Characters I love

Continuing along with the theme of nostalgia and self-indulgent blog posts, this week I’m going to do a run down of characters I love. Partially this is to celebrate the launch of the Game Love anthology (in which I have a chapter!), and partially this is because I want to talk about VtM: Bloodlines some more. But first, the anthology, yay!

Photo courtesy of Esther MacCallum-Stewart.
Photo courtesy of Esther MacCallum-Stewart.

You can buy it on Amazon, but beware, it is sandwiched between a few other salacious titles which you might find distracting. I, for one, had to look up what BWWM meant and then I had to stare at the cover of that one book trying to figure out why a leg would be protruding from this gentleman’s head. Why a high heel on a football? So many questions…

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But enough of judging books by their cover. Game Love, which many people worked on for a very long time and deserve recognition for their hard work, is finally out and its time to celebrate. So here’s a list of game characters I love.

1. Malkavians in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

Not precisely a character, but a possible choice for player-characters. To bring my three readers up to speed, in Vampire the Masquerade (VtM) lore, Malkavians are a bit mad. Of course there are variety of ways this can play out in tabletop settings, but in a digital game? VtM: Bloodlines handled this really well with excellent story writing and environment and NPC interactions.

Take the above scene as an example. On my first playthrough as a Gangrel, I remember running through this flat, turning the TV on and being impressed that the news reporter was talking about current events relevant to the story arc. On a third playthrough with a Malkavian character, I learned that you get something completely different. The TV talks directly to you, and you can talk back!

Similarly, you can get in an argument with a stop sign.

2. The Pyro in Team Fortress 2

What dreams of chronic and sustained cruelty lie behind that mask?

The Pyro is complex, and not just in terms of her apparent instabilities. She is perhaps one of the easiest characters to pick up and play, but she can also be one of the most difficult to play well. Spy-checking, pyro-blasting folks of cliffs, accuracy with the flare gun, knowing when to employ the axetinguisher… These are all skills which take both time and practice. I like that the Pyro class has that type of replay value. Easy to pick up, hard to master. For me, that’s part of what makes TF2 still fun after many years playing.

3. Zevran in Dragon Age: Origins

Oh Zevran… Who doesn’t love you, you saucy minx? From his swoon-worthy stories about being an assassin to his witty repartee, he is perhaps one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across in an RPG. The fact that he is open about his sexuality doesn’t hurt either. Zevran never makes any apologies for who he is, or what he wants, whilst still managing to be caring and sweet. I’d love to see more characters like that.

Okay, so perhaps the sexy-time cutscreens are a bit over-the-top, and DA:O had that whole weird faces thing going on, but still. Zevran. ❤

4. Yoshi in Super Smash Brothers

I think we all know why I like Yoshi…

I like to turn people into eggs and drop them off the edge of the platform. Its just so satisfyingly… gross.

5. Frida in Bust-A-Groove

Since I derailed part of my last post on games I love to talk about characters I love in those games, I have tried really hard to avoid repeats. I didn’t mention Michelle Chang, for example, despite the fact she is totally awesome. Well, until now. But this small mention doesn’t really count. Does it?

I have to repeat Frida though.

Not only does she have the coolest hair colour ever, but she is also a graffiti artist. I guess. I mean, that was her special ability to knockback other dancers during combos. I also liked how she’d create a tropical storm just by dancing. Upon reflection, I might have liked her because Storm was my favourite X-Men character.

Thoughts

I’ve realised a couple things from these last few posts on nostalgia. Namely, that there are many ways we interact with and love games. Some games we love for their characters, some for their mechanics, some for the setting, some for the lore… This realisation is partially what the Game Love anthology is about. People interact with, and love, games in sometimes unexpected ways. Occasionally this is in ways the developers couldn’t possibly have imagined as they were creating the game. I guess that’s a testament to the larger impact games have on our culture overall. We consume, we discuss, we find pixels utterly endearing.

Thinking about all these beloved characters has not only given me the warm and fuzzies, but also made me really want to play some games. So on that note, I’m signing off.

But before I go, for those of you about to jam, I salute you! GL;HF

Until next time,

Ashley

Games and Nostalgia

Happy new year!

Hope everyone had a fun and creative Christmas break. Hopefully y’all got to play some games! Between writing the index for my latest book and a few journal articles I managed to play a few, but funnily enough, I didn’t play anything new.

Over break I revisited some classics and favourites from my gaming past. They got me thinking a lot about how nostalgia works to not only sell games (as I discussed in my last blog post) but also how a sizable chunk of my best memories in life are playing games. I guess that sounds kinda sad when I type it out, as I would assume other people have great memories of their family or pets or something, but mine are with pixels, polygons, cards and dice… and… wait a minute…family! Most of my best memories are when we all played together, actually. I never realised that until now. Hmm…

Well, anyway, since the Game Love book is coming out soon (preview my chapter here!) I thought I might make a couple posts celebrating my own love of games… and what better time to be self-indulgent than when you’ve got the January blues?

For the purposes of this post, I’ve tried to pick games which stand out the most in my memory, and I’ve tried to place them in chronological order. Other than that, there’s no real methodology to this list. I had originally tried to limit myself to 10 games, but in the style of Buzzfeed, the list seemed to grow willynilly. Well, why shouldn’t it? This is probably my least academic-y post, but that’s okay. Its nice to take a post to remember why I study games- because I love them!

Let’s get started.

12. Hi Ho Cherry-O– Board game- 1960

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I really liked this game when I was in preschool because I really liked cherries. Whilst I don’t actually remember playing it, I do remember trying to eat the red plastic tokens because I thought they would taste like maraschino cherries. They didn’t. 😦

11. Totally Rad- NES- 1991

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Although I had other gaming consoles, the NES was probably the first that I really remember playing. And this game? Yeah, it was as good as it sounds.

I never actually managed to clear the first screen because I think I lacked the requisite manual dexterity, but damn if I didn’t repeatedly try. I would get my mum in to help and watch her play for hours. I was completely fascinated by this Totally Rad world, which seemed to be an odd mix of magic and tech. Also, it really got down with the language of the youth, as evidenced in this gamefaq screenshot.

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10. Balloon Fight- NES- 1986

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Simple and fun. Good memories of PvP with family.

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Here’s an old photo of my uncle and I playing the game. If you look closely (and ignore the pink shag carpet and new romantic drapes) you can see I have my tongue stuck out in concentration. Kind of adorable if I do say so myself. I like this picture a lot, not only because I remember being really excited to play games with my visiting uncle, but also because most of the family bonded around the game. I mean, it was an important enough feature of Christmas ’91 for grandma to snap a photo. That’s pretty cool.

9. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening- Gameboy- 1993

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One of the best Christmas gifts ever. Good call, dad.

8. Bubsy- Sega Genesis/ Megadrive- 1993

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One entire summer vacation was spent playing this game with my grandmother. A simple platformer mostly relying on jump mechanics to collect balls of yarn and defeat aliens hell-bent on ridding the world of knits, this game was frustrating and fun. Suffering from a similar problem as the Lion King game (also for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis), certain jumps required absolute precision. If your controller’s B or C button was at all sticky, you might as well turn off the console.

The main thing I remember about the game was sharing the controller with my gran. When one of us would get stuck, or keep dying, or get blisters from sweaty button-mashing, we’d pass the controller. We completed the game together even though it had single player objectives. It was a nice feeling of accomplishment.

7. The Lion King- Sega Genesis/ Megadrive- 1994

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Nope. This game was hard. Impossible.

I spent a Christmas break with my dad trying to get past the water buffalo stampede and neither of us could do it.

A couple summers ago I was in a secondhand gaming shop in Manchester when I found a copy. I bought it, convinced that my manual dexterity had improved since 1994. It hadn’t. In fact, according to The Lion King, it had gotten demonstrably worse.

I got so frustrated that I actually resorted to looking up cheat codes online. (Note: I didn’t actually use the cheat codes because in the end I decided that the only thing more embarrassing than failing at a game is cheating and still failing and I didn’t want to take that risk.) By looking the game up, what I found was quite a lot of commiseration. The game’s entry on Wikipedia entry even states:

Gameplayers wrote in their November 1994 issue that “even on the easy setting, the game is hard for an experienced player”

There was some controversy over whether or not the difficulty was insanely hard to increase rental revenue. That’s right, this was back in the days of renting games. The classic Friday-Sunday rental meant you had a precious 48 hours, or so, to complete the game or risk your mum not letting you rent it again.

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you play the game, I would recommend you check out some YouTube playthroughs. The ones where the narrator gets increasingly drunk as a coping mechanism to deal with Simba’s failures are particularly entertaining.

6. Crash Bandicoot- PlayStation- 1996

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In the run up to Christmas 1996, my auntie bought a PlayStation. This was a big deal. This was HUGE!

After ages of whining for a next gen console, my mum had begrudgingly bought me a N64 that autumn. Unfortunately, one of the games we got with it was the first Turok. The fiddly camera controls meant that I quickly lost interest in the game, and I didn’t find renewed interest in any of the other launch titles. Frustrated that I wasn’t playing with my expensive new toy, my mum made me return it. I was heartbroken, but calculated that if I moped around long enough mum might spring for a PlayStation.

She didn’t. But auntie did! Well, she bought it for herself and my cousin, but we share in this family.

The day she bought it, my grandmother and I went to her house and were totally amazed at Crash Bandicoot’s polygonal graphics, use of lighting, and super fun gameplay, but what took us by surprise was that we couldn’t save. My auntie hadn’t bought a memory card because she didn’t think she would need it. Not only had previous gaming consoles featured internal save memory, but we just binge-played. When engrossed by a game, we would spend the weekend playing through on limited lives, pausing when we needed to sleep or shower, and never shut the console off. It was impossible to do that with Crash- at least with our skill set. On the second night of restarting from the beginning each time we ran out of lives, my aunt threw on a coat and went out to the shops to buy a memory card.

We completed the game the next week.

5. Tekken 2- PlayStation- 1996

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When I finally did get a PlayStation (thanks mum!), I became a tad bit obsessed with this game. I mean, I was into it. The cheesy background stories? They were totally legit to my mind. Compelling even. Also, I wanted to be Michelle Chang. She had the best upper cuts, cool hair, and a legit reason for entering the Iron Fist Tournament.

michellechang

I think, technically, my first cosplay was Michelle Chang. Well, it wasn’t so much cosplay as me dressing up like her around the house and trying desperately to get my fringe to do that spikey thing with water and hair gel. Because she was so awesome, of course.

Also, when I got my first pet, I named him Yoshimitsu after my second favourite character.

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Remember how in the intro his robot hand would do that spinny thing? How rad was that? If you don’t remember, go rewatch the intro video. It will be the best 1:35 of your day.

4. Bust a Groove- PlayStation- 1998

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If you couldn’t tell by now, the PlayStation was a big one for me. See, mum? Told you I would play with it everyday!

Ahem, anyway, this is another one of those games which took over an entire summer. In between binge watching episodes of Dragon Ball Z on Toonami, my bestie and I would play hours of this dancing game. It was fun. Mechanically, it wasn’t dissimilar from any other dancing game on the market. What made it special was the music (original and actually good) and the aesthetics. Each dancing stage had a responsive environment. The better you danced, the more cool stuff would happen. Also, as an aside, the CD ROM could actually be put in your music CD player and you could listen to the soundtrack. What?! How cool is that, right?

It also had this… interesting… character and level. I never really understood why an adult baby was sexy and why the level featured 100 litres of milk. I mean, 100 litres isn’t that much though, is it? Like, not enough to fill a giant bottle, right?

I am pretty sure my second cosplay came from this game. I loooooved Frida’s style. And that might be why I have blue hair now…but we can get into Frida, and my hair, in the next blog post.

3. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven- PlayStation2- 2003

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By this point I was old enough to get a job, work, save, and buy my own damn consoles and games. Being a fan of Sony at this point, I went straight for the PS2 when the next gen came around. It was a wise investment. The PS2 could play DVDs! Actually, as soon as I got it home and hooked it up to my TV, I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before I played any games. What? I had just gotten home from work. I was tired.

Anyway, Tenchu is probably the best stealth game I have ever played. And that’s probably because I don’t play many stealth games. And I had an operation that summer so I was a captive audience and had many doctor-prescribed pain management medications which made the game extra challenging. And fun.

Also, Ayami had great hair, but again, I will save that ramble for next time.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time- N64- 1998

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I hear you saying, “Whoa, did you mix up the order here?” No, I didn’t. Yes, I am aware Ocarina of Time came out in ’98, but remember how my mum made me take back my N64 like 2 weeks after launch? Yeah, I missed out on most of the classic N64 titles as a result. Pity me.

Lucky I had awesome friends who dusted off and dragged over their N64 for me to play in the summer of ’03 when I was laid up in bed post-surgery. I fell in love with Hyrule all over again, and this time it was in colour!

I quickly got stuck on the Water Temple and gave up… Sigh.

1. Uno- Card Game- 1971

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You know how most families comment about Monopoly causing fights? This was my family’s Monopoly.

Ever since I could understand the rules, I’ve been playing this game. With my entire family as well. Arguments and all.

Awww memories.

Some thoughts…

Looking back at glimpses of my personal gaming history has made me realise just how involved my family has been. The majority of my memories involve at least one family member participating, and well, when I got older it usually involved friends. I don’t know if my family is unique in that every member has played/currently plays videogames on a regular basis, but something tells me they aren’t. I bet lots of families play together. And, obviously, friends too.

I guess this gets at the heart of why I study games. I believe they are a social activity. Obviously not all games are played socially, and not all games encourage sociability- nor should they, but I think that most do. And that’s pretty interesting to a sociologist.

Until next time,

Ashley