Tales From The Borderlands: Redefining Unconventional Families

Tales From The Borderlands is more relevant to the average twenty-something living in America than most shows on television.

 
Here’s why.

 
The United States is a rough place to live in when you’re part of a marginalized group. Even more so when you’re part of two or three. This is seen in more fruitless job searching, lack of healthcare and ongoing workplace or day-to-day discrimination getting in the way of financial stability and proper mental health. This is even more evident in ongoing trends of more and more twenty-somethings moving back in with their parents for reasons relating to shifting healthcare norms, chronic illness and/or disabilities and lost jobs. Not everyone can afford to get their own place and even a roommate can be off-limits depending on your background.

 
Media, however, is pretty disinterested in acknowledging this beyond the occasional mean-spirited quip. Stereotypes in popular culture aren’t kind to adults who live with their family — there are plenty of films and shows with one-off characters used as walking punchlines due to living with their parents or even having them in the regular vicinity. Heck, one of the most common insults flung around the Internet is the ‘loser who lives in their parents’ basement’. The lofty and idealized ‘accomplished twenty-something with a degree’ and American nuclear family (established as white, Christian, middle-class, able, heterosexual and cisgender with the occasional ethnic variance) are the standards and fuck you if you dare deviate from it!

 
When I hear ‘conventional’, I don’t really think of a four-bedroom house with an immaculate lawn and white-picket fence in secluded suburbia. My mind more runs along the lines of the twenty-something juggling a studio apartment and two part-time jobs with no health insurance wondering if they’ll get jumped for a hate crime on the way back home. What can I say, I’m biased!

 
The onslaught of tone-deaf shows like Big Bang Theory and Girls and countless romantic comedies reinforce day-in and day-out the myth that to not be financially independent is to be burdensome or a raging loser. What makes Tales From The Borderlands stand out amid the pack of ‘tee hee you live with your mom’ commentaries and ‘why are Millennials so lazy and dependent’ thinkpieces is the more nuanced approach to ‘unconventional’ families and living situations.

 

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Thanks For Being Here, Final Fantasy IX! Part Three: Story, Characters And Theme

We’ve looked at the art direction. Mused over the gameplay mechanics and history over the course of the series. Now we’re in the meat of what truly makes or breaks a Final Fantasy title — story, characters and themes. Role-playing games are everything it says on the tin, designed from the ground up to create an emotionally moving experience supplemented by brilliant design and tactical gameplay mechanics. Some of the most damning reviews I ever read concerning RPGs growing up were generic storylines and forgettable characters. It didn’t even matter to me how fun it might be to play. If it couldn’t make me care, I just didn’t care!

 
What’s often the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Final Fantasy? The most blasé reply may include spiky hair, silly outfits and cheesy romance scenes. Another response may be ‘the most consistent inconsistent series the gaming world has ever known’. When it comes down to it, it’s frequently been the characters and the story that kept us up ’til two in the morning, inspired our craft and brought us to tears. Final Fantasy IX is an incredibly interesting entry in the series and one that takes you for a few twists and turns. This will be the most spoiler-y review, but I’ll be sure to mark them accordingly in case you want to experience this all for yourself (pro-tip: you totally want to).

 
Starting off with the story, I like to separate this title into two categories — the traditional and self-aware retread of classic, heartwarming fantasy in the first two discs and the ‘we got drunk and took one too many dares’ of the last two discs. While that’s more of a friendly ribbing than an outright criticism, this can prove a contentious detail depending on your preferences.

 
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Good Girl, Bad Girl: A Videogame Regurgitation

You eat something enough times, you’re going to get used to it no matter how much you dislike it.

That’s mainstream media in a nutshell. Our visual diet is composed of clichés and tropes that have spanned for decades across countless mediums and can be consumed in a matter of minutes or hours. While we can all stand to indulge in a little junk food now and again, there comes a time we need to get more critical of what we’re putting in our proverbial mouths. Media can influence the way you interact with your neighbor or talk to the barista behind the counter. At its best it connects people together and shares everyone’s innermost thoughts and desires. At worst? Our prejudices, willful ignorance and unfounded anxieties.

One such prevalant and ugly way of dividing and conquering people is what I like to call the Good Girl, Bad Girl cliché.

Used to take women of different backgrounds and juxtapose them against one another as competition, romantically or platonically, the Good Girl, Bad Girl is a classic mainstay. It manifests in petty cat fights to titillate the presumed straight, cisgender male viewer. It crops up as positive or negative narrative framing, giving one more screentime and the other an unceremonious death. It reduces women to a proverbial buffet to be mused over, selected and readily devoured (as you can see, this food metaphor has a lot of mileage). Don’t confuse this piece for a bare and basic defense of ‘all women’, however. The Good Girl is frequently a woman from privilege, regularly uplifted because she’s ticked off most of the requisite boxes to be ‘deserving’ of attention, protection and respect. While she does face misogyny and objectification, I lean toward defending the Bad Girl. The one rejected in fictional narratives and the real world.

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This has become common in recent titles, making it clear these rotten societal scraps won’t be cleaned up any time soon. I’m going to explore the dichotomy presented between women in videogames — the inherent misogyny/ethnocentricism/whorephobia present in these roles and what they mean for an industry overwhelmingly dominated by a specific kind of person. Three guesses as to who those might be and the first two don’t count!

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Thanks For Being Here, Final Fantasy IX – Part Two: Gameplay

The Final Fantasy series has been around a long damn time. While it’s famous for being the face of turn-based battle systems, it has done its fair share of shaking up the formula on its still-continuing line of titles, spin-offs and crossovers. We’ve seen this toyed with in the more chess-like Final Fantasy Tactics, the MMO-inspired Final Fantasy XII and the actual MMO Final Fantasy XI and XIV. We’ve seen this all but tossed out entirely in favor of more spontaneous action-adventure gameplay like Kingdom Hearts and The Bouncer. Even still Final Fantasy XV is looking to shake things up with a more expansive open-world and dynamic, adventure-style gameplay. We won’t talk about Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.

Just like the games it has been a bumpy road full of twists and turns. Final Fantasy XII received a mixed response from some due to its putting greater emphasis on side quests and free movement, while Final Fantasy XIII was nearly a deal-breaker for long-time fans due to its extremely linear and hands-off approach to combat and exploration. That’s nothing to say of all the additional things you can do in the average Final Fantasy game, from playing complex card games in VIII to racing chocobos in VII. So, where does Final Fantasy IX fit into all this?

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Thanks For Being Here, Final Fantasy IX – Part One: Art Direction

I’ve been meaning to do this series for a while.

Despite countless playthroughs and fervent (if often disappointed) perusals of related media, my love for this title hasn’t calmed down whatsoever. The headrush of blissful memories and artistic admiration actually makes it hard to focus on anything else for a time. Heck, the trailer for the PC re-release alone was enough to bring me to tears. This game carved its way into my soul all the way back at the age of ten, when I was falling in love with RPGs in the characteristic wild abandon freefall that children often do when learning a new form of adoration. Where Final Fantasy VII first opened my eyes to the complexity of videogames and Final Fantasy VIII began to whet my appetite, Final Fantasy IX filled gaps I didn’t even know existed and proceeded to guide both my artistic hand and emotional perspective from then onwards to this present day.

We all have one of those games, the titles that mean so much to us mere words seem paltry and even insulting in their scope.

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Summons always were show-offs.

I had to visit an old game shop three times to get my hands on another copy. It’s located in the middle of nowhere in my bumfuck city-town, specifically designed for a niche market founded in nostalgia and lots of spare change. I don’t have a car, so these trips took a combination of bus transport and cautious trudging through stray dog-infested neighborhoods to find — and that’s if I was lucky enough to see a copy available when I got there! Even better is when I actually found my old copy from childhood tucked away in a forgotten moving box in my closet weeks later. Thanks to the recent and very overdue PC port, the average gamer won’t have to go through Hell and a half to play this title…though I won’t pretend for a second it wouldn’t be worth it. This three part series is going to explore the ins and outs of this underappreciated classic, from its visual and musical direction to its gameplay and character themes. Spoilers will be marked.

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Creatures, Aliens And Robots: Oh, Misogyny!

Check out my piece on character design for I Need Diverse Games!

I Need Diverse Games

by Ashe S

article image - chrono cross

Where would science-fiction and fantasy be without its creatures? While by no means a checklist requirement, you’d be hard pressed to find a more apt visual representation for these genres spanning centuries and cultures and continents. From the dragons and mermaids of countless mythologies to modern incarnations like hobbits and wookies, mythical creatures have always been an emotional and visual shorthand for humanity’s imagination. The relatively recent art form of videogames aren’t any different — if anything, their unique quality as an interactive medium gives you an even greater range of emotional and artistic exploration. Some of my fondest memories as a child was running around as a purple dragon in Spyro and hanging out with frog-dinosaurs in Pokemon, after all, and I’m willing to bet you have a few of your own.

That’s why it’s a real kick in the teeth that so many of…

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