Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Could Lara Croft be Gay? And Other Issues of LGTB Representation

Much as right-wing conservative jerks continue to try to suppress gay rights, the fact remains that LGTB characters are slowly making their way into mainstream media. Already we've seen this appearing within the fandom of recent incarnations of Star Wars with J.J. Abrams' statements that he hopes to introduce gay characters in future movies (some fans speculating that it has already happened). Now Wonder Woman, one of the biggest superheros of DC Comics (not to mention one of the most iconic super heroines of all time) is officially bisexual, although we still have yet to see if this aspect of her character will carry over into the upcoming movie or remain confined to the comics.

In both cases, this makes sense. The reveal of Wonder Woman's bisexuality may have been a surprise to the casual reader, but for many comic book enthusiasts it only confirmed what they already knew. The idea that Diana had engaged in same-sex relationships would seem logical when one considers she was born on an island that for a thousand years was populated entirely by Amazonian women (long story). Given the large number of women on the island (not to mention the fact that it was only one generation that never aged for such a long time) it would be hard to imagine they never felt any sexual urges. That, and they avoided contact with any rivals who would have tried to impose their values on them, so with men in short supply sex could only happen between women.

Star Wars has started to gain some interest from the LGTB community as well. J.J. Abrams has openly stated that he wants to include openly gay characters in future installments (although whether Disney will allow it is another story). There are already a variety of fan theories on the matter, one of the most popular being Finn and Poe Dameron as a romantic couple. There are also fan theories that have retroactively gone back over the original Star Wars films which suggest Luke could be gay or bisexual.

It is also worth noting that Rey never shows sexual interest in anyone over the course of The Force Awakens. Finn ends up being nothing more than a good friend, and there is the odd detail that when he asks her if she has a boyfriend, Rey's response is "none of your business." True, it could just be that Rey is a reclusive person and did not want to disclose her personal life to a man she barely knew, but there is another possible interpretation of the remark. After all, we only get a brief glimpse into her life on Jakku, and it is probably fair to assume she knows other people besides the local salvage dealer and the mean scavenger across the street. She also got hostile when Finn asked about a "cute boyfriend;" perhaps because she has a girlfriend somewhere on Jakku.

While movies are still struggling, same-sex relationships are showing up a lot more often in television. The Walking Dead has already introduced at least two openly gay characters (Aaron and Tara) to the regular cast, and both have had on-screen relationships. Game of Thrones has also followed this example, first with the recurring character of Renly Baratheon. There were also some early episodes that suggested a homoerotic dynamic between Danearys Targaryen and her advisor Missandei. Finally, it has been confirmed that Yara Greyjoy is either lesbian or bisexual (in any case, she clearly doesn't mind having sex with other women). Jessica Jones also included Carrie Ann-Moss as the openly lesbian Kate Hogarth, and while she was hardly the most likeable character on the show (an anti-hero at best), it is worth noting that little focus is placed on her homosexuality, and the character arc is one that could just as easily happen to a straight person.

But there may in fact be another iconic character who could work as homosexual or bisexual. Lara Croft remains one of the most iconic characters in gaming, and has branched out into several other mediums. Lara's role is generally that of an action hero, and her sexuality is not usually given any significant focus. In fact, it's practically unstated at all. There is very little information on Lara's sexual habits.

The official Tomb Raider franchise presently consists of 17 video games, four novels, two comic book series, two movies, and an animated web show (though not all set in the same timeline). Lara herself has been played and voiced by too many actresses to count. She has been on adventures all over the world, dealt with all kinds of artifacts, and encountered a variety of different characters and situations. In fact, Lara herself is often the only thing that really remains consistent between different incarnations, which often introduce new friends and enemies for her to deal with (though some occasionally see revivals now and then).

What becomes very interesting is if, even disregarding the multiple continuities, across the entire franchise, Lara has encountered a variety of men, but only one has ever become any kind of love interest. Lara has shown zero sexual interest in any of the other men she has encountered. Most of them have been nothing more than good friends or assistants to Lara. The closest person to a love interest has been Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Even then, the romance is not exactly all that strong.

First off, he is established to be a dangerous criminal from the start who ended up in a Russian prison. It is mentioned that they did at one point have a relationship, but Lara seemed totally okay with letting him stay in prison for years. The only reason she even lets him out is because she needs him to accomplish her immediate goal. Even after they become partners, the relationship between them is tense at best. Lara spends the whole film distrusting him and even goes as far as to handcuff him to a bedpost to ensure he can't follow her. When Terry still pursues Lara anyway, he ends up double-crossing her and finally being killed.

Lara does show guilt after killing Terry, but the fact that she was willing to do so proves her feelings weren't getting in the way. The idea of Lara being psychologically affected after killing a man is also not that unusual, and does not immediately prove she loved him. Near the end of Tomb Raider Anniversary, Lara finds herself forced to kill a human for what is implied to be the first time. Said character, Larson, was an annoying misogynistic pervert who had repeatedly gotten in the way. That did not stop Lara from trying to talk him down and feeling guilty when she is finally forced to kill him. The 2013 Tomb Raider also presents a different account of Lara's first time killing someone; early in the game she is captured and nearly murdered by a would-be rapist, and still has a total nervous breakdown after shooting him.

So in the entire franchise, Lara's only romantic partner was a selfish mercenary who had sex with her a couple times only to get himself killed (by his alleged girlfriend) as soon as he started acting stupid and almost destroyed the world. While Lara has interacted with a number of men, she never showed sexual interest in any of them. This includes a variety of men with whom Lara displayed a totally platonic friendship. Even her relationships with the ones who have lived in her mansion are generally treated as being between co-workers, with no indication of sexual intent.

By contrast, a lot of Lara's more meaningful interactions (at least in the games) have often been with other women. Legend, Anniversary, Underworld, and the 2013 reboot all have men in supporting roles but place a heavy emphasis on Lara's relationships with other women. In Anniversary, there are a few men who serve as minor antagonists, but the main conflict is between Lara and the Atlantean Queen Natla. Underworld revolves largely around Lara going up against three female antagonists (one of whom is an old friend seeking vengeance after she was presumed dead).

Throughout the reboot, Lara interacts with a variety of other survivors both male and female. However, the strongest relationship she displays with any male character is that with Roth (who is much older and serves as a mentor/father figure to Lara). The relationship that drives much of the story is that with Lara's own friend Sam Nishimura, who is early on established to be an old friend and one of the people who knows her best. In fact, a lot of Lara's emotional development revolves on her relationship with Sam moreso than any other character in the game.

While Lara clearly shows that she wants to get everyone off the island, it is Sam that she shows the most concern for. The two are quickly established to be longtime friends and very close, apparently having been to college together. Early on, Lara expresses concern for Sam and finds relief when they are briefly reunited. Later on, Lara becomes especially determined to rescue Sam after she has been kidnapped by the Solarii Brotherhood, literally risking life and limb to save her on what could easily be a suicide mission. Later on, when Roth is killed protecting Lara, it is Sam who takes the time to comfort her. Finally, Lara ends up going to great extremes to rescue Sam once again at the game's climax, before finally getting her off the island.

The close relationship between them is arguably a stronger bond than perhaps anyone Lara has ever come into contact with over the entire franchise. None of the male survivors treat Lara as anything more than a friend (if anything, there's no obvious indication that her sex has any bearing on how she interacts with others), and she never shows a particular interest in boyfriends.  This is a trait that carries over from previous incarnations of the character as well. In the first Tomb Raider film, the men who appear are either partners (Bryce, Hillari), enemies (Manfred Powell), or somewhere in the middle (Alex). Even the one boyfriend she had in The Cradle of Life didn't have a particularly strong connection.

The fact that Lara's most meaningful relationships have been with other women provides some interesting material. Given that she ended up killing Terry, one could make the argument that Sam is the closest thing Lara has had to a love interest. This has already sparked a lot of interest among fans of the game. One doesn't need to look much further than a google search to uncover fanart that shows the two women in intimate positions. They are obviously very close, but the evidence makes it entirely possible that the character of Lara Croft herself is lesbian when one looks at all the facts, even if the idea is one that is only now being recognized and embraced.

Video games in general seem to be among the more progressive in terms of representing homosexuality, with some companies that have done a very good job at handling this. Bioware has on multiple occasions allowed the player to choose their character's sexual orientation. Knights of the Old Republic introduced the first (and for a long time, only) lesbian character into Star Wars canon, and made her a romantic option for a female player character. Mass Effect 2 opted to have several characters with romantic options regardless of the player's sex. Mass Effect 3 takes it a step further by not only including bisexual options, but also having two characters who Shepard can only romance if they are the same gender: Traynor and Cortez. Both openly admit to being gay, and not one character bats an eye.

Assassin's Creed may also have made a few steps in the right direction. Most of the games have not felt the need to go into detail about the protagonists' sex lives, and a lot of them take place in eras that weren't exactly great times to be openly gay, but that doesn't mean there has never been subtext. Plus, the assassins (and to a lesser extent the templars) have never been totally bound by the social norms of the eras they lived in. The Templars do appear to be slightly more patriarchal (though that hasn't stopped them from having strong women, if not as often) but the assassins were recruiting women long before the suffrage movement began, and they don't seem to discriminate by race. If they're not going to let dominant prejudices get in the way, than who's to say they don't accept homosexuality?

Liberation in particular appears to go this route, although only a few have actually noticed this. The game introduces the series' first female protagonist, Aveline De Grandpre, who proves to be a very strong character. What seemed really weird is that fans seem to feel the best romantic option for her is Connor, the half-Native American protagonist of Assassin's Creed III who took part in the American Revolution. Seriously? Connor appears in only one level of Liberation, where he assists Aveline on a mission and no romantic tension is present. In fact, most of Connor's attitude is at best that of a co-worker. Aveline does have a much closer relationship to her friend Gérald, but she sees him more as a brother than anything else (the game does tease the viewer with one moment where it looks like Gérald is going to propose, but it turns out he just wants to return some equipment).

The character who arguably makes the most sense as a romantic partner would be Élise Lafleur, a smuggler on the bayou who becomes a close friend of Aveline. They do become particularly intimate with one another, and Élise seems to regard Rousillion as nothing more than a partner-in-crime. The two are good friends, but show no obvious attraction beyond that. Aveline on the other hand becomes especially close to Élise, with the two becoming loyal companions and working together several times throughout the game. They also spend a lot more time alone together compared to Avaline's interactions with other characters. It could be interpreted that there is something deeper going on...

Still, explicitly gay protagonists remain elusive. Though Mass Effect and Skyrim both allow the player to choose their character's sexual orientation (the latter even allowing for same-sex marriage) these are dependent heavily on the choices made by the player. If a canon is established, they are not always accepted as the "official" version of events (as in Knights of the Old Republic, where the so-called "canonical" version of the story rejects the fact that the game allows a lesbian romance in favor of a male Revan in a heterosexual relationship).

Most of the time, if the issue does come up, it is only in the form of subtext (as in Tomb Raider and Liberation) or being able to choose from multiple romantic options (as in Mass Effect and Skyrim). There are exceptions to the rule. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel introduced the character of Janey Springs, who is explicitly lesbian. Mad Moxxi has also been established to be bisexual, having had a variety of both male and female lovers (though she has only been married to men). Interestingly Athena, a playable character in the Pre-Sequel who also made several other appearances across the series, was later confirmed to be in a relationship with Springs.

One franchise that could easily lend itself to a greater array of homoerotic readings and representations of homosexuals is Call of Duty, especially now that Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been abolished. This may in fact be easily possible, given the structure of the games. The majority of the games in the series are narrative structured around male bonding and camaraderie, with the player getting most invested in their teammates (one of the main narrative problems with Black Ops II was that it tried to be about the main antagonist, leaving little room for investment in the player characters).

Relationships do become a major part of the games, and this is very useful from a narrative perspective. Over the course of Modern Warfare, the player gets to know several characters, and the camaraderie that is established with Gaz and Price becomes important because knowing who you are fighting with makes the campaign more meaningful. It also makes it all the more emotional when the player is forced to watch friends die in action. Ghosts focuses heavily on family relationships, with much of the story revolving around two brothers and their father.

But while there may be a strong effort to produce characters the player can get invested in, that does not mean there are no limits to how far the writers will go. Ordinarily, there are only one or two other soldiers the player needs to keep track of, and often there is no huge effort to get to know them beyond their military careers. This includes the fact that very little (if anything) is stated about their personal life, which includes potential relationships. Given the general lack of romance in Call of Duty, this would make it theoretically possible that basically anyone in the games could be homosexual.

In fact, there may be one character who could be read as displaying elements of homoerotic subtext: Viktor Reznov in World at War and Black Ops. In both games, he is depicted as a very aggressive and psychotic individual with an obsession for killing the enemy and fulfilling a seemingly insatiable desire for "vengeance." That is, except for one small detail: he shows a remarkable amount of affection towards Dmitri Petrenko, one of the main playable characters in World at War who also appears in a flashback during Black Ops

Reznov shows a lot of affection towards Dmitri, often complimenting him even while scolding his other troops and bragging about how much he wants to kill Germans. Reznov goes on to allow Dmitri to place a Russian flag on top of the Reichstag Building and shows genuine concern when the latter is injured. The flashback in Black Ops also reveals a post-war mission in which Reznov lost a lot of his soldiers, but he is shown to be particularly hurt when he is forced to watch Dmitri killed by a chemical weapon. Seeing as the games in which he appears are set during World War II and the Cold War, respectively, it is not surprising that Reznov would want to avoid admitting to it, but it could mean that he is a lot more complex than he initially seems.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The Flawed Evolution of a Detective

Dick Tracy is a name not heard very often anymore, but there was a time when his name was everywhere, and I mean everywhere. The popularity of the character may have unwittingly done itself in, sadly, with one flawed attempt to capitalize on nostalgia for the characters' origins, something largely forgotten by its audiences. This came in the form of Dick Tracy, an attempt by Warren Beatty to capture the essence of the comics, with some influence from film noir thrown in. Before I can get into the details of why his efforts proved unsuccessful, I will need to provide some background information.

The character of Dick Tracy originated as a series of comic strips in the early 1930's written by Chester Gould. Much like other comics of the time, such as Batman and Superman, the stories would have been presented in a serial-ish format, with one line of panels appearing in newspapers that displayed a roughly linear progression of events that ran indefinitely. The character was a police detective who relied on various gadgets to fight crime (there was also an odd period where he ended up in space in an effort to compete with Flash Gordon). These comics proved to be a huge hit, with Gould continuing to write them well into the 70's (and some authors still writing today).

The influence of Dick Tracy can still be seen today. His popularity was a likely influence on the later success of hardboiled fiction in the 1940's, which brought about the classic private detectives like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. By extension, his influence could also be traced to the later detectives who homage those of classical noir, such as Cole Phelps and Jessica Jones. Tracy himself would make the transition to classical film noir with a 1945 film adaptation. Before that version, the character had been depicted in several different forms.

Tracy first made the transition to radio, where he became the star of a serial beginning in 1934. Three years later, he made his screen debut in a 1937 film serial in which he was played by Ralph Byrd. This particular incarnation of the character functioned mainly to cash in on the strip's popularity, with a story that was largely unrelated outside of its lead character. Instead of a police detective, Tracy was instead depicted as an FBI agent (referred to only as a by the vague slang term of "g-man") trying to outwit a dangerous criminal organization known as the "Spider Ring." Tracy himself and his assistant Junior were the only characters brought in from the comics, with the rest of the cast being new to the story.

This being a 1930's serial, the plot was hardly anything fancy. In fact, if anything it was disjointed and not very coherent. Unlike the feature films produced by Hollywood, serials generally favored action over narrative progression and character development, with the recurring gimmick that every installment ends in a cliffhanger (forcing the viewer to return for resolution). Exposition was generally rushed, quickly providing the essential information before moving into a series of extremely contrived chases and brawls.

Every episode the Spider Ring had a different scheme to be foiled by Tracy, and he would always end up in some kind of trouble that would be resolved anti-climatically (the ending of The Fur Pirates would later be imitated by Steven Spielberg in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). This is because serials were often intentionally stretched out as long as possible, and plotlines were often recycled and re-used to continue the story. As a result, cliffhangers were often unoriginal and displayed very unsatisfying resolutions, with stock characters relied on to progress the action.

Four of Dick Tracy's fifteen episodes end with an aerial chase culminating in someone being trapped while their vehicle is going down (of these, one is resolved by the characters simply walking away from the wreckage, the others all see more or less the same resolution of parachuting to safety). More bizarrely is the choice of cliffhanger for the tenth episode The Gold Ship, in which Tracy is left in danger of being crushed by a falling steel plate when he can easily roll out of the way. Over the course of the serial, Tracy goes on to face a variety of obstacles, repeatedly getting into car, boat, and plane chases with no real psychological depth for anyone.

Warren Beatty's attempt to direct and star in a film adaptation of Dick Tracy functioned in many ways as an attempt to capture a sense of nostalgia for the old character of Dick Tracy. The movie relies primarily on the comics as a source of inspiration (though some influence from the 1937 serial and classical film noir is also present). The original goal was to revive the Dick Tracy franchise, much like Tim Burton had done with his re-imagining of Batman. Unfortunately, the final product was a mess, and Dick Tracy flopped at the box office.

The storyline revolved around Tracy's efforts to outwit a local mob organization led by an overacting Al Pacino, with additional sub-plots concerning his relationship with adopted son Junior and his girlfriend. What the film got wrong was in its questionable decision to take an approach reminiscent of the 1960's Batman TV show and present the film as a living comic book. Overt makeup was used to make half the cast look like they walked out of a badly drawn comic, with a city that looked like it was drawn and colored in. With such an aesthetic, it almost makes one question why Beatty even bothered to have the film be live-action, instead of producing an animated film.

This of course, is the main problem with the film. I wanted to like it when I went in, but the whole film was a disaster. The cartoonish look makes it hard to take any of the story seriously, which is especially odd given there is no obvious indication that this is meant to be a comedy. There was obviously an effort to make the characters look like they could have been drawn in the original comics, but that's very much part of the problem. Beatty fails to recognize the changes that are required with the transition from a hand-drawn comic to a live-action film.

Now, as an interesting thought expriment, I could try to imagine what I may do differently if I were to make my own Dick Tracy film (the original comics at least should be public domain). Unlike Beatty, I would have to consider the fact that I am moving from comic to film, and recognize that some changes will have to be made. I would imagine a good Dick Tracy film as being much grittier, with perhaps more moral ambiguity. I would definitely try to do it as a serious drama, with an attention to period detail. It would also be important to focus on developing Tracy as a person, someone who the audience can get to know and relate to on a much deeper level.

In fact, perhaps it would be better to make the story about him as a character and to use the mystery as a background. I would also want to develop the role of his girlfriend and Junior into much stronger characters. The women in Beatty's film have little to do, and it is not the most progressive from a gender standpoint. Having a strong woman to work alongside Beatty would be a welcome touch (especially if they could do it without forcing in a romance). The trick would be making a believable and interesting character, something that withstands the transition to film.

Beatty's effort, however, has proven flawed. As far as detectives go, there are far more interesting cases to be explored. It is unfortunate, because there still has yet to be a worthwhile interpretation of the Dick Tracy character. Between the cash-ins that came with his serial films and Beatty's efforts at revival, there is not much of the character to be appreciated by a modern audience. A proper film adaptation should be made, and it could bring the character into a whole new light.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Twelve Wars to Christmas


So last year, I decided to run War Movie Week, which turned out to be a huge hit! The idea was basically that each day was broken into different eras, and I would randomly choose a film each day based on an overarching theme (World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Modern Warfare, Future Warfare). Because it was such a hit last time, I naturally thought it could be worth exploring again, and I started experimenting with ideas for new categories to explore, and what better way to take a step further than inviting other bloggers to join in.

Yes, I'm making this a mini blogathon! The idea is straight forward enough: the week is broken up so that each day focuses on a different topic related to an overarching theme. In this case, the theme is war, and each day focuses on a different conflict. For added effect, why not make this into a sort of advent calendar counting down the days until Christmas?

Before I can get into any details, I should probably take the time to note that I can't take full credit for this idea. I mean, yes, it was my idea to put this thing together and set it into motion, but recently I seem to have found myself turning a lot towards Wendell Ottley of Dell on Movies for advice. I'd just like to thank him for assisting me in coming up with the different topics.


No prior registration is required and you are under no obligation to post every day within the timeframe, so if you're only reading this on the 23, you still have time to enter. As long as you submit something on the appropriate day, it counts.

If you would like to join in, this is all you need to do...

  1. For each day that you wish to participate, choose a war film based on the designated era. See below for a full schedule.
  2. Watch your chosen war film and try to write something. It doesn't really matter what you write. You could just review a movie or provide a detailed analysis, or you could just write down some things you found interesting. As long as you have something, it is valid.
  3. Post what you wrote on the appropriate day, and send me a link. I'll include it at the end of my post.

And that's it. Once I've got my post together for each day, I can add in links to other participants. Feel free to comment on each other's posts or exchange recommendations. I'd be happy to hear any recommendations you have for films to look into, though I can't promise I'll be able to watch them for this particular event.


To set things in motion, and to set a tone for what will be coming over the month, I thought it made sense to go back to the beginning, to the first war ever fought by humanity. It is hard to verify exactly what the first war was, mainly because historical records do not go back to the birth of humanity, and it is hard to gain that type of information from fossils. Fortunately, I managed to get a camera crew and a time machine, so we went back and filmed the entire thing. Here is the official, definitive, irrefutable documentation of humanity's first war...

Now, here is the official schedule. It was difficult to come up with a good selection of choices, and I looked at several different versions of how to do this. I even considered doing this over the course of a month (which turned out not to be as feasible as I'd hoped). I talked to both my mom and Wendell about this and we came up with a bunch of different categories that didn't make the final list. Among other things, we talked about films dealing with different aspects of war, different branches of the military, and even a few different aspects of World War II. The final version I think is the cleanest, given the overlap that would have come with the original list, but here are the honorable mentions that didn't make the cut...

  • Spies
  • On the Homefront (war films not about combat, suggested by Wendell)
  • Foreign Warfare
  • Navy SEALs
  • United States Marine Corps
  • Snipers
  • In the Navy
  • Air Force
  • Black Ops
  • Counter Terrorism
  • World War II- Espionage
  • World War II- Pacific Theater
  • World War II- Atlantic Theater
  • World War II- the Resistance
  • Korean War (suggested by Wendell)

There was also a bunch of different time periods that were considered but ultimately abandoned due to a shortage of movies on the topic, mostly because of difficulty in finding appropriate movies on them, or at least movies I knew for sure I could get. These included the Hundred Years War, The English Civil War, the Renaissance (lots of dramas, not a lot of war films), the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Crimean War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the October Crisis. I also originally had the last two categories as "Advanced Warfare" and "Infinite Warfare" (both names referencing Call of Duty) but I figured it would be too confusing so I merged them into one. 

Still, I think I came up with a good final selection. It wasn't easy to cut everything down and a lot of this was based on practicality, but here is the official list for December 13-24. If you'd like to recommend any good movies for these categories, I am open to suggestion though I can't make any promises.

December 13: Ancient Warfare

December 14: Colonialism

December 15: Napoleonic Era

December 16: American Civil War

December 17: American Indian War

December 18: British Imperialism 

December 19: World War I

December 20: World War II

December 21: Cold War

December 22: Vietnam

December 23: Modern Warfare

December 24: Future Warfare

For reference, I have taken the liberty of putting together some lists of films dealing with some of the above themes. I should make it clear you are under no obligation to stick to these lists. I am merely including them as a possible source of inspiration. I currently have lists for Ancient WarfareAmerican Civil War, British ImperialismWorld War IWorld War II, Cold WarVietnam, Modern Warfare, and Future Warfare.

Monday, 21 November 2016

8 Video Game Supporting Characters Who Deserve Their Own Game

So I find that in the video games I play, I usually love a good story, and with a good story I also like good characters. That said, I occasionally run into the situation where I find I enjoy the supporting cast more than the actual protagonist. Even when there is a great protagonist (or protagonists, in some cases) that doesn't occasionally stop me from being interested in the storylines of supporting cast members. So I thought I'd make a list of ten supporting characters I have encountered in video games who I would want to see take a starring role.

Now admittedly, my knowledge of gaming is not without its limits. I can only go on games I've actually played, which makes it harder to decide. I've also never been good at ranking, so I decided instead to sort these roles alphabetically. So here are ten video game supporting characters I'd be open to seeing take a starring role in their own game.

Claudia Auditore (Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood)

The Assassin's Creed games have generally had a very diverse array of female characters, even if most of them only filled supporting roles. The series has even managed to have two female protagonists so far, the first of which was also black (and possibly lesbian or bisexual, given the subtext between her and Élise). However, special mention goes to Claudia, whose story ended at a point where it was getting really interesting. She proves herself to be a strong woman throughout Brotherhood, first running a small town, later taking charge of a brothel, single-handedly killing several guards, and finally becoming an assassin in her own right.

That last part, however, only occurs at the very end of the game. We see her acceptance into the Assassin Brotherhood, but I'd love to see more of her actual career as an assassin. If Ubisoft ever wanted to revisit the setting of Renaissance-era Italy, a spin-off featuring Claudia as the star would be a really good idea. We could get to know her on a more personal level, perhaps getting a better sense of her psychology and her methods.

Chloe Frazer (Uncharted)

Okay, let's face it, Chloe was probably the best character in the entire Uncharted series. She's strong, witty, can handle herself in a fight, but also human. I'd be lying if I said I never had moments where I played Uncharted 2 wishing I could be her instead of the actual protagonist (Nate's fun, but I personally found Chloe a more interesting character). Sure, Elena's okay, but Chloe is so much cooler. I loved her role in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and was so excited when she returned for Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (then disappointing when she left abruptly partway through). A lot of the best parts of the Uncharted games were the ones where you're working with Chloe.

So if why not give Chloe a spin-off game of her own. After all, getting her point of view would probably allow a chance to explore the character on a level not possible when her whole story is seen through Nate. We could get a much deeper look into her psychology and personal life, as well as her career as a thief (everyone always talks about how she is "the best driver in the business," something that generally goes unseen).

Father Mathias (Tomb Raider)

Okay, this was totally Lara Croft's story and she was an amazing character in the game, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a worthwhile supporting cast as well. Most of them could have their stories explored in future Tomb Raider games, but one story that is only hinted at is that of its main antagonist, Father Mathias. Not much is revealed about him in the game, beyond that he was also a castaway stranded some time before Lara's arrival, and his desperation to leave has led him to the conclusion that he must revive the Sun Queen and started a secret brotherhood that murders outsiders. It could be interesting to explore what happened to Mathias and to get a more detailed look into his mental processes. I could see him being a tragic figure, initially a well-intentioned man who got stuck on the island and gradually turning into the fanatic Lara encounters as he grows more desperate to return home.

Janey Springs (Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel)

It's hard not to enjoy Janey's appearance in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, in which she assists the player character over the course of the story as well as providing side quests (usually by assigning overly complicated tasks for the player to accomplish something straight forward). Then there's the less-than-kid-friendly "kids books" she is fond of writing. There could be some fun potential to explore her character in more detail in a spin-off, which could make use of her crazy personality and her tendency to get into bizarre situations (and find equally bizarre and overly-convoluted ways of dealing with them). There would also be room to break ground by introducing an openly gay protagonist, something which to my knowledge has yet to happen (at least not in the form of anything beyond including an option for gay romance).

Dr. Penelope Young (Batman: Arkham Asylum)

Batman: Arkham Asylum is definitely intense. It's amazing how much it can do with so little (although it's also very easy to get stuck for the same reasons). That said, there isn't much to Batman himself, and a lot of the more interesting roles are in the supporting cast. Dr. Young proved a good character and I was disappointed to see her die so early. I think there may still be more material to cover which could be accomplished by giving her a starring role. Dr. Young is depicted as a complex character who can seem cold and calculating but also not without a conscience. Her psychology alone could be worth exploring in more detail, but also her career presents some interesting narrative possibilities.

Placing Young as a tragic hero would allow Gotham to be viewed from a perspective other than Batman's (which would be refreshing), and it could allow an opportunity to see how ordinary people are affected by people like the Joker. It could also open up more room to explore what goes on at Arkham Asylum when Batman isn't there. Sure, making a story that isn't about Batman in which he may only be a supporting role could be seen as a huge gamble, but I think there's some good potential.

Tali'Zorah (Mass Effect Series)

For some reason, everyone seems to think it's Garrus who should have his own spin-off, but I don't think I'd want to play as him. Mass Effect is first and foremost an RPG, but if they wanted to deviate from using a player-customized role, Tali seems like a good choice. She played a crucial role across the Mass Effect trilogy, appearing in all three games and her relationship to Shepard being among the most touching of the various sub-plots the games have to offer.

A spin-off focused on Tali could deal with her adventures after the events of Mass Effect 3, and how she has been shaped by her experiences. After all, in Mass Effect she started as a teenager trying to figure out what to do with her life, and with Shepard as a mentor she went on to assist in destroying the Reapers and saving the Galaxy. Following Tali would allow the player to explore in greater detail the aftermath of the Reaper invasion (which could be affected differently depending on Shepard's actions in the previous games). Shepard was very much a mentor towards her, so following her new adventures would allow us to see how Tali has grown as a result.

Tess (The Last of Us)

The Last of Us had an assortment of interesting characters and roles, some arguably much more interesting than the actual main character Joel. Special mention goes to Tess, an NPC who accompanies Joel through the first act of the game, only to get killed early on. This is rather unfortunate given she is such a great character and we find out so little about who she is. From what we do see, she is quickly established to be a strong, capable survivor who knows how to handle herself as well as being a fairly effective smuggler. All we really get to know beyond that is that she has apparently been a criminal partner to Joel for some time.

If Naughty Dog ever wanted to produce a follow-up to The Last of Us, it could be worthwhile to try and explore Tess's story in more detail. Who is she? How did she get involved in the world of post-apocalyptic smuggling? How did she and Joel end up working together and why does she start out the game wanting to kill Robert? We don't get much of an opportunity to really explore Tess's mind, and with such a great character so underused in the first game, it would be really nice to see a prequel that can explore her story in more detail.

Whiptail (Heavenly Sword)

Heavenly Sword definitely gives us a very bizarre and over-the-top world. The setting alone (the aesthetic of which can perhaps be most easily described as a mix of Celtic and Ancient Chinese, with elements of various ancient mythologies also thrown in) is odd enough, and then of course there are also the various strange characters we meet over the course of the story. One of the most peculiar individuals we meet is the Medusa-like General Whiptail, a strange fish/snake lady warrior who serves as the game's first boss. Of course, she isn't in the game very long, and dies early in the narrative, but that doesn't mean there aren't aspects of her character still to explore.

Theoretically, this game would have to be a prequel unless they wanted Whiptail to somehow come back to life (which could open up some interesting possibilities with a redemption story, but would probably be harder to pull off convincingly). It could function as a chronicling of the rise to power of the main antagonist, King Bohan as seen through her eyes, and delve more into their relationship as well as showing how she became one of his top generals and such a dangerous warrior. This approach could also have the interesting effect of making Whiptail into a tragic figure, especially if we can get into her psychology.

So those are some of my ideas. This is naturally limited to games I've played, but what video game supporting characters would you like to take control of?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Middle Eastern Language Movies

So this week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is Middle Eastern Language movies. Unfortunately, this is an area where I have zero experience. I haven't exactly seen that many Middle Eastern films and I don't have much to offer in this regard. However, I did take a class in which we spent a week on Post-Revolutionary Iranian Film, and there's been a couple of films referenced on other occasions. I probably won't have the most original or interesting list this week seeing as I'm just choosing from the few I actually know something about.

The Cow (1969)

Okay, so I only saw five minutes of this one, but it still counts. This was from a period of Iranian film that borrowed heavily from the conventions of Italian Neo-Realism in its reliance on documentary methods, use of non-actors, and an emphasis on everyday problems. In this case, the story is about a man's grief after his cow dies, and how he slowly loses himself when the villagers try to cover it up.

Close-Up (1990)

I wasn't a huge fan of this one, but it seems to be one of the most iconic as far as Middle Eastern films go. It's sort of a bizarre film that tries to blur the lines between drama and documentary regarding an incident in which a family was fooled by a man impersonating the director. The film combines documentary modes with re-enactments performed entirely by the actual people involved in the event (including the identity thief) in order to illustrate roughly what happened. Now I personally found it to be slow, not very clear, and boring, but a lot of people seem to like it and the director is supposed to be a big name.

Persepolis (2007)

Okay, I'm cheating slightly but I needed a third movie and this was the closest thing I could find to a film I'd actually watched. It is based on the actual experiences of an Iranian woman growing up in Iran during a very difficult period in its history so it still counts. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Teen Angst

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is Teen Angst. There are a lot of emotional and psychological difficulties that people face when they enter their teens, and it can be a very difficult period of a person's life. Naturally, there have been plenty of movies made on the subject of troubled youth and the everyday issues faced by teenagers.

Now there are plenty of films on the subject. In fact, there's one coming out very soon: The Edge of Seventeen. However, with this list, I've decided to find some unusual choices. These are titles nobody is going to see coming but I've got some good ones. Let's begin...

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Not what you expected to see on this list, was it? Yes, Victor Flemmin's The Wizard of Oz is a weird and moderately surreal (or at least as surreal as you could get in studio-era Hollywood) fantastical adventure that may or may not have been all a dream. However, it's easy to get so swept away by the extravagant and colorful scenery of Oz that it's easy to forget the black-and-white sequences that open and close the film and that at its core, the film is really about Dorothy's own emotional issues. The entire story is set in motion because Dorothy is frustrated with her mundane life and wants to run away, only to question the value of home when her wish is granted in a rather unusual way.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

What list of teen angst movies would be complete without the original teen angst movie. Nicholas Ray's film is widely considered a classic and is arguably the most iconic role of James Dean (also his second film, and one of only three he made before he died). The movie follows three teenagers in the 1950's who are all struggling with their own personal and emotionally difficulties as well as family relations, and how they find themselves coming together when they are all arrested under different charges; eventually finding comfort in each other. Of course, matters are made more problematic by the society that isn't ready to accept their friendship or understand the emotional difficulties they're facing, leading to a dark climax at the film's conclusion.

Labyrinth (1986)

Okay, this is probably not one you expected to see make the list, but teen angst is really at the center of Jim Henson's surreal fantasy adventure. After all, underneath the bizarre puppets, David Bowie's flamboyant costumes, the various fantastical set pieces, and the surreal journey vaguely reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, it really is about a teenager working through her own emotions. In fact, I wrote an entire essay explaining in detail how the story is really about Sarah's emotional struggle to reconcile two different sides of her personality (her imagination and her real-world responsibilities), a struggle represented by her journey through the labyrinth.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Why More Video Games need Proper Character Customization

One thing that really annoys me in modern games is the tendency of some franchises to promise "deep customization" and then not even allow the player to choose their character's sex. Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Battlefield: Hardline are both guilty of this type of practice. The former allows the player to choose a class an nationality for their character, but otherwise lacks any sort of customization options, which seems to me like false advertising. Battlefield: Hardline deals with the war on drugs, focuses on modern SWAT Teams (something which women are a part of), and yet they never seemed to consider the possibility that players may want to choose the sex of their character.

To provide a contrast, let's look at a comparatively more progressive game that actually recognizes the issues at hand. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 works to that very effect. In many respects, the game is structured in a manner reminiscent of many first-person shooters such as Call of Duty , only there is actually an effort at representation. Like Battlefield: Hardline, the story mode focuses on a SWAT Team. However, there is actually diversity in the cast, which not only includes a combination of both male and female characters (of different races) but also allows the player to customize its protagonist, Bishop. Bishop's sex is purely aesthetic, and has no effect on the overall narrative beyond a change in voice actors.

One way to look at this issue in more detail is to examine the output of different gaming companies. When one looks at a large enough selection of different games by the same company, patterns begin to emerge. Among these are patterns which often show that the issue extends towards an overall group of developers rather than any one specific gaming franchise. There are many gaming companies that are guilty of unfairly representing women or showing a strange aversion to female player characters.

Now this is not to say that all gaming companies are made up of misogynistic idiots who are too stubborn to recognize the potential of female characters. There are some progressive developers who have actually addressed this issue. BioWare and Bethesda are both gaming companies that have shown a positive effort to improve representations of women in gaming.Most, if not all, of Bioware's games allow the player to choose their character's sex (most famously in Mass Effect, though the same can also be said for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the Dragon Age series) as well as giving them a large party consisting of both male and female characters. Bethesda's games do not often place as much emphasis on building a party, but their open-world adventures such as Skyrim and Fallout both allow the player to customize their character and provide a wide range of both male and female NPCs with whom they can interact, many of whom are strong women.

Both companies have even gone further on occasion and allowed the player to not only choose their character's sex, but also their sexual orientation. Knights of the Old Republic included the option for a lesbian romance with Juhani in addition to the heterosexual options for Carth and Bastilla. Mass Effect 2 included a few bisexual options (whom the player could romance regardless of gender), while Mass Effect 3 included bisexual options as well as two potential love interests for a gay Shepard (one male, one female). While they're not essential to the gameplay, Skyrim and Fallout 4 both allow the player to engage in same-sex relationships (and even same-sex marriage, in the case of the former).

However, for every forward-thinking company like BioWare or Bethesda, there are others lagging behind. An infamous example of this would be Activision, the creators of the popular Call of Duty franchise who took almost a decade before they finally started placing female characters into their games. Naughty Dog of Uncharted and The Last of Us fame, has no trouble including strong female characters in supporting roles, but seems draws the line on making them playable. Rock Star games has an unfortunate tendency to fall into this as well. They have several major franchises, and not one of their many games has a female protagonist. In fact, many of them lack any notable female characters at all. There have been five Grand Theft Auto and not one female playable character.

This is obviously problematic. Grand Theft Auto went through four games before the developers finally decided to create sprites for female police officers (something that probably wouldn't have hurt if they'd just done that from the start) and still not one female protagonist among its five games. Now one could argue that it wasn't totally unjustified in L.A. Noire (which deals with the police force during the 1940's) or Red Dead: Redemption (which is set in the Wild West), though even then one could question a few choices. L.A. Noire probably could have given its female lead a much more prominent role than merely being a love interest for Cole. In Red Dead: Redemption, it could also have been interesting to see a female gunslinger take the spotlight, even if the rest of the cast was male-dominated.

This in turn brings up a variety of debates that have taken place on the internet recently, namely whether players should be allowed to choose. There have been some extremely flimsy arguments that developers have made for excluding women from their games. One of the reasons Call of Duty took so long to even add a choice to multiplayer was because the developers genuinely believed that women would have an unfair advantage because their smaller size would make them harder targets (seriously), and even that weak excuse doesn't explain why they are so averse to female characters in the campaign mode. Others seem to question whether it should affect the gameplay, and if not why it should even matter.

The answer is easy enough: the option should be there, and it should have little effect on the game. In Mass Effect, the player can choose Shepard's sex and other than a few differences in romantic options it has no bearing on the overall story. Shepard's abilities are based purely on their class and how the character is developed over the course of the game. The actual narrative is shaped by the choices made by the player, and none of them are influenced by Shepard's sex. Both male and female Shepard have to make the same tough calls that present consequences over the course of the series.

One can see the same thing in many other games where gender is purely aesthetic. Skyrim also allows the player to choose the sex of their protagonist (although artwork related to the game and fans in general seem to keep assuming the hero to be male). Aside from a few variations in dialogue, the game is more or less identical regardless of whether the player is male or female, even going as far as to offer the exact same selection of romantic opportunities. The main stories of Fallout 3 and Rainbow Six Vegas 2 both progress more ore less the same way regardless of what sex the player chooses, and the same sets of skills and opportunities are available for both.

So this has led to another common argument: that if gender doesn't affect the gameplay than why bother? Well, it really comes down to the simple fact that everyone has their own preferences, and that they should be allowed to make the character they feel best fits the game. Personally, I have always preferred to play as female characters, and I often find that the game's world feels far more authentic when I take that option. I have a friend who finds that he often prefers to play as non-human characters whenever the game permits it (such as in the Elder Scrolls series). In the case of Mass Effect, there are fans devoted to both male and female Shepard.

The fact is that more games should allow players the choice in who they want to be, rather than having it predetermined. This means that they should be able to create the type of person they feel best fits the game and run with it. This makes games like Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Battlefield: Hardline all the more infuriating for promising "deep customization" and then refusing to allow the player to actually make a character that suits them because the developers are too stupid to realize that women can serve in the military or police force now.

Yes, it's true that female characters shouldn't be too much different from the men. The script should have next to no differences and a female character should have access to the same skills as a man. The important thing is making sure players have the choice to make the character they want. Different people have different preferences. Every player of Skyrim has a unique character that fits them, the same way Mass Effect allows for different players to produce drastically different interpretations of Shepard. The fact is that we want to be able to have a choice. We want to create the characters we feel fit the game, not be faced by obviously biased restrictions.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Sports Movie Marathon: Whip It (Roller Derby)

Whip It is a curious movie to watch with hindsight, as a few more recent developments bring a whole new dimension to the story. One thing that did notably happen five years after its release was Ellen Page coming out as a lesbian, giving the already-talented actress a new reputation as a human rights advocate. However, while it may have only been in 2014 that Page finally admitted to her sexuality, there may have been clues in her earlier films. The lack of any sexual tension with the (otherwise entirely male) cast of Inception and the boyfriend she quickly dumps in Wilby Wonderful (a moment the film treats as a positive action) could be seen as early indications.

However, Whip It may be one of the most obvious films to showcase this, although it's hard to say if this was intended or merely a reflection of Page's acting. Although the film is thinly veiled as a family friendly underdog sports narrative, it is filled with innuendo and homoerotic subtext that, when realized in the context of Page's own sexuality, adds an entirely new level. This is likely unsurprising, given much of the film revolves around bonding between women, with girl-on-girl fights (which are almost treated like sex) being something of a recurring motif.

From the moment we are first introduced to Bliss Cavender (Page), there is a sense of awkwardness that isolates her from her environment. She struggles to meet the demands of her overbearing conservative mother and has a difficult relationship with her father. At school, she often gets bullied, and she clearly doesn't fit into the beauty pageants. The opening scene shows these two sides through her wardrobe, the blue hair clashing with her fancy white dress. This awkwardness continues throughout much of the film, with Bliss showing difficulty relating to many of the people in her life.

In fact, the few instances where this aspect of her performance drops are moments when Bliss is interacting with other women. This is most evident in her relationship to her friend Pash (Alia Shawkwat), with whom the homoerotic undertones appear to be most obvious. There is even a scene which alludes to this idea by way of them sharing a bed. It's also seen in the way Bliss becomes especially close to the other women on her roller derby team, possibly even closer than she is with her own family. There is also a strong emphasis on the mounting tension between her and rival skater Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) which could be seen as sexual in nature, especially during their exchange at the film's conclusion.

The movie does include a heterosexual romance between Bliss and a young man named Oliver (Landon Pigg), though even this arguably supports the homoerotic aspects of the film. The romance often appears forced, and Oliver does show some questionable actions early on (such as openly admitting that he stalked Bliss to her workplace). These two share the film's only sex scene, though it is shot in a very surreal and peculiar way, with the two diving into a swimming pool before removing their clothes.

The entire scene takes place underwater, and uses the aquatic environment to give a strange otherworldly sense. At first, this seems like a strange move for what is otherwise a fairly grounded story, only it may be the strangeness of such a moment that works to its advantage. By making this sequence dream-like in nature, it's drawing attention to the fact that it is staged. More specifically, the obviously fake sex hints at the idea that the romance between them is not genuine and works as foreshadowing toward the later sequence in which Bliss realizes he's been treating her only slightly less awful than the original James Bond, and proceeds to break off all ties with him.

This in turn leads to a whole new reading of the film that may not have been evident to its initial viewers: Bliss is secretly a repressed homosexual. This can be seen in her relationship to her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Hayden), who while not explicitly homophobic displays a very conservative and conformist view of society. She expects Bliss to appear at elegant pageants and on learning of the roller derby championship, admits that she expects Bliss to marry a man (a remark which she appears to find especially insulting). Bliss even goes as far as to run away not unlike the many homosexual or trans teenagers who find themselves in the street because of intolerant parents.

Whip It is far from a mere underdog sports film. It's really a story of exploring oneself. If indeed it is to be assumed that Bliss is gay, than the entire story could be seen as one big allegory for her accepting who she is and coming out (which in this case is shown through her discovering a passion for roller derby).