Project BG&E:
Carlson and Peeters!

Dear Sara,

I need to thank you for bringing up and giving kudos for the extent of the presence of people of color in Beyond Good & Evil because you’re totally right and it pointed out to me a significant oversight in the way I’d taken in the game. I’m still very slightly disappointed at the way the second half of the game focuses on Homo sapiens rather than the various other sapiens the game has introduced and I’ve certainly spent time trying to figure out whether the portrayals of the Mamago rhinos and Secundo veer into the offensive, but—and that should probably be written in all-caps—BUT I somehow failed to catch the way that Beyond Good & Evil really seems to try to resist a default category of whiteness.

There is in fact in Beyond Good and Evil something of a push against the idea of a racial or ethnic “default” state against which race and ethnicity are defined through the presence of racial or ethnic markers. Arguably, Double H is the only unambiguously Caucasian character, and by hinting very strongly if very briefly that he’s a clone, the game may even make an implicit comment on the possibility of a “default,” non-racinated state.

But (embarrassingly,) none of this occurred to me until you pointed out how many people of color there were on Hillys. It’s a common “I’m not a racist” gesture for (white) people to claim that they don’t see race, and to not even see how that claim is self-damning. That is, not seeing race is really a conditional extension of an assumption of whiteness to individuals whose appearance and behavior doesn’t “insist” on racial coding.

And I’m not immune from it. I didn’t see race in Beyond Good & Evil. I should have, and my reading of the game is better for it even if I am not and cannot be an authoritative voice on exactly where the game’s gestures best succeed or fail. Looking for those gestures is a start. It is only a start.

Is it weird to find myself talking about making a start in my letter about the end of the game? Maybe there’s a certain logic to it in a game that seems so specifically to point towards a (much hoped-for, in certain circles even today) sequel?

Maybe it’s just a way to apologize for the things that I can only talk about in passing—when Jade returned to the destroyed lighthouse, THE FEELS! Flying to the moon will never not be cool. I’m still not totally sure what exactly is up with the DomZ. And okay, moving on!

But I’m left with one thing to talk about, I’d like to focus on something other than the grand boss battle or the implications of apotheosis as Jade breathes life back into the kidnapped citizens and opens her glowing eyes just before the camera cuts to black.

Far more effective, for me, were the photographs taken apparently after the events of the game and shown taped to the ruined lighthouse walls during the credits. After a single photo of Hillys taken from space, the pictures show the lighthouse orphans and the members of IRIS standing together and smiling, or playing together in the grass. There’s a shot of woof affectionately mugging the camera, and one of Double H and Pey’j walking quietly together. One of the children is dressed like Jade, Daï-jo strapped to his back. In different circumstances this could be a militaristic image, the next generation picking up the fight, but in context it reads as a playful image of youthful admiration and imitation.

The last photo is of Jade and Pey’j, eyes closed, leaning on each other’s shoulders, and it’s the story’s true happy ending. Jade’s absence in the other pictures is no longer ominous, but the inevitable invisibility of the photographer. It is still, in retrospect, her eyes through which we see the world, and that world is whole again.

For now, anyway, but that’s all any of us ever gets. I’ll take it.

Dear Gavin,

Your letter couldn’t have come at a better time. I had just finished the game and have been reviewing the notes I took during my last jaunt around Hillys to gather pearls and parts to get the Beluga up and running.

See, due to my own lack of understanding, I was thoroughly under the impression that one had to get both the second flight stabilizer and the space engine in order for the Beluga to even move. I totally didn’t get that the other flight stabilizer would allow me to fly around Hillys, and into volcanoes wherein lay huge quantities of pearls. Thus, I completely busted my ass getting fifty more pearls before even placing the missing flight stabilizer into its receptacle.

Do you know what that means? I lost (and finally won!) a whole bunch of races, I lost (and finally won!) a whole bunch of pallet games against Francis, and I failed to catch (and finally caught!) all the bounty hunters in all of Hillys.

Do you know what else it means? I fell out of love with the game.

Let me reiterate: this is entirely my own fault. It’s not BG&E, it’s me. I wish I had the good sense to follow my own instincts and explore other avenues every time I had the thought, “are they really going to make me do a bunch of mini-games right before the final mission? Really?” No, Sara, you dolt, they really aren’t.

Unfortunately this created a chain reaction of frustration—first at the game, then at myself for my mistake—that lasted pretty much throughout the rest of my time playing. I didn’t get the full effect of the destroyed lighthouse, because I had just literally realized my fatal mistake once Hal explained I couldn’t buy the space engine at Mamago because I didn’t bring a space ship. Obviously.

So here I am, grumbling and moody, heading out to quickly retrieve the Beluga and instantly bring it back to the garage, and then this horribly depressing (and slow, really slow) cutscene happens, and Jade and Double H are sad and sympathetic and supportive all at once and I just want to throw my controller like I was six-year-old me trying to launch Mario off one of those tiny, terribly fast-moving trampolines.

So I took a break.

When I came back to the game a few days later, I discovered the volcano on top of Black Isle and got tons of useless pearls (I did get the Moneybags trophy, which is admittedly pretty cool), and finally made the exciting, if very brief, trip to the moon. I was still soured from my mini-game pearl collecting extravaganza, though, so even though I quite liked the final mission—with its H.R. Giger-like design and a final boss battle that cleverly subverted my finely honed hand-eye coordination developed over years of playing videogames, specifically—I still played with a certain amount of drudgery.

But then came your letter, and I played through the very end of the game again, consciously trying to let the story wash over me like it did at the beginning, and paying extra attention to all of Jade’s photos during the credits.

And a little of the flame was rekindled. I remembered how much I like this woman; how refreshingly relatable she is. I’m a bit of tomboy who likes to share experience through a specific lens (mine), and there are people I’d go to the moon and back for. So sometimes I do things the hard way. They still get done, more often than not, and that’s something to be proud of. So the idylls of my days are interrupted by periods of menial, repetitive work. That’s life! And it really is all any of us gets.

I’ll take it, too.

[art credit]

Geek Flea 9

unwinnable geek flea 9

Calling all NY/NJ Videodamen und herren, Unwinnable’s Geek Flea is back! Click the image to get all the deets, but here are the basics (taken from the Unwinnable website):

Geek Flea 9 is coming! Come on down Saturday, April 18—buy some awesome stuff, eat some cookies and get into swing of spring with the coolest geeks in North Jersey. As ever, Geek Flea is FREE admission, so come hang out!

What’s a Geek Flea without the raffles? 80 Tees is providing a selection of geek-themed t-shirts and hoodies and more surprises from our other sponsors—including something special from our Geek Flea vendors.

RSVP on our Facebook Event Page!

Featuring tunes spun all day by Kursse, DJ Victrola, Brain Molloy, Chris O>Matic, Ant Menuti and Freddie Hernandez!

Sponsored by 80s TeesLoop Lounge, Paradox Comics, Iris Records,Barcade Jersey City, Silk City Tattoo, The Grassy NoelBig Kev’s Geek StuffComic Explosion, Hoarder Art, Jenna Zee, Chucky Farms, Idle Hands

April 18 – 10am to 5pm
First Presbyterian Church of Arlington
663 Kearny Avenue, Kearny, NJ 07032-2935


Project BG&E:
Of Human Bondage

Dear Sara,

Okay, so I’ve made it through the Slaughterhouse, which, happily, involved surprisingly little slaughter. Well, as long as you don’t include me. I died a bunch.

I can’t totally put the blame for this on the game—I mean, dying is a thing that happens in videogames. No big, right?—but I nearly got stuck a couple of times. In one place all of these blue bouncy manta rays pop out, and I tried fighting and running and climbing but nothing worked. When I tried killing the rays, they seemed to respawn indefinitely. When I ran away, Double H stayed put and got killed, which served as a game over just as if Jade had died. When I tried to climb to safety, I got shocked by a gate and thrown back down onto the main floor, where the rays killed me.

Finally, and seemingly randomly, Double H and I fought the rays and suddenly the soundtrack played a triumph flourish and Double H was praising me for my teamwork. Chances are better that I finally somehow fought the way I was supposed to rather than that the game was glitching into a loop in earlier attempts, but that’s what it felt like.

That’s a weird sort of failure—succeeding in an unsatisfactory way, and in the case of Beyond Good & Evil it might be traceable to the fact that the game includes a number of different interaction mechanics—stealth, fighting, taking photographs, basic puzzles—but doesn’t really emphasize any of them. This is, I think, meant as an early gesture toward games like Dishonored or The Last of Us that allow players to pick between different styles of play and provide multiple possible paths to specific goalpoints.

When it works, it’s liberating, but it doesn’t work when it prevents the game from communicating its own specific expectations to the player.

Continue reading Project BG&E:
Of Human Bondage


Project BG&E: D.B.U.T.T.

Dear Sara,

I’m finding myself trying to recreate 2003 a bit as I’m playing BG&E, especially to make sense of its peculiar model of mass media. We’ve already touched on the fact that making the protagonist a freelance journalist was an unusual (and for us at least, compelling) choice for a videogame, and this week I went on my first recon mission for the resistance, IRIS.

Except that describing my mission as reconnaissance is itself not entirely accurate. Reconnaissance normally consists of gathering information to direct future activity, and in this case, bringing the information to the public is the activity. Jade, in particular, is not a saboteur. She doesn’t infiltrate the factory in order to shut it down directly. In fact, I spent more time making machinery work than breaking things.

It might be a concession to videogame conventions that publishing the photos from the factory makes its operations (apparently) untenable, and it is immediately abandoned—so that even if shutting down the factory isn’t directly Jade’s mission, it’s treated as the necessary outcome of the player’s actions.

But for me, the greater impact was the presence of protesters on the streets of Hillys City when I made my way back to town. I don’t know if that has something to do with the fact that I’m a writer, and so the demonstration that Jade’s efforts were having an impact on the people of the world holds a special appeal for me, or if that appeals to a broader audience in the same way.

Continue reading Project BG&E: D.B.U.T.T.