I have a post up at The Ontological Geek as part of their romance series this month (which Critical Distance kindly linked and quoted as well). I’m writing about a pattern I’ve noticed in the Bioware video games I love to play: a fantasy race (elves in Dragon Age, asari in Mass Effect) whose people possess great power or wisdom yet occupy an oppressed and/or objectified position in their fantasy universe. Sometimes the game storytelling explores that dynamic, permitting the sexualized characters some optional dialogue for expressing individuality and agency, but more often it exploits the dynamic.
If you, like me, favor games that focus on character-building to the extent that you can opt to pursue a nonplayable character romantically, you’ll enjoy the rest of Romance Month at OG. I was particularly entertained by a post about a game in which romance was the main quest, not a side quest–designed “for women,” naturally. I kept thinking of Adrienne Rich: “Heterosexual romance has been represented as the great female adventure.”
Lastly on the subject of romance plots in video games: this series reminded me of one of my favorite gaming posts of all time, mostly about Alistair but dipping into the stories of other Dragon Age characters and plot choices. It’s one of a series styled after the hilaritragic 80s board game Girl Talk, all of which have some great commentary from fellow ladygamers.
The Millions had a post recently discussing the intersection between game storytelling and literary storytelling. There’s a fun recap of some major video games of the last decade and the novels to which they partly owe their design, and eventually the article turns to contemporary discussions among game developers about how they can attract better writing talent. There’s a conscious movement in gaming to employ literary devices, the author suggests, though there isn’t a parallel movement in literature to incorporate elements of gaming. But for many kids, video games will be their first contact with storytelling; the author suggests that we should be making literature that builds on game storytelling just as we make games that build on literary device.
Intriguing theory, though I have a hard time imagining how it would look in practice. Certainly there are a few books and films that consciously play on video game visual or structural elements–Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is an obvious one. The Magician King by Lev Grossman incorporates the gaming trope of leveling up (and its companion activity, level grinding), and it’s fairly seamlessly worked in–you might not recognize it as a callout to gaming if you’re not in the habit of gaming. Those are the only examples of gaming devices in non-game media that come to mind, but if you know of more, I’m curious.
Via Critical Distance, I fell into a rabbit hole of reading “How Not to Fail at Writing Inclusive Games and Game Settings” at Go Make Me a Sandwich: Parts 1 (Overview), 2 (gender and sexuality), and 3 (race and culture). These posts are long reads, but cathartic if you enjoy fantasy games except for the hamhanded characterization of fantasy races, and invaluable if you create fantasy media of any sort. I really wish I had read the series before submitting my OG piece, honestly: I would have linked to it in case readers wanted more detail about what’s wrong with the deeply powerful/deeply objectified “sex alien” race.
On the subject of race in fantasy worlds: “You’re a Wizard, Negro” isn’t exactly a gaming post but is certainly relevant to the racial representation you tend to see. The author points out that the archetypal wizard is an old white guy, then goes on to describe what kind of wizards you might get in fantasy writing if magical power and presentation were informed by black culture. I was reminded of two things: on the one hand, poor defensive Trayvond in Oblivion, possibly the only Redguard mage in all of Tamriel; on the other hand, Akata Witch, a gorgeous novel set in a magical school in Nigeria which draws on the fantasy fiction tropes I’m familiar with as well as magical stories and ideas specific to Nigeria.