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Dragon Age and Diversity in Fantasy Video Games

Barbara

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Dragon Age has always been on the frontlines when it comes to diverse protagonists, though it is far from the only game to offer this. And giving gamers a chance to play as various genders, races and sexual identities is an awesome thing. But it also makes storytelling more complicated, because if the story doesn’t reflect this diversity, it only makes sense in a world where there is no discrimination based on these things.

Some fantasy universes actually go in that direction. Not always wholly successfully or consistently – frequently the implication is that the universe is all equal, but it just so happens that most people in power are straight white males. This is probably partly a result of lingering prejudices and partly thanks to pseudo-medieval tropes tied to the fantasy genre. It can break the suspension of disbelief just a little, but overly, it’s not such a big deal.

Many other universes, on the other hand, decide to keep some form of systemic injustice, usually in the form of fantastic racism. Dragon Age is just one of them. And this is where the complications come into play. Because ultimately, complete freedom in character creation makes sense only in a world without structural injustice. That means an utopia, and nice as it might be to live in one, they are rather boring as far as narratives go, proving little in the way of tension for the story to use. The most interesting tales usually employ conflict with society in some ways, and that almost always means systemic oppression.

But once you do incorporate structural injustice, can you really afford to give players complete freedom in what character they come up with?

Let me use the three Dragon Age games as an example here, to illustrate the problems inherent in this approach.

As I said, its world is not one where the universe pretends at no prejudices and your character has, in fact, no background, their race and gender influencing nothing at all. No, Dragon Age limits your choice to a few available backstories, and with these backstories go specific dialogue options and even quests in the game. Where games like Elder Scrolls do the equivalent of colourblind casting, with all the problems it entails, Dragon Age theoretically does the equivalent of writing roles for minorities, telling their particular stories.

But. (There is always a but.)

The different games are a very good example of the different ways in which one can deal with such an approach, and different measures of success.

In some ways, the best example of how to do it is Dragon Age: Origins.

There are specific origin quests for different character backgrounds picked, and most of them are even quite well-done. They also have tie-ins later in the game, where you get a chance to meet characters already familiar to you. Mostly, whenever something arises where your origin would likely make you react in a specific way, you actually get the option to do so. There are a few slip-ups, but nothing major. Great job, right?

But the only reason why Origins can be this good at story customization is because, at its core, it is a fairly generic hero story.

A novice comes into a mysterious order, their mentor dies, and the task of saving the world falls to them. Individual subquests then have you circling through all the places your past can tie in to, so that every fantastic race has a chance at their customized experiences. The mysterious order in question gives the hero legitimacy beyond any background they might have. It is a decent formula to make it work, but unfortunately unless you want to make all of your games effectively identical, it can only be used once.

Dragon Age II decided to go a different way and limit the number of background choices. There is, effectively, only one backstory, just slightly tweaked depending on your character’s class. In most ways, they decided to abandon the path of different origins in this installment. I still mention it in this article, though, because in spite of this, they rather ironically managed to mess it up. Because they still let you to pick your character’s class, and it just so happens that the central conflict of the game is all about mages and their discrimination.

The oppression of free mages is supposed to be everywhere. So when you play for one such free mage, publicly casting your free magic everywhere the entire game and the most you get for it is slight lip service…well, that is just a little strange.

The lesson should be pretty obvious here: if you make oppression of a particular group one of the central themes of your story, and yet your hero, belonging to that group, never really experiences it, then you are doing something wrong. It weakens the story by making the odds less, it breaks the suspension of disbelief, and it adds to the feeling that your protagonist is really just a generic stand-in. I really shouldn’t need to spell this out.

Mages? What mages? There are no mages here, what are you talking about? What, does that look like a staff and robes and a mage cowl to you? Naah…

Apparently someone should have spelled it out to the game creators, though, because the very same problem appears again in Inquisition. That game returned to more diverse origin stories, but didn’t actually keep the different origin quests, only giving you your character background in a very brief summary. Later, too, the specific quests tied to your origins were just tabletop missions that took two clicks to solve, and some of them with deeply problematic implications to boot. All of that is a pity, but doesn’t touch the main problem, the one carrying over from Dragon Age II. Just as people would not treat a mage and a non-mage the same in a world that hates mages, so, too, the treatment of other oppressed groups would be much different from the privileged ones.

On my first playthrough of Inquisition, I was a free elven mage, an intersection of two despised groups (she was a woman, too, but let’s pretend we buy the fiction that there is hardly any sexism in the world of Dragon Age for now). On the second, I was a human noble, so two privileged groups. The character starts the game in a very vulnerable position, and they were both treated the same.

To put it quite plainly, that is not how it would go.

In fact, given the circumstances of the beginning of the game and if I see the way the noble character is treated as base comparison, I am quite certain the free elven mage would actually be dead. Beaten to death by an angry mob. Because these are things that actually happen in the world, and they would certainly happen in the world Dragon Age is set to take place in.

It is not that you never encounter any racism when playing as an elf in Inquistion – there are a few cases of casual remarks. But nothing near to what would be realistic in the setting we’re meant to believe in. Nothing that would actually influence the story in a meaningful way.

There is one nice case, though, that well-illustrates what this game actually does. When the protagonist encounters her scout in what is essentially an elven mass grave of a genocide, the scout comments that it just seems sad there are so many dead elves. If you play for an elf, you can stare at her incredulously and then quote an ancient oath at her to make her realize that yeah, you have in fact thought about this before and it seems quite sad to you, since it was the genocide of your bloody ancestors she’s talking about. She blushes and apologises to you for not realising it was this personal for you. This kind of casual erasure is brilliantly captured, and it is also what the game does all the time.

Lavellan is sad because everyone constantly speaks over her where elves are concerned. That is my headcanon for why she so often wears an expression like this, anyway.

It is nice to have this one shout-out, but when you go through the plains where the genocide happened and collect quest points for landmaks commemorating the killings of individual elven heroes, the elven protagonist is allowed no reaction. When you have to listen to one of the companions expound on how your heroic knights were probably just thieves and murderers, you are allowed no reaction. When you come to an elven temple, two of your companions (one of them actually not even an elf) translate the elven writing for you. And, best of all, at one point when you find a crucial piece of elvish history, your own elvish character suggests that you could give it to the Chantry – as in, the religious institution responsible for the genocide. Oh, and also one your character has been kind-of affiliated with from the start of the game, because why not?

You see the problem?

There is a lot of elvish material in the game; it’s one of the cornerstones of the story. But it’s treated in exactly the way all non-Western cultures are treated in the real world. Namely, simply exploited without any regard for the actual people it might tie in to. Much like with romance, though much less amusingly, the creators of the game brilliantly captured the same aspects of racism and orientalism in the structure of their story itself. The elves have always been a stand-in for racial minorities from our world, and here they are, always an object and never truly a subject, even when one of them is the supposed protagonist. The very same thing, to a lesser degree, goes for the mages.

Now the question: is this a problem when the cultures and races in question are not actually real races, but instead Thedas elves or, you know, wizards?

My answer is, yes, absolutely. Less of a problem, but still. Because it still perpetuates the patterns of oppression. It still teaches you, as you play the game, that you can stand in a temple of one culture and speak over a member of the actual culture in question as you explain its meaning. That you can ignore someone’s religious sensibilities completely. It teaches you an outsider can somehow have access to the “true” meaning of a cultural tradition, better than the insiders do. And so on.

Of course, it begs the question of how much of this is actually a product of some kind of racism (given that the groups in question, elves and mages, are not ones actual real world prejudices can be connected to) and how much of it is simply a byproduct of having multiple origins for the story protagonists. The harmful effects I’ve outlined remain whichever the case, but it rather changes the conversation.

“Well, *actually*, the Dread Wolf was…”

It is entirely possible that it is simply a byproduct. But it is curious, is it not, that it just so happens to be the group that is underprivileged in-universe which gets the short end of the stick in the story. When playing for a human, you can waltz through countless elven ruins without giving the religion they tie in to any respect. When you play for an elf, you have to at least pretend to be the herald of a human prophet. Is it something about crafting a narrative of oppression that makes the story itself warp into this sort of shape? Do the writers become so immersed in their own world that they become subject to its prejudices?

But these are fanciful musings. To get back on point, as long as you have diversity both in character backgrounds and in the cultures they encounter, there are going to be differences between the reactions of different characters. Profound ones. Perhaps bigger ones than can ever be covered by a few dialogue changes. As I said, the elven free mage would likely have been dead at the beginning. That rather changes the story, does it not?

Simply said, most stories cannot be crafted without paying mind the the protagonist’s background, because their background shapes who they are and how the world reacts to them, and that is what any good story grows from.

Most games avoid this by having a clearly defined protagonist. Others do so by ignoring any differences in background. Each approach has its own upsides when it comes to diversity. The second frees you from the necessity to constantly play for cis straight white men, which we all know would happen if the protagonist was a fixed choice. It is, of course, merely a visual thing, since the way these games are written normally means the protagonist is treated as a white man would be, no matter what they look like, but that is refreshing and transgressive in its own way too.

The first, on the other hand, can do much good when the creators actually do not make the hero at least one of these categories. Because then, all who play the game go through the experience of being, for a time, someone other than the most common idea of a hero. When the background is well done, it can be very rewarding. But still, the thing is, we do not need games for that. Films and books work in this way, with a clearly defined protagonist who, hopefully, doesn’t always have to be the entitled male. Games have the potential to do something more interesting.

This is why, in spite of all the issues it brings, I much prefer the way Dragon Age decided to go. I much prefer actual diversity in my options regarding the hero. Still, all of the problems mentioned above should not be ignored, and generic stories in the mold of Origins are hardly a general solution.

In fact, I believe the essential direction Dragon Age II went in was a good one. I believe that limiting the diversity somewhat is the only way to have the stories actually be diverse, not just white man tales with different visuals and a bit of lip-service. However, it is telling that when they had to choose one race to concentrate the origin story on, they chose the most privileged one.

The multiple-origins approach is viable if different, but in some essentials similar characters are found. Speaking of the Dragon Age world, an elf from an alienage, from a wandering clan and an ex-slave from Tevinter will have many disparate experiences, but also many shared ones, and the way people will react to their presence will also be similar enough not to tax the storytelling overmuch. A casteless dwarf and an alienage elf have different cultural backgrounds, but the experience of being the poorest and most downtrodden in a city can be enough to build a similar story on. A mage and a rebel Qunari would have dealt with a lot of similar prejudices in their lives, though again their views would be quite opposite to each other. I suppose a human and dwarven merchant, too, would have a lot in common, though telling that story seems much less interesting.

There can be enough diversity left when the choices are curtailed somewhat, and the story this results in would be more faithful to a character’s chosen background. It would look less like people’s stories and cultures were interchangeable and unimportant for who they were. I, for one, hope that this is the way the eventual Dragon Age IV will go.


All images courtesy of BioWare

Barbara is a religious studies grad student who uses fandom to avoid working on her thesis.

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Frank and Fiona unite in the new Shameless

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The Gallaghers can never really catch a break in this series, we’ve seen way more than once a good thing turn sour right before them just as they began to appreciate the benefits. There are so many examples in earlier seasons that is almost become like a running gag. The only difference this time is that Fiona saw it coming this time, which is not only a sign of growth, but almost like a mantle being passed away, separating her from her family.

In a fortunate turn of events for the series as a whole, the episode moves from the mess of too many plots as a whole, to a very thematic cause-and-effect story line that addresses the many poor choices made by some of the Gallagher clan. While not all outcomes are bad per se, they definitely have some serious implications for not only the rest of the season, but the rest of the series as a whole.

From Debbie getting what is coming to her from her negligence, to Fiona finally getting the last “I told you so” out of her system, we begin to see some serious self-realization from certain characters. Unlike Frank, they finally discover guilt and move a step far beyond to see that sometimes they are their own worst enemies. Yet at times, their own disastrous ways show them the path away from those terrible memories and sometimes even contain the experience to help another.

Recap

The episode picks up directly from where Ian and Carl left off, as they got chased down by a crazy meth head who was living in Monica’s storage unit, accusing them of stealing it. Of course Lip passed the blamed on to Monica, putting them in a $70,000 debt to some drug dealers. Frank’s new leaf is breath of fresh air, until he refuses to take any responsibility in stealing the meth in the first place, blaming his older self, the old Frank, as the culprit. They try to hide it but Fiona is totally on to them.

V is finally starting to realize how good their finances were when Svetlana was around, raising her child now while Kev seems to just worry about passing faulty genetics to his kids. He is equally obsessed with cancer awareness, going as far as feeling up Fiona’s chest to give her a proper breast exam. It’s weird, but not weird because it’s Kevin and…for science!

Lip is having his time put to good use working at the motorcycle garage and complaining about Sierra and the meth drama. While his fellow addict is tired of hearing about it, he gives him a welcome distraction to focus on other than self obsession. Speaking of addicts, Professor Youens gets so drunk that he drives into someones house.

On Ian’s end, he’s slowly getting back into good rapport with Trevor, though sometimes it seems like he is not only trying way too hard but going to extreme lengths to get some pity. Fiona starts to clean up the mess that the multi child mother left behind in the wake of her eviction which consists of baby shit all over the walls and the very flattering, “thundercunt” drawn on the walls. It’s safe to say she has gotten her hands full trying to lease that apartment. Nessa to the rescue with some latte as Fiona tells her about the time consuming nature of credit checks. Nessa’s partner schemes to get her own friends in the apartment.

It does, somewhat

Lip goes to pick up his Professor to help him out from this rut and many injuries done both to his person and life as a whole. Even more sad to his story is that the only reason he called Lip was because no one else in his family would receive his call. Youens is pretty sure he’s going to end up in prison. Meanwhile, Frank, now thinking he’s a saint, thinks he’s found some spirituality and likes to be referred to Francis. To be fair, he sounds more like a stoner than he ever did….being sober now and all. Kevin is still obsessing over his genetics that it leads to a discovery of where he came from, considering he is an orphan. Turns out he’s from something called the “Huntsville sub group,” which is a group of people from Kentucky who were cut off from the rest of the world. They are known for being one of he most inbred populations in the United States.

This is what five DUI’s looks like

Fiona interviews her first leaser and it’s basically a dream come true, until Nessa’s wife ruins it by telling him the place is riddled with bedbugs.

People finally to give Debbie a reality check that with another woman giving Neil his sponge baths, she better watch to that he doesn’t leave her, especially given her treatment of him. At least she has the decency to admit herself that she doesn’t want him, but at the same time she heartlessly mentions she’s only with him for his insurance and steady disability income. We can see some of the old Frank in her more than we can in Lip just because of this moment.

Lip tries to help Youens find a lawyer but then realizes why no one will take his case. He has already had five DUI’s. At this point not even getting sober may help. Though Lip really never reached this point it is incredibly heartbreaking to see him try to help his Professor through this bad phase. It’s really a sad scene as Youens tells Lip to go. He doesn’t need a lawyer and doesn’t plan on going to jail…he’s contemplating suicide. Nessa’s friends try to to talk down Fiona to four hundred dollars less than what she’s asking, showing her as the culprit.

Effect finally comes to fruition as Carl is basically being drowned in his hot tub when the meth dealers come to collect, giving them twenty for hours to come up with the seventy grand. Veronica pushes Kevin to meet his family as they bear an uncanny resemblance to him, he struggles with this decision remembering the way he was abandoned. The rest of the Gallagher boys learn more about the man after them as Debbie finally gets kicked to the curb by Neil. Hate to say this to you Debbs but you kind of deserved this. Lip deals with the fact that Youens saved his life with rehab and now feels so guilty that he can’t help him. Helping another through the same situation is the best way to heal yourself.

If V and Kev’s problems aren’t getting worse, they get the bill for his biopsy and a Russian Realtor pricing the bar out for Svetlana, who is in prison yet still retains ownership of the bar. V goes to see her in prison and makes a deal to get her out of prison to help manage the bar and the children. Frank is still not taking responsibility for the meth problem and discovers guilty which actually makes him want to help. It’s a hilarious struggle by the way. Fiona savors the fact that she was right about the meth in the first episode. She goes a little too far in the “I told you so,” and they’re now going to her for help in finding the last two pounds of meth buried in Monica’s grave. It’s is nice to see however, the family finally united for once. Even Frank is finally taking responsibility and using his employee discount for shovels.

The episode ends with Frank taking charge of the meth dealers, paying them only half but dosing out some good threats and reasoning as to why it’s enough. It’s a nice scene as Fiona actually shows some daughterly appreciation. Lip brings rehab to Youens with all his recovering buddies around to support the old Professor in his time of need. Fiona at long last lets the ghetto out on Nessa’s partner; she tells her to come clean about the bed bugs story and to stop playing her game or Fiona will play back much harder.

A united Gallagher family

Review

A lot less was going on this episode compared to the previous one but as the old adage goes, quality over quantity. The story was more concise and served to bring the family together as one again which is something that has been sorely missed for at least two seasons now. Though what it took to get there was more than questionable, I guess in the end the means were justified, sort of.

In terms of Lip’s current plot, it’s actually one of the more better written scenes. He sees a mirror of himself in Youens. Not that he was ever as bad as him, I mean the man’s age alone and number of DUIs is testament to how far his alcoholism has stretched on, even when compared to someone like Frank. Nevertheless, it isn’t the alcoholic we see mirrored into Lip, but the desire to help someone struggling with it. He and Youens bond over caring for one another thanks to Youens paying for Lips rehab; in this way it was something he never saw in Frank, thus he could not feel sorry for in terms of Frank. He wants to help his tormented Professor because it was what was done for him. A beautiful reciprocation to be built upon.

Other than Lip the episode was mostly focused on Fiona and learning to stand up for herself in front of those thought to be intimidating. She has taken Nessa’s partners bullshit for three episodes, and the conflict finally came to a head when she tried to swindle her friends into the vacant apartment with promises of cheaper rent. This obviously did not stand, and only served to fuel Fiona when she found out about the bed bug lie.

As for her relationship with Frank, only time well tell how long that will last for. Rather, how long Frank will last in his current state of mind. That comes with my only issue with the season so far. Frank’s new lease on life is the only real overarching plot encompassing the entire season so far. There’s no overall struggle that the family is dealing with as was the case in the older seasons. The meth issue did have its merits but ended with this episode, as far as we know. I want to see something big happen, not just a “what are the Gallagher’s up to this week?”.

Are we, though?


All images courtesy of Showtime

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Analysis

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History

Griffin

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wolfenstein 2 featured

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a phenomenal game. It has an inordinate amount to say about racism, anti semitism, the cycle of abuse, ableism, eugenics, homophobia, fat shaming, PTSD, war, violence, and just about everything else under the sun. And developer MachineGames does all of that with this wonderfully strange combination of hyper-meticulous tact, high production values, and auteur confidence. Of course, none of that would have been possible if the setting surrounding the narrative didn’t work, and holy shit does it ever.

The newest iterations of the Wolfenstein franchise take place in an alternate 1960—leading into ‘61 for the second game—where the Nazis won the war. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game framed around the “how” of the world. How did the Nazis win? How do they keep their conquered states in check? How have things changed in this reality? How do we stop them from gaining more power? How do we fight back against a near global, yet also interplanetary, regime?

Throughout the game, you come across newspaper clippings and records (The Beatles sort of still exist) that fill the gaps between 1946 and 1960. The result is a fully realized world that isn’t just a horrifying coat of paint over reality; it’s how things would have happened…with a few super-science-y liberties thrown in because why wouldn’t the Nazis a moon base or fire breathing robot dogs? And, of course, the greatest twist of all: the Nazis’ inexplicable sci-fi advancement, the whole reason they won the war, was built on the backs of stolen technology from a secret society of Jewish science wizards. There’s even a sequence where the protagonist, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, breaks into a high security compound and finds ancient schematics written in Hebrew, which he knows how to read.

We also knew, in broad strokes, what had happened to the other parts of the world. America had surrendered completely after Manhattan was obliterated by an atomic bomb, mirroring the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had yet to conquer the vast majority of Africa, as organized resistance was proving far more effective than they were willing to recognize. London was kept in line by a skyscraper-sized robot called the London Monitor, which you get to blow up.

Wolfenstein: The New Order took place almost entirely in western Europe (with a brief sojourn to the moon, of course) and exploring how the one region of the world that was, at one time, actually conquered by the Nazis, ended up being just familiar enough to what it was back then to what it became in their alternate history. It’s this foundation, this deep uprooting and deconstruction of history, that allows its sequel, The New Colossus, to head straight into the United States. We were shown what was comfortably familiar to us, so it was time to show what was uncomfortably familiar.

An America subjugated and ruled by the Nazis.

Enemy Of The State Of Affairs

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a game about “why”. Why do we fight against oppression when society around us punishes those who do? Why do we push back against systemic hatred, even when it has no bearing on us? Why does a man like William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the perfect aesthetic poster boy for Aryan supremacy, reject those who would treat him like a king?

Why has America submitted to Nazi rule? The short answer is: giant airship. The long answer? Well, that one’s not so complicated.

Relatively early in the game, you meet up with a New York City resistance cell lead by a black woman named Grace, a survivor of the Manhattan bombing. In fact, all but one of her members are black with the exception of her partner Super Spesh. Their character designs explicitly invoke imagery of the Black Panthers and the overall Black Power movement.

The first game had you run around helping the Kreisau Circle, the Berlin-based Nazi resistance group that eventually cut the head off the Nazi war machine and stopping them from developing new weapons. This cell was lead by Caroline Decker, a paraplegic veteran. But, in the opening of this game, Caroline is executed by the main antagonist, Frau Engel, leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Grace fits perfectly. Who better to represent a 1960s violent uprising of the oppressed than a black woman in America?

She even goes so far as to move into Caroline’s old cabin in their captured Super U-Boat. From the start of the narrative, Wolfenstein is showing us that America is very different from a conquered Europe. For one, the English language is being banned, hearkening back to that old adage of “If the Nazis won, we’d all be speaking German”.

The largest among the differences though is that, just as Grace says above, America never stopped fighting the Nazis. The military did, yes, and the vast majority of the white population, including a South-governed KKK, but the fact that there is a dedicated anti-gravity airship, the Ausmerzer, whose sole role is to travel the country and crush resistance factions for the past decade tells us in no uncertain terms that the hold the Nazis have over America isn’t as ironclad as they believe it to be.

Even if they are able to put on one hell of a show.

We find newspaper clippings within the game describing resistance cells crushed by the Ausmerzer, and there’s even a moment during a trip to Roswell where you’re recognized (you’re the Reich’s most wanted, after all) by a local resident who, in a terrified act of defiance, whispers that he believes in what you’re doing when just seconds prior he was selling newspaper propaganda with glee.

The cap to this, however, is the final scene of the final mission of the game where you ambush Frau Engel’s live appearance on a talk show. You sneak through the bleachers and into the rafters, noting that every single person in the audience is a cardboard cutout. The show may be being broadcasted to every living room in the world, but it stands to reason that if people aren’t going to the live show…they’re not buying into the lies.

America is being crushed under the heel of the Nazis, yes, but it has yet to be crushed. Good people are still out there in the world, but they’ve forgotten how to resist. Those who were already filled with hate jumped on board, the minority, while everyone else is either putting their head in the sand or just trying to survive.

On the other side of the table, though, is how white America perceives the Nazis. I’ve already mentioned that the KKK controls the south, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Slavery has been legalized once more, and auctions are the talk of the town. We find out that, in true Nazi form, they rounded up the country’s degenerates—Jews, queer folk and people of color—and either purged them or sent them off to die in New Orleans…which is now a massive ghetto, Escape from New York style.

And if you “named names”, you were rewarded with what those same people left behind. Land rights, mansions, savings; everything they owned was either seized by the state or given as a gift to those who betrayed their friends and neighbors. This is not something we discover on a broad scale; it’s personal to B.J.

He visits his childhood home after nuking Area 52 (it wasn’t aliens, just ancient Jewish Techno Wizard secrets) and finds his abusive father, Rip, waiting for him, having heard he was in the area and assumed he’d come around. Rip, as we learned from flashbacks, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his son and his wife Zofia, a Jewish Polish immigrant. That, and he was a hardcore White Supremacist, having only married Zofia because he believed her father would be a business asset. He bemoans that no one knows what it is like to suffer as he does, thinking that everyone is trying to steal everything from the White Man.

In short, he represents everything that B.J. has spent his entire adult life fighting against.

When asked what happened to his mother, Rip admits that he sold her out to the Nazis and they took her away. The confrontation ends with B.J. killing his father after he presses a shotgun to his son’s forehead, but through their entire conversation he’d been on the phone with the Nazis. He’d sold out his son, too.

That’s the state of the world in Wolfenstein, and in The New Colossus you blow it the fuck up.

Terror-Billy Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass

While the game’s marketing may have been pointing towards a parallel with the American Revolution as for how the country ousts the Nazis, I posit that the historical context is far more evocative of our 1960s.

Grace’s existence and design are already evidence of this, but it’s the rest of the resistance that makes this all the more clear. The second big group you recruit, aptly enough from the New Orleans ghetto itself, is lead by a man named Horton. He organizes a group of communists, socialists and anarchists who you’d think wouldn’t fit in with Grace and her people. These are the people that dodged the draft, even if they did push the concept of equal rights earlier than most. Horton even flat out cites their attempted push for a civil rights movement in an argument with B.J.

Of course, there’s a key difference between refusing to fight on foreign soil in a war that benefits the military industrial complex and what’s happening to them now. Horton’s group draws upon sentiment from both the end of the Great War and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.

Again, many of them were draft dodging pacifists, but that goes right out the window when it comes to Nazis. It’s one thing to refuse to fight a foreign enemy on foreign lands when victory would have only spread what you’re rebelling against. It’s quite another to sit by and accept fascism in the very country that allowed, though not always encouraged, you to believe what you saw in your heart as just.

It’s at the end of the game, however, in the ending cinematic, that this entire idea solidifies. That this historical context isn’t an accident, and the frankly unbelievable amount of homework MachineGames must have done paid off in spades. Mere moments after B.J. kills Frau Engel on live television, Grace and Horton speak directly into the cameras and ignite a violent revolution. The Kreisau Circle may be organized like a guerilla military operation, but the American people aren’t. They don’t need to be.

It’s an angry, raw, improvised and imperfect call to arms, but that’s what makes it perfect. Violent uprisings don’t start with eloquence or deep debating over the justification to fight against those who oppress you. They start with whatever you’ve got on hand. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and the general counterculture protests that dominated the 60s are clear influences on Wolfenstein’s depiction of “retaking America”. Seriously, if it didn’t sink in already, they blast a heavy metal cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over the end credits coupled with imagery of violent rioting and uprisings across the nation.

Wolfenstein does not attempt to hold a mirror to our world today, even if it does so inadvertently. It tries to make us look back, so that we remember how to keep moving forward. It’s message is clear because it knows what it’s talking about, no matter how over-the-top the presentation:

Equality is not a debate; it’s a right. Those without it won’t stop until they have it, because for them it’s literally “Fight, or Die”.  So the best thing you can do, if you’ve already got it, is to pick them up with you. And if you don’t? If you keep trying to push others down? It’s gonna get bloody, just like it always does, and chances are it won’t be them who’s dying.


Images courtesy of MachineGames

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Film

The Mario Bros. are Returning to the Big Screen

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That’s right, the Nintendo icons will hit your theaters yet again with the potential signing of a new deal between Nintendo and Universal Pictures to bring the Mario Bros. back to the site of one of the most infamous crimes in movie history. At least this time they won’t be live action?

The deal will task Illumination Entertainment, animated filmmaker for Universal, with developing an animated adaptation of the beloved Nintendo juggernaut. The studio, responsible for films such as Despicable Me, Minions, and The Secret Life of Pets, has reportedly negotiated the deal for over a year now. If finalized, it would be the first deal Nintendo has made for TV or film since the original 1993 disaster starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.

Anyone who has seen the film could tell you why Nintendo would wait nearly 25 years to make another deal bringing the Mario Bros. to the big screen. For those who have not seen it, run. Run far, run fast, do not let anyone tempt you into watching. Not even if you like bad movies. For all the bad movies based on video games, you don’t get worse than Mario without delving into the crap-filled swamps that are Uwe Boll movies.

Of course, this is all speculation and it is a common feature of video game movies to end up in development hell keeping them from ever releasing. The deal has yet to be finalized, with the involvement of Nintendo themselves in development of the movie reportedly holding it up. If made official, the deal could lead to multiple Mario Bros. movies. If the first ever comes out.

I want to be optimistic. Making an animated movie sounds better than live-action, but after the failure of the Ratchet and Clank animated movie, I can’t be too optimistic. I’ve yet to see even one genuinely good video game movie. I don’t think there’s ever been one that was passable besides comparison to the wasteland of the genre. It would fit the ever-innovative and successful history of Mario to break the mold. I hope somehow they manage.


Image courtesy of Nintendo

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