The Consumption of Women's Bodies and Cosplay

A handful of photographers scurry around the halls of conventions, sent by their media outlets. They quickly ask for permission to take photos of the most gorgeous cosplayers, snap the shutter button, check the viewfinder to make sure everything is okay, give a quick “thank you,” and go on their way to the next cosplayer. At the end of the day, the photos get compiled into galleries, get titled "Best Cosplay of (event name here)," and give the subject little thought otherwise.

Coverage of cosplay has stagnated over the past couple of years as galleries of unattributed cosplayers have become popular. There are a few reasons for this: online journalism’s fight for clicks for ad revenue has made click-through galleries overused, and it’s relatively easy to take a bunch of hall photos and put them together. It leads to a fairly good payoff without too much effort. These kinds of articles often pay for the more in-depth articles; unfortunately, cosplay rarely gets more than a surface-level glance.

When Adult Men Sing the Stories of Teenage Girls

When Adult Men Sing the Stories of Teenage Girls

I walked to high school with the music of my favorite male singers sharing their loneliness and heartbreak through my earbuds. I trusted these singers—usually men—with my feelings, screamed my heart out at their concerts and allowed them to console me when I locked myself in my room. I would always be a stranger to them, but they influenced me.

Playing Life is Strange, the latest game by DontNod Entertainment about a teenage girl with the power to reverse time, was like going back in time to when I was their age.

Just Guys Being Dudes: Male Intimacy

"What's better than this: guys being dudes."

Men in popular culture are confined to a few specific roles: the strong, powerful hero, the possibly nerdy underdog, the more effeminate-looking villain, or the father figure. Sometimes there's some overlap, such as the father or husband who is motivated to save his wife or daughter—or to enact revenge after she's died, yet another reoccurring trope. In isolation, these character types are not bad, but they're certainly boring because of their overuse. But what lurks behind these masculine heroes and less masculine villains or comic relief characters is a fear of intimacy.

When you look at the more well-known male icons (Superman, Batman, James Bond, most of the action heroes played by Bruce Willis, etc.), you see muscles, grimaced faces, and usually a lack of emotion beyond anger. Video games often use violence as a motivator for the plot because that's easy to design around to compel a player forward, but that's also coupled with male dominance and power. We're seeing more complex stories that give depth to male characters, but there's still a lack of intimacy between male characters.

I'll be talking about Tales of Zestiria primarily further on for this article, but first I want to talk about a similar game called Final Fantasy XV. Like Tales of ZestiriaFFXV is a game multiple characters who are on a journey or quest together. FFXV departs from the norm in its series by having a cast of playable characters who are all male. They're basically on a roadtrip together, spending cozy nights together in a tent. As Alexa Ray Corriea writes at Gamespot, these guys act with each other with a sense of comfort, like they can behave intimately in a way that guys might only act around their closest friends. They're not "bro-ing" it up in a "Hey, I love you, bro, but no homo!" way. This sort of closeness stems from a fear of homosexuality and clings to the hypermasculine ideal that stresses physical strength over emotional openness. What we know about FFXV's male intimacy is confined to what people have seen in the demo because the game is still in development. While I'm optimistic, I'm also hesitant about the intimacy that will be portrayed in the game considering how the game sexualizes the first female character they encounter in the demo.

Sorey and Mikleo act in a way that makes us believe they’re comfortable with each other.

Tales of Zestiria also exhibits some sexism in character writing, but I can say it goes all in on a male intimacy that is believable and heartwarming. Sorey and Mikleo grew up together since they were babies, and they're cared about each other for as long as they can remember. They've been exploring together all that time, going on adventures as kids and now as teenagers. They both developed an interest in archeology. They bicker. They stand closer to each other. They rest their hands on each other. They reassure each other with physical touches. They're completely at ease with each other because they trust each other unconditionally. 

In Tales of Zestiria, Sorey can fuse with the spirits who have entered a contract with him as the Shepard. The game never explains the details of this fusion to the extent that Cartoon Network's TV show Steven Universe does with its fusion, in which characters can fuse together to become someone stronger. Steven Universe depicts fusion as something inherently personal; in order to keep a fusion stable, characters have to be in sync with each other. At least in Sorey and Mikleo's case, I see their fusion working the same way because they love each other and know what the other person is going to do just as that person decides to do it. Because Sorey is an empathetic person, I can see fusion overall in Zestiria functioning similarly to that of Steven Universe

Before Sorey and Mikleo can fuse together, Mikleo has to become a Sub Lord to Sorey. Sorey and Mikleo get in what is certainly not their first fight, but it's the first one we see, and they get into this fight because of how much they value each other. Sorey doesn't want Mikleo to enter that contract because he wants Mikleo to follow his own dreams rather than feel compelled to follow Sorey's. Mikleo is offended that Sorey is pushing him away and doesn't want him to help. After all, Mikleo wants the same thing that Sorey does: save the world, and explore the world. Prime Lord Lailah asks Mikleo to give Sorey his true name, a name that few know in the ancient language, and Mikleo replies that Sorey already knows what it is. And once the two make up, they have a tickle fight.

Just guys being dudes.

Just guys being dudes.

Sorey and Mikleo act in a way that makes us believe they're comfortable with each other. They rest their hands on each other. They stare at the sky together. And their relationship is always treated as the most important one in the narrative. Traditionally in Tales games, there's a male hero and his female companion who follows him and supports him (e.g. Lloyd and Colette in Tales of Symphonia, Cless and Mint in Tales of Phantasia). While there have been close male friendships in the series before (primarily Yuri and Flynn in Tales of Vesperia), these have always been presented within the game (not talking about fanfiction) as platonic. Sorey and Mikleo never have that Big Kiss Moment, but that's hardly a thing in the Tales series to begin with, and you don't need that to know they are each other's significant others, whether that's sexual or not. Their relationship as a human and a spirit who get along is seen as an ideal for the world, where humans and spirits have grown separated from one another. The people around Sorey and Mikleo hope to see more relationships like theirs between humans and spirits around the world.

Zaveid is interested in looking at babes. Sorey is only interested in looking at Mikleo.

Zaveid is interested in looking at babes. Sorey is only interested in looking at Mikleo.

Truly, it's noteworthy that this relationship is so important in a wider context because relationships like these are rare in video games, especially. However, it goes beyond male intimacy being seen as rare; we need to change the perception that men can't have close relationships where they hug each other tightly or hold hands—things that women do together without being portrayed as romantic. And yet, we also need more happy stories about people who are gay! In the last TV show you watched, how many characters were gay? Did they survive to the end of the story? Are they happy? I challenge all of you to reflect on the last TV show you watched, the last movie you watched, and the last game you played (one with a narrative) on how it represents sexuality and intimacy between the same gender. It won't be until we recognize the problems in our media that we start to make changes, and if the media we consume shows healthy relationships between friends and partners, then maybe that'll persuade some people to stop clinging to an outdated and unhealthy ideal of emotional stagnation in men.

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Consent and Games: Creating an Interactive Experience with the Player in Mind

From games on the playground to structured roleplaying experiences, consent is something players can give or take away. As an assistant teacher in an after school program, I tried to subtly give kids pointers on how to communicate their desires to be included or excluded from a game. In an aggressive tagging game where they chased each other and grabbed each other (something I found alarming at first), they said “safe word” whenever they were uncomfortable with the game and needed to stop. From what I saw, they took “safe word” seriously and backed off when somebody needed to take a break.

That’s a start.

In LARPs (live-action role plays, or a game in which you are physically playing a character and interacting with other players in character), the gamemasters (called GMs) typically solicit desired experiences from players who have indicated interest in playing. Players may indicate whether they prefer puzzles or combat, complex storylines or relaxed roles, characters who will lie through their teeth or characters who are exactly who they appear to be, etc. This helps the GMs find the right roles for players to fill. In my first (and only so far) LARPing experience, I made sure to communicate how much I did not want to be doing several little quests to do build an item nor did I want a tricky character to play. So, I was assigned a character who was pretty straightforward but had many, many goals. I was pretty satisfied the whole weekend.

Sometimes LARPs involve situations that are potentially triggering experiences for players if they don’t know what content will be addressed. Games about loss, suicide, or trauma hit close to home for some people, and when you have no warning, the subject matter can be deeply unsettling. While it’s common courtesy for game designers or previous players not to spoil the content of the game, people’s mental health is always more important than a spoiler. Hell, our culture cares way more about spoilers than it does about trigger warnings (see outcry over Star Wars spoilers and compare that to the response to people asking for trigger warnings in media). If sensitive material is a part of your game, it is your responsibility to explain what that means players will be dealing with. This doesn’t have to go into details; just a simple content warning before players sign up that the game will address ____ themes will suffice. GMs don’t want players needing to suddenly leave a game because of a bad experience that could have been averted, and players don’t want to get into a subject they would rather avoid for whatever reason.

From xoJane: (because this is nice and succinct)

“Trigger warnings were originally implemented with a very specific and very clear function: to tag content that contained traumatic material for the benefit of people who experience panic attacks, PTSD flashbacks, and other responses to such material …
Trigger warnings would provide people who know they experience intense physiological and psychological responses to certain known stimuli — triggers — with a, well, warning. Which would allow them to prepare for something that might be traumatic.”

Trigger warnings aren’t a be-all, end-all solution, but they can help reduce harm. Content warnings are much broader, but they’re also good to implement. This is all about transparency and providing people (and players in game settings) with the information they need to decide whether that experience is something they want to sit through. For example, I like to know when a video game or a LARP is going to contain sexism. A content warning might let me know that the media contains sexism, and a trigger warning might let me know something more specific, such as a male character sexually assaulting a female character. There are some days I’m fine with consuming media about sexism, and there are other days when I’m too exhausted by sexism in daily life to want to experience it in a game setting. Either way, I appreciate the information.

Now, getting back to consent — without those warnings in the case of LARPs not suitable for everyone, I can’t be expected to consent to a potentially traumatic or disturbing scene if I don’t know it’s coming.

Even for milder things, consent can be given or taken away. Sometimes games will have characters who are in a relationship played by people who are not dating; maybe they didn't even know each other beforehand. Your comfort level is far more important than playing up the role. It's important to discuss this before the LARP starts, but you should also establish when you are in and out of character so that it's obvious when you're telling another player to stop it's you the player saying that. The easiest and most common way I've seen of communicating out of character is the placement of the player's hand over their nametag. 

It's hard to quit a LARP when you've already begun. There's an implicit pressure to be a well-behaved player or not to hinder the game for anyone else. After all, playing in a LARP is like participating in an illusion with many other people. You're all physically in a classroom or a hall, but you've all agreed to pretend you're in a specific setting, acting as someone who is not you. Essentially, everyone is acting but sort of doing it improv. LARPs function because players agree they enter "the magic circle," a place separate from our reality with different rules. However, it is unreasonable to expect people to completely shed what they bring along with them (e.g. their experiences and identity) to the game. That's why proper communication is important to distinguish when you're playing along and when you are not. Before signing up for a character, think about what you want and don't want out of the game so that you're prepared to break the illusion when your safety is threatened. The game organizers should also take care to be someone players can trust so that they can approach an authority who will take their concerns seriously.

The point is everyone, from players to designers to GMs, wants to participate in a game they’ll enjoy. Crafting a space where players can discuss or exit the situation when they’re not comfortable is just as important in a LARP as it is in a sexual context. You are not your character, and it is perfectly reasonable to leave or avoid a game that makes you uneasy. A lot of mid-game uncomfortable situations can be avoided simply by telling players what they should expect to see and do in the game.

Because LARPs are interactive, multiplayer experiences where players’ actions shape the story (although the games’ design makes certain events likely or certain to happen), there’s huge value in players coming together to participate and co-write what happens in the game. Don’t put pressure on players to keep on playing when they’re disturbed by something in-game (I’m the type of person who would likely keep participating because I wouldn’t want to inconvenience my fellow players). Trigger and content warnings take almost no effort to provide. They’re another sample of information for players so that they can decide whether that experience is something they want. It’s not your business to counsel others on what experiences are right for them.

Once we focus more on players’ needs than spoilers, media and interactive experiences will be more welcoming to people. The more accessible we make it, the more people can enjoy it. More information doesn't hurt.

Interesting Games of 2015 You Should Play

Interesting Games of 2015 You Should Play

I'm not a believer in "game of the year" articles and awards. Many times I don't get a chance to play a great game until at least a year after the game's release, and so do lots of people. In addition, the games that usually get the sort of Game of the Year attention are the ones being distributed by huge, already well known companies with a big PR budget. This year I made it a goal to play more games by independent creators and smaller teams. This led to me playing a lot of older games as well, so I present you with two lists. One includes my recommendations for games that released this year and stood out; the other is a list of other games I played this year that came out in 2014 or earlier that I greatly enjoyed.

Sometimes the Blue Curtain is Just a Blue Curtain

I know I'm not the only one in an English class where a teacher or another student has tried to find every little piece of meaning in the setting or a character. Sometimes I'm grasping at straws when looking for symbolism, and I can't deny the enjoyment of playing connect-the-dots with setpieces in literature with guesses as to what the author meant. But sometimes that blue curtain in the character's room isn't blue to represent sadness; sometimes it's just a color.

More meaningful than curtains are actions characters have done, whether this is depicted to the reader or if it's described to the reader as something that already happened. Our hobbies and interest say a lot about us. What we choose to do with our free time shows what we care about, what we choose to invest ourselves in. Were those curtains already there, or did the character pick them out? Were there other curtains? Why blue? There doesn't always have to be a reason, but some of the character's design choices should be a statement. In Dontnod's episodic game Life is Strange, we get to learn a little more about each character by seeing what their room is like. For example, Max, the protagonist, has a dorm room similar to the one I, and probably lots of college students, had. From pictures and posters on the walls to her acoustic guitar and plant, Max seems like a pretty normal middle class girl. When we see her best friend's room, we see Chloe has a more rebellious streak. She's handwritten on the walls in permanent ink, her room is smokey from doing weed, her lights are usually dim, and it's a mess.

Characters' rooms should, in most cases but especially in dormitory situations where students have freedom to decorate, be just as important to character design as the clothes they wear. However, moral judgments make their way into writing and character design. When we only see antagonists and "evil" characters liking certain things, we're drawn to a conclusion that only bad people would like that sort of thing.

This came to mind as I played episode 4 of Life is Strange, "Dark Room." I've written about Life is Strange before, finding some truth in how the writers portray how embarrassing Max can be, but I was also worried the writers thought women who are intimately close will get engaged in romantic activity together but treat it like a platonic friendship. I'll have to wait until the final episode to get a firm grasp on how the writers are treating Max and Chloe's relationship, but I'm less worried now. Instead, something else caught my attention. Spoilers for Episode 4.
Inside Nathan's room we see lots of dark-themed imagery as well as NSFW pictures of women. In this case, we see pictures of a woman being spanked with a paddle, blindfolded, etc.

Since episode 1, Nathan Prescott has been a dangerous kid to himself and others. He has an explosive temper and carries a gun. He tried to intimidate Max with violence, and he assaulted Warren. In episode 2, he texts Max and her family, breaks into Max's room and leaves a terrifying message for her. If that wasn't enough, Kate opens up to Max and tells her she thinks Nathan drugged her at a party.

Nathan is an extremely troubling kid. There are still a lot of mysteries going around as to how involved he is in Rachel Amber's disappearance and exactly what he did to Kate. We learn a lot about Nathan in episode 4, and it's a grim picture for this twelfth grader. In this episode, Max is able to investigate Nathan's room while he's out. She can read his emails to learn more about his troubling family life, look at his furniture and posters, and make value judgments — which she does frequently when snooping.

The way students choose to decorate their dorm is an important design choice. It speaks to how the character feels or wants to be perceived by others. Max has several photographs on her walls because she wants to be a photographer. Victoria, who also wants to be a photographer, similarly has pictures on her walls, and she also has expensive clothes in her closet because her family is at the very least in the upper-middle class. Kate's room was dark and closed off when she was bullied and felt isolated. Getting a look into Nathan's room should be just as illustrative of what he likes or how he feels.

Nathan's room is literally dark; a lamp in his room is broken. His shades are drawn, and he has a lot of clutter. Much of the art on his walls shows photos of women who are bound or otherwise submissive. (That's usually a little more personal, so I don't know exactly why Nathan chooses to put that on his dorm walls in case a friend walks in, but I guess nobody really likes Nathan other than Victoria, soooo ...)

Similar art is found in the "dark room" that Max and Chloe discover later on in the episode, and they also find pictures of young women from Arcadia Bay, primarily Blackwell Academy. These women look spaced out, and they were probably drugged before being taken to this room. The game sets up the dark room and Nathan's room to feel similar. Emails from Nathan's father are in the room, and his jacket is lying on a couch. Furthermore, the evidence Max and Chloe find clearly point to Nathan being a great danger to all of the girls at Blackwell Academy. Even before finding the dark room, Max learns Nathan bought GHB, the "date rape drug," just before going to the party where Kate said she was drugged.


We even find out Nathan has a mental illness and that his therapist is no longer comfortable seeing him. Everything points to Nathan being terrifying, and I truly was scared for all of the girls at that night's party. It sadly isn't surprising that the game depicts the character with a mental illness as a creepy guy because this is common in media, but it's even worse that the game uses Nathan's interest in domination and bondage as a clue that he's dangerous.

(Side note: The very end of episode 4 shows the photography teacher at Blackwell, Mr. Jefferson, has a much more heinous role to play in the game. I don't know exactly to what extent, but I believe he has before, and it's entirely possible he's the one who killed Rachel and not Nathan. So, it could be that Mr. Jefferson is into domination as well, considering most of his photography is of young women with dark or sexual themes. Even if that is true, Nathan is still used as a red herring, and we're still led to cement our suspicions of Nathan when Max gets a look at his room.)

In Nathan's case (and probably also Jefferson's), I don't think the boy understands the concept of consent, and that's much scarier to me than knowing he likes to see women tied up. A person who buys GHB and drugs a woman is dangerous; a person who enjoys being dominant in sexual play in a safe, consensual environment for all parties is not scary due to that interest.

We were already led to believe that Nathan is a dangerous guy. Showing us those photos draws on judgments that people who like domination and submission play aren't good people. Kinky stuff is supposed to be only for the morally ambiguous or evil characters.

Sometimes the blue curtain is just a blue curtain, and sometimes kinky interests are just fun play and not a moral judgment of character. We don't need every instance of dominating sexual interests to be nonconsensual ones.

Sexuality in Life is Strange

There's a stereotype that women are more open with their feelings and less shy about expressing intimacy with other women in specifically heteronormative environments. This includes but is not limited to women giving and receiving hugs, sleeping in the same bed together, and talking about personal problems. The women we see in these situations in media are usually cisgender and heterosexual. It's the "girl talk." These things feel platonic to many of us. They're almost always depicted that way in media, and they're frequently platonic in our relationships with people in our lives.

But that's a pretty limited viewpoint to hold exclusively. Because of this, we believe men who express their feelings with their male friends must be gay or "effeminate," and we are far more likely to believe women are just "really close friends" instead of romantically and/or sexually interested in each other. Take Legend of Korra as an example. At the end of the series, Korra and Asami end the story with the start of their journey together — and together with only each other — after many scenes of blushing and showing how much they cared for each other. Beyond Nickelodeon not allowing obvious declarations of love and kisses between two women, many people just assumed they were friends because of a tendency in American culture for women to express closeness.

At the beginning of episode 1 in Dontnod's game Life is Strange, protagonist Max Caulfield reunites with her childhood friend Chloe and learns she had some sort of relationship with a girl named Rachel before she went missing. By episode 2, Max — and by extension, the player — find out Chloe and Rachel had a secret hideout together. In their hideout they write on the walls to prove that they were there together. Chloe speaks endearingly of Chloe and at one point calls Rachel her angel. In episode 3, Chloe learns Rachel had a relationship with a man they both knew, and suddenly she feels betrayed by Rachel. From all of this, I believe Chloe is or was in love with Rachel.

Rachel has changed Chloe's life, and romantic relationships don't need to be the be-all, end-all of life-changing relationships. At the same time, I don't want that to come at the expense of romantic relationships outside of heterosexuality. Chloe is still deeply affected by Rachel's disappearance, but she's also overjoyed to see Max again. Max is a bit shy and probably still figuring out who she loves. Chloe seems to have a better understanding of that.

While the two undeniably are friends, Chloe makes jokes about Max using her power to rewind time to kiss Chloe without Chloe knowing it happened. In episode 3 they strip to their underwear and go swimming together, chatting about each other, the last couple of days, and boys. Chloe insists guys at the school must like her, and I have Max reply with, "Ewww." Chloe later on says she's been interested in guys as well, but from what I can tell, she hasn't cared deeply for someone like she has for Rachel. Her relationship with Max is progressing as well, but it remains to be seen whether Max has any romantic interest for Chloe.

But then I swear I wasn't just idly shipping Max/Chloe with little context. Max spends the night at Chloe's house like old times. They wake up and lie in Chloe's bed together for a while, just enjoying each other's company. As Max looks for something to wear, Chloe dares Max to kiss her. As the player, you choose whether Max kisses her; I went for it. Would they blush at each other and confess? Would they trip over their words as they stumble through sexuality like most young adults?

Max kisses a dumbfounded Chloe, and the game frames it as a dare and nothing more. Max laughs as if she pulled a "gotcha!" on Chloe.

Much of the dialogue in Life is Strange has sounded like it was written by dads trying to understand their teenage daughters. That's why I'm not sure these moments are supposed to be telling the audience Max and Chloe are interested in each other. If this were a straight couple, you can bet people would be declaring this to be canon.

For many of us, kissing is extremely intimate. After all, you're physically close enough to smell each other and taste each other's saliva. I think there are very few people who would kiss each other without it communicating physical and emotional closeness or desire. For it to be treated as a "haha, gotcha!" moment is insulting. However, if you talk to Chloe after the kiss but before moving on downstairs to get breakfast, Chloe says, "You better not rewind and take that kiss back." Chloe says nobody's good enough for Max... except for herself.

This sounds anything but a platonic relationship, at least from Chloe's end. Maybe the writers will pleasantly surprise me.

I hope episodes 4 and 5 will explore their relationship with that in mind. Will these two eventually date because of my decision? I really can't tell, but I hope this wasn't a throwaway moment because we need to see greater representation for women who aren't heterosexual or heteroromantic. So far Life is Strange has shown us Chloe has been interested in men, Rachel had some kind of close relationship with a drug dealer she and Chloe knew, and all of Max's classmates insist her friend Warren has a big crush on her. I can only hope at least one of these women will have a confirmed relationship with another woman. And I hope one day we'll have enough representation in media that it won't feel like I have to back myself up on the existence of these relationships whereas straight relationships are assumed to be canon.

For now, the "word of God" has stated the relationships in the game are ambiguous. Ambiguity can be interesting, but ambiguous relationships that aren't heteronormative get talked down as if they're the product of people trying to make something "more gay." I really wish relationships between people of the same gender didn't have to be depicted with a million metaphorical fingers pointing at it to make it obvious, but we're still at a point where people think two girls kissing means those girls are close friends.

And this isn't even me getting into the politics of relationships in terms of age differences, which I may talk about in the future depending on what happens in the next two episodes for a certain teacher in the school.

Supergirl: Girl vs. Woman

A first look at the upcoming Supergirl TV series at CBS has released for our differing judgment. People are already likening it to a "chick flick" or a sitcom -- films and shows that are not the territory we think of when we imagine superheroes. The "young woman working at a media company struggling to move forward and prove herself" is a pretty common story for movies aimed at women.

Kara, the cousin of Superman, is 24 years old, and we first see her carrying coffee to her office for her superior. She's aware of her powers, but so far she's blended in with the crowd as a seemingly normal human until she saves a plane from crashing. 

As a 24-year-old myself in media, I relate to Kara's struggle of trying to find her way in the world. Being at the bottom of the ladder in a company sucks when you're given the menial tasks. You know you're capable of doing more, but no one seems to pay attention to that. Superhero stories are a great way of blending fantastical adventures along with real life struggles, such as Kamala Khan in the new Ms. Marvel finding her new identity as a superhero while navigating society as Pakistani American, muslim teenager. While Kamala has conflicts with villains, she also has conflicts with family and religion. Let's be honest: CBS' Supergirl isn't doing anything that noteworthy compared to Ms. Marvel, but it shows we can have our so-called girly shows also show a young woman becoming more independent as a superhero.

Beyond that, the depiction of Kara and Supergirl in this show are so different from the other superheroes we see from DC, such as Superman and Batman. Supergirl smiles and looks optimistic. Batman crawls around in the dark and scowls.

Right now in the twittersphere and discussion forums, women are debating over the scene we've seen where there's an argument to keep the "girl" in Supergirl as opposed to calling her character Superwoman. Kara even objects to the title Supergirl, but Kara's boss defends it.

"What do you think is so bad about 'girl'?" she asks Kara. "I'm a girl and your boss and powerful and rich and hot and smart, so if you perceive 'Supergirl' as anything less than excellent, isn't the real problem you?"

There's already a lot to talk about in this one scene, which we haven't seen all of yet. "Girl" is an infantalizing word for many women, especially in work settings. There's not a hard rule on when a girl is considered a woman, but by the time we're Kara's age, most of us would be offended being thought of as girls. I don't think that problem lies with us but moreso with the men that use the term to treat women and our opinions as lesser. There's something to be said of taking back a word that has negative connotations, but a quick look in male spaces on Twitter or Reddit or really any male-dominated discussion board talking about women will use "girl" as a pejorative.

I don't have a firm opinion on whether the "girl" in Supergirl is supposed to be empowering rather than a term like Superwoman, but the defense of the term in the show is a bit silly when the rest of us outside of the show know the show is using the moniker Supergirl because it has a history we're all at least vaguely aware of. 

Agent Carter might be more of my thing than this Supergirl, but I'm all for changing up what we expect from existing franchises and recognizing it's more than boys and young adult men who like superheroes.

Second-hand Embarrassment, High School, and Life is Strange's Max Caulfield

In my junior year high school yearbook, I scribbled over the faces of a few people with whom I was in a feud. So few people have seen this yearbook because I was so embarrassed about my behavior that I threw it out halfway through senior year.

High school was embarrassing for most of us -- if not all of us. Even people who seemed to "have it all" in high school -- the stereotype of being on a sports team, being in a relationship, having good grades, etc. -- probably look back on their four years of high school with some level of shame. Or at least I hope those people, some of whom I knew to have harmful views of students from poorer areas, will one day be hands-over-the-face "I can't believe I said those things" level of embarrassment.

Even today I put my foot in my mouth. I frequently wish I could rewind a couple seconds and take back something I said. In the game Life is Strange, you can do just that.

Max Caulfield (possibly named with Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield in mind) is a 12th grade student attending a school away from home to focus on her photography. Max makes lame jokes, worries about giving the wrong answer in class, and is trying to navigate a space where the right decision is unclear. I was -- and am -- a lot like her.

Max gains the power to rewind time, and as the player you can use it in mundane ways. Embarrass yourself in front of your favorite (and possibly even cute) teacher? Rewind time and give the right answer. Max even uses her power in a convoluted manner to spill paint on a girl who refuses to move, blocking Max's entrance to the dormitory.

I don't want to actually go back in time to change big things I did. I'm embarrassed that my friend and I didn't speak to each other for two years because of some disagreement we don't even remember anymore. I still remember in vivid detail a Sociology class assignment where we had to describe what our ideal date would be, and mine had a ton of unintended sexual puns. Our teacher read each date aloud with no indication of who wrote them, but the laughter over mine made me more flushed than usual.

But as you find out in Life is Strange, sometimes there isn't actually a correct choice. Because the game limits how much you can rewind, you can only amend your decision shortly after the choice is presented and you see the immediate consequences. You have no way of knowing how your choices will affect things in the long-term. Sometimes both options suck. For example, when you're presented the opportunity to tell the principal of the school a student brought a gun to school, informing the principal means drawing undue attention to yourself as the principal doesn't believe you. But if you don't tell the principal what happened, he may suspect you of causing trouble. Either way, it sucks. The real point of rewinding time and considering your options before sticking with one is the act of deciding.

Even with special powers, there's not much Max can do. Being in high school tends to be a mix of feeling like you're untouchable and feeling like you lack control of your life. Max can go back in time to change a decision she made, but she only has so much of an influence. I did not feel powerful hiding in a closet when the stepfather of Max's friend hit his stepdaughter.

It was the little things that made me happy I could go make things better. After watching a classmate get hit in the back of a head with a stray football, you can go back in time and warn her to move.

If there's anything I want after playing the first chapter of Life is Strange it's reconciliation between Max and Victoria, the girl who tries to embarrass Max in class and refuses to move from in front of the dorm's entrance. Their squabbling is so annoying to watch, but it's also so typical of the dumb fights I had in school. The game tries to present Victoria as the "mean girl" at Blackwell Academy, but both she and Max fall into the same girl-hate trap of trying to be better than the other. There's healthy competition for a photography contest and then there's blatant rudeness. I encountered my share of rude classmates in school who didn't like me for reasons I still don't know, but most of the time fights are blown out of misconceptions, miscommunication, and hurt feelings. I had hope when I tried to comfort Victoria after rewinding time to set up a convoluted plan to spill paint on her. Victoria softened, and she and Max got along for a moment. And yet when the scene was over, Max wondered whether Victoria was just trying to humiliate her further. Max wanted me to go back in time and say something mean to her instead. In the heat of the moment I've misinterpreted something a person has said into an insult, and Max just doesn't understand how embarrassing her fight with Victoria is.

I don't want to go back and totally change the things that led to fights with my friends because reflecting on it helped me mature and learn how to apologize. But I would have appreciated a greater sense of reasoning out my actions and thinking about the consequences. Rewinding time isn't a mighty power in Life is Strange; it's hard to see in the moment how your decisions will affect other people.

Chapter 2 of Life is Strange is out later this month.

On GamerGate

Note: I had drafted this piece for publication to be alongside that of my colleagues; however, they couldn't make it to publication. Because this is important, I want to post it here. I wanted to do it sooner while doing the "will they or won't they?" dance. If it has to be here, then at least that's somewhere. I have made some minor edits to make it more of a standalone piece. If you're somehow new to discussion on GamerGate (as it's received national media attention since my initial writing of this), I have also written an article for Indiewire's Women and Hollywood blog explaining GamerGate is a hate campaign as well as discussing sexism in the games industry.


As I read the statements in The Escapist's "What Male Game Developers Think of GamerGate" article, the same knot in my stomach appeared as the time a group of anonymous men called me a c*nt for daring to criticize a Soul Calibur V advertisement. The same knot from when I found out a bunch of men said behind my back I couldn’t possibly good at Super Smash Bros because I was “a girl.” It’s the very same knot that I haven’t been unable to unravel before GamerGate even started as I’ve watched more and more women leave the industry because it does not deserve them.

Undoubtedly, many of the views expressed by different developers in The Escapist's article hurt me. What I found even more distressing than the responses was how this article was presented and researched. With extremely edge case hypothetical questions, leading questions, and a selective round of interviews, the presentation of the article was inaccurate. I’m glad the initial title was quickly changed from the initial "What Game Developers Think of GamerGate" to adding the adjective "male" to avoid presentation of male game developers as the “default” while women must be “female game developers” (in this Escapist article). Still, I’m shocked such an obvious thing slipped through in the first place. Furthermore, the opening paragraph, now redacted, slipped into revisionism territory, giving an alternate timeline of events instead of addressing GamerGate’s roots: ones that began with the sole intention of attacking a female game developer. I am not against the idea of asking various game developers for their opposing opinions on things happening around the industry and culture, but all too often people ask men what they think of women’s issues, and the men try to explain the problems away. I saw a lot of that in the article, and some of the men interviewed were harassers (note: their interviews have been removed). I do not think it is ever the duty of journalists to give a platform to harassers. Objectivity doesn’t mean handing a microphone to people whose words enable harassment and death threats; that would be anything but minimizing harm. Objectivity is not always in the middle of “two extremes.”

A lot of people in GamerGate keep pointing to the Society of Professional Journalist’s ethics code. SPJ’s code of ethics, which I was asked to memorize in college, has four tenets: seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. I’m sure we can all agree that these are things journalists should abide by. I agree with a lot of people in GamerGate that we need to critically examine the relationship between press and developers and publishers, but I am never going to be willing to do it while risking the physical and emotional safety of the women being targeted by certain members using GamerGate for momentum.

When women talk about abuse, the default reaction in GamerGate has been to doubt them. The concept of us needing to talk about our abuse in order for some men to listen to us is absurd in the first place. We shouldn’t need to talk about how we’ve been hurt in order for you to stop talking and actually listen. When women speak about diversity, there’s a large segment of people who make dealing with harassment a necessary step in order to call for safe spaces for all people. An article in Jezebel breaks down better than I can why GamerGate is a hate group in terms of dehumanization, techniques, recruitment, and a leader (notable right-wing celebrities and journalists, as well as YouTube personalities).

GamerGate isn’t as much about ethics as it is about silencing feminist criticism of video games and the game industry. Of course, this isn’t evident in only games circles. Comments on Escapist articles about the portrayal of female characters in comics earn very similar remarks, claiming gender-inclusivity is just “political correctness.” To that I ask you to actively listen to women speaking about the problems in STEM, in games, in comics, and in the world.

This is why I urge anyone who wants to start a conversation about ethics in games journalism and the game industry to divorce themselves from #GamerGate. You may not have gone into the hashtag with ill intentions, but people are using it to coordinate attacks on women. By using that hashtag in this climate, you are condoning the behavior that has sent three women running from their homes in two months. We’ll be ready to have that ethics conversation once we feel safe.

I also urge for more coverage of this issue and everything surrounding it. GamerGate didn’t pop up out of thin air. Women have been harassed in gaming for as long as I’ve been alive. It is our responsibility as journalists to cover this with empathy for those being attacked, along with fair reporting that isn’t afraid to point out the problems in this industry and in the press.

I sat here at my desk wondering whether to issue this statement anonymously. GamerGate has made it clear that women are targets of much more severe harassment than men are. Women walk around with targets on their backs, and becoming vocal makes the target easier to spot. I am tired of keeping quiet due to fear. I know many will tell me to shut up, that I’m mistaken, or that my experiences are invalid – all things I am used to hearing because I am not a man – but I will not stand by as I watch this community and this industry run women into the ground.

Hamatora Review: Some Thriller, A Whole Lot of Filler

As a visual medium, anime (and really any TV show or movie, animated or live-action) should be appealing to the eye. Our first impression is what we see. What I saw in Hamatora was really bright colors. Really bright colors. Unfortunately, when a show is all style and no substance, the pretty colors and cool-looking characters aren't enough to make the viewing experience a pleasurable one.

Hamatora is a 12-episode anime series adapted from an ongoing manga of the same name. In Yokohama 2014, some people have a special ability called a Minimum. This minimum differs from person to person, as some can become super strong, move super fast, or use a program to look into the future. Two of these people, named Nice and Murasaki, form a small detective agency called Hamatora, picking up odd jobs. There are many other characters -- there are actually too many characters to be shown in the 12 episodes -- who make appearances and solve cases.

The greatest thing about Hamatora is its character design. Every character has their own silhouette and style. No two characters look alike. Some of the designs are questionable (why does Nice have bandages on his face? Why does Koneko have catlike attributes [beyond "cat" being in her name]?), but when it comes down to it, they look both cool and kind of dorky. Bright colors are all the rage in Hamatora. Nice wears flashy, bright clothing. The minimum abilities are shown while the animation turns neon. Backgrounds are bright, and colors are saturated. Occasionally the show's colors turn darker, but by default, they're punching you in the face.

Unfortunately, the rest of the show falls flat. With only 12 episodes, you'd think directors and writers would want to put as much as the story from the source material as they can. Unfortunately, Hamatora suffers from filler. Characters go to the beach. They go to hotsprings. They spend extra time on very minor characters but not enough time on the main character. By episode 12 comes around, the climax has to be sped up, and it all ends on a cliffhanger. The villain is introduced rather early as a flamboyant man who is obsessed with Nice, and yet he remains just as predictable by the end. Motivations are rarely discussed or shown, and Nice's character arc is sidelined for other characters, minor characters like Birthday, Ratio, Three, and Honey, though to a lesser extent. Characters tell the viewer that Nice is the best Minimum Holder and scored amazingly well on tests from Facultas Academy, a school that all Minimum Holders must attend. But there's nothing about Nice that makes him stand out especially from the crowd because we know next to nothing about him over 12 episodes.

Despite the audience knowing nothing of Nice's background or motivations, the show desperately wants people to care about Nice. He's presented as an unconventional guy more concerned with helping people than large sums of cash. Despite being the supposed best Minimum Holder, he's done next to nothing with it upon graduating. He's the everyguy/good guy you're supposed to root for, but Nice doesn't want to be the hero Hamatora wants him to be. By the end, he refuses to help another Minimum Holder who just wants to look normal again. He acts on his own. He refuses to partake in the strength from friendship trope. But Nice doesn't find his stride because the show can't find its groove.

Hamatora is trying to be too many things at once. It's a mystery story wrapped up in magic, action, comedy, and drama. It tries to subvert tropes, but by doing so it creates mood whiplash both within a single episode and from episode to episode. For example, the episode following a character's death was the "mandatory beach episode" common in most anime. Each episode has a self-contained mystery that wraps up neatly and conveniently while the main plot is pushed forward in the last minute.

Even more unsettling is Hamatora's treatment of its female characters and a gay character. Hajime is a girl who loves to eat and has a good relationship with Nice (though how they know each other and why they're important to each other is up in the air because it's never shown or explained). She's a Minimum Holder as well, but her power isn't shown until the very end of episode 11 and is triggered by despair. She then proceeds to pass out and do nothing for the finale. Koneko is an easily forgotten character who finds jobs for Hamatora. Despite essentially being their employer, Koneko essentially does nothing but stay in the headquarters and clean cups with the store owner. Honey has more action and is more aggressive than Hajime and Koneko combined. Nice and the others value her ability to see into the future, and she's an essential part of the team in the end. Other female characters include a client, an angry mother, background characters, and a hacker who works with the villain for no discernible reason.

The show also includes an incredibly stereotypical gay character in the hot springs episode and openly laughs at him. I wanted to laugh at the people responsible for creating such an awful character, but I was too busy being openly disgusted. This character's power is being able to attract men with his sweat, playing on the All Gay Men Are Promiscuous trope. He makes all of the other characters uncomfortable, and his power is completely for laughs. He also does sit-ups for a straight 30 seconds, as if it were on a loop, so it was obvious this episode was never meant to be a serious one. Hamatora tries to convince the audience that it's a serious show, but it slips up constantly with things that don't even end up being funny; they're just lazy.

With plot holes, a forced storyline, and contrived character interaction, Hamatora is fun to look at, but it's not fun to actively watch. Despite being such a generic show, it's getting a second season this July, so I guess it at least made a decent amount of money in Japan. For a somewhat similar show that succeeds in drama, action, and distinct mini-arcs, check out Darker Than Black.

Highway to Hell

An elderly woman crashed her car into mine as she backed out of a driveway, and I went without a car for 35 days. It was the longest I haven't been behind the wheel since I got my own car two years ago.

Previously, the longest I hadn't been behind a wheel was my time studying abroad for a semester. Once I returned home, I bought my first car. It had a very distinct smell of cleanliness when leaving my local dealership. The first time I drove on the highway in my baby, I cranked up the music, rolled up the windows and belted out songs, singing along to mixed CDs I had made for road trips. I felt like a rockstar singing along to Florence + the Machine power ballads, matching the drum beat of "Cosmic Love" with my fingers against the wheel. I loved driving on the highway because it meant not stopping at traffic lights, blasting my music without feeling like a bother to people around me, and no one paying attention to me. When you get your driver's license, you feel free -- free to drive where you choose, no longer relying on friends and family members to shuttle you places. For me, being able to play my music loudly and sing along with all my heart, which is something I can only manage to do in the car alone or occasionally while playing Rockband, was freedom.

For the last five weeks, I have relied on others to drive me places. For one, it's a nuisance to rearrange your schedule around others' free time, and I'd had enough of that when I was working at 16 and without a driver's license. There's also something relaxing about driving 60 miles per hour, passing people you will probably never meet, and rhythmically shouting, "You left me in the daaaAAaaaAAARK!"

I left the auto repair shop with a car that looks as good as new and hit the road. It smells just like it did two years ago from my old local dealership in Maryland. I was giddy -- settling into the seat felt like it did when I had purchased the car. Getting onto the Hutch to head home, I switched from the radio to my CD player. I had forgotten to take out a couple CDs when my car was towed weeks ago, and while Florence + the Machine was no longer there, I pressed play on the first CD. Strings and a man's voice singing, "Woooooooooah" crooned. The bass kicked in, and I turned the volume from 8 to 15 and knew the next words: "I'm waking up to ash and dust. I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust."

This is it. This is my freedom, I thought.

Then I missed a turn, woefully doubled back to make a left turn, and got stuck in the middle of an intersection with "friendly" New Yorkers reminding everyone else how much they hate them.

"Fuck, I hate driving."

I Want To Feel Important

It'd be an understatement to say 2014 has been a downer for me. In January and February, I felt myself stagnating. In March, my mom died. In April, I got rejected from a job I had pursued with all of my (remaining) energy. In May, things have settled into a routine, and I've been able to trick myself into having a good time on most days with some success.

Books, TV shows, movies, and games all make me feel things. Games in particular stand out as a way for me to feel good because they place me into a larger world. I've written before how Animal Crossing has been my go-to game when I feel sad and overwhelmed since New Leaf's release because it is simple and cute. That's good in short bursts, but when I've been sad for this long, a band-aid of adorableness doesn't cut it. What I need is to kill some dragons.

Blood, guts, weapons, magic, different races, a deep history, and customizing my own character. This is what I needed.

Dragon Age: Origins had enough material for me to chew and forget about my world for a few hours. Not all games need to be, or even should be, about escapism. Some games should reflect the world and comment on personal experiences. But other times it's great to jump into a fantasy world and be someone else for a change. Instead of being the freelance writer still trying to get into the thick of things, I was a hero capable of summoning large fire tornadoes and blizzards, taking on dragon hordes, and solving political disputes. I will never be that important in my real life. Some games make you feel good by making you feel important. After all, the protagonists of many stories were either destined for greatness or got roped into things and ended up becoming great; either way, they were heroes by the end.

Players can customize the protagonist's appearance in Dragon Age, choose what to say from a list of dialogue options, and influence people ranging from companions to leaders. The game takes place in a well-established place -- a country that recently regained its independence, but it's a country with complicated politics, and plenty of racism. A part of what makes me feel good when playing Dragon Age is being able to persuade and intimidate other characters when they make racist comments. Playing as a disenfranchised race feels so good when you get to point out the hypocrisy of people in power. It's the triumph of the underdog and the destruction of power structures that favor those already in power. This is often a dream in the real world, which is why I find it so important in media.

Ferelden is vast, and among your travels, you encounter humans, elves, dwarves, men, women, templars, mages, opportunistic merchants, refugees, and nobles. Each place has its own culture that you learn about by discovering documents and speaking with the people living there. These vast worlds within games remind me of my childhood glee of getting wrapped in Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, two very different series with a lot of world building. These pieces of media are so fascinating because they are different from our lives.

But let's be honest here -- sticking a sword through the archdemon's face is exhilarating. There's a lot of joy to be had in taking down twenty as many enemies as you have characters in your party.

Many of us are not powerful. We are victims of illness, circumstances, poverty, power structures, and loss. If killing darkspawn makes you feel important, go slaughter as many hordes as you can.

Kill la Kill: Empowerment vs. Exploitation

(This post discusses sensitive material, such as sexual violence.)

Since Kill la Kill began airing, people have been asking the question, "Is this anime feminist, or is it sexist?" And most of all, "Is it good for women?" Being able to succinctly answer a question like this in regard to media is always convenient, but things can't be tied up neatly with a bow like that. Short answer: As a whole, no, Kill la Kill isn't feminist. Long answer: Kill la Kill has some great female characters who lead the story, but elements of the show objectify these characters and should be examined critically. In this post, I will break down my thoughts on Kill la Kill in a way I hope better educates people about concepts necessary for examining media from a critically feminist lens. There will be spoilers concerning the plot, but I will do my best to keep them to a minimum, and will flag each explicit spoiler. This will be a lengthy post, beginning with many of the aspects I find problematic and exploitative before I move onto its more empowering aspects.

For context, Kill la Kill is an anime series from Japanese animation studio Trigger, best known pre-Kill la Kill as the producers behind Little Witch Academia, an animated short about a group of girls studying magic. Kill la Kill begins with the story of Ryuko Matoi and her quest to find her father's killer. Believing Honnouji Academy's student council president, Satsuki Kiryuin, to be the person behind it, Ryuko swears to fight her way through the school to get to Satsuki. Little Witch Academia and Kill la Kill both have women at the forefront of the series, but the two are very different in tone. Before leaving animation studio Gainax, the co-founders of Trigger worked on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt. Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill appear to have more in common; both are high energy and have over-the-top animation sequences. They're both full of headstrong characters, some sense of teamwork (though the dynamics are very different in Kill la Kill, which also has an emphasis on family), and fanservice. After all, the trope "Gainaxing" gets its name from studio Gainax and its animation of bouncing breasts.

The word "fanservice" generally elicits binary reactions. People love it or hate its existence. As a woman, it's disappointing seeing your gender repeatedly objectified over and over for an assumed male audience. The term for this circumstance is "the male gaze," a concept Laura Mulvey introduced in her 1975 essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." The concept addresses imbalances in gender power and gender politics, specifically that women are objectified in film because heterosexual men are the ones producing, writing, directing, and filming the material. If at any point the camera is put into the perspective of a man, the male gaze has occurred. Usually when this happens, the viewer (also often assumed to be a heterosexual man) sees women in a passive role while the man is considered dominant and active. This creates imbalances in power, tipping control into the patriarchal male role (a system in which men hold political/social/familial power, actively excluding women from authority), thus subjugating women. To be objectified is to be treated passively, like an object. An objectified character is one who only has things happen to them. For example, in Gurren Lagann, Yoko Littner is often objectified for brief moments due to the animation directing attention to her breasts whether it be another character staring at them or the audience watching her lose her clothing (immediately followed by a shot of the two male characters gawking).

In Kill la Kill, main characters Ryuko and Satsuki wear uniforms that transform into skimpier versions that make them much stronger. They are literally weaponized femininity, something that is often seen in magical girl shows where the female characters use items/clothing gendered as female in fighting. Ryuko and Satsuki are at their strongest when they wear these kamui (often translated as "god robes").  Ryuko's kamui, named Senketsu (named for "blood"), forces itself on her in a scene that's made some rape survivors uncomfortable. Furthermore, when Ryuko wears Senketsu in the first few episodes, she is visibly embarrassed by the attention she receives. In the first several episodes, Ryuko is treated like an object. Even when the camera is not literally from the perspective of a man, viewers see an all-male audience getting worked up over Ryuko wearing Senketsu. This is played off as a comedic scene and normalizes the behavior of objectifying women.

By episode 3, Satsuki proclaims that she doesn't care what the masses think of her displaying her body, a message that many have taken to be body-positive and anti-slut shaming. That message is an important one. Media often tells women to be ashamed of their bodies and "preserve" their sexual behavior for "the right guy." Media and society also frequently blame women for instances of rape and sexual harrassment/abuse with questions like, "Well, what was she wearing?" Satsuki's acceptance of her body as her own is important, but it's equally important not to force sexuality onto others. Media plays into a double standard of telling women not to be sexual while all the while sexualizing women in society and in fiction. There's nothing wrong with Ryuko objecting to others undermining her for what she's wearing (against her will at first, which also brings up discussion of consent). Furthermore, Ryuko's weakness in strength due to her embarrassment tells women that they can only be strong if they sacrifice their rights to privacy and consent.

While I am of the belief that there is nothing inherently sexual about a person's body and that everyone should feel powerful about their bodies, society has repeatedly shamed women for their sexuality. Unsurprisingly, as a result many women are uncomfortable with showing their bodies. A better takeaway for people would be that we are powerful for our thoughts and actions rather than for how we look (clothes or no clothes).

Additionally, Ryuko is sexualized outside of wearing Senketsu. Ryuko befriends a girl and fellow classmate named Mako, and she begins living with Mako and her family, depicted as a dumb but lovable group. Mako's father, brother, and even sometimes their dog try to catch glimpses of Ryuko while she's changing or taking a bath. During one episode, Ryuko desperately needs their help to deliver her uniform to her, and each time the male members of the Mankanshoku are too distracted by Ryuko's body to help. They also try to peek on her in the bath, and in one scene Ryuko wakes up to find Mako's father breathing heavily on top of her after she was beaten up and left unconscious, alone. This may be a comedic gag meant to poke fun at the Mankanshokus' uselessness, but it also normalizes sexist behavior.

So, it's obvious that Ryuko and Satsuki are sexualized in Kill la Kill. With a show about clothing and (spoiler) specifically an alien force that can control clothing and enslave the human race (spoiler over), a lot of the characters are naked at some point. One group, named Nudist Beach opposes Satsuki and her army of powerful Goku uniforms. Nudist Beach's leader, (spoiler) Aikuro Mikisugi (spoiler over), receives the most teasing, as he frequently sheds his clothes and tries to act sexy for the camera. To make it even more over the top, his nipples and the region of his penis and testicles glow pink. They radiate pink. When he gets into a robot to fight, his butt hangs in the air. This goes for every other Nudist Beach member as well. The difference is that this is all done in a way to make the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of his fanservice. He also chooses to be naked. His agency is not taken away; therefore, he is not objectified in his fanservice. I think that no matter how Trigger tried to poke fun at the anime industry's fanservice, it just isn't going to break down rigid gender politics by doing more of the same -- but OVER THE TOP. Cultural history has placed women as the passive, weaker sex -- more akin to property than human beings, especially for working mothers in Japan (this is also a huge problem for American working mothers).

If it sounds like I'm ripping apart heterosexual men, don't get the wrong idea. If you are a heterosexual man (even moreso if you're white and cisgender), you have certain privileges in life that are not extended to people who do not fall in that category. This means that male employers may hire you over an equal female candidate based on unconscious biases (and people won't think you were hired because of your gender), much of history plays up your demographic's contributions while erasing minorities' contributions, you can walk outside without fear of someone shouting lewd comments at you, you can go to a mechanic and not have them talk down to you because of your gender, you're more likely to be taken seriously even if you're not conventionally attractive, you're more likely to see characters sharing your gender take up the majority of viewpoints in culture, and you can have sex and not be shamed for it. Before you go off and say, "Okay, I get it. I'm a straight man, so everything is obviously my fault," you should know that having privilege doesn't make you a bad person. Being unaware of your privilege is what's at fault, as is exploiting your privilege and turning a blind eye to it. This goes beyond the power dynamics of heterosexual, cisgender (people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) men vs. everybody else. Even within feminism, there are plenty of issues surrounding LGBTQA and women of color communities, as well as ideas founded on class. Back to the topic on hand, Kill la Kill treats the traditional exploitative thoughts of women as a joke, but for women who have had to put up with lifetimes of objectification and sexual harassment and abuse, the joke isn't funny because it's still objectifying women.

If you've stuck this far, I commend you. It probably sounds like I hate Kill la Kill. While the show fails to satirize fanservice in a way that subverts tradition, the plot is throttled forward by female characters. Ryuko and Mako have a wonderful friendship and are willing to put themselves in uncomfortable, dangerous situations to protect each other. Ryuko and Satsuki's dynamic also changes drastically from the beginning to the end of the series (crazy big spoiler, I'm warning you) once it's revealed they are actually sisters, and their mutual antagonist is their mother. In addition to their mom as the big baddie, Ryuko in particular has to face against Nui Harime, a fearsome and sadistic girl who works for Ragyo Kiryuin. (spoiler over) Within Satsuki's Elite Four are three men and one woman, all of whom admire and deeply respect Satsuki for various reasons. While all four are interesting characters individually, their role largely lies in supporting Satsuki. Action shows in shounen anime from Japan are generally directed at men. As such, the characters who shake up the plot in shounen series are male a significant majority of the time (think Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, Yu Yu Hakusho) while women occupy the supporting roles. This is completely flipped around in Kill la Kill. The men are now the ones with the less significant roles. They're important -- they're just not running the show.

Beyond the plot, the animation framing moves away from treating Ryuko as an object and starts portraying her and Satsuki in powerful poses. Action heroes, typically male, usually embody the "superhero pose" in which they square their shoulders, look directly at the viewer (or if not at the viewer, stare off-screen with an expression that exudes determination and activeness), and stand with their legs roughly shoulder-width apart. Female characters often do not receive the same treatment. Even when they are supposedly acting strong, they are depicted as passive or meek. (Compare that Black Widow poster to the one from The Avengers.) I was pleasantly surprised to see gripping fight sequences that showed two women fighting with their all... and they just happened to be wearing clothing that doesn't cover much of their bodies. No close-ups on breasts, no sexy panning shots, nothing that would give off a tone that undermined Ryuko and Satsuki. Even at the end of their respective transformation sequences, Ryuko and Satsuki give off an air of power and agency.

Unfortunately, later in the show, Satsuki loses her agency (and fortunately reclaims it later). This is portrayed through (spoilers, content warning) her mother's sexual abuse. Ragyo molests Satsuki in a "purification ritual" in the bath, gropes her, spanks her, and it's implied this has been going on for a very long time. Just after we see Satsuki triumph over her mother after the bath scene, Ragyo puts Satsuki in her place -- in a cage where she spanks her and runs her hands over her body. Satsuki remains a determined character and puts things back in motion by calling her Elite Four to action. Regardless, Satsuki is treated as an object in a sexual manner. (spoiler over) Character development does not have to be shown through sexual abuse; in fact, it's usually done in poor taste. That was the case in Kill la Kill. Each occurrence of familial sexual abuse mixed its signals of "this is wrong" and "this is kind of hot." Themes of rape and sexual abuse can be portrayed without mixing up signals. Unfortunately, Kill la Kill's already constant presence of fanservice means it has a lot of baggage to deal with. Mixed signals can be interesting (see Mirai Nikki/Future Diary and its character Yuno), but mixed signals of sexual abuse come off so, so wrong. What should have been purely a horrific scene gets mixed up in fanservice. The audience already knew this antagonist was clearly and objectively a bad person. Trigger could have shown her character's evil aspects without sexual violence. She could have invaded characters' personal space by standing too close, leaning in/over others, and placing her hand on Satsuki's shoulder or head. She could have talked in a patronizing manner. We know the character objectifies Satsuki, and as the audience we are supposed to be upset by this. Kill la Kill already toes a fine line between fanservice and sexual objectification of its strongest characters; when it comes to sexual violence, it's hard not to think about all the times the show has tried to elicit laughs at sexualization.

Sex doesn't sell. Degradation of women sells. Ideally, if I were to see fanservice depicted, it wouldn't diminish characters. These characters would be clearly expressing content. People have said Kill la Kill satirizes the anime industry's tendency to objectify women, but it's benefitting from the fanservice as much as any other anime would. (Anita Sarkeesian examines the idea of "ironic sexism" in video games and explains how they are a cheap excuse to feel okay about oppressive ideas because they do not "fundamentally change, challenge, or subvert" problematic tropes.) While it's true Kill la Kill is over the top and presents Ryuko and Satsuki as powerful women fighting for their own goals, it'd be naive to think Trigger won't be capitalizing on merchandise that objectifies the show's female characters. I think it's amazing that we have figurines that portray Ryuko akin to a typical shounen action hero, but I fear there will also be a fair share of merchandise focusing on Ryuko's close-to-naked body. Look at all of the merchandise of Yoko Littner from Gurren Lagann.

As far as my personal opinion on the show goes, I enjoyed watching Kill la Kill. Its twists and turns made the second half of the show particularly exciting to watch each week, and I loved watching the characters grow. The soundtrack's high-energy tunes are a blast to jam out to, and the rest of the music is just as wonderful. Its got a lot of comedy as well (comedy that isn't at the expense of female characters!). Unfortunately, it has some problematic aspects that dampened my enjoyment of the show at times, as some fanservice was at the expense of characters, and it was disrespectful of topics like sexual abuse. I'm split on Kill la Kill. I love its emphasis on female characters and how they lead the story, but certain scenes kicked me out of the high-energy mood and offended me.

If you're not turned off of Kill la Kill by reading this, I highly recommend you watch it. If what I've discussed makes you uncomfortable, it is equally acceptable to pass it by. As much as I enjoyed watching it, I've given it its fair share of head shakes.

A Letter From Mom

Loss becomes easier to bear with time, but it also becomes more apparent, or so I was told after my mom passed away. They said it'll be weird not having her present for my major life events up ahead, whether that be marriage, kids, or career goals. That won't be able to hit me until I'm older. For now, every moment I don't spend being busy is what makes me reflect on what's happened.

It's now been 17 days since she died, and I'm nearing my second week of resuming a normal life and finding it quite far from normal. For a week, sympathy cards comprised all the mail I received. I'm glad they've been replaced by a steady stream of Magic cards.

When I'm stressed and anxious, I play Animal Crossing: New Leaf for a few minutes. The quick errands help me feel like I'm being productive. In 24 hours, I've decided to take a break from it.

I had completely forgotten about the fictional mother every Animal Crossing player has. After all, she hadn't written me a letter in a while, and usually they're so generic that I don't give them a second thought. I received my first letter from her in a while yesterday. I deleted the letter as soon as I saw who it was from. I don't remember what it said. I just didn't want to see it anymore. Yet another undesired letter sent with the best intentions.

Things started to go sour for my mom around Valentine's Day. By the time my birthday arrived (Feb. 26), it was clear things were not getting better. Doctors took her off of chemotherapy as it had started to hurt her body. I spent the afternoon that day celebrating my birthday with three Animal Crossing villagers. Before blowing the candles out on my virtual birthday cake, I made a wish. Today a villager asked me whether my birthday wish came true.

I wished for my mom to get better.

Journey and The Multiplayer Co-op

I don't often play games with others, and I very rarely play games with people I don't know -- especially if it's online. After hearing so many horror stories about the vile things people say in Grand Theft Auto Online or Call of Duty and other similar modern first-person shooters in multiplayer matches, I'm happy to just play single player games. Thatgamecompany's Journey was my first experience playing a game with strangers online, and it may be one of the few.

In a mistake that disabled my PS3's internet connection, the first time I played Journey was offline and therefore alone, giving me a different but equally satisfying experience that I will address later. For my second playthrough, I fixed my PS3's connection to the internet and started Journey like usual. I encountered a white robed character by the time I reached the second chapter. They led me from symbol to symbol and found the glyphs for me. I already knew where some of them were from my previous playthrough, but I went along since I didn't know how to communicate that I knew how to get these things.

This person would both rush ahead and hang back for me to catch up. With their white robe, they could fly around and then recharge their scarf before taking off again. Without that ability, I could only fly for short periods of time and then catch up to this person who could regenerate my scarf. They flew ahead to what I thought was the edge of the map. There they stood by a waterfall of sand, pressing the O button to send out a symbol above their head until I got close. They ducked past the sand and revealed an Ancient Glyph to me. As soon as I got it, they took off again, and I followed as close as I could.

I quickly found myself in what felt like a mentor - mentee relationship. This person was eager to lead me to find everything in the game and I just had to keep up. I relied on them to show me how to best reach difficult to grab symbols and to avoid the aggressive Guardians that threatened to rip our scarves. The most poignant moment for me was when we went sandsurfing together with a sunset in the background painting everything orange.

We stuck out the game as long as we could, but before the end I had to stop playing. This was the moment I was most frustrated I couldn't put my feelings into words. I pressed O three times -- not too fast and not too slow -- before I quit the game. Thank you, stranger. We'll never know who the other was, but thank you for your guidance.

In one of my subsequent playthroughs, I encountered a fellow red robed fellow in the Tunnels. (After encountering so many helpful white robed players, donning the white clothes is too much pressure for me!) Neither of us guided the other, but we would occasionally try to ping each other when finding a symbol or ancient glyph. We weren't walking close together like I often did with white robed players, but we didn't stray too far from each other. Suddenly, a Guardian awoke and was coming toward us. Like I remembered doing with other players, I darted toward the left side and pressed O quickly. I managed to get out of the way fast enough to stay out of the Guardian's sight, but my fellow traveler did not, and we frantically ran in different directions. I didn't see them again (and if I met them later in a different level, I had no way of knowing), but I knew they were somewhere in the Tunnels. Occasionally I would press O to indicate, "Hey, I'm still here! Where are you?" but I never heard or saw a reply.

Journey's multiplayer experience is executed perfectly. Thatgamecompany has said the multiplayer aspect of the game can be compared to hiking with strangers along the same trial. You move at a different pace, but when you come across each other, you at least nod and acknowledge them. You might not be experiencing the journey at the same time as each other, but you're still having a shared experience.

On the opposite side, I also had a fulfilling single player experience. In this case, instead of lighting up with joy upon finding someone else journeying, I felt less alone when I completed a chapter and had a brief encounter with the elder characters. They were much larger than me and wore white instead of red, but in this first playthrough they were all I knew about the people like me. By the time I reached the mountain and trekked through the snow alone, feeling the controller rumble each time I limped a step forward, I was lonely. There was this huge expanse but it did not appear inhabited except by creatures that wanted to attack me. When I fell and everything turned white, these elders appeared in front of me as a group for the first time. I had never been sure if it was this one white figure or a group of them, but seeing so many people similar to me wordlessly encouraging me forward invigorated me. I skyrocketed forward and flew through the mountain's clear skies to the top to meet the others. And then I cried because the experience was so beautiful thanks to the beautiful art, Austin Wintory's beautiful music, and the simplistically beautiful story.

For someone who is often quite lonely in reality, I'm not someone who seeks the kind of interaction people get from online multiplayer video games. I still prefer that first playthrough alone in Journey over the co-op playthroughs because that's the kind of gamer I am. However, each multiplayer experience I've had with Journey has been meaningful to me. It makes me feel like I've forged some friendships with new people even though I have no idea who they are. For all of you people still playing Journey and guiding new people from start to finish, I salute you.

Gone Home: Sibling Love

In lieu of Gone Home's many, many awards and nominations, I feel it's a good time to present my view on Gone Home.

Gone Home is a love story, but not just between two girls who are romantically interested in each other. As one-sided as it's presented (through a silent first-person protagonist controlled by the player), sibling love also came into play strongly. As an older sister, I related to Katie, the player-controlled character. I also left the United States for some time as I explored Europe. At least I didn't come home to an abandoned house with notes from my sister left behind.

The house in Gone Home immediately felt eerie. I heard Katie leave a voicemail for her family announcing when she would be returning home. So why was the house empty? Some lights flickered, and a couple TVs were left on as if something terrible had happened. The tone of the game never let me feel at ease despite how much I loved exploring the empty house. This is Katie's first time in this large house as her family acquired it from her uncle; it was both of our first experiences trying to find clues in various rooms. A lot of it felt familiar, though -- notes from the parents to Katie's sister, Sam, calling out her behavior, reminders for calendar events, entries from diaries. In the time Katie was away, Sam has been attending high school, meeting new people, falling in love, and had to deal with her parents' disapproval. She keeps a diary the whole time, writing directly to Katie. The player isn't given much information to go on concerning their relationship before Katie left home, but judging by Sam's frankness through her writing to Katie, I can only imagine they trusted each other even if they weren't spilling out their feelings in person.

Seeing Sam grapple with her classmates' comments made me want to pummel them for picking on my sister. Seeing the first sparks of attraction and admiration for her crush brought a smile to my face. Hearing her talk about the person she kept falling harder for had me rooting for her all the way. And more than anything getting to be her confidant made me feel special. You have a kind of history with a sibling that you don't get with anyone else, and in some ways they know you better than anyone else. (They certainly know your faults better than anyone else -- and they won't let you forget it.)

My sister and I are three years apart. Three years feels colossal when you're young, but by the time you're both in college, three years seems so minimal. We've both had some similar experiences that most people around the world have -- struggling in school, finding our own talents, making friends, losing friends, developing crushes on people, confessing and getting shot down. Sometimes I don't know what she's been up to in her personal life until a year has passed and it just comes up in conversation. More often than not, we talk about personal things through texts or online conversations. There's something weird about doing it in person, face-to-face. And that's why I can see Sam easily writing a diary to Katie rather than telling Katie all about it in person. We never see the two interact face-to-face in the game, but Sam seems like the kind of person who's unlikely to tell her big sister about this girl she fell in love with -- at least not in person.

After having spent two hours in the game learning all about what Sam's been up to, I was clearly going to be apprehensive upon reaching the end of the game. Many of Sam's notes were happy, but there was this nagging sensation that lingered in the back of my mind when I first encountered the locked attic. Sam's bolded instructions were for no one to come into the attic as this was her space. The closer I got to finding the key to the attic, the more desperate Sam sounded in her notes to Katie. She was likely never going to see her girlfriend again, and she felt lonely elsewhere. She was still developing an identity, and for the time it was undeniably linked to this woman she was dating, a woman who had shown her new kinds of music and played video games with her. Red marks in the bathtub turned out to be red hair dye and a funny momentary misdirection in how the player would receive the game's tone, but what if it was a warning for what could be waiting in the attic? Along with the ghost story vibe still in the background of the story, I was worried about what would be waiting for me.

So as I ascended the attic stairs, I was prepared for the worst, and I was terrified.

After I did a quick look around in the small space, I was relieved to see nothing ghastly about. It was just a few developed photographs hanging to dry. Sam's diary lay at the end of the hall. The credits ran shortly afterward. In this time, I imagined Katie sitting down with the diary, reading everything that Sam wanted to tell her sister, and upon reaching the end and reading that Sam was running away to be with her girlfriend, Lonnie, I wasn't happy. "What the hell are you thinking?" I wanted to yell. "You can't just run off and survive on junk food and pawn off VCRs to get some spare cash and then just drive around until you two have nowhere safe to go!" I imagined Katie running out the door in the middle of the night to find Sam before something terrible happened.

Gone Home isn't a game for everybody. It takes no more than two hours to complete, and it's much more about exploration than influencing the direction of a story. More than anything else, it's about emotion. Any game that makes me feel something beyond what was presented in the game is a piece of art.

Review: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies

If you're ever walking into Ace Attorney expecting a realistic sim about being a lawyer, boy, you chose the wrong series. A great part of Ace Attorney is its ability not to take itself seriously. Unfortunately, the quality of Dual Destinies suffered as plots were dull and came together haphazardly.

The first thing I need to mention is the third case of the game, "Turnabout Academy." In this case was a character by the name of Robin Newman. Robin was training to be a prosecutor and was very loud and exuberant. Robin screamed when things got hairy or when flustered by a situation. Robin also presented as a male, an important fact for what I would most like to discuss.

As newbie attorney Athena Cykes, I cross-examined Robin to try to prove the client, Juniper Woods, was innocent. The prosecution's basis for Juniper's guilt was that a voice recording exhibited a woman screaming something that could be interpreted as a threat to the victim. Of the three people suspected of the crime, one was female (Juniper) while Robin and the other character Hugh were male. Through the cross-examination, Robin admits to wearing a dress Juniper made and eventually spit out that he wanted to wear feminine clothing. Athena then realizes Robin is actually physically female and outs Robin as a woman.

It turned out that Robin was actually being forced by her family to present as male since she was a child, leading Robin to be uncomfortable with her gender presentation as she had always believed she was a woman. While I love that the game tackled gender identity issues (somewhat) they're hardly explored in Robin beyond her being forced to come out as a woman (an act that made me extremely comfortable -- I would never want to out someone as that is never my business). Robin instantly shows her love for frilly things and frequently gawks over a sparkling shoe. From one moment, Robin shows her masculinity by shouting at people in a stereotypical testosterone-crazy fashion and the next she shows her femininity by obsessing over pretty shoes and clothes. This seemed simplistic, stereotypical, and played off for laughs. Robin's gender presentation felt like it was mostly played off for laughs. Even if this series is known for its comedic gags, poking fun at someone's gender identity issues in a way that makes the player laugh at the character struggling with those issues is the most definite wrong way to go about humor.

The middle of Dual Destinies fell a bit flat. For a game's theme to be about the dark age of the law, there needs to be more scenes of what that actually means. The first case was a good introduction to Dual Destinies, as the player is able to get its first sights of Athena as well as get reacquainted with Apollo, who seems more serious than he did in his own game (this is explained later). Opening with a case about a bomb explosion in a courtroom is a great way to show what "the dark age of law" entails.

Unfortunately, the second case feels very distinct. Taking place chronologically first in Dual Destinies the player sees how Apollo and Athena first worked together when they met. While this was an interesting way of storytelling, thematically it felt like it had very little to do with the "dark age of law," even though it had great minor characters and introduced several important characters.

The third case felt foreboding at first with a teacher who often preached that the ends justified the means in court, a phrase that came up at the end. Sadly, the issues with Robin distracted me so much from this case that I had a hard time enjoying it.

The fourth and fifth cases were strongly related, but it wasn't until the fifth case that the player finally learns more about Athena and her background. Had the game spent more time building up Athena as a character, the fifth case would have hit harder, but humor frequently distracted from Athena's character. The main problem with Dual Destinies is that it doesn't have the right balance between humor and serious themes. This can be done, and it can be done well, but when humor distracts from the plot rather than adding to it, the theme falls apart.

Other than that, Dual Destinies had several spelling and grammar errors in the English localization, making it seem like it was a very rushed job with no proofreading. (Hey, Capcom! I work as a proofreader for hire! Feel free to hire me!)

On Revolutions: Papers, Please and The Republia Times

A much younger Carly Smith bought into the romanticized idea of revolutions. The underdog vs. the bully. The just vs. unjust. Vive la revolution!

In reality, revolutions can't be tied neatly into a bow. The French Revolution's Maximillion Robespierre led a movement of terror. Those in power should be held responsible when their actions hurt the people, but this does not mean the people leading a charge against the corrupt leaders are heroes. They're frequently cut from the same degrading cloth.

Shortly after watching my significant other play Papers, Please and lending my powers of observation to the task of checking passports, I discovered Lucas Pope's The Republia Times, a short browser game he made before Papers, Please. The first thing I thought of when starting my task of assembling propaganda was 1984's protagonist Winston Smith. A part of Winston's job is painting the Party and Big Brother in a positive light through the news. A large revolution never takes place in 1984, but in more modern literature the majority of dystopian fiction offers a glimmer of hope through a revolution. A revolution fought in blood may offer no change besides the face of the people in power.

During The Republia Times, a group will secretly contact you with instructions on joining their revolutionary efforts. Their goal is to take down the government, and so you must start printing stories that paint the government in a negative light. In hindsight, I don't know which stories were true. It's possible none of them got the facts right, and the media was only used to further a political cause. Once the coup d'etat has succeeded, the revolutionaries form the state of Democria, and they keep you on in media to work at the Democria Times.

The mechanics stay the same. The stories are the same. Another revolutionary will contact you for help at some point, and if you help them, Democria is replaced by Republia again. How many times has this gone on in a cycle? Dystopian politics see leaders switching sides as if nothing had ever happened. Winston in 1984 is the only one shocked when the target of the country's attacks switch mid-sentence. Once something has changed, it is supposed to have been that way forever and will always be that way in a process of doublethink, a term Orwell coined in 1984. I couldn't help laughing when I saw nothing change from Republia to Democria.

That brings me to Papers, Please, where you get to decide whether to provide assistance to a revolutionary group that claims it's trying to restore Arstotzka to the way it was before the current government took power. If you assist EZIC the whole way and survive to the end, the group takes down the wall at the border checkpoint, and hundreds of people make their way from West Grestin to East Grestin to visit their friends and families in a moment reminiscent of the destruction of the Berlin Wall. To get to that point, you help EZIC poison someone they claim is an assassin in a classic situation of "who can kill the other first?" Toward the end of the month, EZIC asks the player to kill the assassin.

In the playthrough where we assisted EZIC and overthrew the corrupt Arstotzkan leaders, I couldn't help wondering to myself where Arstotzka would go from here. The game ends, so there's no way to know for sure, but I firmly felt the Arstotzkan people were not safe under EZIC either.

Review: Corpse Party: High Schoolers Need To Stop Messing With The Occult

Who thought "let's say a chant x amount of times to solidify our friendship!" wasn't going to backfire? These kids, that's who.

My PSP library is made up mostly of relatively unknown games, little projects companies like XSeed picked up. As a huge horror fan, this game had a lot to live up to in my expectations. And while Corpse Party had mastery over a few elements, it was also a frustrating experience and small problems drew me out of the game, killing the horrific atmosphere the game works so hard to build.

Imagine watching a horror movie. These movies need proper pacing to entrance the viewer into the world of the movie. This can be done with cinematography, music, ambient sound, good acting, and lots of suspense. There has to be enough tension to make you snap at a scare and then immediately exhale in relief.

Games can be a bit more varied in how they do horror because of the medium. some games use cinematic techniques from movies, others are minimalist and don't need cinematography. Most important is the suspense regardless of how it's implemented. Horror games have a one-up on movies in that because games are inherently interactive, suspension of disbelief is easier when playing a game. You're not going to get very far in a game if you refuse to move forward. However, games can be much more frustrating than movies. After all, a movie isn't going to just shut itself because you weren't good enough at watching it. (And if that's the case, you have a real life horror situation on your hands -- get out of your home or the movie theater pronto.)

After spending 30 minutes building up a scenes where I had to hold my breath and run just to interact with the wrong thing, do something in the wrong order, or get stuck in a corner without an item I was supposed to pick up earlier. Bam, game over. Suspension gone. Cue frustration as I go back to my last save point. The magic is gone. This happens over and over in Corpse Party. There may be multiple endings to the game, but it's a truly linear story. Actions have to come in a specific order, and the lack of hints left me stuck in areas longer than I needed to be, killing my suspense once again. Hints don't need to be obvious. Good game design leads players to the next area without letting them know they're being led ahead. (One good example of this is the part of Portal after avoiding "your party.") The bad endings of Corpse Party are somewhat interesting in that there's a short scene in which you see how your character dies, and that death is often unsettling, but it lacks the same level of creepiness that a game like 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors has. You are expected to screw up a certain number of times when playing 999 and get bad endings in which Junpei dies. A part of the story is that after going through all of these bad endings, Junpei is able to recall some of the information from earlier chapters to use in this one true ending. (999 Spoiler: It's also interesting how Akane broke out in a feverish sweat each time you head towards a wrong end as it means she will have died in the previous nonary game.)

Where 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors encourages you to try again for a different bad ending, the bad endings in Corpse Party are more like a punishment for you screwing up.

The story is properly creepy in many familiar ways for J-horror. Long strands of black hair block cabinets, superstitions come into play, and a foul mystery has infected a forgotten elementary school. I've found many more instances of horror stories taking place in Japanese media than western media. Schools are supposed to be safe places, and yet they feel so eerie when empty. Back when I was in elementary school, the popular "Bloody Mary" legend had taken one of my classrooms by storm. I was told one specific bathroom was haunted, and if you turned off the lights and chanted "Bloody Mary" a certain amount of times, a scary ghost would appear. I didn't use that bathroom for the rest of the year.

After messing up a friendship charm consisting of a chant and pieces of paper, the eight students and the teacher are transported to an elementary school that existed many decades ago. After a controversy, it was shut down, and a large part of the second half of Corpse Party is learning about the truth of that controversy. Just when you think you've solved it, it turns out there's much more you don't know.

The best elements of Corpse Party are its sound and visual design. It's a PSP port of a '96 game on the PC, and it shows, but that grittiness makes it even creepier. Ultra-realistic graphics by themselves are not what scare people in horror. A small taste of something, leaving the details up to your imagination, can be so much more gruesome.

The scariest part of Corpse Party isn't what you see -- it's what you hear. I used my best headphones for this, limiting outside noise distracting me and making it feel like there was someone actually walking around me, whispering in my ear. When walking through a classroom, a disembodied voice will easily move from the right speaker to the left. Sometimes it can just be giggles. The audio being in Japanese also makes it a bit eerie. The voice actors all do a fantastic job of sounding terrified, insane, or hopeless.

Minor gripe: Pantyshots. This game definitely has some fanservice moments, and they also kill the mood whether you like them or not. For someone who had no desire to see female character's underwear, I was removed from the atmosphere of the game to say something I would echo several more times, "Are you kidding me?"

Additional minor gripe: Yuuya Kizami. This character is one of the many students from other schools transported to the school from the past, but he has no significant impact on the story other than to be scary for a bit. As a character fundamentally different from all the other playable characters, it would have been interesting to learn more about Yuuya's motivations beyond one short (and ominous!) scene presented in a flashback.

Corpse Party is a game I enjoyed playing with a spoiler-free walkthrough that helped me stay away from bad endings. This helped me stay in the moment of the game, although I still had to break away from the game occasionally to make sure I didn't accidentally read something I wasn't supposed to in-game. As a game I bought on sale and played in the spirit of Halloween, I'm happy with my purchase. At its best, the game put me on edge several times. At its worst, I was distracted by all the things that could go wrong and make me go back to a previous save.