy to vilify a company or a corporation as a soulless entity that only caters to the very rich, squashes agriculture and “the lower classes,” and pollutes the environment without any understanding of what it might be doing or–worse–even care. It is just as easy to lionize a pipe bomber as a freedom fighter against a tyrannical force even as it is to denigrate them as a terrorist that likes to destroy human lives and a Western way of life: whatever that is.

However, natural gas is one of those resources necessary for a modern society to function and a corporation is made by people. As such, someone has to be in charge of providing that corporation’s service, making a living from it, avoiding bad press and blame while attempting to integrate their industrial system into the environment and those existing within it with as little damage as possible. It is no tall order and not an enviable position: especially when you are forced to do it in a game.

It is no coincidence that this game is modelled after the 1989 puzzle game alternatively called Pipe Mania or Pipe Dream. And even though the title itself brings to mind some bad bodily jokes, even that connotation has its point when looking at the game. In Pipe Dream, you have to build pipes to direct the flow of filth inside of a sewer. Pipe Trouble takes a similar mechanic and makes the oncoming substance also toxic, but also worth money. One person’s poison is another one’s livelihood.

You have two men on either of your screen. I would be tempted to call them “the angel” and “the devil” on either of your shoulders, save that both of them aren’t necessarily “good” or “evil.” The man on your left is a farmer that is watching your progress in placing down pipes with oncoming gas with great interest and caution. If you destroy the land too much, there will be protesters that will block your pipe route. How long they stay in front of your progress will all depend on just how much damage they perceived you to have done. This farmer will keep watching you and will warn you only once not to mess with his land.

Then you have the man on your right: your boss. He is the one informing you of when the gas will start flowing (right when you place a pipe down to get from Point A to Point B) and he will keep track of the money you are making … and losing with delays. That’s right. If you do not place your pipes fast enough, not only will you risk a gas leak poisoning a lake, killing animals, and other horrors but you will lose your company money and your boss will sure as hell hold you responsible and, if we are going for realism, probably put it all on your head when the bad press comes out.

I swear: when I first played this game and that gas started to flow and sometimes I didn’t move fast enough, or have the right pipe piece to place down or even put it in the proper place, that sense of panic sets in. Then you add the pixilated animals that prance and eat in the woods and you are thinking real hard about how to not disturb them: never mind potentially kill them. And that is not even including the fear of getting more protesters in your way that will get more organized and then sometimes even use some nice industrial sabotage against your pipeline: causing more death, destruction, money loss, and bad press. And guess who would probably be held responsible for all of that?

You’re looking at yourself.

It’s like playing Tetris … only with people’s lives. And remember how I didn’t make any bodily function jokes? Well, the ideal is to treat the entire process like the human body. The release of energy, the disposal of waste, and the structure of what you are trying to build is supposed to create a balance with the ecosystem, agriculture, and animal and human health. But as you play and it gets harder, you will become aware of the fact that this game is an idealist’s nightmare. You will have to make some very difficult decisions as you realize that you might not have time to build around that forest to your pipeline’s destination or you might have to be innovative and make some alternate routes in a very set time frame, but in the end you will have to make some very hard choices.

Do not let the game’s cheerful 8-bit pixilated graphics and basic soft-edged square shaped sprite characters fool you. Jim Munroe was also co-designer behind this game. He is an independent Canadian science fiction and comics writer, among other things, that likes to take grandiose topics like haunted TTC Stations, North America becoming destitute in a futuristic era, and a post-apocalyptic world after the Christian Rapture and completely twist them upside down and make it about human characters and life going on. More than coincidentally, Munroe is also the Hand Eye Society’s Project Coordinator for the development of the Torontrons: essentially retrofitted arcade cabinets that play newly made video games. He may have been involved with the pretty nifty creation of the Pipe Trouble game cabinet as well: which, as the link explains, will be placed in areas of high traffic such as universities, city centres, and tourist attractions.

I don’t know what else to add here. Inter-dispersed between levels are radio segments from news anchored events dealing with natural gas industry controversies which I didn’t originally hear until I played the game again at home on the free trial demo. Also, not too long ago I found out that the game itself has created a whole lot of controversy. Apparently TVO–one of the game’s sponsors–has been accused, among other things, of potentially giving eco-terrorists “ideas” by supporting the creation of the game. TVO has apparently removed links to Pipe Trouble from their website with pending investigations into the matter on their end to see if they were in “the wrong.” There seem to be some definite misunderstandings over various issues, but if one goal of this game is to encourage people to think, then controversy–though unfortunate–is one way of getting there. Either way, it definitely hit a nerve in that intersection where art and politics clash.

I think my concluding thought about this entire game is that the title “Pipe Trouble,” again, can mean a lot of things. And it wasn’t until I read the above article that I began to think about it a little more. I don’t generally look at these kinds of games, never mind write about them–especially with how close it comes to politics–but there is something really fascinating about the dynamics that Pop Sandbox attempts to create, identify, satirize, educate and help people relate to. And politics itself is an exchange of power and watching how and through what medium that power is ultimately exchanged through.

You see, I’m looking at pipes as symbolic of devices that link us together and support a communication of ideas. They can create a very interactive and comprehensive system of healthy self-regulation but when there are so many elements in play, things can go wrong, words can break down, and people and the world around them can suffer for it. But whatever else this game accomplishes, it definitely makes you think about these issues and how they are not entirely separate after all: neither from each other, nor from you.

Practicing Ideas and Dress-Rehearsal Stories

There is a character in Sandman who gets to the point where he has so many ideas in his head that he can’t write them out, or express them, fast enough. In my case, I have all of these ideas and they each vie to be worked on first: using the energy that I have to focus on one at a time. You know: that energy. It is the energy of vital immediacy and enthusiasm.

The way I think of it, each idea is like a facet of some interesting inorganic material or small components of living substances that need the immediate energy that is inside you to develop them further: to give them the spark of life and order.

And while I do believe in multitasking, it is far easier to multitask when you are doing several different things as opposed to many of the same. At least, that is what I find for myself. I will also admit that there are times when it is more ideal to be able to make the space and time for one particular task as opposed to several others at once.

Of course, there is the other side to it as well. There are the ideas that need time to grow, or those that remain in a kind of fossilization or stasis until enough future energy and knowledge is built up in order to activate it later on. Which brings me to something else I’ve been thinking about lately.

I think one difficulty that I have as a creator is that my mind acts as a kind of cache: I have all of these ideas that I either need to use, save somewhere else in the hopes that they will be activated again one day, or discard completely. If I have too many ideas that I want to work on immediately, I will either slow down or get paralyzed. It also doesn’t help that I have lately been trying to focus on works to send out to places instead of the larger work that my mind is slowly gravitating towards: regardless of my wishes in the matter.

Me and my Head

It does help when I look at the articles and stories that I write on this Blog. I think of them as not only vessels to contain my ideas, but also as “dress rehearsals”: practice sessions of stories that will either become other stories or whose ideas will be added to make something larger and more complex.

Mythic Bios was intended to not only hone my ideas down and let me express and make things I wouldn’t ordinarily have a space for, but to let all of you also get to see as much of the process as possible. I don’t know how successful that might be, but that was the idea anyway. It also occurs to me that once I write my insights about writing and specific works, I tend to forget about them beyond the gist of them. I do classify them to look at later, but I need to find the time to do that.

But I do think I am on to something here and there will be something larger made as a result of all of this: if there isn’t already in some form. Anyway, this is the end of my “thinking to myself” phase online. I will keep you posted, if you will pardon the pun. ;P