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When I last left off, I had just finished talking about how one of the characters, Kanji Tatsumi, is used to talk about homosexuality. Now, we shall look at another character who talks about sexism.

Naoto Shirogane

The other character I will talk about is Naoto Shirogane. Let’s start similarly to Kanji. Based on the picture above, what do you think Naoto is like? His posture kind of hints at being somewhat formal and smart. He appears quite serious and determined. When you first meet him, he’s introduced as the “Detective Prince”, a high school detective that has been asked by the Inaba Police Department to help with the recent murders. He’s also quite perceptive, being one of the first people to noticing patterns in the cases, such as the Midnight Channel and the recent kidnappings. (When a person appears on the Midnight Channel, they are reported missing for several days before you rescue them). His manner of speaking is also quite formal, and he takes his job quite seriously. So it appears the first impression was correct. So, what am I getting at here? Well, in the list of first impressions above, there is one thing incorrect. Can you figure out what’s wrong?

It’s the very first word: “His”. Naoto Shirogane is actually a female. However, this isn’t a “let’s make a gender-neutral looking character” situation, sort of. While indeed her design is gender-neutral, they had a reason to; she was disguising herself as male. Her main reason for this is that she was trying to escape the sexism present in the police force. She is already a high school student working alongside the police; she didn’t exactly have high respect from fellow officers. The other members of the force view her as a child of sorts, and that she probably shouldn’t be involved. The only reason she is is that she’s good, and has solved many cases. However, if she revealed herself as female to the police force, she would be taken even less seriously, and probably wouldn’t even be able to work with the police.

Her Shadow also reinforces this. In fact, when we encounter her Shadow is when we discover that she is indeed female. Her Shadow references her desire to be male, like all other famous detectives found in novels and the media. The Shadow also refers to her desire to no longer be treated like a child. Throughout the game, she acts rather mature, representing her desire to be taken seriously. However, several members of the police force still treat her like a child, because she still somewhat acts like a child. For example, at this point in the game, the police had, more or less, considered the murder case as closed. Naoto was unsure about this, and persisted on the case. This persistence made her peers feel she was acting childish.

Like with Kanji, the inclusion of Naoto’s character sends another message to the player without being incredibly blunt; this message being that sexism is still around today. Instead of doing the usual method of displaying it, the game showed just how far a character would go to avoid it. In order to avoid the sexism present in the work force, a female was willing to pretend to be male, and possibly, willing to have a sex change. I think even fewer games tackle this issue when compared to homosexuality, but there’s a simple reason for that, which actually makes things somewhat ironic. That simple reason? Sexism. Sexism is the reason why it is hard for a message about sexism to be delivered through games. If a game tries to deliver a message about sexism, a majority of gamers, being male, might take it as being “feminist”, so they will either ignore the message or not play the game at all. Essentially, Naoto was used to deliver a message about sexism without flat out showing it to us.

There are several other characters in Persona 4 which also deliver messages. For example, Rise Kujikawa delivers a message about celebrities. Her Shadow shows a fear of hers; she fears that people only like her for her popularity. People only want to know “Risette”, the version of her that appears on stage, and not the actual Rise. With characters such as this, Persona 4 is able to tell a story that is further reinforced by its characters. All of the characters have desires and fears that the player gets to see, as well as faults they want to correct. Over the course of the story, you see these characters grow and become different than when they started. This is an aspect of character development that I feel many games lack, and an aspect that helps make Persona 4’s story shine.

Note: Extra Credits actually did pretty much a whole episode talking about Kanji, and a bit about Naoto. You can watch it here.

Persona 4 is considered one of the best RPGs on the PS2, beating out games such as Kingdom Hearts 2 (Metacritic 87), Dragon Quest 8 (Metacritic 89), and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (Metacritic 87). Heck, it beats out quite a few modern games, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (88), and Deus Ex: Human Revolution (89). It also scores only 1 point behind games such as Mass Effect and Gears of War 3 (Both 91). However, it is not nearly as well known. It is quite a shame, seeing as there are quite a few lessons that other games can learn from Persona 4. The biggest lesson to learn from it would be the story, or, more specifically, the driving force of the story: the characters. Persona 4 has a very diverse cast of characters (which Extra Credits has mentioned several times), yet they all seem like normal people. First though, I’d like to briefly explain the story.

In Persona 4, the main character, a high school student, arrives in the small town of Inaba. Not long after you arrive, strange things start happening. First off, 2 unexplainable murders occur several days apart. Second, a rumor starts going around for a thing called the Midnight Channel, which happens at midnight when it’s raining. Third, after experiencing the Midnight Channel for the first time, the player discovers a dangerous world within the TV, called the TV World. You soon find out the three are related. The two people who were murdered were shown on the Midnight Channel a few days before they were killed. These people were killed by being thrown into the TV World. You and you friends also discover a hidden ability, called a Persona, that can only be gained by facing one’s Shadow. These Shadows represent a hidden secret or trait of that person, a secret or trait that they themselves haven’t fully embraced. If you are still confused about the story, this video kinda explains/parodies the start of the story in more detail. Video. Now that the basic storyline is out of the way, let’s start talking about the diversity topics.

There are many characters in this game, almost all of them feel like real people and help the story. However, there are two characters in particular that tackle topics that few games rarely even mention: homosexuality and sexism. Usually, if a game mentions these topics, it takes them in a very light-hearted or mocking manner. Quick question: How many games have you played that brings up the issue of homosexuality? Next: How many games have you played that brings up the issue of homosexuality without using it as a joke/fan service, and without the use of stereotypes? Persona 4 is one of the few games that falls into the latter category.

Kanji Tatsumi

First impressions: Just looking at him, what do you think his character is like? I think most people will probably think he looks like a “bully” of sorts. The scar over his left eye, the skull and crossbones shirt, and his posture all seem to imply this. This could then lead to a belief that he thinks himself manlier than everyone else, because he is stronger than everyone else. This is reinforced by the fact that, when he’s first mentioned in game, it’s through a news article about him. This news article was about how he had single-handedly beaten up a biker gang. When you first see him, you can quite easily believe that he’d be the type of person who would do that. There are even rumors going around that, after beating up this biker gang, he became the new leader of it. It is also mentioned that he skips school often and tends to get into fights. So far, our first impressions seem about spot on.

And then he gets thrown into the TV World and we get to see his Shadow. His shadow very bluntly shows to the player that there is more to Kanji than first meets the eye. Basically, his Shadow acts rather stereotypically like a homosexual. At first, Kanji will refute what the Shadow says, but eventually, accepts that it is indeed a part of him. After saving Kanji, the player is able to learn more about Kanji, and, as you talk to him, you learn many of the initial thoughts about him were quite wrong. For example, he explains that the reason why he fought the biker gang earlier in the game wasn’t to become the new leader, nor was it simply for the sake of fighting. He did it because he wanted them to stop riding around his mom’s shop. You also learn that Kanji has some hidden hobbies, such as tailoring. Instead of being this super tough guy who only knows how to fight, we see that he’s actually a bit of a softie. For example, when you first start talking to him, he ends up helping a young boy who lost a toy doll. Kanji later on makes him a new one.

And this brings us right back to the topic of homosexuality. It is hinted at in the game that he questions his sexuality and the opposite gender. This is mainly due to his soft side, which sometimes seems to be ridiculed by people. To him, the only people who understand him are other guys. So when another character, Naoto Shirogane (coincidentally enough, the other character I wanted to talk about), starts wanting to learn more about him, Kanji ends up developing a bit of a crush on him. At this point, we see the possibility that he could in fact be a homosexual. The game never confirms or denies this, but Kanji does say that his Shadow is indeed a part of him, and that he’s more comfortable with it. Even though Persona 4 might or might not have a character who is not a homosexual, they did bring up the topic of it, as well as talk about it in a way that most games wouldn’t dare.

Download the game here.

I Wanna Be The Guy: The Movie: The Game is undoubtedly one of the hardest games ever made. At first glance, it really doesn’t look that hard. The game opens in a similar fashion to Megaman 2, the same song and all. Once you press SHIFT, you are taken to a “choose your save file” screen. Your choice of save file does not matter, so we shall continue. Move the arrow down to New Game, and select “Medium” difficulty. Trust me on this. This is the only way you’ll have a chance. One thing that might get some getting used to is the controls. SHIFT is jump, and Z is fire gun. The Kid, the name of the protagonist, is capable of double jumping. The first thing you should do is shoot the save point. This will save the game, obviously. Next, double jump up the gap. This is what you encounter.

This doesn't look too har...

Oh.

Right off the bat, the player will die. How can anyone expect an apple to fall out of the tree and kill you instantly? And that right there is the theme of this game. Anything and EVERYTHING will kill you in this game. Apples? Yes. Clouds? Yes (with the help of some spikes). A giant version of Mike Tyson from Punch-Out?

Yes.

Just about anything in this game is capable of killing you. However, it’s always in an interesting way. For example, in one screen, the moon will fall out of the sky and start rolling around. You then have to jump around and avoid the moon until it opens up the path to the next screen. The first time you see this screen, you will be surprised by the falling moon. The next couple of deaths will involve you figuring out the moon’s path and what to do. Eventually, it comes down to memorization and one good attempt. Once you get to the next save point, the cycle repeats. Unexpected death, followed by figuring out pattern, followed by many tries attempting to get pattern down, followed by the successful attempt to get to the next save point. Sometimes, it isn’t an unexpected death, but rather, just an incredibly complex jump pattern the player has to do.

Like this

Ok, technically, that level is from Super Meat Boy. However, that level captures the essence of I Wanna Be The Guy. The point is, this game is hard. Very hard. So why was this game made? Well, the main reason it was created was to make an insanely difficult game. it does this by returning the player to the time of 8-bit and 16-bit games, which were typically much harder. Games today have, to most players, felt too easy and a breeze to get through. This is mostly done to keep the player immersed, but, when the game is over, does the player feel very accomplished? If the game is too easy, not particularly. If the game is hard, the player is pretty ecstatic about finishing. The problem is, even though the player is ecstatic for finishing, the player also gets frustrated the longer it takes. The more frustrated a player gets, the more likely the player is to just give up and stop playing.

Chances are, you’ll eventually give up on I Wanna Be The Guy. At some point, you’ll reach a screen that, no matter how many times you try, you just can’t beat it. This frustration at the level will build up, until you can’t take it anymore, and just, give up. This game represents the fact that, even though challenge is good in a game, too much challenge will just end up causing problems. No matter how much joy the player gets from finishing a level, it doesn’t matter if the player never gets to finish the level. I Wanna Be The Guy demonstrates this last fact. Only the most dedicated of players will complete the game, and they will feel accomplished for doing what few have done. Conversely, many players will end their game experience with defeat. This game can be viewed as a message to game developers that challenge can be fun, and developers should look into it more. It also serves as a warning; too much challenge, and the player will become disinterested. To give the player the most fun, developers will need to walk a fine line between making a game immersive, but challenging.

Play the game here.

Just trying to explain the basic premise of ClueSweeper will raise some eyebrows. As somewhat implied by the name, it is a combination of Minesweeper and Clue. So how does it work? The goal of the game is to figure out which of the suspects is the killer within a certain amount of “time”. Time is equivalent to the number of tiles you have left to click on. Each click removes one time. When you click on a tile, several things can occur. The first is that the tile that comes up is grey and a number appears on it. This means that your search there has turned up no clues, but the number indicates how many tiles around it have objects of interest. A yellow tile gives you more information about one of the suspects. A blue tile indicates something that the killer is NOT (example, The killer is not left-handed). A green tile is a clue for what the killer IS (example, The killer is right-handed). Red herrings, indicated by a black tile, are bad; they remove some time.

This is what the board looks like after a couple of turns

As you learn more and more information, it can very easily get difficult keeping track of it all. That’s why the game records it all for you. You can look at all of the clues gathered about the killer by clicking on “View Notepad”. This brings up a list of everything the killer is or isn’t that you’ve discovered so far. To look at the information you have about each suspect, just place your mouse over that particular person. If it’s clear that one of the suspects is not the killer, click to mark an X over that person. If you make a mistake with that, you can click again to remove the X. Once you’ve eliminated all but one person, or believe that you have enough information, hit the “Solve!” button to make your accusation.

Gotcha!

Once you’ve made your accusation, you are told whether or not you are correct. If so, you have solved the case and are able to proceed to the next one. You also get a score based on the number of clues you found, as well as how quickly you solved the case. If you guessed the wrong person, you’ll have to try the case again (with different people and clues).

Victory indeed

But why do I bring up this game? Quite simply, it’s because of how unique it is simply by taking two completely different games and combining them. Many games today typically fit into a single genre, such as first-person shooter or tower defense. Although there might be details that make one first-person shooter better than another, quite honestly, they typically play about the same. There really isn’t a lot of difference between strictly first-person shooter games. However, the games that feel very different are the ones that combine two, or more, genres. For example, a combination first-person shooter and tower defense. A game like this will feel quite different from a regular tower defense or first-person shooter. (Note: This type of game exists. Look at Sanctum). ClueSweeper is an example of this combination of genres. The game doesn’t invent MineSweeper or Clue; instead, he combined the two and made a game that felt completely new.

Play the game here.

Achievement Unlocked has a simple goal for the player: collect all of the achievements as quickly as possible. Some are simple, such as “Stay alive for 30 seconds” or “Die 50 times”. Some are tricky, like “Paint every block” and “Turn the elephant orange”. And then there are the ridiculous, such as “Load the game” and “Play the first level”. A large portion of the achievements fall under this last group. For example, in the time it has taken me to write this much, I have left the game running idle. I have not moved the elephant at all. I currently have 24% of the achievements. Looking through the comments of the game, you can unlock about 50% without pressing the left arrow key.

And 11% in 2.43 seconds

Most of the challenge in the game stems from trying to figure out what all of the achievements are. There’s a list on the right side of the screen with all of the achievement names. However, as you scroll through them all (which also nets an achievement), most of the names are cryptic. For example, What does “Triple Play Pit” need me to do? Or “Stalagmite”? Or “Meaning of Life”? (That one is actually a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but if you haven’t heard of it before, you’ll be completely stumped). Luckily, there’s a link to a walkthrough in the game, in case you get stumped. Once you unlock all of the achievements, you have won the game. Your prize? An achievement!

I wasn't joking

But what’s the point of the game? Why make a game about collecting achievements? What this game is demonstrating is that many games today are trying to substitute achievements for actual gameplay. What I mean by this is that some games today are trying to replace fun with achievements. If you finished a game that was mediocre and had no achievements, there would be no real urge to keep playing. Now throw in an achievement for “Completing the game twice”. More players are going to play the game again solely for this one achievement. Achievement Unlocked satirizes this concept; who needs gameplay when you have achievements? Imagine an actual game with the same level design as this and the whole goal of the level is to get to the upper left corner. That level wouldn’t take very long. By throwing achievements into specific levels, games encourage the player to spend a longer time on this level, extending playtime. Now, achievements by themselves don’t do much. If the only incentive is to just collect achievements, not many players are going to spend extra time collecting them. However, if players are encouraged to collect them, such as through points, players will inevitably play the game longer. They will want to have more points than their friends, and collecting achievements themselves become a sort of game.

I wondered how long it would take for me to get this one

The automatic achievements found in Achievement Unlocked also demonstrate a trend today. In the rush for games to have a minimum number of achievements (like 360 games require), sometimes, the achievements seem forced and are pretty much given to the player automatically. For example, in Assassin’s Creed 2, the player will get an achievement for being born in the game. The player gets this achievement for, essentially, watching the intro. Another example would be in Atelier Totori. Within the first FIVE dialogue boxes in the whole game, the player receives an achievement. (I’m not joking. Hit ‘X’ a couple of times, receive trophy)

Achievement Unlocked satirizes both of these trends in modern achievements. What it also does is inform players that playing a game for the sake of achievements is pointless, because, overall, achievements mean nothing. All they can really do is show other people what challenges you have or have not done in a game. By putting points or a value of sorts onto each achievement, some players are encouraged to play games with easy achievements. This game encourages players not to do that. People shouldn’t play a game based solely on the achievements; they should play a game because it is fun. Interestingly enough, this game does a good job at attracting its intended audience. How does it do it? By offering an achievement for finishing, thus, attracting people who only want to play games for achievements. Clever.

If you haven’t yet, you can play the game here.

When I had last left off, we had just finished the third chapter of One and One Story. Halfway through the game, we’ve already seen that the game has been changing its rules, and that these rule changes have been used to help tell a story. I shall continue where we last left off; the beginning of chapter 4.

Sometimes we had different views

Level I.1 is shown again. As with the previous rule, the player’s movement causes the girl to move as well. This time, she will move in the opposite direction. You move left, she moves right. In my opinion, these level, the first one in particular, was a bit frustrating because I could never seem to get the girl to go the right place. This could be intentional, or a double effect of the story snippet from before: “Sometimes we had different views”. Not only do they now go in different directions, but a player’s frustration at the girl not quite doing what the player wants could also be simulating an argument between the boy and the girl. These “different views” could be the two sides of an argument. 3 levels later, and the chapter ends.

And she was running away

Here’s where things start to change. Instead of playing level 1.I again, we are dropped off in a new level entirely. As is somewhat hinted in the text, the girl is now always running forward. She isn’t running away from the player, as the player might expect. However, her constant motion puts pressure on the player to get to her quickly before she runs into danger. If we take the message from last chapter and this chapter, we see something shaping up. We again say that the two had an argument of sorts. Whatever it was about, the girl now “runs” from the boy. The boy tries his hardest to keep the two together, but it seems to not be working. After only two levels, the chapter ends.

Without her, I felt heavy like a rock

The next chapter, there are two rule changes. First off, the player is no longer able to jump. This was alluded to in the text. The other change is that the player is now able to switch control over to the girl. This is the first time they’ve reused a rule, so it has to mean something. The man not being able to jump represents him feeling like he can’t do much without the girl. The other rule change, the rule that was at the beginning of the game, could represent the man’s desire to go back to the old days, back when things were simple. Also, the two levels in this chapter represent this return to simpler times. Instead of complex looking levels, they are relatively simplistic and easy to solve.

And I realized...Once we were shadows

This chapter has us on the I.1 level again. This time, it is dark with light around each of the characters. The rules are the same as at the beginning of the game, except for the inability to see. When the boy and girl get closer, the light around them expands and more of the darkness is erased. This time, this is the only level. This darkness could be representing the two characters’ lives after they have split apart; it is difficult to navigate and gloomy. When the two are together again, the light has expanded and their lives are brighter. With the two together, the world seems more inviting.

Now we are Lights

This is the last chapter of the game. You start on a cliff, with the words “Trust Me” next to it. At first, you hesitate, but then you decide to walk off the cliff. The words are solid. As you walk, more appear. It ultimately says: “Trust Me, I won’t hurt you. Not Anymore. My Dear Love.” There are actually two possible routes at this point. The first path is to walk over to the girl. This simply takes you to a “The End” screen. The other option is to walk into the darkness on the left side of the screen. “Out of this world, in an endless fall.” These endings have many interpretations, but no one seems more correct than another. If I were to talk about some of these interpretations, I’d be talking about this game for another week.

 

What I feel this game does a good job at is demonstrating how changing the rules of a game can be used to enhance a story and the game as a whole. By telling the player what the changes are, the player quickly adapts and is able to keep playing. This game is a good example of how a game doesn’t always need concrete rules. However, if some rules change, some rules must also be kept constant. If every rule were to change, it would be an entirely different game. By only changing one rule at a time, the game feels like one slightly changing game, instead of several completely different ones. One and One Story doesn’t feel like several games rolled into one; it feels like one experience.

Play the game here.

Following my last post this week, This is the Only Level, here is another game where the rules are changed as you progress. This time, instead of the rule changes being ambiguous and difficult to figure out, the rule changes are explained and used to tell a story. The game starts with a quote from Aristotle: “Love is one soul in two bodies.” It then cuts to the first level with some text at the top of the screen. It says, “And there I was, moving thanks to the arrow keys.” You walk to the right, fall into a pit, and die. “I died when I fell,” the game says, “I don’t like dying. I tried again, pressing X or UP.” It sounds like a simple tutorial, telling the player that they should have jumped the first try. However, most players, myself included, will try jumping the first time. Nothing will happen. Only after dying once does the game allow you to jump. This little detail tells the player that the rules can change and that the player should be ready for them. After jumping the pit, the player is told that they are able to push boxes. After pushing the box and jumping onto a ledge, another character appears, this one a female. “There she was. I used Z or C to think of her.” Pushing either of these buttons changes the player’s control over to the girl. “She loved me…and I loved her. We always met there,” the game says as you move the girl over to where the boy is waiting. The level finishes when the two touch.

Once we were shadows

The next couple of levels all play similarly to this initial set of rules. The player uses the arrow keys to move, up to jump, and can switch characters with Z. The next level reminds us that falling from too high of a distance will kill you. The layout of this level, referred to as I.1, is used several times throughout this game. This level, as well as the next two, are solved relatively quickly and get the player used to some of the rules that will end up being permanent. After the third level in this chapter is complete, the chapter ends and the next chapter begins.

When she saw me, she ran to me

We are placed on the I.1 level, with a few modifications. The player no longer has control of the girl, even if you press Z or C. You can only control the boy. In fact, the girl will never move unless she can see the boy. When she does, she starts walking towards him. This was told to the player at the beginning of the chapter; “When she saw me, she ran to me.” This hint tells the player what changes he or she should expect in the coming levels. The basic rules are still the same: the player moves with arrow keys, jumps with up, you can’t fall too far, and you have to touch the girl to complete the level. The only thing that changed was how the girl is controlled. Again, once the player completes three levels, the chapter ends.

Then we walked together

Yet again, we begin on the I.1 level. This time, the rule change is apparent the instant the player tries to move; the girl makes the same movements as you. You walk to the left, she walks to the left. You jump, she jumps. The text at the start of the chapter “Then we walked together”, represents the rule change. When two people walk together, they walk in the same direction at the same speed. This is represented by the characters in the game; both characters move in the same direction at the same speed. It also becomes apparent to the player that the I.1 level will most likely be used often to get the player accustomed to the rule change before giving them the harder puzzles. Yet again, there are only three levels before the next chapter begins.

Even just three chapters into the game, we’ve already seen the game change several times. Each time the rules change, it reflects what has just happened in the story. Also, the rule changes are noticeable, but small enough not to completely change the feel of the game. The basic goals stay the same; only the methods to get there change. This is pretty similar to This is the Only Level, except the gameplay isn’t to figure out what the rule change is, but rather, to use the given rule change to solve the puzzle. Halfway through One and One Story, we’ve seen that is is similar to This is the Only Level and that rules changes, if done correctly, can make a game more engaging.

Unfortunately, I had to break this post into two parts. I will try to get the second part up on Saturday.