All posts by Gavin Craig

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.

Continue reading Project BG&E:
Carlson and Peeters!

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.

Project BG&E: Propaganda!

Dear Sara,

When I play older games, I seem to have a terrible habit of starting them again and again before I make any progress. With Beyond Good & Evil, I have, in fact lost count. Between the Playstation 2 version of the game, the HD demo, and now the full HD version, I’ve played the first hour or so three and possibly four times. Even so, I still feel like I’m just getting the hang of things.

This time around, I was pretty sure I’d exhausted all the little things that you can do in the lighthouse after the opening battle with the invading DomZ and before boarding the hovercraft for the first time. I managed to complete a roll of film and collect the telephoto lens before even reaching the Mammago Garage.

I still have to remind myself, though, to pull out Jade’s camera before attacking enemies. There’s no way to take a picture of the first DomZ Jade fights beneath the lighthouse, but I didn’t think to even try to photograph that big snakey DomZ that attacks once Mammago fixes up the hovercraft.

And taking pictures is really the core of Beyond Good & Evil, isn’t it? I can think of other games that include an in-game camera—Wind Waker, Fatal Frame, or more recently Grand Theft Auto V and Life Is Strange—but out of that group only Fatal Frame uses photography as more than a minigame, and even Fatal Frame turns photography into a form of combat.

Beyond Good & Evil on the other hand asks you to fight, but usually just to get you where you need to be in order to take a picture.

Continue reading Project BG&E: Propaganda!

Jarring Free

I think I can reveal without too much fear of spoilers that early in the first episode of The Walking Dead Season 2, Clementine finds herself alone and without supplies in an unfamiliar forest. When she stumbles onto a seemingly abandoned campsite, she goes on a desperate search for any sort of food. In a moment of frustration verging on despair, Clem says to herself, “I hate scavengers. They take everything.”

In a game where deciding what to say is a big part of the gameplay, this is a striking statement. It’s not uncommon for a player character in an adventure game to talk to herself, but most often, such statements function as reminders or directions. “I should keep moving.” “The scroll said that the artifact would be in the library.” “Only three more goblins to kill.” That is, the “self” that the player character is addressing is the player.

Clementine’s outburst, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any useful gameplay information. It’s a character moment, revealing both Clementine’s current emotional state, and recalling her discomfort back in Season 1 when Lee and the other survivors looted a seemingly abandoned car. That car, of course, wasn’t actually abandoned, and it was an action that led to consequences later on for both Lee and Clem. It’s also a statement of tremendous hypocrisy, as Clementine is herself a scavenger. Clem’s expression seems to be treated by the game as an opportunity for the player to identify with Clem, but I actually found it jarring. The two of us, Clem and I, were after all digging through the remains of another group of survivors. Photographs, tattered tents, and a child’s toys, objects of use and affection, nothing left inviolate on the possibility that somewhere there would be something, anything to eat. I didn’t have any illusions about what I was doing, but Clem apparently still did.

Thus, this instant, in which Clementine expresses an identity in conflict with her actions, in an utterance outside of player control, is actually a moment of agency.

Continue reading Jarring Free