How to Watch Star Wars Episode IX

Recently they announced a lot of details about the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX. We know it will be released December 2019. We know that Luke, Lando, Chewbacca, and through the magic of editing, Leia, will all be returning in this “final” installment of the Skywalker epic. We know the new players will all be returning including Rey, Finn, Kylo, Poe, and Rose. On some level I think we can be thankful that it’s being written and directed by J.J. Abrams instead of Rian Johnson. We can be almost certain that this will not be the last Star Wars film, because Disney gonna Disney. But it may possibly be the last “Episode” in the current timeline. Most predictably, we know a lot of people are going to be unhappy with the movie, no matter what happens.

I don’t believe the movie will tank like Solo did. What do I mean by that? Solo tanked in the fact that it didn’t make as much money as was expected. That’s what tanking a Star Wars film is for Disney. Review scores don’t matter. The Rotten Tomatoes score doesn’t matter. Awards don’t matter. Even the general opinion of the public on social media doesn’t really matter to Disney in reference to this specific franchise anymore. All that matters is ticket sales. At this point, it’s an almost unsalvageable franchise critically because of all the bad blood. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a profitable franchise. And that’s why they’ll keep making Star Wars movies. Solo did badly because people boycotted it because of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Solo actually wasn’t terrible. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t A New Hope, but I left the theater entertained and didn’t regret having spent the money to see it. And I truly believe that most people who actually watched the movie felt that way. The low scores and ticket sales were in response to The Last Jedi and not a legitimate indicator of Solo or what people actually thought of it. So the question is will this same responsive smear campaign and boycott happen to Star Wars Episode IX? I say yes and no.

Luke-and-Leia-in-Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi

Yes, there will be a smear campaign against Star Wars Episode IX. That will happen. It will get fabricated review scores that lower its IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores. People will complain about Disney and feminism, mistreating the Skywalkers, and everything else the internet likes to complain about in reference to the latest saga. But no I do not believe there will be a legitimate boycott the way things went for Solo. Solo was an easy movie to boycott because you could get away with not watching it. It’s the same thing with Rogue One. These side films, whether they’re good or terrible, don’t really matter. They don’t tell you any information that you absolutely needed to know to follow the general plot of Star Wars. When you walked out of Rogue One and Solo, literally nothing had changed. You aren’t in any way surprised or moved by the things you saw. And that’s the intention of those movies. To get people to pay Disney more money without impacting the main timeline of the Star Wars franchise. And technically it works. Rogue One did very well and most people said good things about it. But they’re both still inconsequential films to the franchise. This will not be the case with Episode IX.

Whether you hated Episodes VII and VIII or you loved them, if you’re a real Star Wars fan you paid to go see them. That’s the entire con of making a continuous franchise. Once you’re committed, you’re committed. I think Suicide Squad was terrible. I think Batman vs. Superman was terrible. I think Justice League was average at best. I think the Shazam trailer looks like trash. I’m still gonna pay to go see it. And that’s the game. Star Wars Episode IX matters. Not only is it the last film in the current saga, but it’s also supposedly the last Skywalker focused film, and it’s the very last film Carrie Fischer/Princess Leia will ever be in. And Billy Dee Williams, arguably the coolest (as in smooth and memorable as opposed to awesome) actor/character in the original trilogy, if not the entire Star Wars universe, is finally returning. All Star Wars people are going to go see it. Even the ones who absolutely hate the current saga, hate Disney for “ruining” Star Wars, hate feminism, hate minorities, and hate J.J. Abrams for The Force Awakens are still going to go see this movie. At the very least, everyone wants closure. People might completely stop supporting Star Wars and never sit through another film in the franchise again after they watch Episode IX, but they are certainly going to go watch it none the less, because people need an ending. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) sucked. We still went to see The Matrix Revolutions (2003). It’s for that reason that I don’t think Star Wars Episode IX will tank. It will almost assuredly get bad reception from the public. It will most likely get low scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. But unlike Solo, it will make lots of money.

Lando-Calrissian-Cloud-City-Administrator

So if we can all accept that we’re going to see the movie, let’s instead talk about how we should see the movie. We have more than a year to prepare ourselves for this last installment of the Skywalker family tree. Let’s get to it now so it doesn’t have to be a bloodbath during Christmas season 2019. Here are my thoughts on the current saga. I didn’t like The Force Awakens. I had tons of problems with it and how it ignored longstanding Star Wars canon. I felt like it was a lazy almost beat for beat remake of A New Hope, with a diverse cast and a female protagonist. I didn’t have a problem with the diverse cast. I didn’t have a problem with the female protagonist. But I had a lot of issues with the blatant disregard for the established rules of the Star Wars universe. But I was able to leave the film assuming that Rey was a Skywalker so at least I could justify a lot of her bullshit by saying well she’s a Skywalker so at least we know why she’s unjustifiably great at everything she does. But Rian Johnson took that justification away in The Last Jedi. I did not like The Last Jedi, but it was admittedly the best looking Star Wars film ever made. But the rules were pretty much all disregarded and thrown aside for some agenda that I still can’t really grasp or justify in my head. And Luke dies in the laziest way possible. It was a bad Star Wars movie. Though I actually do rank it higher than VII, and that’s what I really want to focus on.

I don’t want to talk about any of these movies in terms of general film making. That’s a pointless argument in this case. I only want to talk about them in terms of Star Wars film making. The Last Jedi is a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens for one simple reason; it follows the trajectory of its predecessor film. What do I mean by that? The main flaw of The Phantom Menace is that it’s attempting to build a foundation for a set of already existing films without rehashing the same ideas you’ve already seen in three extant movies. It’s this desire to link to the past films, that are actually set in the timeline’s future, without playing the same beats over again that led to some bad decisions. Like with midichlorians. Most people agree that midichlorians were a stupid idea that should never have been introduced. They justified some future bullshit which is pretty much all encompassed in Rey, but technically they were never mentioned again after Episode I. The reason The Phantom Menace struggled so much was that it didn’t have a trajectory to follow because it was prequel. It had to start from pretty much scratch and somehow set off a series of events that would eventually lead to A New Hope. Easier said than done.

the phantom menace

In a lot of ways, The Force Awakens was in a similar boat but it does have a foundation of six other films preceding it. It’s tasked with starting a new arc of three films but it doesn’t have a pre-established endpoint, nor does it have to start from scratch the way The Phantom Menace did. Yet The Force Awakens does something inherently wrong that The Phantom Menace doesn’t; it breaks the rules of the universe. I have used the word “breaks” here because “changes” is a lazy way of saying retconned or ignored canon, neither of which are considered good things in most fandoms, SJW or not.

World building matters and the best franchises are the best franchises because they have well established worlds/universes with established rulesets. A good writer doesn’t throw out the rules. A good writer writes new ideas and creates new concepts while adhering to the rules. Let’s take the example of Rey in The Force Awakens. If we completely disregard the anti-feminist, alt-right crowd and accept the totally canon supported argument that a woman can be a powerful Jedi/Force user (Ahsoka Tano & Asajj Ventress), which we should, the film still presents a staggering number of issues with Rey.

asajj-ventress

It’s not the fact that she’s a woman that’s problematic. Nor is it the fact that she’s powerful in the ways of the Force. It’s the fact that a character with no training or even a basic knowledge of the Force is able to use high level Force abilities that Luke, one of the strongest Force users in the established film canon, wasn’t able to do without years of training even after being trained by Yoda, arguably the greatest Force user that ever lived. It’s the fact that she could go from no knowledge of the Force to using Jedi mind tricks and outclassing a trained Sith “lord” (Kylo Ren) in a matter of days that presented the real justifications for complaint. The rules of the universe were broken. Not just ignored but flat out broken. And the sad part was that this was all easily avoided with just a few extra scenes or a bit of altered dialog.

Rey could have already known about the Force, since lots of people do/did in the Star Wars universe outside of Jedi and Sith. She also could have had at the very least some light training while spending most of her life on a desert planet with nothing to do except salvage scrap and eat magical expansion cakes. Literally three lines of dialog inserted into any conversation with Finn, Han, or Maz Kanata could have fixed everything. “When I was a kid, I met a wizard of sorts. He taught me magic and said if I kept practicing I could be a great wizard one day too. I’ve practiced every day since then.” Problem solved. With just these three vague lines from off the top of my head added, everything else that happens in The Force Awakens could have still happened and there would be little justification to argue that canon was broken. That wouldn’t have made the movie great by any means. But it would have removed the main reason people, who aren’t blatant sexists, were unhappy with Rey. The Phantom Menace has a number of issues, but in no way does it break established canon. Even the midichlorians don’t actually break canon. They simply add to it in a stupid way. And that is why I rate Episode I higher than Episode VII.

Rey vs Kylo

So when looking at The Last Jedi in comparison to The Force Awakens, I think The Last Jedi is the better Star Wars movie for the simple fact that it follows the path set out by its direct predecessor film. Note that I’m not saying that it’s a good movie or even a particularly good Star Wars movie. I’m saying that it’s a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens. Episode VII gives canon the finger. That’s what makes it a bad Star Wars movie. Episode VIII doesn’t do that. Instead, The Last Jedi just accepts the fact that its direct predecessor film has already given canon the finger and just roles with it.

In a world where an untrained teenage girl can out Force a trained Sith lord directly descended from Darth Vader himself, why can’t the daughter of Darth Vader survive the vacuum of space by wrapping herself in a Force bubble and flying through an explosion of debris? In a world where a low ranking Storm Trooper, excuse me First Order Trooper, who has possibly never even seen a light saber before can pick one up and rival the combat ability of by now I’ve proven probably the worst Sith lord ever ordained, why can’t an entire fleet of repurposed imperial ships be destroyed by a single ship with almost no fuel in a hail Mary light speed maneuver?

light speed crash

The Last Jedi didn’t break the rules because the film takes place in a universe where the rules no longer apply. But you can’t technically blame The Last Jedi for establishing this lawless universe because that was done by The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi simply takes it to a new level and decides that if the most important rules are no longer rules then there’s really no reason to have any rules at all. Which is a sensible conclusion to make. It’s like how if someone proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no God then the world would sink into chaos like at the end of Preacher Season 1 or Sausage Party. If there are no rules then you would live like there are no rules. You wouldn’t continue the pain in the ass lifestyle of following rules that don’t matter just because it’s a nice thing to do. What’s the point when you can have a lot more freedom and fun doing whatever the hell you want? That’s what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi. Order disappeared from the Star Wars universe and he went all in on taking advantage of that.

Taking all that into account, the question now becomes how should we watch Star Wars Episode IX? Now we can choose to watch it like we’ve watched all other Star Wars movies if we want to. Hold it to the old guard rules of canon, compare it directly to Episodes IV – VI, and almost assuredly hate it for completely justifiable reasons, again ignoring the anti-feminist and anti-minority, alt-right crowd. But is it worth it? Should we hold a movie to the gold standard that takes place as the final act that’s already established itself as not even bronze quality Star Wars film making? I say no. Why should we put ourselves through that for the second time in a row? That’s just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Instead I’ve come up with an alternative way to watch this next and any future Star Wars movies in the main timeline.

Star Wars Main Eps

Rather than compare Episode IX to Episodes I – VIII and hold it to the highest standard, we should only compare it to Episodes VII and VIII. If we accept that the old canonical rules pretty much died with The Force Awakens, as I have argued here, then what reason do we have to hold Episode IX to a pre-Episode VII standard? If you think about it logically, there really isn’t one. By that standard it will be bad and it will make true classic Star Wars fans angry. But I don’t believe it has to be bad if we base it solely on current saga standards, especially considering how low they already are.

If we watch Episode IX in the context of VII and VIII only then I believe it could be a fairly tolerable movie. We would go in knowing there aren’t any hard rules about how the Force works. We’d have an established context to why random characters with no background can be/are ultimately super important. Instead of going in expecting Avengers: Infinity War, we should go in expecting The Matrix Revolutions. In this way we wouldn’t have to leave the theater angry. We could just leave unimpressed but content with what we saw within the context of the current saga.

third saga titles

I know this type of viewing sounds hard to a lot of diehard fans, myself included. But is the possibility of seeing a move and finding it tolerable truly worse than the alternative? I’m not saying you should support the current direction Disney is taking with Star Wars. But if you are going to see the movie, and you know you will, then maybe it doesn’t have to be the terrible experience that you’re already expecting it to be. You have more than a year to prepare yourself so maybe take advantage of that and consider a new way of thinking. It took me a long time to do that, but I finally have myself so I know you can too.

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Black Panther – More a Social Commentary than a Review

Three days ago I saw Black Panther. It surprised me in many ways. It took me about a day to really mull over the film before I felt comfortable putting my thoughts about the film to text.

Let me start by saying that, like the title clearly states, this isn’t really a traditional film review. If you want to know whether or not you should go see the movie, that’s an easy question to answer. Yes, you should absolutely go see Black Panther. It’s a well-made film worthy of the Marvel name. It is not the best installment within the MCU ever made, nor is it the worst. I’d place it somewhere in the top half but I’d have to do a thorough ranking review before I could give it a specific placement within the Marvel hierarchy. It’s a beautiful, well written, excellently acted, great sounding movie and there is no reason any MCU fan shouldn’t see this film. And really, because of the way it was written, even if you’re not a committed MCU fan, this movie is still very good and very watchable. Similar to Ant-Man, the plot is very small and enclosed within the world of a specific character, in this case Black Panther and Wakanda, without really spilling into the rest of the MCU, save for the post credits sequence, which honestly gives you no information that the Avengers: Infinity War trailer hadn’t already given us. There are a total of two characters, not including T’Challa or any other Wakandans, with speaking roles that you’ve seen in past films plus one more in the after credits short. Both of these two have only been seen in one previous MCU film, don’t have special powers, and are of little consequence to the overall plot of the film, though they do have some important impacts on the events that take place. Even placing Black Panther on the MCU time line is very negotiable because of the way it was written. The only thing we know for absolute certainty is that it takes place after Captain America 3: Civil War, and with the inclusion of the after credits sequence, most likely but not necessarily before Avengers: Infinity War if we disregard the traditional notice at the very end that says “Black Panther will return in Avengers: Infinity War”.

Wakanda
The majority of the film takes place in Wakanda.

From a neutral film-making/viewing standpoint, with no bias towards race or specific characters, I only had two minor complaints about the film. The first was that it felt short. Not under written, but short. This is strange because the film has a 135 minute runtime. I think most people would agree that when you leave a film wanting more and also don’t feel like the plot left unanswered holes that should have been addressed, it’s the mark of a good film. That’s exactly how I felt leaving Black Panther. The second, which I don’t actually believe has any real bearing on the film, is that the soundtrack was too limited. The trailers sold this film as if it was going to be the Black equivalent of Tron: Legacy (2010). As in, even if the movie sucks, which I’m not saying about either Black Panther or Tron: Legacy, you’ll still get a movie chock-full of amazing music from amazing music artists. In the case of Tron: Legacy that meant Daft Punk and they absolutely delivered on the music front. In Black Panther that means Kendrick Lamar among, or at least that’s what I was led to believe, a number of other music artists. That’s not what I got from Black Panther. Or if I did it was done in a very covert way and most of the music, which at many times I was actively listening for when viewing the film, was undercut too heavily by the movie’s sound effects. The only song I was genuinely moved by was the end credits song by Kendrick Lamar. And that’s mostly because the rest of the music just didn’t stand out to me during the movie. I don’t feel that the movie provided the audience bad music. In fact I’d say that what I actually heard was really good music. But it was few and far between as far as number of tracks that stood out. Which again, I only cared about and even noticed because of the way the film was packaged in the trailers and music, specifically “Black music”, was a big part of that marketing.

Though I don’t personally subscribe to the number based review system, because of how detrimental it is to both the overall image of films and because it prevents many people from taking the time to actually read reviews, I always play along because it’s a standard entertainment media review norm. I would rate this film an 8.4/10, which in my book is a very good score for a film, video game, or any other form of entertainment media. I would absolutely watch any movie scored a 7 or higher from someone with my level of experience reviewing entertainment media and my educational background (B.A. in Cinema Studies) so I don’t feel like my giving this movie an 8.4 should be considered a put off in any way. But I’m sure at least one person will take that score as low, not actually read the rest of my “review”, and move on with their day. But ultimately my point, which again is not the actual intention of this post which is far from being over, is that you should definitely go watch Black Panther from a purely film making and comic book movie viewing standpoint.

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From here on out there will be a great many SPOILERS and an in depth analysis of the plot, or at least important portions of it so if you have not seen the movie and you actually care, you have been given fair warning.

I want to discuss Black Panther speaking/viewing specifically as an African American. So obviously we’re about to talk about the racial politics of the film both on and off screen. If you’re not prepared for that then you may want to stop reading now. You’ve been warned. That’s not to imply in any way that only African Americans or Black people should read and/or comment on the rest of this post. All people are invited to read and discuss the opinions laid out here and I hope you take the time to do so. I’m merely stating my perspective and inherent bias when viewing and discussing the film from a social/political standpoint.

The first thing I want to say is that the plot of Black Panther very much surprised me. I went in not exactly sure what I was going to get because no other live action Black Panther film has ever been made to the best of my knowledge. This meant that unless you watched the animated stuff, of which there are only a few options, at least one of which I find/found very stereotypical and offensive, or actively read (about) or at least researched the character then you really had no background information on him outside of what was shown in Captain America 3: Civil War. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a traditional origin story or a day in the life plot that assumes knowledge the viewer may or may not have. I was actually very happy with the way the film wrapped up the character’s (Black Panther not specifically T’Challa) origin myth very early and actively used that explanation throughout the film to inform the viewer about certain plot occurrences such as the involvement but ultimate lack of inclusion concerning the Jabari Tribe and their leader M’Baku, who is a reference to Man-Ape and the White Gorilla Cult. The one thing I can say for sure is that I went into the film expecting this to be a very straight forward good versus evil plot with a hero and villain and as the hero in this film is ethnically Black, and more specifically African, I of course expected the villain to be White.

mbaku
M’Baku and the Jabari Tribe

Black Panther starts off by pretending to confirm my bias induced plot expectations. The first 30 – 40 minutes of the film make it come off as if this is going to be a movie about T’Challa, a Black African leading a country of exclusively Black people, fighting against Klaw (Ulysses Klaue), a literal Nazi who in at least one timeline was personally sent by Adolf Hitler to Wakanda to steal their secrets. In fact, early on in the film we’re told that 30 years prior to the modern day events of the film Klaw snuck into Wakanda, stole a ton of Vibranium, and killed several people including the parents of T’Challa’s best friend and the leader of possibly the strongest military tribe within Wakanda with the debatable exception of the Dora Milaje, the badass, super tall, bald personal security squad of the King of Wakanda. This is all set up early on in the film very well to lead the viewer to believe that they’re about to get a normal and mostly predictable Black person/people versus White person/people plot. And as a Black person living in 2018, I’ll be completely honest and say that I would have been completely ok with that. Is it interesting writing? No. Is it out of the box plot development? No. Do Black people both need and appreciate straight forward forms of entertainment like that right now? I think it’s fair to say yes. That’s not to say that all our entertainment should be that way or even most of it but as a race we definitely need those easy wins at least some of the time. But to my great surprise, Black Panther is not that film . . . and ultimately that’s a good thing but the reasons for that when viewed in the context of the world and industry outside of the film can be read in a number of different ways ranging anywhere from introspective to pessimistic and sinister.

dora-milaje
The Dora Milaje

Klaw, played by the great Andy Serkis, is setup as the epitome of evil and antithesis of Black people, literally referring to Wakandans, arguably the most technologically advanced society on the planet within the world of the film, as savages on multiple occasions knowing full well that they are the most technologically advanced society on the planet. The viewer is led to believe that he’s a powerfully troublesome villain with Mark Hamill Joker level psychopathy, a Heath Ledger Joker level strategic mind, and technologically advanced firepower. A big part of this character is due to the excellent, but ultimately short lived performance by Andy Serkis. Though as a Black person I’m not supposed to say it in reference to a film like this, he, yes a White man, gave the best performance in the movie. Granted his character was the only one that isn’t traditionally written as stoic and emotionally controlled within this particular story. And any experienced, socially aware Black film viewer knows exactly why that is. Black people are often presented as overly emotional, comedic, and illogical in their film characterizations so presenting the Wakandans as such not only would have broken canon, but also done a disservice to the image of Black people in cinema, which we should all be able to agree goes against the supposed intention of this particular film. Especially considering that two of the three credited writers for the script are Black. It’s for this reason that Klaw was able to stand out among the rest of the B characters in the movie.

Klaw
Klaw (Ulysses Klaue)

After setting up this very black and white plot, the movie flipped and tossed my expectations out the window. I referred to Andy Serkis’ performance of Klaw as “short lived” because literally minutes after he escapes capture from both T’Challa and the CIA, with the help of two Black people mind you, he gets killed. And by killed I mean shot point blank, by a Black guy, from Oakland, in an almost gang style execution. It’s a very cathartic scene . . . after you’ve already seen the movie. The first time you watch this scene, you’re very surprised, but you don’t get to experience any of the emotional, social, and political overtones of the scene because of the sequence of events leading up to the killing and the person pulling the trigger. What you don’t know till the end of the movie is that Klaw’s executioner, Eric Stevens aka Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan, is a highly educated (I believe MIT), extremely well trained (US SPEC OPS), very socially and historically conscious, direct descendant of the Wakandan throne that had to live his entire life as a lower class African American orphan whose father was murdered by the previous Black Panther and King of Wakanda, who also happens to be his uncle. At this point in the film you also have pretty much zero knowledge of his motivations. All you really know is he’s Wakandan, he has murdered or assisted in the murder of several innocent people on screen, betrayed Klaw, who he was working for up until this moment, and literally in the same scene murdered his supposed girlfriend who also happens to be Black. So when you see this execution happen, you don’t get to experience all that cathartic goodness of seeing a well-educated African American/Wakandan Black man take down a murdering Nazi psychopath that very well may have murdered, not necessarily intentionally, members of his extended family in Wakanda three decades earlier. It’s made clear later in the film that this was all part of Killmonger’s grand scheme. His motivations are two fold because the only thing he seems to hate more than White racists and oppressors is Wakanda for their apathy towards other Black people suffering at the hands of White people around the world. So it was all intentional that he would use Wakanda’s greatest enemy to hurt them only to then turn around and betray him with a shot at point blank. And that’s really what makes this movie so interesting to watch for Black people. It’s a multi-layered web of social and political questions that occur in moral grey areas for the Black community.

killmonger vs black panther
Killmonger vs Black Panther

This film is difficult to watch as a Black person because it externalizes a longstanding internal debate that pretty much all non-upper class African Americans and presumably many Black people around the world have been thinking about for centuries. Killmonger is not a villain. He’s an anti-hero. He just happens to cause problems for T’Challa and Wakandan tradition, which paints a negative picture of him in the eyes of Black Panther for much of the film. But it’s important to note that even T’Challa feels guilty about Killmonger for most of the movie. It doesn’t help that they are actually cousins that had grown up not knowing each other. By the end of the film it’s safe to say that T’Challa not only sympathizes with Killmonger but actually puts his ideals into practice in a peaceful manner. But we’ll get to that later. Killmonger is one half of this internal debate and T’Challa is the other. By the end of the film we’re asked what the right answer is/was but really it’s impossible to say for sure what the right answer is when you’re a Black person with even a high school level of knowledge about the history of Black peoples around the world and how they have been affected/treated by White peoples. I use the term peoples here rather than people because there is not one homogenous group of White people responsible for all the atrocities against Blacks throughout history nor is their one homogenous group of Black people that have incurred all the suffering of these atrocities directly.

cousins

Wakanda is a literal Black utopia. It’s an idealized realization of Afrofuturism, a term that I don’t personally like using, that places Black people in the best of circumstances. It’s a society that is 100% pure blooded Black with no history of slavery, internal prejudice, unfair class divides, poverty, or even drug trafficking and/or addiction. The key premise of this society is that it has always existed, always been ahead of not just the Black curve but the entire Earth curve, and has always remained hidden in plain sight. It’s a culture steeped in ancient tradition that they have adhered to into the modern times even while advancing technologically and socially. This is seen in the fact that they have technologies that make Iron Man look like a kid playing with LEGOs and their entire research and development structure is run by a girl of no more than 20 years old (portrayed by Letitia Wright who is actually 24 in real life). They have advanced well beyond the rest of the world in every facet of technology including but not limited to medicine, weapons development, stealth technology, transportation, clothing production, mining, and even animal husbandry (loved that rhino scene). It is the ideal society of just about every Black person. Even the ones doing well would like to live in Wakanda. The most important tenant of Wakandan tradition is non-involvement with the rest of the world. They do not interfere, they do not give aid, they do not conquer, and they do not wage war even though they are very good at it. Though they do have spies hidden all over the world, their position is that it’s all simply not their problem. They believe, and have pretty much always believed, that in order to preserve their society they must remain hidden and uninvolved with the rest of the world. Publically they present themselves as a third world farming nation with sovereign borders and a functioning monarchist government. They are often referred to as third world within the film and refuse all trade and aid from all countries. They pretty much want everyone to think they’re a poor nation of uneducated farmers that have so little value as a country both economically and in natural resources that no one would even take the time to try to invade, conquer, or even visit their lands.

wakanda airship
Wakanda is possibly the most technologically advanced country on Earth.

The key reason for Wakanda’s seclusion is best expressed with a quote from T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi, played by Daniel Kaluuya (the guy from Get Out). “If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them,” he says to T’Challa when asked his opinion about opening their borders and sharing their knowledge with the world. This is not a new idea. It’s not even an original one. We are currently dealing with this very debate right now in reference to Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants from South America, Muslim influence in the West, and a host of other immigration issues around the world. In general, many if not most people believe that foreign influence changes the way a country or culture works and often don’t see that as being a good thing. This is even more apparent when the country in question sees itself as being vastly superior to the country the immigrants come from. It’s the reason our President says things like “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?,” in reference to countries with predominantly Black and Latino populations and favors predominantly White countries like Norway. And if the supportive responses to his comments are any indication, he is clearly not alone in that opinion. This makes even more sense when we’re talking about a country like Wakanda where other people of any race could offer them literally zero benefits technologically, “steal” their technological advancements for their own countries, and in the case of White people, from a historical standpoint, would absolutely attempt to screw up their system of government and racial hierarchy. And many Black people agree with this position coming from the Wakandans. When I was watching the film, I didn’t feel angry or unsympathetic to their position. I understood it completely and had to really struggle over whether or not their position was acceptable. As a Christian, I was raised that when you can help people you should. But as an African American with a minor in history, I was/am very reluctant to support the idea of the Black utopia being ruined, and yes that is the correct word here, by outside influence, especially that of White people. Just look at something small like the history of gentrification in the United States to understand why an African American might feel this way. And let’s also remember that there are no actual laws saying any country has to help any other country fix their problems. Especially when we’re talking about a country with no actual treaties in place. Though Wakanda does appear at United Nations talks both in Black Panther and Captain America 3: Civil War, it’s never clearly stated that they’re even a member of the UN coalition. They have zero obligations to help struggling Black people in other countries or anyone for that matter. It would be nice, of course speaking as an African American, if Wakanda chose to help Black people around the world, because I would stand to gain in a such a scenario. But that’s a clear bias that clouds my objective judgement of the situation or would if it was actually happening and I was for whatever reason asked to give my opinion on the issue. And I feel the feelings I’ve expressed on this specific issue make sense to most people of all colors and are shared by many Black people.

w'kabi
“If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them.” -W’Kabi

Killmonger’s position is the exact opposite of T’Challa and most of, but not all of, Wakanda. He speaks as the lowest of the low African American. He was born and raised in Oakland until the age of, I believe, nine when his father was murdered, by the Wakandan King and contemporary Black Panther. His mother isn’t actually mentioned in the film but it’s assumed that she was already dead. His position, which is of course formed by his experiences and education, both of which are well expressed in the film, is that White people have and continue to mistreat and oppress Black people all over the world and Wakanda’s refusal to use their superior resources to help Black people throw off the chains of these White oppressors makes them complicit in the continued subjugation of all Black people. He is the physical manifestation of what Black people refer to as “The Revolution”. This is a half joking, half serious ideal that one day all Black people will collectively organize, rise up, and overthrow White oppression through the most extreme and historically relevant measures. Essentially imagine if tomorrow all Black people as a homogenized group picked up the same detailed history book, read all the ways that White people had hurt Black people in the past physically, emotionally, socially, and economically and then reapplied those same practices back towards White people en masse. So basically that means murder, enslavement, denial of education, denial of rights, physical abuse, and if we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves about how people actually behave one has to admit that there would be a large presence of rape and sexual abuse as well. That’s not to say that I’m personally advocating for any of that behavior, and to be clear I’m not. But it’s foolish to pretend like in this revolutionary scenario that Black people would magically apply their form of oppression with some sort of higher moral standing than literally every other application of oppression in any region in the history of the world. If it happened, it would the same way. The only difference would be that Black people would justify the behavior by referencing historical occurrences of the same behaviors in order to dilute the issue from being a serious problem. Killmonger’s position is that the only way to fix the world is to conquer it with Wakandan resources and advanced weaponry and then rule the world with an iron fist that places Black people on top and Whites at the bottom. He’s not seeking or advocating for peace. He’s arguing for revenge. But again, he feels justified in this positon because of his own personal experiences growing up as a lower class African American and because of his knowledge of history. And just like when thinking about Wakanda’s choice to remain uninvolved, Black people as a whole can definitely sympathize with Killmonger’s position. That’s not to say that all, or even most, Blacks support his position as the correct way to approach this issue. It’s just to be honest in saying that we fully understand and have no problem considering this position as one of multiple possible ways to fix our problems as a race.

the revolution
“The Revolution”

This is why Black Panther is so hard to watch for Black people. It’s not a straight forward good and evil plot. Once Klaw dies, there’s no real villain. There are simply two opposing opinions, both of which are valid because they’re advocating to help/protect Black people. The only difference is which Black people fall under that umbrella of protection and what’s the best way to do that. And it’s important to note that even before Killmonger shows up, T’Challa and his girlfriend, and presumably the future queen of Wakanda, Nakia already felt an obligation to try to help Black people outside of Wakanda. They didn’t agree on how to do that, but they both agreed that because they could do something they needed to try to do something. So this film tasks the Black viewer with having to choose between preserving the Black utopia or possibly destroying it by trying to help Black people around the world. And it does this by creating a Black versus Black plot that pretty much removes White people from the equation because it’s never assumed that White people couldn’t easily be defeated. Just that war with them may or may not be the correct course of action. Even now I still can’t say with absolute certainty which side of the argument I would side with in a real life scenario. And I know that many people who aren’t Black will take offense to that statement. They will accuse me of supporting racism for not vehemently opposing Killmonger’s position, while totally ignoring the fact that they make the same decision every day by having voted for and continually supporting the current President and administration of the United States, advocating against public healthcare, and fighting to essentially cease all immigration, legal or otherwise if we’re really being honest, of non-Whites. It’s the exact same thing. The only difference is I’m discussing theoretical fantasy scenarios shown in a Disney movie (See what I did there?) and they’re literally advocating to destroy and/or ruin actual people’s lives every day. So no I don’t feel guilty about my fence sitting on this issue. And I can say that as a person who not only has many close White friends and colleagues, but also as someone whose father is a White immigrant to the United States. I of course did not get to benefit from that because of my complexion, but my mixed blood heritage does factor into my opinions on such issues, even though I have always, not always by choice, identified as Black.

ritual combat

Now ultimately the film climaxes with a split decision on the issue. Killmonger takes the throne and begins his plot for benevolent, for specifically Black people at the expense of Whites, world domination, after believing that he had killed T’Challa in ritual combat, as was his right as a member of the royal bloodline. T’Challa had actually lived and returns to retake the throne after an epic battle sequence and the death of his cousin, Killmonger, at his hands. And he takes no joy in that killing. He even tries to save Killmonger’s life, but he refuses help because he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, stating that death is superior to bondage by referencing slaves that chose to jump off the slave ships in the Middle Passage rather than accept their lives as slaves. Also a very powerful scene. T’Challa’s response to this whole sequence of events and his deceased cousin’s worldview is to agree to tell the world about Wakandan technology and help improve life for Black people through peaceful aid and cultural diffusion. Now personally I didn’t like this ending because I felt like it was too soft because it’s a fence sitting position. But for a Disney film that exists as part of a much larger (and profitable), predominantly White franchise this ending absolutely made sense and I saw it coming a mile away once I knew for certain that T’Challa was going to get the throne back by the end of this movie. You can’t intentionally undercut your franchise target audience in order to make one really powerful film for a specific micro-audience within the market. That’s just bad business. I also think it’s fitting that like me, the two Black writers also were unable to make a hard decision in support of either side of the issue so they chose conclude the film on the fence as well.

black-panther-imdb-vote
The Black Panther IMDB public rating scores in the 1st 24 hours of release.

I personally think Disney’s decision to greenlight this plot was more calculated than many others might read into it. I think it’s intentional that the film is ultimately a Black versus Black narrative rather than a Black versus White one. In the latter scenario Black people would obviously be the hero and by extension win because the movie is called Black Panther after all. It would be odd if the character’s debut standalone film ended with him losing. Not to mention it would be a PR nightmare. But at the same time making a film about an evil White man trying to destroy Black culture and people only to be defeated and presumably killed in the end would not sit well with the White target audience the MCU is geared towards. This movie had PR problems from certain groups before it was even released. There was even a campaign to destroy its IMDB score on opening day. And this is with the film as a Black versus Black conflict as the central focus. A White main villain would have brought racists out of the woodwork calling the film an anti-White SJW pandering film with pro-immigration undertones. Disney isn’t stupid. They know exactly what they’re doing. They may not be able to stop 100% of blatant racists from trying to destroy the film but they can and did definitely take steps to ensure that the bulk of White viewers would see the film as mostly innocuous from their point of view, which it is. And because of the film’s lack of direct ties to the other MCU heroes and films, people don’t even technically need to see the film to keep track of the rest of the MCU. White people can completely ignore it with little to no consequences. Or they can watch it and see a film about Black people fighting other Black people, ultimately confirming their racial bias about Black communities being violent, disorganized, and self-afflicting. It’s a genius tactic that will ultimately work very well in the grand scheme of things. Black people get a hero and movie for themselves and White people are left unaffected by it. Yet for those who do watch it, they still get Martin Freeman essentially playing the same slapstick sidekick he portrays in Sherlock as a bit of inclusionary comic relief. Plus the presence of not one but two credited Black writers makes it all seem benevolent and inclusionary rather than calculated.

black-panther

It’s not as if Marvel/Disney doesn’t do traditional, straight forward good versus evil plots in the MCU. Iron Man 2, Thor 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Captain America 1, Doctor Strange, and Avengers all have plots like this. It would have been very easy and justifiable to do it with Black Panther as well. The fact that they didn’t as the first film for the character says a lot, in my opinion. That’s why I truly believe that Black Panther was written the way it was intentionally and for PR reasons.

Ultimately Black Panther is an important film. It marks the first non-White featured hero in the MCU to get their own film as well as the first Black hero to get his own film since like Blade. And thankfully it doesn’t suck. But this was an easy film to get made and sell. Minorities of all colors have been waiting for a non-White focused MCU film since at least Iron Man 3. The film doesn’t directly attack White viewers either overtly or covertly. Whites and Blacks can both watch the film without changing their biases about Black people whether they’re racist viewers or not. What I’m truly curious about is what Black Panther 2, assuming there is one, will look like because eventually Black Panther will have to face a White main villain.

Thoughts?

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Star Wars Battlefront II: The People’s Rebellion on Gaming Rebellion

Since I reviewed the Star Wars Battlefront II beta, much shit has gone down with that game. So I wrote an extensive piece on the events and causes leading up to the troubled release which has supposedly led to EA’s stock value plummeting 3 billion dollars. It’s a long, but quite interesting read, if I do say so myself. Here’s the introduction:

stock down

 

I have been tasked with trying to summarize and discuss the controversy surrounding EA DICE’s most recent game, Star Wars Battlefront II. This is no small feat considering the layers upon layers of incidents that have taken place surrounding this game and EA in general around the same time. I enter this endeavor knowing full well that it is impossible to accurately summarize and address the many parts of the shit sandwich that this game has become. But I will do my best. I think the best way to go about this is to try to piece together some semblance of a timeline and discuss specific points of that timeline and why they were/are significant. Then to conclude with some general thoughts and possible predictions as a result of this mess. Here goes nothing.

You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.

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Visceral Lames (Damn It EA)

I didn’t want to write this post. Honestly I was just going to let this event pass by without mentioning it on my blog. But as I’ve read more articles, talked to more people on Reddit, Twitter, and other forums, and thought about it more I decided I couldn’t just let this go without saying something.

I’m sure most of you are already aware, but in case you didn’t know Visceral Games was closed down by Electronic Arts last week. Visceral Games was the development studio responsible for a very eclectic collection of games including Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000, Dante’s Inferno, Battlefield Hardline, and the Dead Space franchise. By no means was Visceral Games my favorite developer. I was not interested in most of their games. I did however love Dante’s Inferno and wish they had made a sequel. Even though I wasn’t a fan, they were a studio that I really respected. They were committed to making plot based liner storylines with a focus on interesting core gameplay that ties directly to the game’s narrative. This is the approach that I would like to see all developers take. Obviously not the ones who don’t make real games. I don’t expect EA Sports to deliver the next GOTY experience or anything. But for studios that are making games with plots and campaigns, whether single player, co-op, or shared world, I want to see narrative be the focus of development. I still remember reading an article discussing Visceral Games’ design principles for the first Dead Space. I was so impressed by their mission statement in approaching that game. I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to play it before seeing a single trailer, because it’s not my genre, but I absolutely respected and applauded the studio for the way they viewed and handled that project. EA disagrees with my sentiments about game development.

Dante's Inferno

Visceral Games was in the midst of making a plot focused, linear Star Wars action, adventure game. In other words, they were making exactly the type of game that true Star Wars game fans want to see made. Not some shitty never ending MMO. Not a time sink, loot box, pew pew extravaganza. They were making a proper narrative based Star Wars game tied directly to the lore of the current Star Wars film universe. EA decided that such a game was no longer worth making. In fact they basically implied that single player, plot based games in general are no longer worth making.

“Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe,” EA’s Patrick Söderlund said in a blog post. “In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.”

-Pulled from an article on Kotaku

EA Kills SP

So in honest terms what Patrick Söderlund is saying is basically Visceral Games was making a video game that people wanted to play and then EA decided that because it wasn’t a Games as Service model that they could lace with loot boxes, open world multiplayer, and additional DLC with no real bearing on the plot, they decided to cancel it. This is a big problem. This is basically a declaration that from now on any game that doesn’t play like Star Wars Battlefront II, with its egregious loot box system and paltry 5 – 7 hour campaign, will no longer be made/published by EA. Furthermore, any studios that are trying to make standalone linear plot based games under EA will be shut down.

I don’t need to go into the ethics of this issue. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before about how single player campaigns literally built EA and the rest of the industry and that publishers choosing to blatantly discount the opinions of the consumers that funded the industry in order to trick kids into spending thousands of dollars on loot boxes is wrong. I don’t need to tell you not everyone wants to play crappy console MMOs with no real end game. Or that not everyone in the United States, much less the world, has a good enough internet connection to enjoy shared world games. You’ve heard all that before. I don’t even want to take the time to give one of my grandiose speeches about voting with your wallet and all that because clearly, just like with the United States Presidential Election, your vote doesn’t matter. If one person is going to spend $15,000 on Mass Effect 3 cards, why would EA ever consider the opinions of anyone other than MP addicted whales? $15,000 is 250 $60 vanilla game sales, not including tax. That $15,000 in loot boxes is tax free from the consumer side, meaning EA swallowed the whole amount. If any publisher only has to market to one 250th of the gaming population to turn a higher profit then of course they are not going to make the games the masses want to play anymore. Your lousy $60 and angry tweet is worth shit compared to that one guy who keeps shoveling in money like a gambling addict. I won’t be surprised if one day in the near future we see someone like Steve Wynn enter the gaming industry. It’s gotta be easier and more profitable than running a casino at this point. So there’s just no reason for me to give a rally cry for boycotting.

EA Slot Machine

 

What I think is more important to talk about is what this means for us as single player campaign gamers. I don’t mean that in the philosophical sense about how we’re essentially being pushed out of the industry that we bought and paid for with our hard earned money and that of our parents. I mean in a more literal sense let’s talk about what it means that EA isn’t making single player campaigns anymore today. Electronic Arts is a huge empire of a publisher. They currently own 33 operating development studios around the world. They’ve shut down 28 studios. They’ve almost got a negative studio success rate and it hasn’t affected their bottom line at all. But that’s not even the important part of the discussion. The problem here is all the single player IPs that EA owns the rights to that are now either dead in the water or destined to be bastardized into some shitty multiplayer, microtransaction experience with at best a shitty campaign of no substance. Let’s look at the list of just single player, plot focused games/franchises that I believe are important. I’m sure I’ll leave things out that you think should be included.

  1. Dragon Age
  2. Mass Effect
  3. Knight of the Old Republic and Star Wars in general
  4. Mirror’s Edge
  5. Medal of Honor
  6. James Bond
  7. Crysis
  8. Dead Space
  9. Dante’s Inferno
  10. Wing Commander
KOTOR 3
I used to have hope but now it’s finally gone.

That’s 10 franchises known for single player, plot based experiences. It does not include the many other games/franchises that have a multiplayer component that many people still purchase for the single player experience such as Battlefield, Need for Speed, and I’m going to include Rock Band, but I’m happy to remove it if that offends people. This doesn’t even include the various games they publish for third party developers such as Titanfall, Alice, Bullet Storm, Brutal Legend, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and several others. Some of the greatest single player franchises ever made now belong to EA. That’s a sickening thought in the wake of this news. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and KOTOR are three of the best Western RPG franchises money has ever been able to buy. Those are gone now. At worst they don’t exist anymore. At best they’re no longer the great story driven gameplay experiences they once were. Either way it’s a terrible prospect for long standing gamers like me. Add that to the fact that me choosing not to buy their shitty future games in protest won’t do anything and that’s a terrible reality to have to look forward to. If anything the best thing we can do is actually buy their games and not purchase any of the microtransactions to make a statement about the way we want to play and pay for games. But that still means giving EA money they don’t deserve and it still doesn’t deal with the greedy whale problem. At this point it’s not just a losing battle, it’s a lost battle. The cause is already defeated. I for one am very depressed by that and don’t actually know what to do moving forward as a traditional gamer of more than 20 years. All we can really do is hope other developers/publishers keep some form of integrity. Japanese studios seem to be better about this overall but even Nintendo has started pulling some real bullshit.

I thought it was appropriate to end this post with a list of single player, plot based games I plan on buying in the next six months.

the witcher 3
You can’t beat the best and we all know single player is the absolute best in gaming.
  1. The Witcher 3
  2. Nioh
  3. Horizon Zero Dawn
  4. The Surge
  5. Cuphead
  6. Assassin’s Creed Origins
  7. South Park: The Fractured But Whole
  8. God of War
  9. Knack II
  10. Yooka Laylee
  11. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  12. Mario Odyssey
  13. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  14. Shadow of War?

Are you as unhappy about this as I am? What single player games are you most worried about?

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Character Creators Kill Characters

This is an awkward time in game development. It’s a moment where more people than ever before are playing video games. No longer is it realistic to claim that any one group, gender, race, religion, or country makes up the majority of gamers. The gaming community now contains people from all walks of life from just about every country in the world. There are arguments about which markets matter the most based on size, but as far as actual gaming audience is concerned, it’s pretty much everybody.

This diverse array of gamers is a good thing for many reasons. But because of the selfish narcissism of most people, especially gamers, we’re also seeing some terrible repercussions because of this diversity. Today, more than ever before, people (not just gamers) have gotten it into their head that they matter a majority of the time. Things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have given everyone a voice and for some reason that has led every asshole with a smartphone into believing that their opinions matter and that all works of entertainment should be tailor made for them specifically. And when it’s not made for them they whine, organize, riot, and literally destroy people’s careers and lives.

Your Opinion Big

I’m not talking about any one particular group here. Because so many groups are guilty of this new brand of arrogance. White men, homosexuals, racial minorities, women, and so on. All these groups and many more have on numerous recent occasions complained about a specific game or the industry as a whole simply because it did something they didn’t like or didn’t focus on their identifying group. Even not including a particular group in a game can cause an uproar. The problem with all this is that it has led many developers to try to work around the problem in ways that are easy and shown to be effective for basically all types of gamers. For me one of the worst ways this is being done today is with character creators.

Character creators are an interesting problem because they come from the best intentions. In many ways they’re the perfect form of escapism. When a game has a good character creator, you can literally put yourself in the game or be whoever you want to be. The problem is that this is mostly superficial. Let me clarify that moving forward, all mention of games in this post will refer to plot based campaigns. Multiplayer PVP scenarios are pretty much irrelevant to this particular discussion other than in the fact that they only add to the problem I’ll be addressing in a roundabout way. Multiplayer plot based campaigns are completely relevant though and definitely should be considered when thinking about this topic.

TLoU

Arguably the most important thing about a plot based campaign is the story. I said story there instead of plot because there is a difference. A game can have an amazing plot but if the story isn’t told right then the experience of the campaign will ultimately fail. The way a story is told, the way the characters interact, and the reasons behind why things happen in a story are all important parts of the experience. Think about any game with a good story and imagine if things where presented differently. Let’s use The Last of Us as an example. A game that’s often championed for having such an amazing story. Now imagine for a second if the game had done just a few things differently. All other things being equal, how would people have responded to the story if Joel had lost a son instead of a daughter, it’s revealed that Ellie will have to die to save the world at the beginning of the game, and/or Joel was Asian instead of Caucasian? I think most people would agree that while the gameplay would still be good and the plot would still be interesting, the overall experience of the story would be much less powerful if even just one of those three proposed changes had taken effect. The drama of the story comes from the fact that Joel and Ellie connect on a familial level because she reminds him of his deceased daughter. And the fact that he believes the world can be saved without her having to die from the beginning is what allows that connection to form by the end, literally sacrificing the rest of the world as a consequence of that connection. But in a scenario where you could create your own character, that story would be considerably less powerful.

Joels Daughter Dying

Joel and Ellie aren’t blood relatives. It would have been completely believable and possible for a Black, Asian, Latino or member of any other ethnic group, man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual to be put in the scenario of Joel. The story is that random survivor is tasked with escorting a random girl across the country. Either character could have been any mixture of identifiers and the story would still make perfect sense. But any significant change of profile could drastically reduce the impact of their relationship and by extension story. Therein lays the problem with character creators. They hurt the story in a game. Because no matter much effort a developer tries to make a character neutral story, it will never be as good as a targeted narrative. It’s literally impossible to do.

Modern Tomb Raider games are so powerful because of the vulnerability assumed by a young Lara Croft, a Caucasian female from a wealthy family whose biggest problem was losing her father at a young age. Imagine how much less impressive the character would be if she was a South American boy from Brazil who grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Now I’m not saying that a great story couldn’t be told starring a Brazilian male from humble beginnings. I’m just saying that the impact of the story in moments where men trapped on an island capture the character and threaten various physical abuses wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if he was the protagonist. That’s what storytelling is: Putting characters in situations that are impactful for them, not you. You as the audience are supposed to put yourself in the shoes of the character. Not the other way around.

Lara Captured

The problem with plot based games using character creators is that either the game is written for a specific character/audience, usually a heterosexual Caucasian male, and then blanket applied to all created characters regardless of important details like race, gender, and sexuality, or the game is written in such a way that nothing personal ever happens. Take Far Cry 5, which I can’t wait to play. The story of a deputy going into rural Montana to stop a predominantly, if not exclusively, White cult that is literally kidnapping and sacrificing people to their image of God. The game will have a character creator that will allow for male and female characters of any race. Now I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume that if I, an African American male, walked into rural Montana today that I would probably be treated differently than either a Caucasian or Latino male and even more differently than a female of any race. And if that part of Montana was being run by a redneck cult, I believe that would be even more noticeable. Unless of course the cult genuinely has no preferences for their victims because their god told them that all people who aren’t in the cult need to be equally discriminated against and they were all pure and true believers/followers. But let’s be honest and admit that all people would not have the exact same experience walking into rural Montana. Having not yet played the game, I cannot say for sure if Ubisoft has done anything to differentiate the experiences of created avatars based on race and gender among other identifiers in this newest Far Cry. But I can say that in general most games don’t. Especially those from Ubisoft. I played The Division as a Black male. I didn’t experience anything that called attention to the race of my character. Sure the game is set in a post-apocalyptic virus state but it’s still New York City. Someone would say something about race at some point. They wrote the story as if all people are exactly the same. For the most part, that’s what happens in games with character creators. And it’s the least effective means of storytelling a majority of the time.

cover

Some companies do put in the time to at least try to differentiate characters you create in their games. BioWare, specifically with Dragon Age, is a good example of this. The ability to choose things like origin, species (which is different from race in reality), and sexual preference all help to differentiate the gameplay experience of each player and try to tailor an experience relevant to their avatar. And they do a decent job. But part of the reason they get away with it is that they create games with scenarios where human differentiation doesn’t really make sense. In both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, you have multiple species of people living among each other. There are prejudices. There are questions about species mixing and sexuality. There are ethical and moral issues that players are forced to make decisions about and then hear the opinions about these choices from various NPCs. But none of these moments take into account current real life human experiences, because they don’t really have to. People today may differentiate based on skin color, but I can guarantee you that if tomorrow five other sentient species of alien races started living on this planet basically all people would stop seeing human race as an issue. You’re not gonna think twice about the Black guy down the block endangering your neighborhood when your next door neighbor is a giant walking lizard that can lift you off the ground and rip you in half. Human racism makes no sense in these scenarios. Hell, it barely makes sense in current real life scenarios. The games still have racism, but it’s never between members of the same species.

DAI Character Creator

That’s how BioWare chose to deal with the problem of balancing out character creators and narrative. It works, but not every game has aliens and sentient non-human races. That trick won’t work in Far Cry 5. That game will most likely just suffer from bland character experiences and rely heavily on the enemies being so interesting that you ignore the fact that your own character is having a pretty much vanilla experience. What’s sad though is that people are happily championing the spread of character creators in games. All these minority groups are happily accepting White male characters with coats of paint rather than demanding games with plots written for their group. For me that’s a problem, not only because I do want to see more actual games starring Black protagonists but also because I play games for the story. And I don’t like bland plots that aren’t personal. In a PVP scenario I love creating my own character. In a game that pretty much has no real story like Dark Souls, character creators are fine because that’s pretty much all gameplay anyway. But when a company is trying to sell me a plot as the main selling point of the game, I expect a well written, personal, and realistic story. That story doesn’t have to be about someone I personally identify with, but it needs to be good. But there’s the rub. Most people today don’t seem to have my open minded tolerance for games that aren’t made for them specifically. They would prefer superficial experiences where they can take screenshots of their avatar looking the way they want so they can post them on Twitter rather than experiencing an Oscar worthy narrative. For me that’s a problem.

Dark Souls Character

The issue of diversity in video games is definitely an important one. But I would never agree that it’s so important that general quality of single player campaigns should go down as a result of trying to fix that issue. Instead I think this should be seen as an opportunity for developers of all sizes to make more games with more variation between them. Rather than try to make a game for everyone that no one will love. Make everyone their own game and everyone should be happy with their one game (a year). Not every game needs to be for everyone and not every group needs to be represented in every game. Instead when groups are represented in games it should be done to the highest possible quality and realism. That’s why for me the modern proliferation of character creators in games isn’t a good thing. I’ll take one well written game starring a Black guy over five empty games where I can pretend the character is a Black guy any day. Thoughts?

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Time For A Good (Far) Cry

Let me start off by saying that this post will most likely offend some people. As always, it is not my intention to offend but to speak honestly and openly about my opinions concerning the gaming industry and occasionally, as with this post, how certain topics in gaming are affected by the wider world.

There has been a lot of buzz after several reveals about Far Cry 5. In all honesty I’m not actually a fan of the Far Cry franchise. I own Blood Dragon because I got it for free. But I have never once played it or had the slightest interest in doing so. I also purchased the Apex Edition of Far Cry Primal, but that was on sale and my reasons for purchasing it are almost exactly the same reasons that I haven’t had any interest in any of the ones in the main series up until now. And to be perfectly honest, I haven’t actually taken the time to play Far Cry Primal as of yet. My interest in Primal was mainly because of the animals. I really liked the idea of being a beast master and after watching some gameplay footage of the player commanding animals to do his bidding I was sold. But just as important was the fact that this wasn’t a gun game. In fact it’s set in a time where guns didn’t and couldn’t exist. I have little interest in gun games and FPS is my least favorite of the shooting genre. But the main reason I’ve avoided the core Far Cry games until now is the narratives.

primal

Far Cry, in the main series, is traditionally about some guy going to some remote place where he has no business being and saving the natives. More often than not this ends up being a white man shooting up minorities but there have been some moments in the franchise where that wasn’t the case or didn’t necessarily have to be. Far Cry 4 makes the biggest departure from this by having you play as a Himalayan man fighting other Himalayans under the dictatorship of an insane Hong Kong gangster. Though I have to say that without looking it up, Pagan Min comes off totally white. At the same time though the game is still about a guy traveling off to somewhere remote that he doesn’t belong because the protagonist doesn’t actually live in the Himalayas. He was just visiting the motherland to bury his mother who actually was from there. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with plots about people, of any color, travelling to a faraway land to shoot up the locals. While some people might get offended by games like Resident Evil 5 (2009) where a white man goes to Africa and kills a bunch of Black people, I just find it rather boring. The entire idea is overplayed. As an African American who no longer lives in America, I for the most part find the narrative concept of an American travelling to faraway lands to better the lives of the locals to be hacky and unoriginal. The fact that it’s so common place says a lot about the American gaming market.

far cry series

What I have always found the most interesting is that this issue of making games where Americans, mostly white men, travel to other places and kill the locals is a strictly American concept. Games with protagonists from other countries don’t commonly do this. Or at least not to the same degree in the same way. Games from Japan are usually not set in realistic places or they weirdly enough make the game about Americans. Look at Metal Gear Solid for instance. A Japanese studio, led by a Japanese man, makes a super long, iconic franchise about a white guy(s) doing a bunch of stuff in Russia and the USA. The only times they aren’t in white countries is when white villains have traveled to other places like South America (Peace Walker) and Afghanistan (MGS5) to start shit up. Games starring Europeans, like Assassin’s Creed, tend to have characters go about their adventures in their homelands. Ezio finally leaves Europe for Constantinople after two other full length games. That was more of a need to make the story interesting than a cultural thing. And at the time of the game Constantinople had a lot of European influence due to the Turkish Empire’s reach so it’s still a pretty reasonable location for him to go. A lot of Japanese games do this as well by recreating periods in their own history or at least other Asian countries they’re closely tied to. It’s only games starring American protagonists that commonly create plots where people from a country, again usually white, travel to other places and try to “save” those savage, primitive races from themselves. It’s that idea coupled with the same old FPS gameplay that turned me off of all the previous Far Cry titles.

white protags big

The upcoming Far Cry 5 is a different story. Now I am not saying that this is the first/only game like this, but I can’t think of any AAA examples from earlier in my life (almost 25 years of gaming) that are this real and relevant to me as an American. Ubisoft may not make the best games in the world, but in recent years they sure do know how to pick a culturally relevant setting. This latest Far Cry is set in modern day Montana. And by modern day I mean like today. There’s no zombie apocalypse. There’s no coming out of the vault 100+ years after a nuclear war. There’s no disease that killed off most of the country. It’s just everyday racist 2017 USA. But it’s about a real problem with a real villain. GTAV may be in a realistic setting and it may have believable characters, but it’s not really about some larger social issue. It’s just the story of three guys trying to survive as best as they can. It’s a small story. It’s a personal story. Far Cry 5 seems to be about real life problems plaguing the entire USA today. And this isn’t about some visitor from a faraway land coming to help the locals. The playable character isn’t even from another state. You’re a local deputy. Sure you can choose your skin color in this one, but let’s all be honest and admit that in the real life scenario this Montana deputy is almost assuredly a white man.

This is a game where the developer asks the American market to take up weapons against their own kind. And not as monsters, mutants, or hypnotized victims. As normal gun toting, red blooded, Trump supporting Americans. There’s no other AAA like this and there has never been a time in this country where a game of this budget from a franchise of this level of established credibility has put American gamers in this position. This will be an experience like no other for everyone. White American players will be forced to actually sympathize with the enemies on the screen. Minorities will on some level finally get to experience what it’s like to be a white American male gamer. I can’t see myself not playing this game. And you can damn sure bet I’m gonna use a Black avatar. This whole experience sounds nuts. Honestly it’s sad that in 2017 such an experience sounds so off the deep end because it means that such experiences aren’t a normal part of gaming. I can list off tons of games where you kill enemies of any other race in various countries in various time periods. But when it comes to white American enemies, it’s basically never in a realistic setting. It’s a dystopian future or zombies or aliens pretending to be humans or some other such mumbo jumbo to defuse the situation. This will be a definite first for so many gamers out there around the world.

fishing in montana

Now I’m not one to usually support politics in games, but that’s only a half truth. What I have an issue with is people inserting politics into games that aren’t political for their own grandstanding and agendas. For example, making Street Fighter V a discussion about sexism and female objectification is stupid. Trying to argue that the Mario Bros. franchise is an example of how people have been indoctrinated with sexism is just unfounded and generally ridiculous. Note I’m not saying that issues like sexism aren’t real issues. I’m merely saying that people tend to insert politics into games unnecessarily and often unrightfully because games and gamers are an easy target. So in those cases I’m all for the “keep politics out of games” argument. But when a game actually is political and intentionally is written about real political issues, especially in a realistic modern setting like in the case of Far Cry 5, then I’m all for it. If you go into Far Cry 5 thinking it won’t be or shouldn’t be political then you’re an idiot and you’re playing the wrong games. This is a political game and the entire experience, both in and out of the game, will be and should be political.

games and politics

This will be a highly polarizing and political experience. I can already see some of the things that are going to happen. Live streams and YouTube videos of Mexican avatars killing white people. Fox News doing stories about how this game promotes domestic terrorism and violence against white Americans. Various hate groups and media arguing that the game paints hard working lower and middle class Americans in an unfair light. Trump will probably make a statement about the game at some point. I won’t be surprised if it gets banned in certain cities or even states. It’s become that kind of America. It’s gonna be a circus and I’m totally in support of that.

I’ve already seen a lot of people online saying that a game like this is inappropriate right now. I disagree. I think a game like this is most appropriate right now. It’s when things like this actually are happening that it matters most. It’s when people are already talking about this sort of thing and these sorts of fears that it matters most to make a game or movie discussing these issues. What I like most about what I’ve read so far is that the game is not taking extreme positions against religion or targeting certain races. It’s specifically villainizing extremism. A lot of people today are altogether anti-religious and think religion is the problem with American conservatives. But that’s an oversimplification of the issue. Supposedly this debate comes up in the game through the fact that you’re fighting a religious cult, but one of your main helpers in the game is a Black pastor. I really like this move because it shows that Ubisoft has really put some thought into how they want to portray these serious issues in current American politics.

religion far cry 5

Now I’m prematurely giving Ubisoft a lot of credit for things that haven’t happened yet. It is extremely possible, and very likely based on their recent track record, that this game will only scratch the surface and then quickly fizzle out. The studio is great at picking settings. But they aren’t great at writing full-fledged stories. Take a game like Watch Dogs. Great premise, lackluster delivery. Every Assassin’s Creed since like three, if I’m being nice, has a similar problem. Great settings coupled with terrible writing. I’m also not expecting much from the gameplay. It’s gonna pretty much be the same FPS experience they always deliver with a couple new bells and whistles. I’m playing this game strictly for the plot and I’m hoping they don’t screw it up. They need to write an amazing, fully developed, powerful story and not pull any punches. If they just deliver that I’ll be happy. Also the game has coop and I’ve already planned to play it with my Mexican friend. A Black guy and a Mexican guy killing rednecks in the backwoods of America. That sounds like a YouTube series to me.

Now I know I went a little overboard in certain places in this post, but I was trying to drive home a point that too many Americans still don’t seem to get. I’m hoping Far Cry 5 is good and if it is good I believe it can do a lot to bridge that gap. Or start another Civil War. Both are totally possible in the current political climate.

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