Reflections on my graduation from university

I plan to do plenty of writing concerning the false dichotomies that so permeate our understanding of the world, of the various forms of the Lucifer or morning star archetype throughout the world that I had not yet thought about, and some Mythological Spotlights in the future, among various other topics. But first, as something of a break from the content desert on this web blog, I have decided to a little write-up over the fact of my graduation from university.

As of yesterday I have finished four years of studying game design as a Masters graduate, and have thus earned a degree. Naturally I’m pretty happy with this. In addition to this, I’ve been getting confirmation of my marks back before graduation and I’ve earned First class marks for my final module. I’ve often given myself a hard time over the work that I do in university, frankly I still think a lot of the practical work that I’ve done isn’t as good as some of the other students, but to have worked my way up to graduating with a first class grade shows me that I have very little reason to be down about my academic achievement. I mean, sure, a lot of the reason I got the high marks was my written work more than my practical work – in fact, it’s my written reports associated with the modules that ensure a reasonably high overall average with my marks a lot of the time – but hey, a great result’s a great result. And, I think it seems to be evidence enough that the path of diligence and dedication to academic study has paid off.

So at this point you might be wondering by now what I’m going to be doing now that I’ve graduated. Well, obviously I hope to move out of my home town in the not too distant future, but that’s going to require me to get a reliably steady source of living income going my way. But I am ambitious at this point in time, and I’ve got pretty big plans for what I want to do with myself. During my final academic year I arrived upon the idea of setting up an enterprise of some kind that would focus on narrative writing for the video game industry. In terms of the specifics, this means setting up a company to handle story-writing for small game developers, as well as numerous other services involving my writing. This service centers around writing specific documents that record every detail of a given game’s universe as applicable to story and world information. This was going to be a simple limited company at first, but as 2018 began to roll in, and my worldview began to change with it, I decided I want to do something even more unique and challenging: take that enterprise and organize it as an author’s cooperative. This basically means that we’d be running as a company competing in the market, but instead of just having it be me calling all of the shots, I work as part of a jointly-organized enterprise as a part of a collective of people with similar talent and interest, with each participant getting some say in how we organize.

You might think this is a strange road to go down, but for me it’s arguably a logical extensive of game design as an inherently collaborative principle. I mean, let me put it like this: a single game project is not just the product of one man or woman, and the course of a game project is not simply the result of the will of one particular designer. Each project is a product of a conglomeration of designers and artists pooling their skills together , and in the industry itself you also find the finished product is also effected by producers and market forces. I learned this very early on when studying game design, when I learned of how game designers aren’t the kind of purely artistic bohemians licensed to venture into the realm of individual imagination and individual production alone, and for about a month this revelation almost drove me to transfer to an illustration course because I thought it wasn’t what I wanted. Thank gods for the program director setting me straight at the time. Who knows what might have happened otherwise. But anyways, it makes sense to me that game design should be seen as a collaborative effort, which means that working as part of a team, or a collective, is not a taboo or a source of oppression.

However, I do feel that the current model within the games industry still ultimately disempowers the true creatives – that is, the people who lay at the heart of the design process in every project, the designers – as in the current industrial environment you the biggest and most successful game projects are shaped so much by market pressures. And not just them either. I have seen the Shin Megami Tensei game franchise that I love become debased within the last three years or so by blatant attempts to chase the kind of shonen anime tropes that are all too easy to sell in the Japanese market, and I think a lot of it is down to the higher ups over at SEGA (who now own Atlus, the company that develops and publishes those games). With the model I aim for at least, I aim to bring more power to the designer, or rather the designing team, to do more than just go with the flow of the market. Of course, we could say something about the limits of what we can do within the current system, and what to do about that, but I think we can skip that for now.

Anyways, this is going to take a lot of groundwork: I need to lay out the overall foundation of the enterprise and I’ll need to find people who might work with me in forming it. Not to mention, getting funding for such a project. However, there’s a positive twist to that. Even though I’ve already graduated, I can still visit my careers advisor who can potentially link me up with a pool of talent from my university in my corner of the world, but I have until September to make the most of this opportunity.

Going forward, this all means I’m going to be focusing on my material standing at least for the time being, to form a creative enterprise and make a life for myself. I will try to write some articles for this blog in the coming months, but let’s be real it’ll probably be in a kind of an as and when sort of thing – if I get up to writing and releasing posts here, I will, but if not, I won’t – and this will likely be influenced by me trying to, as I just said, make a life for myself.

For now though, I think I’m going to have a fairly easy week and weekend, just to chill out from graduation. I already had some fun last night with some ciders in celebration, but there’s room for a few more drinks, and play some games as I do (hey, what’s a game designer if he can’t play games?).

An interesting exercise for the holidays

With my winter holidays less than a week away, I’d like to talk about an exercise that one of the lecturers suggested for us in university that could be done over the holidays. This exercise centers around a question that all good game designers are meant to answer: what does the player do? The question itself is not necessarily about what the main character does in the context of a story, but chiefly concerning player actions within a game, what the player is able to do within the game world.

This exercise consists of the following steps:

  1. Take a game idea you have and the main protagonist, and write down some answers to the general question.
  2. Look at the challenges you want to design for primary gameplay, beginning with basic, low-level challenges that tend to be encountered by the player on a regular basis (like defeating enemies for instance).
  3. Consider the intermediate and then higher-level challenges in gameplay, and whether or not they can be met by previously defined player actions or whether or not they require additional actions for the player.
  4. Consider options unrelated to gameplay that you may want to make available to the player.
  5. When a comprehensive list of actions has been created for the primary gameplay mode, repeat for all other gameplay modes.
  6. When a comprehensive list of actions has been created for all modes of gameplay, you can user interfaces for each mode.

My plan is to do this for a few game ideas that I have, including the subject of a game design document to be made next semester (providing all goes well after my assessments at the end of this semester), as well as do this for my alter ego character and his universe. May or may not post the results of the alter ego character going through this process. I think it might be interesting to go through this exercise and see how my understanding of constructing game ideas develops, and how it could potentially affect their future development, or how it generally affects my understanding of imagining characters.

Luciferianism, game design, and the reasons we play video games

This is a post I have been wanting to write while I was still completing my first year of university. I know this must seem like a strange pattern of subjects to write about, but as a games design student, I attended lectures on game design and the history of video games and can expect to attend more in the next two years, and I felt a strange insight about video games from these lectures in relation to human nature, Luciferianism, and my own desires and beliefs.

To get started on this post, let me tell you about some important reasons why people play video games. Here are the reasons as I have learned:

  • The desire for challenge: A common motivation for playing single-player games, but is not limited to solitary gameplay. Video games have a way of forcing players to think actively and try a number of solutions in order to overcome problems and beat the game. Players can also go through learning experiences and benefit from them, even if only within the context of a game. People enjoy the learning process in games so long as it’s fun and helps them attain some kind of mastery. Often times, people define themselves by the challenges they face and overcome, and in a way video games fulfill the desire of humans to test themselves, face adversity, emerge as victors, and attain mastery.
  • The social experience: This is especially true with the rise of both casual gaming and online play, but even back in the days when playing video games wasn’t usually considered a valid social activity, people could still come and visit friends to play video games with each other, often in competition with each other. Multiplayer gaming has always been endearing ever since its early days, and the chief reason is the opportunity to interact with and compete with other people. It’s important to remember that human players are less predictable than artificial intelligence, so human players provide a different kind of challenge than playing against the game alone.
  • The solitary experience: While some players like the experience of playing video games with other people, other people prefer to play by themselves. They may be seeking a dynamic experience that they can engage, and in this regard video games are unique in the ability to provide a form of interaction with the medium itself that simply can’t be obtained from reading books or watching movies.
  • The emotional experience: This is something that people who play video games sometimes want out of games for the same reasons as the solitary experience, and something that video games have become much more capable of in different ways, and the emotions evoked from playing video games can be just as strong as from other media, if not more so. This is because video games are simply more immersive and more personally involving than other media. Unlike other forms of artistic media, you as the player are centrally involved in the experience that you have chosen to invest in.
  • The desire for bragging rights: Competition is an important part of why we play games, and not just video games either. The desire to win respect or brag about your achievements is also a part of playing video games, just as it is with sports. In the days of arcade gaming, kids could work towards getting the highest score possible to show to others and earn respect and the right to brag about it, and when fighting games got into the arcades, kids would learn to execute special moves within the games that required the input of complex sequences of button commands, and when they learned to do so they could show it off to their peers. Showing off has always been a part of playing video games with other people. It provides a sense of accomplishment and pride, which also induces a significant sense of self. Hell, where would hardcore gaming be today without it? In online and mobile gaming, that’s the reason leaderboards exist. In the seventh generation of console gaming, the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Steam let you earn achievements (termed trophies in Sony’s consoles) on your account for completing certain objectives or challenges, and these also serve as a form of bragging or showing off to others. It’s not just about getting certain achievements, but also about how many achievements you get.
  • The desire to explore: Exploring new spaces is a key reason for playing video games, particularly single-player games, and is the most important element of adventure games and role-playing games. This gets taken to a whole other level in games like Minecraft, which let you create a world of your own within the game and explore it. However not all games let you explore fantastical settings or simulations of other parts of the world. In general, games as a medium can let you explore any environment that would usually be inaccessible to you, even in a familiar setting, and it’s that desire, to see what the unknown might be like, that games also thrive on.
  • The desire to fantasize: Video games offer a form of escapism for most people from the world in which we live, and because they can be more immersive than movies and books and allow the player to get involved in the world they present, they have the power to really bring the player into a fictional world and allow them to fulfill fantasies within that world that they might not be able to in real life. Games allow people to engage in various forms of activity that the bounds of their social environment would normally never allow within a safe environment and without any negative consequences for the player. Some games put the player in a historical setting (or at least loosely historical) and allow the player to make choices that differ from the actual historical sequence of events, which would also alter our reality if they actually occurred, and in general allow the player to see history from a more fantastical viewpoint or potentially through their own eyes. Not all fantasy fulfillment involves violence or exotic settings: in a basic sense it means letting you do things you normally wouldn’t or can’t do even in familiar or real-world settings (like with skateboarding games for example; I guarantee you they can let you do things that no skateboarder can ever do in real life). Another aspect of fantasy fulfillment is content creation, particularly character creation. Games that let you create a character of your own let you truly extend yourself into the game and view the game world from your own eyes.

Good, properly designed video games grant the player the sensations of enjoyment, pleasure, involvement, wonder, challenge, accomplishment, mastery, and victory. From a Luciferian standpoint, these are all not only valid sensations, but they are all cherished, just as much as they might be in Satanism, or for that matter any truly life-affirming philosophy. I feel Luciferianism particularly prizes individual mastery for the self, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with video games inspired mastery in the individual.

Now, I’m not going to settle simply on why people play video games. I’ll tell you what I know about game design itself. Game design itself isn’t for the faint-hearted and the path of game design will challenge the commitment and intellect of potential designers. Making a good game, let alone a great game, means you have to understand why people play video games, why you play video games, and what players expect when they’re playing games, and how to design a functional, structured, and consistent game world, and you’ll also need to learn things outside of video games as well for the sake of design. You also need to overcome adversity not just in the actual workload, but in dealing with other people. For me, group work can be a horrible thing to deal with in game design. In fact, a lot of times I feel it could one day turn into a death sentence for my ambitions in that line of work. But I feel that there’s a balance to be cultivated: you have to realize that one person can’t design a great game alone (at least a game that’s going to sold anyway) and that you will have to work with others in order, and since you’re working with others then you’re working on a project that everyone has to be interested in, but you can’t give in to pure group mentality all the same. I feel a skill worth cultivating might be the ability to work with other people and communicate with them while still not being weighed down by the when others lack the effort and instead focusing on your skills, your talent, and what you feel you can do within the group to make something great. Understand that you have a role in designing the game, and it is your talents that contribute to the whole, without feeling sublimated by the group. I suggest trying to think of it as though you are a member of a band: in a band, you’re in a group of people who have to work together in order to make music, but your talents are important to the band all the same and you’ll be recognized for your talents, and if you were any good then it’d be you those talents people seeking to do your thing will have to learn from. It’s a balance that I guarantee most people might not see themselves achieving, especially if their among the people who just plain hate dealing with people, and I don’t even know if I will prove to be good enough to cultivate that, but if you want to be a game designer you have to learn this. If you’re a Luciferian, then take this as a form mastery, and embrace the glory that comes with that success. I feel a Luciferian can also greatly appreciate the learning process, the balance the individual has to achieve between remaining an individual and dealing with the group (and the challenge of keeping that balance), and the thought that they are creating something that stokes the desires of the individual and inspires their imaginations. Even if not everyone who plays games will think deeply about the motives that drive them to play games in the first place, we may inspire others to become game designers and lead them to discover this themselves, or better yet we may teach them ourselves.

I’d also like to go an record stating that the true talent of game designers is exercising the powers of order and intellect to create a structural game world governed by rules of play and bringing that world to life with the chaos of creativity and imagination. It should be obvious what we try to bring together by doing so, and I feel that in Luciferianism we strive to do the same thing. And in our future careers, we will enter into a world that reflects the natural world: a world ruled by competition and ambition, where designers must try and come out on get their work seen, bought, and played in order to succeed and make a living. I think survival in that world takes knowledge, talent, creativity, and the same burning desire that motivated the history of the industry as a whole: ambition. Throughout the history of video games, companies have started out with the goal of making money by creating video games, and they have survived by trying to do something of their own, something unique, something different from what everyone else was doing, because they really wanted to make video games and because they knew that doing something different meant potentially gaining a competitive edge over every over company.

The history of video games also has a few lessons to teach in general outside design: it enticed me early in my course because it showed me the exciting power of competition that fueled video games as a medium, with different companies each rising to become a dominant force. It almost felt like reading about historical warfare. But the early days of video games were also full of lawsuits, with different companies suing the other companies in for various reasons (often over copyright infringement, and other because some companies feeling the other companies were unfairly cutting into each others’ profits). I devoted a whole report to the subject of the legal battles that frequently happened between video game companies from the 1970’s right up to the early 1990’s, simply because I was enticed by the themes of competition and conflict that such legal battling between early video game companies represented to me. It’s important to remember, however, that these were tumultuous times for the games industry. Companies we know today, such as Nintendo, Sega, and Activision, were butting heads at each to come out on top and suing each other sometimes for petty reasons, costing all these companies a lot of profit in the process and generally creating a hectic climate for the industry. In fact, all the heated legal rivalry that happened in the early 1980’s was one the important factors that eventually led to the notorious video games crash of 1983 that almost destroyed the young video game market. Thinking back, the moral of that state of affairs is one I’m quite familiar with: that competition is a force that drives us all forward, but if it’s uncontrolled then it can go haywire and lead to disorder and turmoil. In Luciferianism, we see greed, pride, lust, indeed all the natural drives that are feared as sinful as natural motivators of the individual, but we also know that we cannot let them become unbalanced and destructive so we embrace the power of order, reason, and honor within ourselves reign in and bring balance.

I don’t know if I’ll still end up on the path of game design in the future even after having written all this: it is a hard road ahead and I have a whole 3-year course to survive before I can feel I’m good enough. But I do feel like this understanding may turn out to be an excellent solution to the challenge of coping with the course as it gets harder to deal with and complete.

The rich symbolism of my alter ego

Over a month ago I have been writing about my alter ego character in a notebook. Apparently I’ve given him a lot of rich symbolism pertaining to his character and his purpose in the world he is a part of. I write about my character on this blog for the pleasure of it, and because I feel the stuff I have written has been insightful enough that it merits mention. I have been working on this character for a long time, and through this time I have also found things about myself and my beliefs, so this character is very important to me. And I apologize in advance if it’s too long for you to read.

First, some background: He is a warrior, adventurer, treasure hunter, and protector of the world he lives in from the  has the power of fire; both the fire that brings light and the fire of demons. He also has the ability to stay underwater as long as he wants so that he can swim like a free spirit beneath the waters, can eat a lot without getting fat, he has red eyes glowing in the dark, can open up a third eye for discovering hidden presences and pathways, and is abundant in spiritual energy. He can also access a kind of demonic super form. His birthmark is the Aum symbol written as a Siddham letter. He uses the powers associated with Satan and Chaos for the sake of righteous and heroic cause, and he always tries to do what’s right but also what he pleases. He’s a passionate, confident, and energetic young man who manages to never lose his youth, but he has a soft side if brought out by the right people, and lives in both indulgence and honor. Although he is also an intense and emotional character, he never seems to brood. He fights not out of any sense of duty or obedience, but out of his own instincts and because he wants to do it and believes in his actions. He’s basically a lot like me, or the kind of life I want to live. He’s one with that force of passion and chaos, and the primal fires, and he lives as a warrior with heat and light in his heart and the fabric of his being. He also shares my own ideas and beliefs, naturally, and looks like me except his look is perfectly executed. Aside from fighting and adventuring, he likes to eat, swim, love, treasure hunt, and rock, and he seems to get along well with wild animals.

Now that that’s over with, the symbolism and meaning that has become attached to the character.

Exhibit 1 – The birthmark

As I just mentioned, his birthmark is the Aum written in Siddham script. According to Hindu belief, the Aum represents infinite energy, God, and the divine. It also representsthe cycle of  life, death, and rebirth from Hindu belief, as representing by each phoneme A, U, and M respectively, though there is also A for life and Um (or Un) for death. The latter is represented by two varieties of Japanese temple guardians: the komainu (lion-dogs), and the Kongorikishi (wrath-filled muscular guardians of the Buddha). In both cases, one has its mouth open and the other has its mouth closed. The open mouth is A, and the closed mouth is Un or Um, which together mean life and death.

It’s meant to connect to the characters abundant personal energy, a trait which was also inspired by Ichigo Kurosaki from the anime Bleach. May also represent a connect with timeless energy and force. It’s also meant to denote my alter ego’s role as the protector of his own world. Take from that what you will…

Exhibit 2 – The colors red and black

Alex’s two colors are red and black, which naturally are also my favorite colors. To many, they mean either evil or anarchism, but those connotations are not present here. It started with Shin Megami Tensei, where they were the colors of the Chaos faction, which I aligned with, and they were also colors of another favorite video game character, Shadow the Hedgehog (who I freely confess made machine guns look cool). But since then more symbolism got attached to it.

In Balinese folklore, red, black, and white are the colors associated with a powerful witch demon Rangda, who was believed to be the queen of demons. Rangda’s colors are also attached to Kali, the Hindu goddess of time, change, destruction, and power, and Rangda is also believed to have been linked with Kali and Durga, the latter of which was the warrior mother goddess of victory over evil. Funny enough, while Rangda is seen in Balinese folklore as an evil demon, she was also seen as a protector in some parts of Bali, similar to Kali’s occasional representation as a protective goddess.

The demon queen Rangda

Speaking of demons, in Buddhist lore, the asuras (borrowed from Hindu lore) are depicted as red-skinned and the rakshasas (also Hindu in origin) are depicted with black skin, and both are vicious demons who, in Japan, were also tasked with protecting the Buddhist law. In Christian-influenced Western belief, Satan and his demons are commonly represented by the colors red and black, presumably because of their connection with sin, evil, lust, aggression, mystery, and darkness. It’s probably because of this that red and black have become so attached with Satanism (after all, it wouldn’t be Satanism without any conception of Satan now would it?). But there is still so much more to red and black here than just demons and Satan. In fact, the chief symbolism here is actually from Taoism.

In Taoism, there are the two natural principles of yin and yang, yin being the dark, passive, and mysterious principle, and yang being the bright, assertive, and magnetic principle. Yin is black and yang is white, but yang has also been represented as red, presumably because red represents qualities attached to the yang principle. Anyways, for Taoist belief, yin and yang must exist in harmony and as complimentary forces and do not exist as opposites that must triumph over each other. With that in mind, the key meaning is formed. Red means heat, force, and dynamism, while black means mystery, darkness, and space. Together, they actually represent energy in its most primordial form, and in the twin forces of heat and darkness. It could also represent light and darkness in union too, since fire brings light as well as heat.

Yin and yang

Black is generally associated with the occult, demons, the left hand, disaster, mystery, death, and chaos, but in some cultures it represents life. In Japan black means life, while white actually means death. In China, black is the color that represents the element of water for some reason. Black also points to Kali and the Buddhist Mahakala, who was a Buddhist incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva.  Red means heat, fire, vitality, passion, but in Japan it is also the traditional color of the hero and the color for expelling demons and illness (a bit ironic considering all this talk of demons from before), as well as the sun and summer. For my alter ego, red and black are the simplest symbols of his dual affinity for the bright power of fire and the dark power of the demons, for righteousness and vice, for the union of moral integrity and animal instinct, and for the directing of dark power and heat towards the pursuit of a just cause.

The theory of his color scheme is also evocative of Baphomet, not to be confused with Satan (though Satan does have influence here). Baphomet is a symbol of the union of or harmony between forces that are either opposite or mutually distinct. Thus Baphomet brings together the forces that I have mentioned throughout this section.

Exhibit 3 – The power of demons and chaos as a sword of righteousness

While the idea may have started with playing video games like Devil May Cry and Shin Megami Tensei, there are actually links to mythology and religious belief.

In Egypt, there is the god Set, who was the god of the desert and storms, and later evil and chaos. Even before the people of Egypt turned Set into a god of evil, he was seen as a wild, tumultuous, and sometimes hostile deity, but it is Set who protects the sun god Ra in the daily battle against Apep, the serpent of entropy and annihilation. Funny enough he was also seen as the lord of the red sands and Horus was the lord of the black soil. Set was also linked with the Semitic god Baal (or Hadad). In fact, there was a time when people from Western Asia, referred to as the Hyksos, ruled Egypt. They worshiped the storm god Baal, who became linked with the Egyptian storm god Seth, and they were both worshipped as Seth-Baal, sometimes in an almost monotheistic fashion, until the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt. Also, a friend and personal spiritual teacher of mine (who I remember as The Desolate One) told me a theory that when Set defeated Apep, he took on the power once linked with Apep, and that this is how he become the god of darkness, reviled as the god of evil. I think we both followed with the idea that Baal did the same after defeating Yam.

Set and Apep by badgersoph on Deviantart

As usual though, much of my inspiration comes from Asia, and there’s a lot of symbolism to be found in Buddhist lore. In Tibet, there are deities who seem vicious and demonic, to the point that those who first look upon them unaware of their role in the Buddhist faith would construe them as no different to demons. But in truth, they represent the violent reality of both the cosmos and the human mind, and they serve the purpose of protecting the Buddhist faith and practitioners, and  helping the practitioner attain enlightenment by clearing away the obstacles to enlightenment (at least from the Buddhist point of view). These beings are referred to as wrathful deities. They are based on violence and power, they have a violent nature and a demonic appearance, but they are not necessarily evil at all. In fact, they also symbolize the tremendous amount of effort and force needed to vanquish evil. In Japan, a similar term is Kishin, which means “fierce god” or “demon god”, and they are guardian gods.

vajrapani19
Vajrapani, an example of one of the wrathful deities

They are actually supposed to be benevolent, but their appearance is meant to instill terror into the forces of evil and drive them back, much like the appearance of gorgon heads on Greek temples or gargoyles on medieval Christian churches. It’s also interesting to note that some of these deities, according to tradition, were once the native gods or demons of the land prior to being defeated in magical combat with the guru Padmasambhava and converting to Buddhism. The only problem is this does mean these beings serve the Buddhist faith as a result of being defeated and subjugated by someone else, rather than by being convinced that it aligns with their own convictions.

The concept of demonic beings enlisted to protect the Buddhist faith is further expressed in Japanese Buddhism, though often it is after the demons are defeated or captured (such as with Fujin and Raijin). But that is not always the case. There is a story of a goddess named Hariti, who used to be a yaksha demon from Pakistan who killed human children in order to feed her hundreds of children. Siddhartha Gautama wanted to stop this so he hid one of her sons under a bowl, then he told Hariti that her suffering from losing one of her children cannot be compared to the suffering of all the mothers whose few children became her victims. Realizing the depth of her actions and feeling remorse for them, she converted to Buddhism and pledged to be the protector of children and childbirth, and promised to eat pomegranates instead of human children. Another story is the story of Atavaka, or Daigensui Myo-O as he is known in Japan. Similar to Hariti, Atavaka was once a child-eating yaksha demon, but after encountering Siddartha Gautama, he converted to Buddhism and become a yaksha king, protector of the southwest direction, and a vassal to the warrior deity Bishamonten. Atavaka was also considered the chief of all the spirits and demons protecting the land.

Japanese esoteric Buddhism also has a deity named Rastetsuten, who is considered one of the twelve devas who protect the four directions, the four semi-directions, the sun, the moon, up, and down. Rasetsuten protected the southwest direction of the heavens and was master of the rakshasa demons. In Hindu lore rakshasas were cannibalistic demons who practiced black magic, desecrated gravesites, disrupted sacrifices, and had venomous fingernails, but in Mahayana Buddhist texts they converted to Buddhism and served to protect the dharma. Another Hindu demon who takes on a protective role in Japanese Buddhism is the asura, who in Hinduism were previously considered demonic spirits who fought against the gods. In Buddhist lore they are merely semi-divine beings addicted to various passions, but most especially strife and conflict, though they are also capable of being virtuous and pious. In Vedic lore, the term asura was an epithet meaning “mighty” and referred to power and strength, and was attributed to various Vedic gods.

A rakshasa

Come to think of it, it seems demons have been a force of protection from evil and fighting evil, as well as promoting evil, destruction, and chaos, for a long time in many beliefs outside of Christianity, general Western culture, and Islam.

In some cultures, while snakes were associated with healing, wisdom, and fertility, even before Christianity they were also associated with danger and darker and more chthonic forces. This was the case in ancient Greece, where serpents are most classically associated with the chthonic monster known as the gorgon (among whom was the famous Medusa). But in Greece, the oldest oracles were said to be protected by serpents (including the monster Python who guarded the oracle at Delphi), and the heads of gorgons appeared on temples to protect against malign forces. Gorgon masks were also carved to protect from the evil eye. Medusa herself appears in a temple to Artemis in Corfu, where she is a guardian of the temple. In Babylon and Assyria, there is the demon Pazuzu (who some may recognize as the spirit that possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist). He was an evil spirit of wind who brought plague, disease, famine, and locusts, but he was also invoked to protect humans from plague, disease, and misfortune, particularly the kind brought by a demonic goddess named Lamashtu. Mesopotamian folklore also describes storm demons known as Ugallu, who were also considered beneficial protective demons and were depicted and invoked in charms. In India, the yakshas are sometimes treated as demons, but they are also seen as benign earthly protector spirits. Demons and ghouls are also found as the hosts of the Hindu god Shiva, and those hosts are said to frighten even the gods Brahma and Vishnu. Even today there are believers in the paranormal and the occult who consider demons to be guardian spirits in the same sense that angels are, only that demons come from the darker side of the spirit world.

There is inspiration that follows a similar principle: Tantra. In Tantric Hindusim, things that are considered dark, taboo, even unspiritual can be considered sacred and/or valid pathways to the divine. Most recognized among their belief is the belief that material pleasures can be dedicated to God and that seemingly negative forces can be transformed into positive forces and religious bliss.

Outside mythology, the spirit of the righteous application of demonic power lives on in modern culture. In Japanese video games and anime, demons aren’t always a strictly negative force. And sometimes, in those settings, individuals associated with demons fight demons and protect the world and humans from evil with the help of their power. The anime Blue Exorcist is about a young man named Rin Okumura who is the son of Satan, but he fights demons and wants to defeat Satan (the Christian Satan). In the anime YuYu Hakusho, the main character Yusuku Urameshi is the main protagonist who protects the human world from various supernatural threats and he apparently has demon blood. In fact, he can access a demon form with some wicked long hair! In video games, Shin Megami Tensei lets you use demons and their power to potentially do good depending on your point of view. Demons are categorized by alignments based on the two axes of Light-Neutral-Dark and Light-Neutral-Chaos. For example, Kishin refers to warrior deities, and they are attached Light-Chaos, my personal favorite alignment for demons. Perhaps Light-Chaos can refer to the righteous manifestation of the power of the demons. And who could forget the Devil May Cry games, which feature humans with demonic blood who fight demons with the help of the power of demons. Most famous among  them of course is Dante, who has become a true hack and slash icon and a personal inspiration for me and my alter ego.

Dante, son of Sparda

Exhibit 4 – Heavy metal culture

Probably because of my own interest in heavy metal music, the character I talk about here inherits influence from heavy metal music in his design and background. He has long hair that’s basically a mixture of Nikki Sixx’s hair from Motley Crue and a Japanese hairstyle I found one time.

I often draw him making the sign of the horns with his hands. It’s a sign that was officially introduced to heavy metal by Ronnie James Dio, after he joined Black Sabbath. He claimed he based it on the sign that his grandmother made with his hands: the malocchio. It was apparently used to ward off curses such as the evil eye. Since Dio, the sign of the horns has become a universal element of heavy metal culture, despite musicians of other genre and cultures copying it randomly.

My alter ego has by and large copied my fashion sense, which has absorbed other insignias of heavy metal culture. Among them, the sleeveless denim jacket and the bullet belt, both of them associated with traditional heavy metal, thrash metal, and speed metal, though the bullet belt can be found worn be fans of more extreme metal sub-genres, such as black metal and death metal, and members of such bands. Both fashion items were chosen as nods to heavy metal subculture.

A thrash metal fan wearing a bullet belt and a denim jacket with patches of various metal bands.

My character’s black jacket was initially based on a black long-sleeved jacket I usually wore, which I believe was made of cotton. But this jacket has become replaced by a black jacket made of leather, which is pretty much based on the denim and leather done by many old school heavy metal bands (except that I prefer black denim to blue denim). Denim and leather back then was such a recognized element of heavy metal fashion that it was the title of an album by one such band: Saxon.

But it’s not just the fashion of heavy metal that’s important. In fact, it only makes sense that my character, and I myself for that matter, would associate with heavy metal music. Heavy metal is the only music that represents what I feel I come from. Metal was the music of power and aggression, it’s the only music that has a lot of the kind of lyrical subject matter I like (demons, war, myth, lust, and warriors, among other lyrics) and to such an awesome sound, and it has a subculture that embraces what are in my mind the values of the warrior, the rebel, and the devil. It is aggressive music, raw energy, and the instrumentation channels said aggression to create a sublime sound, and many of my favorite metal bands channel aggressive music to make what is ultimately a positive sound. And the energy and passion I feel from the music is certainly a positive influence. So however you stretch it, metal deserves the influence it has. Because of the tendency of heavy metal to feature lyrics about demons, Satan, and the occult, it can be a good example of channeling inspiration from darkness to create something righteous, strong, and true.

Exhibit 5 – The action hero

The action genre is very influential not just from anime and video games, but of course action films. Early on I and one of my art teachers likened my alter ego to characters such as Dirty Harry, who upheld the law and busted criminals by flunking regulations and breaking the rules, thus exemplifying a classic example of the trope of the renegade cop, better known as the cowboy cop. Other well-known examples of the trope include Die Hard, Cobra, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Last Action Hero, and Demolition Man.

Cobra. It speaks for itself.

Speaking of Demolition Man, the main character John Spartan and not to mention the film itself have both been very inspirational. Before being cryogenically frozen, Spartan was the baddest cowboy cop in Los Angeles, busting exceptionally bad criminals without regard for proper protocol or concern for collateral damage. After being frozen, he wakes up to find that LA has become San Angeles, a crapsaccharine state without passion and no freedom to do anything other than following the plans Dr. Raymond Cocteau has for your life, and eventually Simon Fenix, the worst criminal Spartan has ever faced, also arrives after being cryogenically frozen. He eventually defeats and kills Fenix, but also challenges and topples the pristine order of San Angeles through the destruction of the cryo prison (though Fenix kills Cocteau before all this happens). Spartan then challenges the people of San Angeles to try and live in a world of both order and wild freedom, thus echoing the idea of a character who fights for freedom and to preserve justice.

My favorite anime characters are pretty much always action character with weapons (albeit swords instead of guns), such as Ichigo from Bleach. Of all of them, Ichigo always had a lot of appeal. He was hot-headed, and hot-bleaded, but he never gave up, never backed down, and always tried to fight for what he thought was right because he wanted to.

Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach

Exhibit 6 – The demonic super form

The alter ego’s demonic super form is ostensibly a combination of Super Sonic from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, which itself was based on the Super Saiyan state from Dragon Ball, and Dante’s Devil Trigger state from the Devil May Cry games. Similar tropes also appear in various other video games, as well as anime. My character’s particular super form also derives from not just Satan with his horns, but also the flaming aura that surrounds the Buddhist wrathful deities of Tibet and Japan.

Fudo Myo-O

The super form also has a third eye, which is ostensibly derived from Shiva. In fact, the flaming aura itself is also a manifestation of the flaming aura of both Shiva and the goddess Kali

Exhibit 7 – Other mythological/religious elements

My character frequently uses weapons that have some link to Asian religious themes, often as bonus weapons, including the vajra and the trishula, which are attached many Buddhist deities, along with the Hindu gods Indra and Shiva respectively.

My alter ego’s jacket is set to have a flaming ram’s head on the back of it, which is an allusion to the Hindu god Agni, the zodiac sign Aries, and the Egyptian symbolism of the ram as the soul of the sun god. In this light, the ram is a symbol of the spirit of the sun, fire, heat, light, energy, and enthusiasm.

Like myself, my alter ego wears a Satanic pentagram, which represents not just Satanism, but the powers of darkness and demons, and in this case the principle of using the powers of darkness to pursue a just cause and righteous ideals.

When my alter ego belt buckle is a monstrous demon head, based on the Kirtimukha and Rahu. Kirtimukha is a demon-like image that sometimes adorns temples to Shiva and halos that surround the Shiva and his family. It represents the hunger that pervades the universe and drives all life as attested to in Hindu belief and mythology. Rahu was a demon in Hindu myth who tried to devour the sun. There is also Tao Tie, a fiend from Chinese mythology who represents hunger. I have also considered using a lion’s head for his belt buckler (possibly with a demonic twist). It was inspired by Isamu Nitta’s belt buckle from Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne (which is based on Azazel from Soul Hackers), but it can also be a nod to the lion as a symbol of the Zoroastiran spirit of destruction, Ahriman, based on the Mithraic depiction of Ahriman or Arimanius.

Kirtimukha

Other things

I must also mention the fan-made Grey Jedi Code associated with Star Wars, which I have already described in full here.

As I mentioned before, my alter ego’s abilities are often based on my own traits. Such as his ability to swim being based on my like of water and personal desire to swim more, and the food thing being related to liking to eat like an animal, and eating a lot without getting fat as a kid. And the animals thing is not just related to Shiva or the Horned One, but the fact that I like to talk about animals as a kid.

In general, his preference of weapons (katanas and machine guns) is inspired by video games, particularly Shin Megami Tensei, Final Fantasy, and Shadow the Hedgehog, as well as my interest in Japanese martial arts and American action films.

And that’s pretty much it. I took way too damn long writing this because I needed to get everything down that needed to be gotten down. Either way I hope this long post can be appreciated as an assessment of my own alter ego and the ideas that shape it, and thus the ideas that actually have shaped me as a person and relate to me as a person to the core of my self.

Let violent video games be violent

Just today I was at my regular lecture about games design and history, it was about what players want out of video games when they play them, and among the reasons we talked about was that people want to fantasize. They are also attracted to some kind of escapism, to do things they will most likely not get to do in real life and all free of negative repercussions, and this includes behavior that would normally be unacceptable. And then I thought about violence.

Video games that allow for violent actions within the game allow people to indulge in fantasies of violent activity, and not always violent activity that can theoretically be justified if it happened for real, without repercussions towards the player and without actually killing anyone in real life. There is a violent part of our nature, as there has always been, and modern video games make it easier for us to keep actual violence in check because they allow us to indulge some of our more violent and aggressive tendencies without actually harming anyone. It’s the same for any games that, while not having gore, do let you use weapons.

The guardians of false morality do not realize what curtailing the violence of video games would do to us as human beings. Without any enemies to fight, all we have is our own kind to be violent towards, and unless people have a way of indulging violent fantasies within the realm of fantasy, humans will get violent in the real world and it would be terrible for all concerned (except perhaps the guardians of false morality, who would exploit like the opportunistic bastards they are). So let violent video games be violent, for the sake of the people who like to play them as a means of venting their aggressive side, lest they start channeling their violence into full blown immoral or unlawful conduct.

Are video games art?

Less than a month ago, a video game called Hatred was announced by a development company called Destructive Creations, and it became controversial due to the fact that it’s a game where you play as a psychopathic mass killer who hates humanity and kill as many people as you can. The developers describe the game as a reaction to perceived political correctness in video games and the idea of games as art. That last part has been a debate for a long time, and people still argue over whether video games can be called art.

Some people say that video games are an art-form in and of themselves. But this is very untrue. Some people also say that video games are incapable of being an art-form, or anything more than mere entertainment. This also very untrue. And there are those who say that video games exist only as a commercial enterprise, a business. That’s only half-right.

As I see it, video games are principally a kind of software that presents an interactive world for people to play in, usually with rules influencing how you can play. That is the basic premise of a video game. Everything else, such as graphics, story, environment, and all the details of a game are basically layers of that software world.  Now this basic nature can have its artistic and creative merit, and if you think that alone is artistic in its own right, then that’s fine but you’re also kind of missing the point. Video games CAN be artistic, but that doesn’t mean they are works of art in they’re own right. In fact, most video games aren’t artistic in they’re own right, and I’m not just talking about all the popular games that people play today. Today, video games are primarily a commercial enterprise, and it’s been that way since the 1970s, but at the same time video games were never incapable of creative merit, it’s just that art and creative media were not the point and they still aren’t. Video games can be artistic in the sense that they are capable of telling a story, conveying ideas, and presenting an aesthetic world, but the simple truth is that this is not the first thing that enters into their design, nor is it the fundamental purpose of creating a game.

So my opinion on the matter of “are games art?” is no with a but: they aren’t artistic on their own, but they can have artistic merit potentially in terms of what they do aesthetically and in terms of story, or just in the eye of the beholder.

More doubt, and why I don’t think I want to be a designer

Today’s morning lecture at university has arisen many feelings of doubt and negativity in me, and I think I am becoming interested in the idea of getting into the video games industry. I still like video games, but the thought of making video games and being a games designer is starting to seem like something I have a decreased interest in or compatibility with.

For the second time I was reminded that all of us who go into designing are not considered artists. We’re expected to make something for someone else, unless you’ve got your own company or possibly if you’re in indie games. If you’re designer, your making designs for someone else, for a demand, and you’ll likely have to get used to people telling you “your designs are shit. change them”, and then you’ll probably get used it and become more like a drone, perhaps never realizing it. That thought alone makes me feel extremely doubtful and even resentful about the path of the designer. If you don’t create for yourself, and for your own vision, then you’re not an artist, and I don’t want to live a life where I stop creating and writing for myself. That’s not even getting past the other fact that the games industry isn’t even about art, or about individual expression. If you think that, then you’re a fool. Games are made for an audience, and there’s a ton of people working on them. Who’s vision are you going to be designing for if you’re in the industry? You’ll be lucky if it’s your own unless you’re running your own company. Half of me is tempted to rip on capitalism because of my sense that it produces such client-oriented models, but I can’t completely rip on it (you probably know why). In general though I have more reason to hate this world because of how group-oriented everything tends to be and individuality is usually shafted to the side in favor of society and the mass client.

Back to the point though. Honestly, I had more creative freedom back in art college, and even they sometimes restricted me, but in retrospect they have restricted me far less than the video games industry ever will. But I don’t feel like I can drop out of my course. It would not only disappoint everyone else but dishonor myself, especially given the short amount of time I have been on this course compared to the time I have left for this course, and I would only end up wasting the money I put into it and the financial support I’ve got and will gain for the other two years. There is also transferring to a more art-related course, but I just know they’d make me do art history again. And besides, it’s not like I didn’t find something good out of the course I’m in (in fact, the games design history lectures are the best part and they’re surprisingly enjoyable). Either way, if I leave the course, especially now, it affects the group I’m in, and I’ll probably end up leaving them with my unfinished business. And you can imagine that might be annoying. That or they get rid of the input I provided. Speaking of the group, I kinda feel like the role I’m taking as a guy who keeps everything in check is not as appreciated as it should be. I feel like I might be seen as a guy who messages people constantly to the detriment of everyone else’s nerves when all I’m trying to do is create some semblance of organization and enhance it for myself. I half-feel like they don’t appreciate that, when they should.

I don’t know who to talk to, I feel like a fraud and it might only be a matter of time before people see, as I increasingly do, that I don’t fit in very well in my course, and I feel like I’m gonna be crushed sooner or later. In general, I don’t know what to do, or how long I can stay in the situation I’m in.

Whatever happened to single-platform games?

With Nintendo’s recent announcement of a Pokémon-Tekken crossover (titled Pokken Tournament), and already people are disappointed with it mainly because it is initially going to be released for Japanese arcades only for a while. But that’s not what I’m writing about. I noticed one person commented on the First Look video for it, apparently bashing Nintendo because the game isn’t going to be released on Xbox and Playstation consoles. Really? That’s a reason to bash Nintendo? That sucks as a reason.

Honestly I don’t know for sure if Pokken Tournament is going to be a Nintendo-exclusive title (it’s possible, since Nintendo probably wouldn’t let any Pokémon game be sold on a non-Nintendo gamin system), but in any case, is there anything wrong with games being exclusive to certain consoles? If anything, I actually think it’s good that any company is making games that are only going to be released for one system. Too many games these days are getting released for either both the Playstation or Xbox consoles, or every main console imaginable. I see too many games being released for multiple systems. It is nice that you get to access some of these titles, but I think it’s somewhat worrying that there aren’t really any exclusives any more to strengthen either brand.

If Nintendo let their games be released for non-Nintendo systems, it would undermine them as a brand. Same goes for Microsoft and Sony. But then this only talks about console developers who release games for their own systems. What about third-party games? Well I think it might also strengthen console brands if some third party games were released only for those systems. Or it might not. That’s just my opinion. But that’s not the point. The point is that the gaming industry feels like its saturated with games that are released for multiple platforms. I know there’s exceptions, but still, wouldn’t it be nice to have more platform-exclusive titles?

Top 10 cliches, tropes, and trends I hate in video games

This is something I had been planning to do as a video series a few years ago, but lost confidence in the project. But recently I realized that now that I have a blog, I have a solid medium for the project as a blog post. This is a countdown of the top ten cliches, tropes, trends, and things in general that I hate in video games.

Here’s something to keep in mind before I start: First, I’m limiting it to cliches, trends, and things that I’ve experienced (which means I can’t talk shit about the pay-to-play feature in some games since I haven’t played any games that have that). Second, I do try to refer primarily to games that I have played, or at least know, though I may refer to famous examples that I haven’t directly experienced. Third, I may end up referencing the same games more than once. Fourth, it’s in ascending order, from bottom to top or 10 to 1, just in case you need to know that. And finally, just a pro tip: there might be spoilers.

With that in mind, time to get started.

10. Simony

In Christian terms, simony is the practice of buying and selling supernatural powers, spiritual and divine works, and ecclesiastical offices. In video game terms, simony means acquiring skills, techniques, magical spells, and anything else along those lines by buying them via the games currency (thankfully not real currency, or else this cliche would be a lot higher on the list). It’s a relatively minor cliche and it normally doesn’t badly effect the game too much but I still feel the need to mention it because it just irks me that you have to buy skills and magic in a game.

Examples include seemingly any Final Fantasy game with a job class system, which has you going to shops and buying magic, and in the Devil May Cry series you purchase new techniques with Red Orbs, which serve as the games currency. There is also Castlevania: Lords of Shadow where experience points serve as currency for purchasing new skills, where as in many games that have experience points as a mechanic have you learning skills by accumulating experience points rather than spending them as currency. It’s the same in Darksiders, only in Darksiders you actually go to a shop to buy new skills, thus literally invoking the trope of simony.

9. Pointless One-Liners in Fighting Games

This is a cliche that popped up in fighting games ever since the 3D era and the rise of voice-acting in video games. This is when a character says some usually droll phrase at the beginning of the fight or at the end of the fight if they win. Sometimes in story mode if you lose, your character might have a post-defeat one-liners. Either way, these phrases are not needed at all. Usually they’re lame or annoying, and they don’t even matter anyway since whenever I play a fighting game, I play to fight, and not much else. Tons of fighting games out there may have this, including the Tekken, Dead or Alive, or Soul Calibur series among others.

Outside the fighting game genre, there is actually a particularly grievous case of pointless one-liners in Senran Kagura Burst where not only are the phrases lame, every character from each team says same the same thing. Sometimes one-liners may manifest in the form of characters constantly shouting the name of their spells or techniques, like in Xenoblade Chronicles where this is actually pretty annoying.

8. Arbitrary Item Restrictions and Breakable Weapons

This entry is a tie between the two tropes mentioned above as they both irk me equally. One reason I play video games is to interact with a realm that is not real life. It’s OK for video games to relate to real life and real subjects and a little bit of realism is healthy, but the games themselves shouldn’t be too much like real life. But then games put in arbitrary rules or conditions that are supposed to create realism but it’s just annoying and limits gameplay (by the way, running out of ammo does not necessarily count since it’s not usually a problem). Restricting the amount of items you can carry with arbitrary values and breakable weapons are two such conditions. For example of item restrictions, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim limits the number of items you can carry in your bag based on an arbitrary weight value (in this case 300), whereas many other RPGs don’t limit the number of items you can carry. If there has to be a limit to how many items you can carry, it should be that you can carry a maximum of 99 of each item in your bag (which many RPGs probably enforce anyway). I’ve even seen arbitrary restrictions outside the RPG genre. In the Ninja Gaiden reboot, you can only carry 5 of some items, while you can carry more than that for other items, which is both arbitrary and unfair.

Fire Emblem: Awakening not only has your weapons break, but so can your magic tomes (which ironically isn’t even realistic!), and on top of that you can’t repair them so you have to replace them when they break. In Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, weapons have a durability meter which means they can wear out after a while and you will start dealing only 1 point of damage to enemies per hit, which means you have to repair it, and if you’re still in combat, you need to find another sword in your inventory to replace it. Your armor can also wear out, which would mean reduced defenses leaving you vulnerable. And there aren’t any shops that have a 100% chance of repairing your equipment, some just have better repair rates than others, and you never get maximum durability back. In general, equipment life span just irks me. Why have that in a game?

7. Losing Your Abilities

One thing that I find to be a bullshit concept in games is where you start the game kicking ass or playing as a powerful character and then lose your strength and abilities and become weak. Sure, you get stronger again, but it’s just a stupid idea to begin with! Why give gamers a sense of power and confidence and then take that away from them?

I'm looking at you.
I’m looking at you Symphony of the Night.

Metroid Prime is one example of this cliche, and in the game Samus loses her suit and its abilities simply by crashing into a wall! And speaking of Castlevania, not only does Symphony of the Night make you lose your abilities, but Lords of Shadow 2 also starts you off with your abilites, takes them away from you making you weaker, and makes you gradually regain your abilities. What purpose does that serve other than make the game more frustrating by making you weaker?

Similar to this cliche is the trope of starting with a stronger character and then playing as a weaker one. In Final Fantasy XII, you start off playing as Reks and then the rest of the game you play as Vaan. Although Reks isn’t very strong (he’s only level 3), when you start playing as Vaan, he is level 1 and Reks’ level and stats do not transfer onto Vaan. What’s the point? Seriously, why even have a false protagonist anyway, especially if the main character is weaker or if there’s not much difference between the two characters?

6. Too Many Cutscenes and Interference

In games today it often feels like there’s too many cutscenes getting in the way of gameplay. I get that cutscenes are supposed to illustrate the story and events within it, but these are video games not movies. We shouldn’t be watching games more than playing them. And while it is true that you can skip these cutscenes in many games, for me it’s still a matter of why interrupt the game like that anyway? And may gods help you if they put quick time events into the games.

Traditionally in RPGs you have dialogue boxes instead of cutscenes, which means you can skip them by rapidly tapping a certain button if you wanted to (and you probably will if you’ve just come back to that cutscene after dying and getting a game over), but modern Final Fantasy games tend to overuse cutscenes and I swear they replace dialogue boxes with out and out cutscenes. This is definitely true for Final Fantasy X, where there’s no dialogue boxes so you have cutscenes instead, and I swear you can’t skip them.

Which is really bad since it means you can’t skip this shit.

Outside of the RPG genre, DMC: Devil May Cry seems to have a lot of cutscenes and so does the Ninja Gaiden reboot and Lords of Shadow 2, and in Dead or Alive 5 there’s more cutscenes than necessary in its story mode. Not to mention Shadow the Hedgehog has a lot of cutscenes in the game (which thankfully you can skip), and the last story mode of the game has several cutscenes which it takes about two minutes to skip, so there’s a lot of time spent watching the game before you get to the actual gameplay. And as video games get more and more “cutting edge” in terms of graphics, I feel like this trend of too many cutscenes is only to stay or get worse just to flaunt the graphics of cutscenes and even to the point where games more closely resemble movies, which I seriously have a problem with since that will most likely mean more movie-style cliches, and besides I grew up with video games as a totally different art form.

If the game wants to tell you how to do something or give you hints, there’s no reason to interrupt the freaking game and slow the pace down! Just tell the player during active gameplay like in Portal 2.

5. Bosses You Can’t Defeat and Aren’t Supposed to Defeat

One mechanic I find to be utterly pointless and downright bewildering is when a game features a boss that you not only can’t defeat, but are actually supposed to lose to in order to progress the plot of the game. This doesn’t make any sense at all. If you’re supposed to die or be defeated as part of the story, why not put in a cutscene instead of a wasted boss fight? Why not skip the boss fight entirely if you’re not even supposed to fight the guy anyway?

One example I know is right at the beginning of Mega Man X, where the first boss Vile appears in a Ride Armor and can’t be defeated and you eventually get caught by his Stun Beam only to be rescued by Zero. What’s the point? You may as well have put a cutscene there. In another variation of this trope, the final boss of Zone of the Enders, Anubis, cannot be killed and you’re not meant to fight him, but you’re actually not supposed to die against him either. You’re supposed to get away from him for long enough until the game decides to end the fight. Again, you may as well have put a cutscene there. It’d be a sequel hook, sure, but it’s better than having a boss fight you’re not supposed to fight.

I also feel the need to mention that some games have bosses you can defeat but you’re technically supposed to die against anyway. In the Ninja Gaiden reboot, early on you fight a fiend named Doku. It is possible to defeat Doku at this point in the game, but if you die while facing him, the game’s story continues anyway, just that if you do somehow beat him you can unlock the next difficulty without beating the game first. But again, if Ryu dies anyway (and somehow comes back to life later on), what’s the point of all that. Just place a cutscene there.

4. No Retry

This cliche is as old as the days of the NES, but it continues in some forms in games after that era. This is where if you die in a game, and you get a game over, you don’t get to continue immediately where you left off. Instead you either get sent back to the beginning of a level or the game, or get sent back to the main or start-up menu forcing you to load the game all over again. Plenty of old NES games utilize this cliche in the form of giving you no continues (like Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, Milon’s Secret Castle, City Connection, Zelda II, Super Mario Bros. etc.) though even after the NES era many role-playing games force you to load the game from the main menu and start again from the spot you last saved in. In modern games the lack of a retry is particularly baffling because the data is already in the game, so why not just let me pick up where I left off immediately after I die rather than force me to sit through a Game Over screen only to force me to either the beginning of the level or the start up screen and have me load the game again!?

The only Final Fantasy game I’ve played (not counting the MMO titles) that let you retry immediately was Final Fantasy XIII. Not to mention, traditionally in the Dynasty Warriors games if you die or fail the mission, you get sent back to the main menu and have load the game and continue from there. In the Ninja Gaiden reboot, the game does let you continue from the game over screen, but rather than continue you from directly where you left off, it continues you from the spot where you last directly saved your game. This means that if you die before the first save point in the game you go back to the beginning and lose all the items you got, and if you die on the next chapter without saving in it, you get sent back to where you last saved in the previous chapter and have to do whatever you had to do in it again, which is messed because you should be able to retry where you left off (like in the Devil May Cry where you save after each mission and if you die and continue you start round about where you left off). Come to think of it, I might as well mention that save points are pretty bad alternative to the retry feature in general, especially in action games.

3. When Action Games Have Too Much Puzzles and Exploration

One complaint I have towards modern action games is that there is often a large gap of exploration or puzzle-solving between combat sections. Traditionally in action games the primary emphasis is on combat rather than exploration and puzzle-solving, the way it should be. Of course I do like exploration, and a healthy dose of exploration is a good thing in action games (or more or less action-adventure games), but I’m a guy who likes straightforward action if it’s an action game. I don’t like it when action games have less combat and more puzzle-solving and more time spent figuring out where to go when it should really be straightforward, especially when they compensate by making each fight with an enemy long and tedious.

It’s not like this in older action games where you run through the stage, kill enemies, and get to the boss and goal, although to be fair back in those days many action games were also side-scrollers, probably with a fair share of platforming involved depending on what game you played. But nowadays in 3D hack and slash games except the Dynasty Warriors franchise, it feels more like you beat up two or three enemies for 5 minutes or so and then spend time exploring, looking for the way to go, or solving some puzzles. The biggest example I can think of is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (and it’s even worse because the game renders its own puzzles almost pointless because it lets you skip them, albeit at the cost of not gaining experience points). Not only that, but Lords of Shadow and Lords of Shadow 2 often have a lot of walking around and puzzles before any of the fighting, and this appears to be stronger in Lords of Shadow 2 (and they also seem to overuse quick time events in boss fights). Come to think of it, this seems to happen in less linear games these days. As long as we’re comparing NES action games to contemporary action games, I’m sure the Ninja Gaiden reboot is still faster than many modern action games, but it still has you looking for items and solving puzzles while killing things. Same with Devil May Cry (though it feels like Dante isn’t as fast as Ryu), in the same stages you’re killing enemies, you’re also solving puzzles (though I must admit, Devil May Cry’s puzzles usually aren’t long). In the Sonic Adventure games on the other hand, heavy fast action and treasure hunting exploration are split into separate sections, though Sonic games in general are straightfoward action (albeit with platforming).

2. DLC Endings

Imagine this: you’re playing a game all the way to what seems like the last stretch of the game, you get to what you think is the final part of the game, only for the game to tell you that you have to download the rest of the story. It infuriates me because not only does the game block me from seeing the end of the game’s story, it has the nerve to make me download that part of the game’s story, charging me extra money for it no less. I already paid for the damn game, why should I pay to see the rest of the game! The game where I have experienced this directly in is Asura’s Wrath, where you have to pay to download the true ending to the game, and on top of that you have to get have S ranks in the game and then beat the last chapter before the true end chapters to unlock that part.

In the game’s defense though, at least it was good content for a great game.

Other examples may include Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, where the true ending to the game which leads to the sequel had to be downloaded in the form of two extra chapters, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 where the secret true ending had to be bought and downloaded. Seriously, why do that? Why make the player pay for the true ending of the game? Traditionally in games you had to follow specific steps to unlock the true ending, but this was within the game itself. You didn’t have to download the content from outside the game. You shouldn’t have to do that!

And the cliche/trope/trend I hate most is…

1. Escort/Defense/Rescue Missions

I’m very confident that I’m not the only person who hates these kinds of missions. You know, the kind where you have to rescue a character, bring them to a specific point, or defend someone from getting killed. Why do I bundle them together in this list? Because they’re almost the same kind of mission and annoy me in the same way. These missions always drop the empowerment factor for me because where I would normally go guns blazing through a stage by myself and only having to worry about my own survival, I would then feel chained because I have to worry about someone else’s survival because that other person does the mission is fails and I have to do it over again. And that’s not all, very often the person I have to escort or defend I really don’t feel like helping that person, especially when that person is either an idiot, a character I don’t care about anyway, and they often have bad AI.

There’s plenty of games out there that have some kind of escort or rescue mission out there (Resident Evil 4 being a famous example). One of the worst I’ve experienced is the escort mission in Catherine, in which you have to climb to the top of one of the Nightmare stages with Katherine following you. Catherine itself is already hard and often frustrating, but when you have a character you have to escort who just wonders away from you nearly all the time, then that just makes what is already a frustrating and difficult scenario even more frustrating and difficult for the wrong reasons. And in Zone of the Enders 2: The Second Runner, you have two characters in separate occasions, and the worst of these is when you have to airlift Ken/Ardject to safety. When you’re not airlifting her to safety, she does nothing but stand there and take damage from enemies that you have to scramble to attack, which makes no sense since she is clearly capable of combat (you fought her as the first boss).

Now in terms of rescue or defense missions I’ve experienced, Devil Survivor sometimes has you rescuing bystanders from enemy demons by leading them to an exit point, but these bystanders are almost cannon fodder and they can’t defend themselves, and depending on the attack patterns of the demons, they are probably going to die fast. And in general it’s not really worth it, I barely feel like doing any of it. And going back to Zone of the Enders, both Zone of the Enders and its sequels have missions where you a rescue a city from a barrage of attacks, and the enemy always causes some casualities and top of that you are always going to destroy some buildings while dispatching enemies, and afterwards the game ranks your performance on these missions. To me that feels pretty useless. In the first Zone of the Enders you have to rescue this girl who is trapped in a building, but she really doesn’t do or mean that much. But the worst defense/rescue mission in those games is in Zone of the Enders 2’s third and final encounter with Nephtis where she possesses Ardjet and so you have to defeat Nephtis without directly attacking Ardjet. To do this you have to parry her attacks until she is susceptible to the anti-viral program, but she also sends projectiles at you that you can shoot down which also risks damaging Ardjet, and to top it off, she drains half of Ardjet’s life if you don’t stop her (which will mean hitting her).

The only tolerable escort missions I’ve played in a game were from Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, mainly because (1) the character doesn’t wonder away from you all the time, (2) the character actually helps you in battles, (3) you and the other character heal after every battle so there’s almost no need to worry about resource management.

And that’s the end of that. I might just post another countdown, but most likely not for a good while. It doesn’t help that this has been the longest post I’ve ever written.

What sexism in video games really means

Sexism in video games is not having buxom female characters in a game, or about not having enough realistic characters in what is basically entertainment and fantasy, or even about games that are basically softcore porn in disguise (though that in itself is not necessarily the mark of a good game). Sexism in video games is about four things:

  1. Underpowering a character, or characters, of a certain gender, based on gender. Such making the man weaker than the woman because he’s a man, or making the woman weaker because she’s a woman.
  2. Promoting one gender as good and the other as evil through writing and subtext.
  3. Demoting a character to a weakling based on a gender. For male characters, this is demoting the male to a gimp because he’s a man. For female characters, this means demoting even woman warriors to the status of damsel in distress based on gender.
  4. If the main character is man, then he is a stereotypical model of the male gender. If the main character is a woman, then she is a stereotypical model of the female gender.

Truth be told, I don’t see this in many video games, or at least many games that I’ve played, but it’s not as though they don’t appear. And it seems most of the sexism happens to female characters. I’ll just list a few examples of sexism (mainly sexist writing) regarding the female gender in games that I know, and keep in mind I don’t know if any of it is intentional.

Probably the biggest example of sexist writing regarding women is Princess Peach from the Mario games. Why? Because in nearly 30 years, she seems to have never developed from being a damsel in distress. Her getting kidnapped by Bowser in the first game wass enough, but then she continues getting kidnapped by Bowser. And since the Mario games tend to repeat themselves, she’s always getting kidnapped. You could say this about Zelda because she’s a princess being saved by Link, but Zelda actually isn’t a total damsel in distress, as the games show she is smart, wise, and has a few tricks up her sleeve such as magic and assuming the guise of a Sheikah warrior.

*sighs* This shit again?

In the Sonic series, the strongest female character I know is Blaze the Cat. There is Rogue the Bat, but good lords what a horrible choice of sex symbol they picked for the series. Most of the other female characters aren’t capable of much, even Amy gets captured a lot.

The Ninja Gaiden reboot (which was released for the original Xbox, and later the PS3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma) features a character named Rachel, who is also one of the only female allies in the game, who you first see as a tough fiend-busting woman warrior, but then she encounters Doku, a very powerful Fiend, stupidly decides to fight him (and does a sloppy job of it), gets knocked unconscious, and afterwards she gets carried away by Doku like a helpless damsel. There is story behind it (Rachel was planed to be used as a sacrifice by Doku to awaken her sister, Alma), but come on.

Really, that’s what she’s reduced to. By the way, I only resorted to this image because I couldn’t find the image of Doku carrying Rachel.

Not mention, Rachel’s mode of gameplay is nowhere near as good as Ryu’s (though this partly owes to her having a heavier and slower weapon and fighting style)

In Dead or Alive 5 (which funny enough was made by the same company behind the Ninja Gaiden games), it seems a lot of female characters that seem like little more that squeaky, loud, perky, sexy fighters, which is even worse in the game’s story mode, which besides a bland, pointless story in general, couples pesky voice acting, not much in the way of personality, and a really bad sense of humor based on cringe-worthy innuendo.

Soul Calibur V introduces two new characters: Patroklos and Pyrrha, who are actually brothers and sisters and descendants of Sophitia from the previous games. Patroklos is your stereotypical white light masculine hero, complete with unlikeable attitude, while Pyrrha is easily the weakest female character in the whole game in terms of personality. Pyrrha is always scared even in combat, screams all the time in battle, shows no desire to fight even while wielding a freaking sword, and has been shown to be highly susceptible to corruption and temptation by the evil forces and Soul Edge. You can just about figure out the writing behind it for yourself.

And finally, just to cap it off, The Legend of Spyro trilogy has Cynder (though she isn’t really human, she is female and has a human personality), who goes from being the main villain and final boss of A New Beginning, to being guilt-ridden and by-and-large helpless in The Eternal Night, to being simply weaker than Spyro in Dawn of the Dragon (though she is faster than Spyro and has some nifty evil powers).

See that? That’s what Cynder used to be.

To Cynder’s credit though, she never chose to be a villain, rather she was being used a pawn of the Dark Master (a.k.a. Malefor), but doesn’t just further her writing as rather sexist? Her whole life she was existed as pawn, and after being defeated by Spyro is guilt-ridden and all but helpless. And she’s the only female dragon you find in the entire trilogy. And in the end she falls in love with Spyro and she tells Spyro her feelings at the very end of Dawn of the Dragon.

Keep in mind though, not all sexism in video games regards women. Men are pretty stereotyped and bound to expectations in the video game industry too. And just like I did with female stereotypes, I’m going to list some sexist writing regarding men (though we might just run into a more examples of sexist writing towards women along the way) in games, though not necessarily all games I’ve played.

If you look at the video games industry in the West, a lot of male protagonists are either grim and lifeless Jason Statham clone soldiers, or stereotypically dashing hunks. To me, that’s setting up expectations for men in the same way as setting up expectations for women, so don’t you dare think it’s only women.

Examples of the rugged stereotype include Grand Theft Auto, inFamous, Too Human, Mass Effect, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, Gears of War, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and the list could go on further. Examples of the “dashing” stereotype include Uncharted, Dark Void, the Resident Evil games, and Soul Calibur in terms of their protagonists (Siegfried and Patroklos, the latter of which I already mentioned), and believe it or not Dead or Alive 5 (more on that later).

It seems to me like the stereotypical ideal male is that a man should be big, tall, muscley, and rugged, which is what must males are probably being brought up to early on as a boy, and we seriously don’t need more of that stereotype.

Just another soldier, albeit one of the better examples in video games.

You could argue that Duke Nukem is a stereotype of the male gender, and is thus a sexist analogy of men. But really, I don’t see it that way. I think Duke Nukem more of a caricature of the American action hero and masculine sensibilities, and what’s more I feel his character is largely played for laughs in his games. And at least he’s still unique anyway. At least he’s not Matt Hazard, from Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard and Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond. Matt Hazard is supposed to be a parody of action heroes, but he ultimately fails to be an effective parody and what you have left is basically another near-bald male stereotype.

In Bionic Commando, the main character Nathan “Rad” Spencer is already somewhat steretypical in his military design, but at least he was a playful and cynical character on top of that, and his hair is slightly different from the blonde stereotype. Then a 2009 reboot is released and Nathan’s design becomes far more typical, and until recently I didn’t think dreadlocks could be that typical. He goes from being a playful, cynical, military type character to an angry and gritty guy with his wife for a bionic arm.

Going back to Dead or Alive 5, we have Eliot, a baby-faced fighter whose muscle mass and presence in the DOA games isn’t very realistic. He seems like a shy, “dashing” character whose there solely for the sake of having a baby-faced fighter, never mind that he’s actually pretty uninteresting.

Some could argue that the Final Fantasy games are sexist, though I don’t really see it in many of the games. The only thing I can see in some of these games is that the male heroes tend to be generic or brooding, and the white mage class is usually female, but this does not recur often and in some of these games you can give any character of any gender any job class you want, which opens the doors for a male white mage (I’ve actually done that before). If anything, the most sexist writing in the series has to be Dissidia Final Fantasy. Why? It’s the fundamental conflict of the game: light versus darkness, and light is good while darkness is evil. The representative of light is Cosmos, the goddess of light, good, and order, while the darkness representative is Chaos, who was also the final boss of the original Final Fantasy, and is male. This to me is writing that places evil as male and good as female, thus implying women are good and men are evil, which is total bullshit.

And is something going on here or…?

The weird thing about it is that Cosmos is still this dainty, pure, by-and-large high and mighty woman, so it’s almost a representation of the idea of the fair, weak, and corruptible sex, but it almost seems like apparently this ideal is a good thing, like it’s good to be weak?

Like I said before, I don’t really see outright sexism that often in games, at least any more than sexist writing, and I don’t all video games or the entire industry is sexist, but I just wanted to point out what sexism actually is in the world of video games. And I don’t want to sound like one of the whiny political types (both liberal and conservative) who wants to take away our right to play as whoever we want without having to care if he/she is stereotypical, or our right to enjoy it. I just think that (1) we have a poor idea of what sexism in video games is and (2) it would be nice to shake things up in the industry even just a little. I encourage both established developers and rising artists and designers to write and design whatever they want, not to please a crowd but for their own sake. Write for yourselves and challenge the industry, and see if you can’t bring about greater diversity.