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Rollin', rollin', rollin'...
April 6, 2001

Hey, I'm on a roll folks. Another update, and it hasn't even been a month yet. Keep it up!

Two of you have submissions that will be posted on the next update. It keeps everything evened out to have three to read, which isn't too many, but not too few either. Besides, I need to keep updates consistant, right? Right. That means one more needs to be sent, and another update will pop up really quickly. My goal is to make you all think, "I'll write that third editorial just for Parn, and he'll be happy," and I end up with about 15 of them in my inbox. Hopefully my devious plan will work.


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This Week's Question: Where do you see the MMO genre going from here?
 
 
Why I feel that Quality has only gone UP in CRPG's.

I am a "nostalgianaut," I am a geek. I just picked up Dragon Warrior, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Crystalis IN CARTRIDGE FORM. Those are all games for the NES, for the less gaming history savvy of you. I have been playing Dragon Warrior for about two hours total now, and I am very proud to announce that I have reached level four. My club can smash most slimes instantly and consistently, and this makes me happy. Forget the fact that my character looks like a Little Tykes® Little People® character, forget that there are roughly six tiles making up the entire world map. Forget that during the first person (lazy) battles, the monsters are not animated, and merely flash when I hit them. Forget that I can't tell a "desk" from a wall. Forget all of that. I'm enjoying it, and mainly because it's old; the joy I get out of that insane "old English" (accompanied by some rather conspicuous contractions) is more than enough to make up for all of it. I am absolutely out of my mind.

That said: I am very much convinced that games are only getting better. MUCH better, in fact.

My favorite example is the old story of Final Fantasies 7 and 6. When FF7 was released, there was much joy among the masses. Of course, the RPG fogies are not the masses, and many were very upset. They still are. Many of you out there, claiming to be jaded experts on the genre and supporters of "old school" gaming, try to make a name for yourselves by saying things like, "FF7 sucks! It was all about graphics! There WAS NO character development! THERE WAS NO STORY!! The gameplay was awful!"

Silly fogies, games are for kids. Or rather, games are for those of us who can look at the world much the way kids do. We liked FF7, we younger, newer gamers. We enjoyed it. The plot kept us interested, kept us really interested. The gameplay was great fun, I still don't mind playing it. The characters, while lacking in development were all very memorable and still have fan artists churning out pictures of them around the world, day and night. Remember Aeris?

I remember Aeris.

However, when I picked up my copy of Anthologies like a loyal RPGer, I found myself very disappointed. Where was this heralded plot and character development, the likes of which I had (supposedly) never seen? Where was the lack of focus on graphics? It wasn't even there. Graphics were still very much used to impress us as much as Square could manage on their 16bit medium. They stretched that cartridge as far as they could. I remember reading an old gaming mag praising the insane coolness of FF6's graphics. There, I have dispelled a few of their delusions.

FF6 was also boring. In fact, it is the only RPG that has ever bored me. I just spent two hours playing Dragon Warrior, and FF6 bores me.

My point is this: FF7 had very few of the flaws many seemed to think it did, while FF6 had SO many flaws, and yet is the game that most parade out as their example of "old school" games being better than the new ones. What does that tell you?

It tells you that having more money behind a game will almost always improve it. It tells you that we are refining interactive entertainment as an artistic medium, not destroying it. You just have to go in without any preconceptions, and you shall soon find yourself having loads of fun.

Some other games which have greatly benefited in their story telling due to a higher budget and new ways of thinking include: Final Fantasy Tactics (those sprites had a LOT of animations), the Lunar series (sure, the gameplay is old school, but the cinematics are all very modern), Final Fantasy 8 (ballroom, anyone? Forget half-an-inch-tall characters bouncing around some tilemap, I want Squall and Rinoa weaving and interacting), Final Fantasy IX (come on, you've GOT TO love Vivi), and Xenogears (can you IMAGINE playing that monster of a game on the SNES?).

Progress will happen. Progress is happening. I, for one, could not be happier about it. Just come into your gaming experiences thinking like a child, and you shall find gaming nirvana in your Final Fantasy 7 CDs. You shall revel in its high budget presentation. You shall glow when you see just how focused on the characters they really were, though they used methods unfamiliar to you. You will like it.

- Abe

Parn:
I've never played Final Fantasy VI, but I DID play Final Fantasy VII, and it was okay, but it didn't really wow me. Overhyped, I guess. I liked Aeris, and hated Cloud, Barret, Tifa, etc.

I have to fully agree that RPGs are getting better and better. Graphics DO play an important role, as a blurb of text that says, "*sob*" isn't going to impact you as much as a character that is audibly and visually sobbing. At least this is what I believe. Fina's occasional tears of joy in Skies of Arcadia had more of an impact than a simple, "I am grateful." I like using my imagination, but sometimes I like being given the whole picture too.
 
Fun with Androgyny

I go to college at Rutgers University, edifice of higher learning for literally tens of thousands of young adults. Most are away from their parents for the first time, exposed to new viewpoints, able to express themselves in new ways without as much fear of public scorn. As such, I've met a few characters whose gender was, shall we say, ambiguous. However, it's college and I expect it. Whatever floats your boat, right?

Okay, now tell me why this trend has jumped from colleges to RPGs. There is an increasing gender ambiguity amongst characters in RPGs. Specifically, male characters have become much more feminine looking. Now, I don't mean to offend the androgynous, gay, and transvestite RPG community (which is probably still smaller than the female RPG community, unfortunately) I want to be able to clearly discern the sex and sexual identities of all the characters in the RPGs I play. I mean, the first time I saw Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, with his extremely long violet hair and flowing overcoat, I got suspicious. Normally, villains were beefy, ugly, and would steal the princess, I'm assuming, in order to have their way with her. In Sephiroth, we had a lithe pretty boy who decided to kill Aerith and chat up Cloud. A bit strange, don't you think?

Sephiroth is just the beginning of the trend, however. Next we get to Final Fantasy VIII and its main protagonist, Squall, who himself looks like a gay biker (the feather boa is a new twist to the typical hero ensemble), not to mention the strange relationship between him and Seifer, whom he shows more interest in through most of the game than Rinoa. Add to that both Squall's and Seifer's (and Sephiroth's, for that matter) definite preoccupations with their large swords, and I just wonder if SEED has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Then we've got the kings (queens?) of sexual identity crises, Kuja from Final Fantasy IX who just SCREAMS flamer, and Vivi, loveable scamp who we assume is a boy, but can you really tell? I seriously couldn't figure out if either one was a man or woman at first, and y'know, even with all the wonderful dialogue evidence throughout the game, I'm still not completely confident that both of them are "outties" shall we say.

And the future doesn't hold any relief either. On the horizon we've got Tidus in Final Fantasy X who looks like a gay raver (I have to thank my friend Noah for that observation). Look at a picture of him next time you get the chance, and imagine him in a gay bar on acid, waiting for them to play YMCA. Not too far a leap for the imagination, is it?

Now, to be fair, Square isn't the only company with shady characters, gender-wise. GameArts' Lunar series has two that rank waaaaay up there on the ladder of ambiguous sexuality: Ghaleon and Zophar. Especially in Lunar: SSSC, Ghaleon is very feminine. Yeah, yeah, he's an elf, but come ON people, look at it! Play with your punching puppet and tell me that, at first glance, that's not a female. "Greetings Alex of Burg. You me, right here, right now. Luna WHO?" I'm serious, this is one elf who needs to come out of the closet. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if his whole anger at the goddess was because Dyne chose her over him. "B***h, he's my man!"

The story continuity between Lunar titles allows for gender ambiguity continuity as well. In Lunar: EBC we've got Zophar, evil god of darkness, who, we assume, starts out something close to male. And yet, at the end of the game, he's a woman! Fe-male. Apparently the power of the goddess is the same as the power of Swedish plastic surgeons, if you catch my drift. All of Zophar's hostility came about so he could satisfy his desire to release the man trapped in a woman's body.

Now, thankfully we've still got some characters that we can be pretty certain about in RPGs. Ryudo, Vyse, and Alex come readily to mind, manly heroes who go out, fight monsters, save the world AND get the girl. But with more and more characters possessing, at best, questionable sexual identities in RPGs, I'm wondering if Japan is trying to send a message to all of us out here. I've noticed the same pattern in anime, especially in Utena and Sailor Moon (Sailor Stars, hmm?), of feminine males and masculine females, though it's more likely that RPGs are drawing on anime influences. Still, it's there, and it's evident in the increasing number of yaoi fanfics on the web.

As I said before, to each their own. That said, my own is having clearly defined gender identities in my video games. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but could all those companies out there please make up their minds and either have the character be male or female? I'm very confused.

- Sensei Phoenix

Parn:
*LOL* To be honest, you're right about characters being questionable. Homosexuality is a part of every culture, no matter where you are, and hey, if that's your choice of lifestyle, more power to you. I personally have a preference for "guy gets girl" situations in games and anime like my fellow staffer here, though.

I'll say one thing... I couldn't watch Sailor Moon S/Stars/Whatever, not after seeing guys dressed in feminine clothes. Too wierd for my tastes. I prefer watching mechs kill each other, or Deedlit slice up a few more kobolds in Lodoss War.
 
Just One Piece of the Artistic Puzzle

Video gaming is one of the newest mediums in which to tell a story. Assuming this train of thought, video games can perhaps then be called an art form; if they have the ability to construct a narrative, they can, if the ambition is to do so, also contain the themes, imagery, and artistic structures of the narratives found in other, more traditional forms of art. This is the realization that non-gamers are to come to terms with. Conversely, however, is the gaming world's general perspective on the remainder of the art world. Regardless of the non-gamers' response to the video game as art theorem, is the audacity in the majority of the gaming audience's disregard for other art forms. Perhaps, even, that is one of the final steps in the attempt to allot video games their artistic credit. It makes sense that the gaming world must acknowledge, respect, and ultimately participate in all the art world has to offer before the art world can acknowledge games as an active member of it. Far too often have gamers restricted themselves to games as their lone link to artistry.

Statements denouncing other art forms' ability to create character closeness as well as the gaming medium, specifically role-playing and other story-based genres, appear almost regularly. Some even argue that particular mediums often seen as rudimentary to the arts, such as film, should not be considered examples of art themselves. These rash statements are often supported indirectly by several role-playing gamers claiming they "tend not to read or watch movies very often." The lack of respect and profound ignorance associated with the first two attitudes is mind numbing. Not only are they misguided and untruthful, but the hunt for an example to discredit them is not a long or difficult one. 1994 saw the release of Forrest Gump, an epic tale chronicling the life of its protagonist in far greater detail and magnitude of scope than that of, say, Serge in Chrono Cross; and despite the extraordinary power of witnessing Aeris' death in Final Fantasy VII, the level of grief transmitted through Jenny's passing, as we have come to know and understand Forrest and his utter dependency upon her throughout the film, is at the very least comparable to it. In no way is this to undermine the power and artistic prowess of video games, the ones mentioned or otherwise, but the general disregard among gamers for other forms of art is something to be reacted to. This mind set should unmistakably be abolished and the world of art fully explored. If anyone proceeds to look further, while even still limiting the search to the realm of film, the name Charles Foster Kane (Citizen Kane), his dying word, "Rosebud," and its explanation speak considerably louder to character depiction and understanding than the lives of Locke Cole and Cyan Garamonde as exhibited in Final Fantasy VI. All of this while steering full clear of theater and William Shakespeare, whose plays have been argued to be the deepest looks and most intricate observations into the human psyche ever recorded; never mind modern masterpieces of literature like The Great Gatsby, credited with defining an entire decade, and Fifth Business, simultaneously an ode to small-town Canadian life and a definitive illustration of Carl Jung's theories on the nature of man. Personal preferences aside, these books are high school staples of learning for a reason: they are meticulously crafted spells, very particular to the needs, wants, and lives of their characters. These, alongside the many great examples of literature and plays like them, should not be left unread or inexperienced by any member of the art community, gamers included.

The opinions of distaste, or perhaps more correctly disregard, for the other disciplines of art by many gamers have been exemplified through statements of ignorance and disrespect. Many have claimed that film's focus is too readily made toward aesthetics, and that the advent of colour into the medium, and the supposed resulting change of focus, has stripped the medium of its artistic integrity. Perhaps inconsequential at first glance, the statement, when taken literally, explicitly denotes more than the last 45 years of film making, years that saw the releases of 2001: Space Odyssey, The Deer Hunter, E.T., and Star Wars. Granted, these may very well not be personal favourites, but nonetheless, they are all clear leaps in creativity and examples of both technical and artistic ingenuity. To add a degree of admitted credibility to the statement, the aforementioned Citizen Kane is often hailed by critics as the greatest movie of all time, and is black and white; but there is rarely a said list which does not place The Godfather, a colour film, second. This is not to argue the merits of each individual film or to press upon anyone that which constitutes a good cinematic experience; nor for that matter, is it trying to denounce the artistic capabilities of the potentialized gaming industry. It is to merely illustrate the apparent ignorance and lack of enthusiasm toward the art world exhibited by members of the gaming community, and to stress how inhibiting this attitude can be.

Many console role-playing gamers purchase game soundtracks, a practice often stemming from the enjoyment of the games themselves. There is absolutely no error in this in and of itself, but many gamers restrict themselves to this as their lone form of audio entertainment. Revolutionary composers like Bach and Beethoven cannot be ignored, nor should more recent boundary breakers such as Moby, Radiohead, and to some extent, Dr. Dre. Many would argue that music is highly subjective; this may be true, but with all due respect to those involved in video game composition, the world's greatest music is not exclusive to video game accompaniment. It is true that there are many people making fantastic leaps in the electronic medium, but to think musically creative minds, and their subsequent great melodies, are limited to it, is a large oversight. Music, as an artistic medium, deserves to be explored to a fuller extent, its multitude of genres experienced with a certain degree of artistic enthusiasm.

Anime fans, who constitute a large portion of the role-playing gamer market, may argue that they are film fans, and for the most part, they are correct. Perhaps, for them, it is a genre ordeal, where it is not the attraction of role-playing games, but rather traditional science-fiction fantasy that is the loved variable. If this is the case, then evident is another unnecessary limitation that must be addressed. If it is unclear why someone, as a fan of video games, particularly story-based ones, would not be attracted to other forms of narration, then so to is the motivation behind someone limiting themselves to specific content found in a narrative. The positive human response to film, and anime inclusively, is rooted in the use of visuals, often aided by sound, to tell a story. If so, then how can someone become so genre specific? Do science-fiction fantasy anime fans not enjoy Grave of the Fireflies, unquestionably an example of anime, because it is non-fantasy-based and constructs its plot around the real-life events of World War II? And that is staying within the realm of anime, not straying aesthetically far from the genre they are drawn to. What is to be said, then, about credible live-action works like Fargo or Magnolia? Sure, many science-fiction fantasy anime are well made, and serve as great (as well as underrated) examples of film literature, but why the limitation and disregard toward other forms of cinema? Whether it is a medium bias toward video gaming, or a genre bias towards science-fiction fantasy, the trend is unnecessary and only limits the enjoyment of a wider scope of the arts.

Literature, theater, film, sculpture, painting, photography, dance, etcetera; in no way is the integrity of video games as an art form threatened by the existence of these, yet this seems to the general gaming reaction, and it is a very distressing one. There should be no limitation on the forms of art experienced, particularly if the justification is rooted in a strong passion toward an individual medium. Ideally, there should be no singular love for a singular form of art, but rather an unrestricted appreciation and love for all of them. Each has its time and place, sometimes determined by the illusionary rules of appropriateness, sometimes made evident by the inevitable passage of time; but at no point is a singular medium ever the greater. History has suggested that the example of music is the best way to illustrate the lives in the jazzy world of 1920s America; Butoh dance best expresses the emotional turmoil experienced in Japan after the nation-shattering, catastrophic conclusion of the Second World War; and with the pollution crisis threatening the world in which we live, perhaps questioning the effect we have on our surroundings was best displayed in the form of a video game, thus catapulting the medium into the artistic forefront of gamers' minds, and as a result, diminishing the extent of their participation in other artistic mediums. This may well all be true, but the honesty of the situation is that Jazz music still needs the context of The Great Gatsby to better paint the picture; Jackson Pollock's contributions to abstract expressionism are essential in exhibiting America's conflicting free-spirited reaction to the witnessing of the same events as the Japanese in World War II; and Final Fantasy VII does not alone suffice in fully awakening the world to its self-imposed environmental predicament. The term culture refers to our lives and the way we live them. Loosely defined, art becomes the tangible representation of this, or at least the various aspirations to become so. In this sense, culture can also be defined as a collective effort of the arts; that is to say, all of them. Why be limited by artificial borders inspired obscurely by differing mediums and genres? Open your mind; broaden your horizons. There is an entire world of art out there.

- Michael Harnest

Parn:
Michael, that is a FANTASTIC piece of writing.

Admittedly, I'm one of the many who has turned my nose towards some genres of movies, out of pure ignorance. If I hadn't gotten out of that little world of my own, I probably would have never seen the movie Gladiator, which I believe to be a very creative film after watching it.

Perhaps part of the problem could be the way some of the art forms are advertised. Many previews, commercials, and advertisements often times glorify what isn't good, and what IS good, is hardly spoken about, or at least this is the case for me, especially when it comes to movies.

On a somewhat related note, I grow tired of people looking at me funny because I blast music CDs of Noriyuki Iwadare, or Johann Sebastian Bach's compositions in my college dorm room. If they don't want to hear it, then they should turn down their Eminem CDs. =P


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