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Analysis

The Unique Yet Familiar Journey in Breath of the Wild

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Warning: Major Spoilers for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild!

On March 3rd of this year, a brand new Legend of Zelda (LoZ) title was released out into the *ahem*… wild. This most recent visit to the beloved Hyrule universe entitled Breath of the Wild (you see what I did in that first sentence?) promised to add more depth, more freedom, and more gameplay than any LoZ game that preceded it.

Being the type of person known for prolonging his own happiness, I didn’t end up picking up the game until halfway through the summer…but at last…I have completed it on my own time. Amidst upwards of a hundred hours of gameplay that I sunk into Breath of the Wild’s completion, amidst the countless shrines unlocked, Korok seeds uncovered, mountains climbed, towers erected, weapons found and puzzles solved, at the heart of all this open-world goodness lays the true reason I, and so many others return to Hyrule: to experience the intimate story of Link’s Hero’s Journey.

The Call to Action/ Supernatural Aid

The journey begins with Link, the Hero of Time, awakening from one of the most epic naps in videogame history: a one-hundred-year slumber. “Open your eyes Link,” a soft, mellifluous voice from an unknown source calls him to action, and Link crawls out of a vat in the same way one might drag themselves to their Friday morning “Ethics” course after a night of binge-drinking. Irony is great.

Anyway enough about my early twenties. Link soon receives his supernatural aid: his smartphone -errr- his Sheikah Slate to which I absolutely didn’t immediately  peruse Amazon for a replica Iphone case. So it’s not with a ferry this time around with whom we navigate the world, but with modern technological advances. Great, as if our hero wasn’t gauche enough, he’s just gonna have his head buried in his phone for this entire adventure! Damn Millennials.

Who needs Navi? I’ll just set my text tone to “HEY! LISTEN!” and hope the Princess is into hipsters…

Themes and Characteristics

Link, aside from being a walking “Intro to Stoicism” course, also has amnesia. In Breath of Wild this vital character trait, or rather, character flaw  is taken full advantage of from both a gaming and story arc prospective. He awakens, he is lost and unaware of his surroundings, he receives his Sheikah Slate, then he wanders out into a sprawling field without knowing where, or even who the hell he is. It’s now up to you the player to discover it for him.

This amnesiac flaw works on a Meta level as well, of course. For, what I’m assuming to be most players of this game, this is not our first time in Hyrule, but a reintroduction. Like Link, we are plunged into a world that we are told should be familiar to us, but, in sheer scale alone, this Hyrule is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. It’s dangling nostalgia over our heads in such an astonishing way without wholly relying on it, because recurrence and nostalgia have actually become part of the setting and canon itself:

You remember Hyrule right? You’ve been to all the locations, you’ve defeated Ganon in the past, haven’t you? And this Princess said to be containing the evil within the castle…you remember her too right? Well, somewhere in this vast, unending version of Hyrule, you might just reconnect with all that … but good luck getting there.

This could be considered to some as a crutch, a way to recycle old material, but that’s a necessary hurdle for anyone to jump over when their product is storytelling. Yes, they often recycle the same cast of major characters and often return to Hyrule, but what LoZ does so much better than most other franchises bent on continuing their consumable narratives, is use these characters as tools to explore different themes within said characters, and use their setting to aid in a unique story. In Majora’s Mask they explore chaos and grief in the land of Termina.

In Twilight Princess, A Link To The Past, and A Link Between Worlds they explore the duality. Ocarina of Time explores the effects of becoming an adult with two different time periods of Hyrule. So the purpose of, say, the hundred-year time skip in Breath of the Wild is to connect you to the past within Breath of the Wild’s story, not to make cheap references and not-so-subtle connections to other titles the way so many reboots nowadays rely so heavily upon. With LoZ, it has always been the themes and the character journeys to come first.

There are two strong themes that come to mind when speaking of just the setting itself: Freedom and choice. With Hyrule’s new sense of sprawling open-endedness, unique only to Breath of the Wild, it is vital for Link to explore, to get lost, to discover and uncover every secret in every corner of Hyrule. This childlike thirst for adventure is a rather important character quality that will in turn help Link overcome his amnesiac character flaw. Now if only he had someone to point him in the right freaking direction…

The Threshold Guardian, The Sage, and The Prophecy

The first character you run into as Link is an old man by a fire. He just happens to know like a ton of Hyrule history, which is rather helpful, and he reveals himself to be the ghost of King Rhoam, Zelda’s father, and then gives Link a paraglider to fulfill his role as the Threshold Guardian.

Rhoam’s gift gives Link the key to leaving his “home” and fulfill his destiny. Link then traverses to Kakariko village to find Impa, the sage who tells him of a prophecy.

There is a princess (Zelda) with a sacred power and her appointed knight (Link), chosen by a sword that seals the darkness, as well as four Divine Beasts piloted by four champions that will help defeat the great evil.  A hundred years ago upon Ganon’s return, they failed. Ganon seized control over the divine beasts and turned them against the peoples of Hyrule, killed the champions and laid waste to the Kingdom. Damn.

Impa, fulfilling her role as the sage has a very important message for Link, but since Link has lost his memory, she isn’t sure you are ready to hear what happened. This pattern follows Link around the entire story. Legend tells of a hero that would return, and people recognize the Sheikah Slate but refuse to believe that Link is Link. So let’s add inferiority complex to our amnesiac identity crisis. So far so good.

“I’ve been waiting one-hundred years to deliver the princess’ message… HOWEVERif you are to hear them, you must be prepared to risk your life as well…not a memory to your name yet you are as intent as ever to charge forward with only courage and justice on your side.”-Impa

Temptations

Through travel, and uncovering places in Hyrule, your lack of memory plagueing you throughout the journey begins to reveal itself. It’s not by accident that Link’s struggle for autonomy, for agency and for understanding one’s destiny is in direct parallel with the character arc of Zelda.

You discover that Zelda has torn feelings towards her appointed knight. He is a living embodiment of her own limitations. She knows that she is capable of great things, and she is determined to access her sealing powers and fulfill her destiny to defeat Ganon all by herself.

“I thought I made it clear that I’m not in need of an escort… I, the person in question am fine, regardless of the king’s orders.” -Zelda

Though she longs to be given independence, she is constantly being undermined and over protected, causing her to make rash, or even careless decisions; or as Daruk, the Goron’s champion puts it,

“She has a strong personality–so strong she can’t quite see the range for the peaks.”

Zelda, our tragic princess is so concerned with getting all the details about the divine beasts correctly and  proving her capability, that she neglects discovering her sacred power. By avoiding her destiny, she bears the responsibility of Hyrule’s destruction.

Before the Calamity however, Zelda is at one point impressed, envious even, of Link’s dedication and devotion to his path. But she projects her complex struggle onto Link concerning her own path. A question that makes Link ponder: How can any of us be sure? This temptation could lead to his straying away from his destiny.

“I see now why you would be the chosen one. What if one day you realized you weren’t meant to be a fighter? Yet the only thing people ever said was that you were born into a family of the royal guard, and so no matter what you thought, you HAD to become a knight? If that was the only thing you were ever told, I wonder then, would you have chosen a different path?”

So here is Zelda’s tragic downfall: her fears and anxieties about having her path laid out for her. She sees how determined and sure Link is of his path, and this bothers her because she wonders if she would be someone entirely different were she given the choice.

“My hope is that you’ll allow me to contribute here in whatever way I can”

she says to her father on the ramparts of Hyrule castle. She wants to help with the guardians and the divine beasts, with all the extensive knowledge she possesses on the subject, but her father forbids it until she finishes her training on how to seal Ganon away. Her father is aware of how the people see him as a failure, that he would allow for Ganon to return to the realm unchecked, and he won’t allow for the same fate to befall his daughter.

Challenges

Your destiny to save Zelda soon becomes much more meaningful once you discover the memory of when she saves you. Her power is unlocked only when Link’s life is most at risk. But how is it that past Link is so sure of his destiny? How is it that he understands his power so confidently? This is where the time loop plays out so nicely, because it is upon the death and resurrection of the hero, where Zelda saves Link and our story begins that she finally realizes hers and your destinies are directly *umm* LINKED. In order to stop Ganon, her role is that she must save you from making the same mistakes she made. She must make sure that you remember who you are, that you remember to save her as well. She cannot defeat this evil on her own, and neither can you.

This is where the roles of  the divine beasts come fully into play; they are the challenges of which Link must overcome. Only upon defeating Ganon’s monsters can he begin his transformation into the hero he was always meant to be: a hero that unites the peoples of Hyrule and exhibits the best qualities of the champions, the friends he surrounds himself with.

Revali of the Rito clan is your competitive rival. He’s the most talented archer in Hyrule, but he’s cocky and pig-headed and Windblight Ganon defeats him. But upon freeing Revali’s spirit, he grants you a gift: Revali’s Gale.

Gale. noun. a very strong wind OR a burst of sound, especially laughter.

So although Revali’s cockiness was his downfall, what comes out of it is a character quality that Link can possess, and if he can control the Gale, he can use it to his strength. This is likewise for all the champions. Daruk of the Goron’s gives Link the gift of protection, despite the fact that Breath of the Wild focuses so heavily on overprotection having negative effects on characters like Zelda and Yunobo in the Goron story. Urbosa of the Gerudo gives Link the gift of her fury and Mipha of the Zoras gives Link her grace. Again, these qualities when taken to extremes are what led to the champion’s downfall, but with their help, Link can learn to control these spirits, to balance these qualities and grow into the hero he was before the Calamity.

We are the company we keep, after all. Or in my case “kept,” seeing as how you’re all dead. Boy am I lonely.

When finally he frees all four spirits and gains control of the divine beasts, he is ready to face the hero’s atonement by reconciling his past, the champions’ pasts, Zelda’s past and most importantly, the relationship he had with her. He does this when gaining control of the Master Sword and finally facing Ganon and freeing Zelda. When he finally frees her, they face the Calamity together and rid Hyrule of evil just as the prophecy was foretold, returning Hyrule to a time of peace.

In Conclusion

Breath of the Wild gave us so much of what we love about the Zelda experience, but with its sandbox twist it became an entirely unique world of uncovered secrets and vast exploration. We the player (new to Hyrule or returning) experience our love for adventure, for mystery, for Hyrule, for Zelda, through the lens of Link’s Hero’s Journey as he rediscovers himself, his relationships, and the destiny that awaits him in one giant time loop. Link’s journey is so satisfying because, at the end of it all, it’s a selfless one. The game has never just been about Link; otherwise it would be called “Link: the Hero of Time and Time Again.” It’s not.

It’s called Legend of Zelda. It’s about a hero learning the secrets of the world in order to uncover the secrets of himself. Only when he does this can he give himself wholly to the light, to the resistance of evil, to Zelda in order to aid her in completing a destiny of her very own. It’s a story that, if told well can be heard again and again and again and have the same inspiring effect every time. A story of devotion and finding one’s purpose in a world where we are told over and over again by authority what that purpose is, but have very little idea about how to achieve it. Only through our journey, through the bonds we form with others, through the lessons we learn from the ones we love the most, can we be free to remember what that purpose ultimately is.

Zelda: Do you really remember me? Me: *sobbing* YESSS, God yes!! I’ll always remember you!


Images Courtesy of Nintendo

Colin spends his time either writing or being anxious that he should be writing right now and isn't. He's a huge Tolkien fan and he values a strong cup of tea. If you see him at a party, he's probably isolated himself after either quoting too much David Foster Wallace, or too harshly deconstructing someone's favorite film.

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Gaming

The Unattainable Beauties of BioWare

David

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Happy week after Valentine’s Day! For those of you in a relationship, I hope you were able to spend time with your loved ones and maybe have a little romance. For those of you who are single, I hope that it wasn’t a terribly bitter or frustrating day. In honor of both these states, I’m going to be writing about Bioware characters. But not romanceable characters, oh no. Enough ink has been spilled about them. No, today, we are going to be talking about the ones who for whatever reason are non-romanceable. In fact, it’s going to be a list of who I consider to be the best non-romanceable characters in Bioware games.

A few ground rules first though. First, this list is completely and totally subjective. If you feel like I’ve missed a character, let me know in the comments. Most of these characters are either from the Mass Effect Series or the Dragon Age series. Those are the games I know the best have have played the most. Finally, I’m only going to list five male and five female characters. I could go on all day if allowed.

So, with that out of the way, let’s start with the guys. And first on that list is…

Black Whirlwind

Right off the bat we get a character who seems to contraindicate my first two points. He’s from Jade Empire and isn’t normally the type of character I’d enjoy. But let me justify his place on my list. First off, he’s just a fun character. Pretty much his entire character is dedicated to fighting things with his axes, drinking, and drinking while fighting with his axes. Second of all, given what we do see of his backstory, he’s fairly sympathetic. He was abused by his father until he was finally to defend himself and killed his father, and then was tossed out by his mother. He fought in the arena until he thought he killed his brother. And finally, his voice. Victor Brandt voices him in the game, and that man could read from the stock exchange and make it sound like he was trying to seduce you.

Nathaniel Howe

I can understand why they chose not to have any love interests in Awakening. A lot of the companions are missable and even if they aren’t, there’s better than 50-50 odds that they would die at the end of the expansion. That doesn’t excuse them from making Nathaniel Howe though. He has a compelling and sympathetic backstory, an interesting perspective on the location and events, and a sardonic sense of humor that lets him either play the straight man or the funny man in conversations. And! He got an easter egg quest in Dragon Age 2. I just wish they had followed through and included him in Dragon Age Inquisition (and gave us the chance to smooch him.)

Teagan Guerrin

Bann Teagan gets a bit of a bad rap now, particularly after Trespasser. Time (and the switch to a new engine) were not kind to him, but I remember a different Teagan. A Teagan that stood up to Loghain. A Teagan that risked his life to defend Redcliffe, and then walked straight into a demon’s clutches to buy your party sometime. From a story perspective, having a female human warden marry (or at least be involved with) an up and coming Bann would make just as much sense politically as marrying her to the new king. And from a purely personal standpoint, I would have loved for him to respond to the “Who is dis women Tegan?” quote by saying “My future wife.”

Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau

Ever since Mass Effect 1, Joker’s presence at the front of the Normandy has been very welcome. Snarky, quick with a quip and a comment about any of your companions, the only fault I have with him was that he was far too quick to abandon the Alliance and hook up with a bunch of racist, human supremacist terrorists in Mass Effect 2. But the fact that he’s loyal specifically to Shepard always melts my heart. I was hoping that in Mass Effect 3 he finally would be a romance option, but alas he was infatuated with EDI. It took a great deal of self control not to sabotage that relationship.

Ser Barris

And here we come to my favorite non-romanceable male character: Ser Derin Barris of the Templar Order. Dude has it all. Good voice and one of the few male PoCs in the series. In addition, he’s everything that a Templar is supposed to be: brave, intelligent, loyal, and willing to defend the weak and the innocent. And yet, after the quest to recruit the Templars, you only see ever see him one more time. The cutscene where he is promoted to Knight-Commander. (A promotion he deserves.) I can only hope that he reappears in Dragon Age 4 as a full romanceable companion.

That covers my five favorite non-romanceable male characters. But what about the ladies? Let’s start with…

Gianna Parasini

Gianna Parasini was one of those characters I didn’t expect to find myself liking as much as I did. When you first meet her in Mass Effect 1, she’s working (undercover) for Novaria’s Internal Affairs. She quickly shows herself not to be completely amoral. Just overworked, overstressed, and tired of being a Yes-Woman to a corrupt executive. When you see her again in Mass Effect 2, she’s much less stressed, and much more willing to joke with Shepard.  She leaves far too soon, leaving a male Shepard with a kiss and a promise to see him around. A promise, unfortunately, left unfulfilled.

Dr. Karin Chakwas

Dr. Chakwas is an interesting addition to this list. She is much older then Shepard. She seems at first to be a poor match. But much like Joker, she offers Shepard a sense of continuity aboard the Normandy. She even mentions that as one of the reasons why she stays aboard the Normandy in all its various incarnations. And, unlike some returning squadmates or even Joker himself at times, her presence aboard the ship never seems forced. Of course Dr. Chakwas will be in the medical bay. Of course she’ll be happy to see you. And of course she’ll be waiting to share a drink with you.

Dr. Lexi T’Perro

Unlike Dr. Chakwas, Dr. Lexi doesn’t really provide much in the way of continuity between different versions of the ship. Instead, she almost provides a mirror for Ryder to see himself and his actions. When she’s first brought aboard as your team’s doctor, she’s nervous. And she channels this nervous energy into annoying practically everyone else on the ship. But as she gets more comfortable with the ship and how things work, she starts to relax a little. Not much, but a little. Add to that her backstory in addition to the fact that she seems to care for the team’s mental health as much as their physical health and you get a character who would be perfect to romance. Shame she’s not an option.

Emily Wong

Emily Wong is one of the most frustrating examples on this list. In Mass Effect 1, she filled the ‘plucky reporter’ archetype so well that I missed being able to speak with her or give her an interview in Mass Effect 2. As the release date for Mass Effect 3 drew closer and rumors of a romanceable reporter on board the Normandy began to swirl, I had hope that it would be Emily.  I was bitterly disappointed. The reporter character on the Normandy was quite weak compared to the strong impression Emily gave in Mass Effect 1. And Emily Wong herself? Unceremoniously killed off in a marketing ploy before the game was released. She deserved better.

Vivienne

Vivienne is a ‘love her or hate her’ type of character. As you can tell by her inclusion on this list, I am in the former camp. Aside from being one of the few women of color companions in the game, Vivienne brings to the table a unique perspective: A mage who fully supports a return to the Circles. Not only that, but she has clear, eloquent arguments to back her up. In addition to that, she has a very striking character design and a wonderful voice actress. Most important of all though is that if her approval of the Inquisitor is high, she seems to genuinely care about them and their well being. I just wish that she didn’t politely shoot you down every time you flirted with her.

So there you have it. My five favorite male and female non-romanceable NPCs from Bioware games. However, there is one person that I have thus far neglected to mention. Or rather, one group of people. That’s right, I’m talking about…

EVERY SINGLE DWARF FROM DRAGON AGE

In Dragon Age: Origins, it was just a bit of trivia. “Hey, did you know that you can’t romance Qunari and dwarf characters?” When Dragon Age 2 came out and we were introduced to Varric, it became a joke. But at least the dwarf fans could still console themselves by remembering that there hadn’t been any Qunari romanceable companions either. By the time of Dragon Age Inquisition and the introduction of Iron Bull and Lead Scout Lace Harding, it’s become one of my main problems with the series.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Why wouldn’t Bioware let us romance Scout Harding, or any other dwarf for that matter? Is it because the animation would look awkward? Too much work? In the end, I can only repeat the refrain so many others have, pining after characters who they couldn’t romance: “Maybe next game.”


Images courtesy of Bioware

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Analysis

Kingdom Come, Representation, And Layers Of Privilege

Barbara

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a brand new Czech video game that just came out last week. And ever since its development started, there has been one big controversy connected to it: its almost complete lack of characters of colour.

It isn’t exactly helped by the fact that the chief mind behind the game, Dan Vávra, is right-leaning, and also a bit of an asshole when it comes to responding to these complaints. He doesn’t go far for an insult and refuses to listen to any kind of criticism. Not exactly the kind of person that makes one want to defend him.

So…this is where this article should end, right? A jerk makes a racist game, news at seven.

Well. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Vávra isn’t the only person working in the development. And the most important thing to know about the game in this context is that it’s not a generalized medieval setting. Instead, it takes place in a particular set of villages and towns and the surrounding forests, villages, and towns that exist until today and that aren’t and never have been big or cosmopolitan in any way. A number of events in the game are based on historical events. It isn’t just a story, it the story of Česká Skalice just before the Hussite wars.

In this context, the usual arguments of “there were plenty of people of colour in Europe in the Middle Ages” fall kind of flat. The usual argument of historicity that is pulled for this is frequently false because Western history is whitewashed and contained markedly more people of colour that we like to pretend. But it’s not always false. There actually were parts of the world where only white people lived. And not only are there no particular historical marks of black, brown or Asian people being present in the particular time and place where Kingdom Come takes place, it would also be very unlikely.

Honestly, the most likely place to find a person of colour in the time period would be Sigismund’s armies, and since those play more the role of the antagonist in the game, that’s not exactly ideal. So this is not, in fact, a case of ignoring the real historical presence of black and Middle-Eastern people.

Instead, the first question to ask here is: is it ever legitimate to create all-white media? If we’re depicting a situation where there realistically wouldn’t be any people of colour – not just history, there are still plenty of towns in the world a non-white person has never set foot in – is it all right to make it whiter than new house paint?

On the face of it, the answer should be yes. As long as we’re depicting an actual situation, we’re depicting. And yet. It may be “accurate,” but it might at the same time be unwise in the current climate, where every all-white piece of media contributes to a narrative that is far from inclusive to people of colour.

So the second question: does it even matter? That is, is historical realism such an important goal to achieve?

Most media that supposedly take place in the past play hard and fast with history to make things more convenient for the narrative, so why should the amount of diversity, of all things, be what is kept realistic? It shouldn’t, that is the answer. As long as other things are changed freely, the argument of historicity is irrelevant one way or another.

Kingdom Come, however, is a game that takes great care to be as realistic as possible. The most frequent complaint from players at the moment is the insane difficulty of lockpicking because that isn’t easy in real life either. So does this change anything? Is the argument of historicity valid in such a case? In other words, even in those media that do their best to stay historically faithful, is such an ambition a worthy goal? Is it more important to have something fit history perfectly than to provide representation?

Accusations of rewriting history would naturally follow a negative answer. First, it’s important to point out that it’s no more rewriting than the constant whitewashing, and with a much better intention. But it is true that with a game that boasts of its realism, it presents a problem. It would discredit their claims of historicity if they simply ignored these kinds of facts. You cannot painstakingly reconstruct medieval Skalice and then add random representation from all over the world without becoming a laughing stock. Not the least because this sort of rewriting of history would play down the racism of the past, and that is not an excuse we should be making for ourselves.

Unless we say that media has to abandon goals of high historical realism, then, we have to admit that in certain setting an all-white cast is appropriate. So that brings forth another question: is it legitimate to choose such settings?

And this brings us to the more complicated power dynamics at play when it comes to Kingdom Come.

As I’ve said, Kingdom Come is a Czech game, dealing with events from Czech history. My history. We, as a country, have always played the lovely game of being both oppressors (towards Slovaks, the Jewish and the Romani people, and even Germans after WWII) and oppressed (by the Austrian empire, Nazi Germany, USSR). In the global world of today, we’re far from being the ones in the most desperate situation, but we’re also hardly the top dogs. On the global scale, we’re a minority.

And both our history and our present are mostly white.

Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a good thing. I’m not saying it as a good thing. It massively contributes to the widespread xenophobia in the Czech Republic. But it is what it is. The fact remains that our by far biggest minority are the Romani people, who form about 3% of the population. So every time you tell a Czech story, it is going to be overwhelmingly white.

So should we be allowed to tell our own stories?

Kingdom Come, of course, is not made for the Czech market. It’s distributed globally, and it means it has a global effect, on people who know nothing of our particular context. As an all-white medieval game – which is all most people will take out of it – it perpetuates exactly the image of whitewashed history that we need to rid ourselves of. It becomes part of the problem.

So does this mean, then, that when we want global money, we have to change the image of our own history to avoid exacerbating the global problem of racism? That is problematic as well, especially as making the game for Czech audience only is not a real option. Our ten million people total don’t make for a big enough audience to pay for a game with this kind of budget. It’s another kind of disadvantage global minorities have. It shouldn’t be necessary to pay for it by adjusting our stories.

And even disregarding that, what if we want to show our stories and our world to the rest of the planet? What if we want to share ourselves? We should be able to do that.

Yet…what if what we want to share turns into a white fantasy in others’ hands?

It seems it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Who cares if we change the skin colour of some characters in the story? It’s still going to be a Czech story. But the problem is, it doesn’t quite work that way. After all, that is the “I don’t see colour” argument, only in reverse.

What I’m about to say will sound insanely racist to anyone from a more cosmopolitan country, but when I was little, I didn’t like watching Sesame Street because the multi-ethnic children there were making it so very foreign to me. I saw them and instantly knew it wasn’t my world. Outside of my travel abroad, I spoke to one non-white person total before adulthood. And I live in the capital, the most multicultural part of the country. Whatever it says about us, the truth is that if we populate historical Czech stories with black people, most Czechs will not regard it as their story.

But there is a reason I was specific in this last sentence. There are truly very few black people living in this country even now. You know who is living here, though? The aforementioned Romani. The presence of Romani people in the game would not make any Czech person feel like it was not our story. It would make them angry — because the racism the Romani face in the Czech Republic is something incredibly ugly — but it would not make the game feel foreign. The Romani minority has been here since the Middle Ages, and there are definitely historical records of them being here in large numbers shortly after Kingdom Come takes place. In fact, there are even complaints of there being “more and more” Romani people in our records because of course our racism would be traditional.

We don’t know, of course, if there were any Romani around Skalice, but it was a way to include people of colour that wouldn’t break with general Czech history. It wouldn’t have gone against our own understanding of who has lived here for a long time. And yet they were never mentioned in any of the diversity complaints I have seen. There are also Cumans included in the game, and no one seems to care much either. And that brings me to my last point.

Demanding diversity in Kingdom Come with a particular idea of diversity in mind, the idea that is based on the ethnic composition of the US, is not only American-centric but also offensive to the oppressed minorities of the Czech Republic.  And complaining about such lack of diversity truly does not come across in a way that would endear the author of the complaint to anyone Czech. Especially if the person complaining is white. If a person of colour is offended by so much mayo in their game and would like to feel represented, I can understand that.

But when a white privileged American talks about what sorts of representation a Czech game should contain – particularly with arguments like that Czechia is “just north of Italy” and Italy is by the sea so obviously there’d be plenty of people of colour in here, which is an actual argument someone presented – it suddenly gains whole another tone. Because whiteness is not the only privilege in the world, and while we certainly benefit from it, we do not benefit from the privilege of being American, and anyone from the US telling us how to tell our own stories without knowing anything about us is always, always going to ring a very uncomfortable bell with us.

So yes, making all-white games should be avoided when possible, because it reinforces an uncomfortable narrative. And representation is a good thing, especially representation of those who hardly ever find themselves on screen. Whenever at least a little possible, diversity should be supported. Warhorse Studios really should have included Romani people in their game, just as Czech filmmakers should try casting some in their films. But not all representation fits one muster and demanding medieval Skalice should look like medieval London only makes stories more identical to each other and less interesting. There is more than one kind of diversity.


Images courtesy of Warhorse Studios

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Analysis

Barbara Kean From Housewife to Mobster

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Gotham had a tall order ahead of it at its inception. It had to take some the most iconic characters from the comic page and meld them in a story that takes place before they were iconic. Any prequel adaptation has to grapple with this in one way or another. But Gotham had the unique challenge with Batman’s famous rouges. The origins of so many of his opponents are intertwined with his. Gotham would have to reinvent these characters and their origins. The series has made these characters its own by allowing their development to move away from their comic book counterparts. There is no character with which this is more prevalent in than Barbara Kean.

In the comics, she’s anything but a rival to Batman. She’s the wife of one of Bruce’s closest allies and the mother of one of his sidekicks.  Yet she herself plays but a small role in the narrative. Gotham’s Barbara Kean has made herself a part of the narrative in ways that have seem to have completely change the character we first meet. Gotham has taken a woman destined to be the mother and wife of heroes and made her one of the most prolific members of the Gotham City’s underworld.

We meet Barbara in the pilot engaged to James Gordon, the perfect place to lead to her becoming her comic book counterpart: married to James Gordon and the mother of his children. They’re in a good place in their relationship. As James finds himself confronted with the corruption of Gotham, Barbara becomes a pillar of support for him. She reaffirms his values when he doubts himself. But this can only last for so long. With James fighting against so much of the darkness in Gotham, it was only a matter of time before it got back to Barbara.

Even with the first bit of tension seeping into their relationship, Barbara’s still willing to stand by James. When she learns James’s life is at stake she goes to Carmine Falcone, the king of Gotham’s underground, to beg for his life. But after she’s terrorized by Falcone’s men, her own faith in James is shaken. She’s seen the true dangers in the mission he’s tasked himself with. She can’t share the burden he’s willing to take on.

At first, she falls back into old habits for the comfort and familiarity, drugs, and her ex-girlfriend, Renee Montoya. It doesn’t last with Montoya, and Barbara finds herself in a state of flux. During this time she meets Selina Kyle, who later becomes a close companion. She also meets Jason Skolimski. He becomes an inciting figure of change for her. A serial killer and psychopath, he takes Barbara captive and she almost doesn’t make it out alive.

Her time with him drives her to edge of sanity. Under his influence she kills her parents. She almost kills Lee Thompkins, James’s new girlfriend. The love she has for James becomes an obsession. It doesn’t end well for her with James stopping her. She’s arrested and sentenced to Arkham Asylum. But it ends up putting her in the perfect position for the next wave of her development.

Her stay in the Asylum is short lived. She’s broken out by Theo and Tabitha Galvan, the latter of whom she enters into a romantic relationship with.  It’s through them she’s truly indoctrinated to Gotham’s underground. Barbara’s sanity at this point is shaky at best. Having a girlfriend willing to kidnap her ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend doesn’t help the situation either. Though even when the last remains of her sanity seem all but gone, the compassion she held for James still comes through. Her kidnapping attempt unravels and her escape ends with her falling out a second story window. Before that happens she helps James, giving him the information he needs to take down Theo.

After some time in a coma, she’s released back onto Gotham streets. Though her love for James still borders on unhealthy obsession her pursuits become more personally motivated. She opens a nightclub with Tabitha. It’s successful but she’s gunning for more, namely to get out from under Oswald Cobblepot’s thumb. She’s openly contentious of the Penguin when he all but runs Gotham at this point. Only a few people could have gotten away with this without fatal consequences.

She gathers some powerful allies with the intention of overthrowing Penguin. And it works. She becomes the queen of Gotham, taking over the city’s underground. Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived reign when conflict brews among the very allies who helped her take down Penguin, and she ends up dead.

In the true fashion of comic books and their adaptations, Barbara doesn’t say dead for long. After she’s brought back to life she returns ready to take on the city again. Reaching out to Selina and Tabitha, they work together running a weapons racket to rebuild their status. Death seems to have tamed Barbara, she’s more rational with her return. She’s even willing to work under Penguin. If only for a short time until a better opportunity presents itself for her, Tabitha and Selina.

At this point, I think it’s important to note Barbara could have easily fallen into the old stereotypes of the ‘crazy bisexual ex-lover’ or even the ‘villainous queer’. But similar to the way the Carmilla series defies its negative tropes, Gotham’s exploration of these narrative tropes doesn’t feel like it steers into the negative aspects. Gotham also avoids these tropes in a way few other series could. The villains make up a huge portion of series. They are the lungs that breathe life into the series. As much as this series is about Bruce and James growing into the heroes we know they’ll become, it’s also about watching the other characters grow into the villains we know they’ll become.

Barbara earns her place among the villainous elite in Gotham. She’s gone from a mild-mannered Gotham socialite to one of its most conniving criminals.

She’s still a woman capable of deeply caring for someone. But now her way of showing she cares for someone involves fewer words of empathy and more shooting their enemies in the head. She learnt to thrive in a city where so few can even survive. She adapted in ways that not even James has been able to. Her place in the story going forward is still uncertain. The possibility of her and James come back to each other is small but stranger things have happened in this city. Though at this point it seems more likely one of the many colourful adversaries Bruce will face when he truly dons the cowl.

Regardless of where she’s going, watching her get where she is has been a wild and entertaining ride.


Images courtesy of Fox 

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