Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Time To Diversify
Clayton Purdom continued his journey through Persona 5 and delivered the third entry in his ongoing review of the slice-of-life RPG. Down in the comments, readers started talking about the relationships the game makes possible, and how it’s a shame it reserves romance for heteronormative situations, especially when its portrayal of gay characters isn’t exactly an accepting one. Seth Carlson weighed in:
As a gay dude, I was really hoping they would throw in an M/M romance route or at the very least make some inroads from the pretty mean-spirited ways they’ve treated most of the queer characters in the Persona series, but damn if they didn’t fucking go backward in Persona 5. There are a couple sequences that play on all the worst stereotypes of gay men being predatory effeminate pedophile rapists.
Persona is probably my favorite game series, and to get such a blunt reminder that the developer of my favorite game series either hates my guts or sees me as a joke really, really hurts. That I came upon the sequences in question only a couple IRL days after thinking that Yusuke might not be straight and hoping I could possibly date him made it hurt all the more.
And Morgan points out the lack of inclusivity is even more a problem when you consider the game’s message:
The lack of same-sex romance options is especially jarring when the game pretty uncritically lets you romance adult women, particularly since those adult women hold some measure of authority/influence over the player character. You can’t let me date my teacher and then tell me a male-male romance is inappropriate.
Cheese thinks this creates a great opportunity for a different developer to step in and make a similar game without those issues:
That’s kind of the main reason I want to see a Western developer take a crack at this game style, because they’re somewhat more likely to put queer characters in the game that aren’t just jokes or threats. Also because they might set the game in a place with some racial diversity. I feel the same way about Fire Emblem.
Clayton focused this review entry on how the game handles time management and comments on how we deal with that in our everyday lives. Swaggermuffin thinks that formula is having some diminishing returns:
I think the series is beginning to hit the limits of the thematic potency of its mechanics. (That’s a mouthful.) I keep going back to Persona 3. Its whole moral was to never waste the time you have in life; even its slogan was “Memento mori.” There was a paralyzing dread the first time I played through it all, knowing that unless I followed a GameFAQs to the letter from start to finish, I’d never hope to be able to see all the content the game had to offer. Pushing through that feeling, playing through the game and seeing everything I could anyway was, for me at least, one of the strongest moments Persona 3 had to offer.
The urge to do more and do better fits well in a game whose object lesson is about making the most of the life you have, but it just seems at odds with Persona 5‘s teenage rebellion.
Unexpected Dave discussed how the game’s systems might lack in thematic resonance, but make up for it by gelling together in a more practical way:
The social link mechanics definitely have less abstract thematic synergy than in P3 and P4, but at least they compensate by deepening the practical synergy between your social ties and your mission. You’re not just hanging out with a politician for the sake of friendship; you’re doing so to get better at negotiating with demons.
As for the time management, yeah, it’s a shame that it too has been reduced to a practical concern, as “time” is not a major theme in the narrative of P5. P3 was definitely the strongest, as the game’s template was designed to suit its particular themes. The synergy was diluted a bit in P4 and P5, as the designers have become hamstrung by expectations. I wonder if Persona 6 will risk tampering with that formula. They could change the way the game flows to better suit the next game’s themes. Or they could find new ways to reintegrate the “time” theme into the main narrative (for example, the Main Character could be afraid of adult responsibility, rather than dealing with his imminent mortality as in P3).
So Close And Yet So Far
Also this week, Anthony John Agnello dropped by to take a look back at the expert comedic timing and language of Capcom’s Ghosts ’N Goblins. In the comments, Baulderstone recalled another arcade game with a similar sense of humor:
Splatterhouse was a game with a similar sense of humor. One of the early levels ends with a poltergeist room. You need to smash the objects coming at you from the sides and you get subtly herded into the middle of the room. Eventually the room stops shaking, and the objects stop coming. You breath a sigh of relief, and about five seconds pass before the chandelier belatedly comes loose and crushes you if you are still in the dead center of the screen. Is it unfair? Sure. But I didn’t know anyone who didn’t laugh out loud when it happened to them, and it was easily avoided the next time you played.
I was a big fan of Ghost ’N Goblins and Ghouls ’N Ghosts. People can deride them as being games where you had to memorize patterns, but there wasn’t any sophisticated AI in those days. All games were about memorizing patterns. That made games with particularly complicated and comically timed patterns appealing to me.
It’s been a while since we had a discussion about choice and consequence in games, one of the most popular recurring topics among the Gameological commentariat. What better time to revisit it then with the release of a new Telltale game? Nick Wanserski reviewed the first episode of the studio’s Guardians Of The Galaxy game, and mentioned the apparent lack of impact your decisions and quick-time-event failures have on the proceedings. DoQui DoQui Panic stepped up to defend the Telltale way:
It seems to me like everyone in the larger gaming community is hung up on gameplay changing choices, as if to mean the game is “worth more” if there are more branches to explore/more options. It’s your typical, spurious quantity over quality argument that some bring up in reviews. Making “meaningful choices” doesn’t always mean the game has to change, but it has to influence your perception and interpretation of characters and story.
In my mind, the recent Batman Telltale game is a remarkable illustration of this. Batman is almost universally known as a character (at least among the kind of people buying video games in 2017). His story, as well as all of his villains’ stories are common knowledge, and here comes a game where Harvey Dent is not yet Two-face. At first, it seemed as if I would be able, through “meaningful gameplay choices,” to change Harvey Dent’s fate, but of course I couldn’t—no one could. The cultural permeation of Batman and, by extension, Harvey Dent’s character, has reached the level of classic tragedy: Everything Bruce says or does only leads to the inevitable, predictable fate of his best friend.
It’s funny to say this, but knowing Dent’s fate, as many fans do, but nevertheless struggling in the face of grim inevitability, helped me come to terms with a number of my struggles with people close to me, vis-à-vis mental illness. You can try to be there and do all you can, but not everything is in your hands. Learning to let go and accept a certain level of powerlessness and areas outside my control actually helped me grow as a person and accept the limits of my ability to help the people closest to me.
All that happened because the game is linear and offers choices that don’t change the story. So when I play a game (particularly an interactive story) I’m not necessarily interested in perceived “value for money.” I care about how I feel about my choices, not the way the game feels about them. I’m very happy to have a notification that “X will remember that” because it matters to me. I couldn’t care less if it matters to the game’s programming.
That’ll do it for this week, friends. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!