An Ode To The Girls Of Dangan Ronpa

DISCLAIMER: this post will contain spoilers for pretty much the entirety of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.

I’ve recently been replaying Dangan Ronpa – or, rather, playing it for the first time, since I was one of those pre-localization fans who only ever read the translated Let’s Play on Something Awful. 2013 to 2014 for me a period of time for me in which this series could do absolutely no wrong.

I realize now, of course, that yes, this series can, in fact, do some wrong, and that’s not even a statement about the quality of its later installments. Because honestly, Dangan Ronpa really isn’t all that deep. There are no mind blowing twists at any point, besides perhaps the memory loss bit, but even that’s pretty easy to figure out when it comes up. No reveals are particularly far off from what you might reasonably guess from the setup. While replaying DR, I often found myself wondering, “why did I like this game so much?”

But the answer is very simple: it’s the girls. Really. Dangan Ronpa truly has a very unique and interesting cast of female characters. I’m not trying to attribute Deep Feminist Meaning to a video game or anything, just pointing out the fact that a lot of them have some very cool traits that you don’t always see in media. The boys are generally well-written as well, but don’t break half as many molds.

So here is a collection of my best thoughts on each DR girl (not including Chihiro, that’s discourse for another day) and how they’re written and presented. At heart I’m still a 2013-era fan, so I’ll be using the names and spellings from the LP because there are some parts of us that we can never truly change.

C’mon, let’s read too deeply into a bunch of fictional teenage girls!

Continue reading “An Ode To The Girls Of Dangan Ronpa”

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Minor Recurring Reads: Homestuck, Pt. 2

Lost in the throes of suburban depression and ennui? I sure am. Let’s read more Homestuck and see if we can relate!

LAST TIME ON HOMESTUCK: John Egbert turned 13! Happy birthday to John. When we previously left him, he was checking the mail to see if the beta for SBURB, AKA the greatest game ever, has arrived yet.

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Unfortunately it looks like he’s going to have to go through his father if he wants that beta, because the mailbox has already been sniped.

John peeps into his father’s car to see a green package that is certainly not SBURB, and then through the kitchen window to see an envelope that certainly is. His gaming quest is nearly over. Unfortunately, it means that John’s going to have to interact with his father now. Will his disguise do the trick?

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do you think Hussie knew all these words beforehand or did he keep a thesaurus at the computer

Nope. Time for a fighting minigame! Here we have the choice to either aggrieve or abjure Dad Egbert. He’s far too adept at blocking with that cake to let us inflict any damage, though.

John thus has no choice but to abscond with SBURB. Unfortunately, Dad has even MORE confection lying in wait for John – which is to say he’s going to throw a pie at his son. John’s disguise luckily protects him from the worst of it, but his smoke pellets fall out of his sylladex.

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However, as John reluctantly accepts Dad’s cake into his inventory, our friend Colonel Sassacre of Colonel Sassacre’s Daunting Text falls out onto those smoke pellets and creates what else but a big puff of smoke. Success!

John absconds for real this time, toting a red package addressed to him and the SBURB beta. He does some weird stuff with the cakes in the sylladex as well which I’m not too concerned about. Please just show me SBURB, Andrew.

At last at his computer, John has two Pesterchum conversations with his friends. One is from gardenGnostic (who I know is Jade because she’s green), wishing him a happy birthday. She uses a lot of emoticons. The other is from Dave Strider, who, as part of the establishment of his cool kid persona, discusses liking things ironically and unironically. Dave seems to choose irony most of the time.

You might think this is where John gets it together and plays SBURB, but of course it isn’t. First, he’s got to go to mspaintadventures dot com for a chuckle.

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Then, while SBURB is installing, he reads about data structures and picks out a fetch modus, neither of which mean anything to me. His sylladex changes a bit in how it operates, which I’m sure I’d care about if this was a video game. I guess I’ll know for sure once I play Hiveswap.

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It turns out that the red package in the mail was a birthday present from Dave Strider (what a surprise!), and he opens it with the standard amount of sylladex tomfoolery. Boy am I tired of this, and we’re only at the beginning of Act I. Dave has sent John an authentic stuffed bunny that was an actual prop in…some movie I can’t quite catch the title of. That’s actually kind of cute but ITS SBURB TIME NOW.

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Rose and John FINALLY start to play SBURB! We enter a view of John’s room with bits of the game’s UI up at the top. Page titles now start with [TT], implying that Rose is now the one acting. It’s kind of like The Sims, but, like, a version of the game where if you screw around in build mode it happens in real life too.

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Case in point: magic chest on the roof.

She fiddles around with the controls a bit and even manages to make his room bigger. How in terms of physics does this game work? Who knows! In the new space she deploys a totem lathe. I have no idea what that is and doubt I’ll find out.

It seems that there are two components to the actual game that is SBURB, the client and the server. One party (or more, who knows) must be the client and one must be the server. In this case that’s John and Rose respectively. John’s server installation is still in his dad’s car, so for now he can only be the client.

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In order to chat on the go, John installs Pesterchum on Dad’s PDA. If this comic had been made a few years later, he would’ve been doing that the entire time with his phone. Seriously, this lack of smartphone usage really shows Homestuck‘s age more than anything else.

Things get even wilder once Rose accidentally uproots John’s toilet. Oops. By using the hole left from his toilet, however, John hops down to the utility room where he finds a sledgehammer. Naturally, he adds it to his weapons, or whatever term we use for weapons in this. Jade pesters John and we learn that the color coding of everything continues, since the green box in his dad’s car is a present from her. Unfortunately, she then goes AFK because she hears an explosion outside of her house – as one does.

Then Rose uproots the bathtub. She tries to store it in the driveway, but before she can make it she loses her connection and promptly drops it at the top of the stairs.

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This is actually the part of Homestuck that I remember most intently from when I was a teen, this one specific image of John Egbert standing in the tub on his stairs. That’s just what the franchise is to me.

As you can imagine, John is not very happy with this situation.

The weather apparently isn’t too good where Rose is, which is why she lost connection. In the ensuing pesterlog, we also learn Rose has similar problems with her mother as does John with his father, and that she lives in a different time zone – EST as opposed to John’s PST. As an east coast resident, I can relate to this!

This time zone info, combined with the fact that everyone refers to each other by their screennames and are mailing John packages, keys us in to the fact that these four kids are all just internet friends and haven’t met each other IRL. That’s honestly a really nice setup that takes me back to my own youth. I remember being 13 when half my friends were online-only (hell, this is practically still the case) and I often felt like I connected to them much more than the kids around me. This time shortly preceding the rise of social media where you legitimately would only know someone’s screenname and whatever details of their life they chose to share with you has really become kind of lost nowadays. I’m sure Andrew Hussie remembers this time in his life as well, which is probably why he wrote Homestuck. It’s also a bit of a portal to 2009, since you couldn’t set this story in 2017 without making it seem very dated technology-wise.

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Anyway, John hits the cruxtruder with his sledgehammer and something weird and blue comes out. A countdown begins, starting (of course) at 4:13. This probably wasn’t a good idea. John harvests some cruxite, and then it turns out that the weird blue atom-looking thing is called a kernalsprite. I know that -sprite is a pretty common suffix in HS so I wonder if this will be relevant?

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They add the big harlequin doll to the kernalsprite, and it’s still a blue orb but NOW it’s got a harlequin’s face. Spooky.

John uses some cruxite with the alchemiter to make some weird objects, whatever, but what’s really important is when he looks through his telescope and sees A GIANT METEOR COMING DOWN TO EARTH. ASSUMING WE’RE ON EARTH. Turns out that’s what the timer was for!

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so, like, can they get a refund on the game

Dad pulls up in the driveway just in time to witness all this chaos while Rose sort of fixes the bathroom, but of course we’ve got bigger problems now. John informs Rose and Dave that there is, in fact, a meteor headed towards his home as they speak, but neither of them seem all that concerned.

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Dave even gives us this particular monologue, which I admit made me chuckle.

Some other stuff involving cruxite happens, and John turns the cruxite into a totem via the totem lathe. He’s at a loss for what to do next, though, so he asks Rose. But there’s no response. She’s lost connection again.

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And now, with just two minutes until the meteor strikes, John is all alone.

Time to switch characters!!

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Next time on Homestuck: I chill with my close personal friend Rose Lalonde on the east coast?

Minor Recurring Reads: Homestuck, Pt. 1

Here’s something that often surprises a lot of my nerd peers: I’ve never read Homestuck. Outside of one aborted attempt sometime during high school, I managed to surf right through the comic’s peak years of popularity around 2011-2012. I have countless friends who were into it at the time, sure, but beyond what I’ve learned from them it’s all a complete mystery to me.

Until now. Given Hiveswap Act I’s recent release, I figure it’s now the perfect time to do what has been a long time coming: attempt to read Homestuck in its entirety and, of course, document my experiences on here for your viewing pleasure.

Here’s a quick list of what I know already:

Continue reading “Minor Recurring Reads: Homestuck, Pt. 1”

Don’t Even Mention It: The Normalization of Sexuality Within Dream Daddy

Recently I’ve been making my way through all the routes in Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator and have really enjoyed the experience. The game has a super fun cast of well-designed characters and the writing was memorable and quirky while also being able to get down to business to provide serious development at times. I’d definitely recommend it despite a few technical flaws (the minigames…)!

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But despite all that, there was something about the game that just struck me as being a little weird, and I think I’ve finally figured it out: Dream Daddy is a universe in which same gender attraction is treated as something very normal, yet this attraction is never mentioned in the script at any time. It simply exists without comment.

This, I believe, was part an effort to create what I like to call a World Without Bigotry: the noble goal of placing LGBT+ characters within a setting that completely lacks homophobia, transphobia, and the like. This is a mythical world where people who are not straight and/or not cisgender can live their lives just as openly as those who are. It’s become a more common creative choice in LGBT+ fiction as different types of stories are now being told.

Therefore, DDADDS contains no instances of homophobia (nor transphobia, but I’ll be focusing mostly on the way same gender relationships are treated within the narrative) at any point during the game. Nobody ever comments negatively about anyone else’s sexuality. Straight characters accept gay relationships completely. The Dadsona never thinks, not for a second, that anyone might be unhappy with his dating a man. There is no discussion of what it’s like to navigate the world as a man who loves other men.

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In fact, no one’s sexuality is ever discussed at all during the game. True, we know that most of the dads (Craig, Robert, Mat and of course Joseph) have been or are currently involved with women. That Hugo’s ex is a man, and that Robert’s daughter Val has a girlfriend. Amanda has a crush on one of her male friends. Brian and Damien’s previous partners are never mentioned (though Damien does read yaoi), and the gender of the Dadsona’s former spouse is determined by the player.

But none of these characters carry a label or mention that they are attracted to anyone besides whoever they’re currently into. Words such as gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian, queer, pansexual or transgender are not present within the script, so honestly they could be anything under the umbrella. Instead, this decision is happily handed over to the players who can interpret the cast in any way they wish.

And this is all a big part of creating that World Without Bigotry: a conscious creative choice to normalize same gender attraction within the work. Prejudice is not at all a requirement of LGBT+ media, and though views on whether the Gay Struggle is even a desirable trope vary wildly throughout the community, a safe consensus is generally that it should not be what defines our characters and stories. There must exist LGBT+ stories and casts that focus on something other than suffering in order to establish the humanity and normalcy of these individuals to ourselves and to society – and also just because sometimes gay people like to write or read things that aren’t about how much it sucks to be gay. So the world of DDADDS, in which same gender attraction carries so little novelty that it doesn’t even bear mentioning, makes perfect sense.

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The most direct mention of identity in the game (Damien being a trans man)

But how does the Dadsona know that the dads in his neighborhood are even into dudes in the first place? Hugo mentions his former husband, Robert propositions you early on, and the subject might have come up with Craig in college, but other than that there are no signs at all. And he isn’t even surprised whenever a dad makes his move at the end of the third date; there’s no “oh, I didn’t know he was bi!” or anything like that in the narration – and there are no comments from the other dad either. They both just kind of…know. Somehow. I guess to some extent you can just tell when somebody is attracted to you, but there sure isn’t much verbal confirmation on screen.

Disregarding this gay telepathic connection that all the dads seem to share, what is far less realistic in this World Without Bigotry is not necessarily a lack of oppression but that, well, no LGBT+ person doesn’t mention their sexuality or gender in some way if you hang out with them for long enough. And until they do, there’s really no way for you to know. There are people I’ve known for years whose exact labels are still a complete mystery to me.

It’s true that we don’t really know how people would talk about themselves in a world where sexuality and gender identity are freely and openly explored. It’s a difficult setting to fully realize because it just doesn’t exist on any significant scale and never will within our lifetimes. But even within this fantastical WWB (unless the reason there is no bigotry is because we have achieved instrumentality) it would still be impossible to reliably determine someone’s sexuality or gender just by looking at them. And that’s a huge piece of basic human interaction that DDADDS lacks. You never quite know how someone else really feels before they tell you.

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Although there IS this

In this way the game’s world feels very incomplete. In a similar vein, none of the other dads in town make any comment on your budding relationship with one of their own – in a close-knit cul-de-sac where everyone knows each other? Unlikely. And where does all Amanda’s sass go when it’s time to tease her father about his new boyfriend? The “is he going to be my new dad?” trope is tried and true, yet suspiciously missing from the game. She doesn’t even react to you dating her teacher!

If you enter any predominantly LGBT+ space for a little while, you’ll hear any number of things that feel completely normal within that room. Phrases like “his boyfriend”, “her wife”, multiple friends being referred to as ‘they’ yet everyone always knows who is being talked about, calling feminine-presenting people ‘he’ without batting an eye, and much, much more. This is the realistic face of mundanity, a small glimpse into a World Without Bigotry. For a very short while in these small rooms that world comes into being, creating new standards of normalcy that we can only hope to document in our writing as an accurate portrayal of we feel when we are present in those places.

At the end of the day, I view what Dream Daddy omits in its dialogue as a writing issue, not as flawed representation. LGBT+ stories are absolutely justified in placing their characters into oppression-free zones so that we can, y’know, focus on something else for once. Just because DDADDS does not have this conversation about homophobia does not make it invalid, and I think that it goes so far with this aspect of normalization because its primary creative team (containing no non straight or cis men as far as I know) perhaps didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. This is a totally understandable goal!

However, I think it really could have kicked the game’s writing up a notch to reflect the particulars of sexuality a little more within its dialogue. For example: an exchange between the Dadsona and Craig about some of the weird dudes they were involved with back in their wild college days – or how one or both of them weren’t out at that time. Brian’s final scene being not only “wait, he doesn’t hate me?” but also “wait, he’s into guys?”. Damien blushing as he talks about the most dashing sort of men’s waistcoat from the Victorian era, or Hugo’s crush on a wrestler. Mat could share some lyrics about a man that particularly resonate with him, and Joseph could mention a fling from his past margarita zone days. Robert’s already pretty up front about things, but there could be a few lines in the bar about the way he’s looking at you. Admittedly these are all pretty cheesy ideas, but I’m sure they could be made to work if given any more than the five seconds of thought I put into them.

Or we could replace, like, every line with “god, I love men” which would make things pretty clear as well. Either one works.

 

Minor Recurring Review: Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

DISCLAIMER: there will be endgame spoilers for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse and Persona 4 Golden (it makes sense in context) from the middle of the “the cast” section to the end of the “the endings” section.
I’ve been playing Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse for the past few months pretty much daily, and last week I finally finished the game, clocking in at about 50 hours of playtime. I came into Apocalypse shortly after getting addicted to Shin Megami Tensei IV (one of those lucky situations where you finish the first installment and discover that the sequel is almost out) and it both met and exceeded my expectations. Before either, the only SMT games I’d played were Personas 3 and 4, but I’m so glad that I finally branched out.

Since you can find a decent, objective review of Apocalypse written by seasoned professionals just about anywhere, I’m going to be providing you with my skewed, subjective review of the game that focuses more on my personal impressions – the main difference being that I discuss the attractiveness of the male cast more so than the average reviewer. Here we go!

Continue reading “Minor Recurring Review: Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse”