Video Games: Confessions of a Filthy Casual

Boy, we sure have talked a lot recently about transgender representation, hu? Let’s have a pallet cleanser and dive into something completely different. In fact, this post will have nothing to do with LGBT at all! Aren’t you amazed?!

As a child of the late 80’s and early 90’s, I’m in that demographic that got to grow up as video games did. I remember playing SNES at a friend’s house and then finally getting my own console when the Nintendo 64 came out. As I grew up, so did games themselves. They got bigger and more complex with lifelike graphics and storytelling capabilities that I personally think are unmatched by any other entertainment medium. I often think what it would be like to go back in time, grab 12-year-old me, bring her back to the present, and let her play with my Play Station 4. She would go insane!

In addition to getting bigger and better, games have also developed a culture unto themselves. “Gamer” is a self-designated social identifier now. Just like with movies, music, books, etc, games have spawned their own sprawling zeitgeist. Geek culture especially has changed dramatically with games. What were once quarter-munching time killers at the mall for the kids to play with while mom shopped are now immersive experiences with the power to influence the very world we live in.

Unfortunately, not all of that influence is positive. If you want to see some of the very worst humanity has to offer in terms of the treatment of women, minorities, or LGBT people (looks like I managed to tie it in after all) then look no further than the gaming scene. Some of the most horrific and vile things ever said about these demographics have been spewed into headsets during an online match of Call of Duty. Gaming can be extremely divisive,  with its members often broken up into nonsensical sects-often against their will.

Surprisingly, I’m not here to focus on the treatment of women or LGBT in gaming. That post practically writes itself. No, I’m here to talk about another subset of gamers that are often the target of scorn and mockery. And it’s another group I happen to be a part of: casual gamers.

Now, when I say I myself am a casual gamer, the statement comes with a big caveat. I don’t personally identify as a casual player, but these labels are all widely up to personal interpretation as it is. The reason I get labeled a “casual” is that I don’t like to play games that are particularly challenging. I like my easy modes. I like my skip-able levels that are too hard. For these reasons, a lot of people consider me to be “not a real gamer”. Well, I’m here to make the case for myself and other casuals like me.

Easy modes get a lot of flack in the gaming world. Recently, Star Fox: Zero drew a lot of criticism for making an invincible mode where your ship can’t blow up no matter how much you’re hit. The request by many to have an easy mode added to the famously difficult Dark Souls series has been heavily criticized by so-called “hard-core” fans. These people claim that the challenge is the point of it all. If you play a game you can’t lose, what sense of accomplishment can you get from the experience? Why don’t you just read a book or watch a movie if that’s all you want? Games are about the challenge, about working hard to overcome the obstacle, and easy modes take that away from the experience.

Let me explain why I think that’s bullshit.

First, there’s the obvious answer: these are only options. You can still make your game as difficult as you want it. The fact that an easy mode is in the game doesn’t mean you have to use it. Your experience can be as hard as you want (phrasing). The fact that other players are interacting with the game they paid for (that’s an important point for later) in a different way shouldn’t matter to you whatsoever. It’s baffling to me that such a point even needs explaining, but then again we now live in a world where Donald Trump could be president so it shouldn’t be that surprising.

More to the point though, I play games for a different reason than the self-proclaimed “hard-core” players. I set almost every game I play on baby’s first video game. I like almost as little challenge as possible. Why you may ask? Well, because my real life is challenging enough. I work long hours in a high stress environment. Between that I work hard to produce content for this show and for the readers of my fantasy books. These are all big challenges I face every single day. Gaming to me isn’t about further challenging myself. Quite the opposite in fact. When I play video games, I’m looking to feel as powerful and capable as possible with little to no effort. I long to feel like a bad ass without even trying. I often wonder how fulfilling someone’s life can be if they’re looking to find this much of a sense of accomplishment out of something that is supposed to be for entertainment purposes, but that’s none of my business.

Playing a game doesn’t have to be just about feeling accomplished. I like having a story I can interact with, a world I can explore. Games offer a level of immersion that just simply isn’t matched by anything else. My favorite games are RPG’s, and many of them have evolved into such sprawling epics that no two players ever have the same experience. Getting to make those choices and see what unfolds is reason enough to play a video game. Even the parts that are supposed to offer the all important challenge aren’t done just for the sake of accomplishment. When my mage throws a fireball at the goblin and I win the fight, it’s more the experience of taking part in the action than how difficult it was. Not saying that’s how it should be, but that’s how it is for me and many other players.

There’s another reason I’m all for easy modes, one that’s more from an economic standpoint than anything else. Simply put, I want everything I paid for. Let me explain. One of my favorite games I’ve ever played was Bioshock: Infinite. The story, the characters, the art, and the imaginative world all came together for one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. However, I’ve still never beaten the game. I’m on the last level and I’ve tried at least 30 times to pass it to no avail, even on the easiest game setting. I’m frustrated because I want to see the ending. I want to experience it.

Now, you may say that I’ve not earned the ending until I properly beat the game. You may say that it should be my reward for finally accomplishing the final fight. Well, I hate to play foil to your seemingly noble stance, but I see it from a different angle. I’ve already earned the right to the ending, and I earned it the very second I bought the game. I paid for Bioshock. That money bought me all the content held within. I should not be denied access to something I paid for. It’s like if your Blue Ray movie paused every now and then to make you solve a puzzle and you didn’t get to keep watching till you did. Gaming can absolutely be about the challenge, the thrill of overcoming the obstacle, but if you find yourself completely incapable of doing so, you should be able to clear the barrier between you and the rest of the content. It doesn’t matter if I’m not good enough. I bought it, I get to see it. My skill level is irrelevant.

The point is that video games offer such a different way of experiencing entertainment from anything else. With games, we’re each able to take the same thing and enjoy it in our own way. With that said, the way someone else is enjoying something you like should in no way color your experience. You do you and let them do them.

I realize this was a pretty random post from what you’re used to seeing from me, but with this shitty election going on and all the hard-hitting stuff I’ve been covering, it’s nice to just talk about something trivial for a while.

-Faith

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Getting Transgender Characters Right

Between the show and the blog, we’ve had quite a bit of content lately discussing proper representation of LGBT characters and transgender characters especially. From Transparent to Anything to The Danish Girl, we’ve had plenty of instances where we’ve picked apart the representation and portrayal of transgender characters. And I’ve noticed that it’s mostly been focusing on the negative. Now, there’s a depressing reason for that, in that the vast…vast…VAST majority of transgender representation in media only falls on a spectrum between harmful at worst and problematic at best.

But there are some examples that not only cross the barrier separating okay but flawed from good but push on to actually outstanding. I’ve listed them a few times as comparisons here and there but I’ve not gotten any time to focus on them and really explain exactly what sets them apart as shining examples of transgender representation. Well, it’s time for them to get their moment to shine (plus I’ve always wanted to do my own BuzzFeed style top list) so here are my top three (sort of) examples of transgender characters done right and why.

Honerable Mention: Cremisius Aclassi – Dragon Age Inquisition

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This one is a honerable mention because I really wrestled with myself over whether or not to include it. As a person who shouts till she’s blue in the face that transgender characters need to be played by actual transgender people, including Cremisius (Crem)-who is voiced by a cisgender woman-seemed like sacrilege. In the end I decided to give it a partial pass since Crem still represents a lot of positive aspects of transgender character portrayal as well as being the absolute best example of trans in games that I can think of. Also, while I recognize as much as anyone that this is a cop-out excuse, voice acting is not the same as camera or stage acting and there are a ton of examples of voice actors playing characters of different races, genders, or ages than what they physically represent.

So yea, let’s at least discuss Crem. As video games have grown to be constructs of deep and complex narratives they’ve given us a way to interact with and understand stories that’s never been possible in any other medium. Remember the old choose your own adventure books where you’d come to a point where you could make a choice of where to go and flip to a different page depending on what storyline you chose? Well, video games have become an amazing realization of what those books were trying to achieve. Two people can play the exact same game and get almost completely different experiences. What you see, who you interact with, hell; even who your character falls in love with are all different depending on the choices you make in the game.

There is only one point in all of Dragon Age Inquisition where all players must see Crem. He’s standing outside the Temple in Haven wanting to talk to you as you pass him by. If you do pass him, if you do just ignore him and go about your game, that’s all there is to it. Crem (and subsequently his boss, Iron Bull) do not become a part of your adventure. If you do talk to him, you have the option of letting his band of mercenaries join your team. Beyond that you can interact with both he and Iron Bull through layers upon layers of optional dialogue. And it’s only when you venture deep into these conversations that you find out Crem is a transgender man.

And this gets to why I simply had to put Crem on this list. He’s a perfect tool for teaching the player what it’s like to meet a transgender person. If you just pass him by without talking to him, you’re absolutely none the wiser. If you talk to him, you’ll notice he has a few slightly feminine traits but pay it no mind. Even after you go kill monsters with him you’re still not privy to the secrets of his gender identity. It’s only through forming a deep relationship with him that you find out he’s transgender. So many people think all transgender people are obvious. To go back to the insufferable bathroom topic, people who are afraid of transgender people in the bathroom think they’re going to instantly recognize any they come across, or that they will somehow telegraph their transness to them. The truth is a lot of transgender people just blend in, and it’s none of your business unless they choose to let you know about it. Crem helps deliver this message in an interactive experience.

Plus, he’s badass.

Number 3: Sophia Burset – Orange is the New Black

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You all knew this would be on here but I bet you thought it would be number one. Sophia is a great character and I have a lot of good things to say about her, but she’s not my favorite. Still, this is her moment to shine so let’s put a spotlight on her and what the portrayal of her character does right. Firstly, she’s a transgender woman of color, and you will not find a more maligned demographic of people in America. Seriously, on a scale for people who have it rough in America simply because of who they are, I can’t think of any that have it worse. It’s vital that we get TWOC into the media because they are simply so invisible to the collective conscience.

Sophia actually isn’t a main character on OITNB. Cox only has a guest starring role each season so she doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time. Still, the writers have done a great job making sure we get to know her just as well as we get to know all the other women and guards at Lichfield Prison. One of the fun things about OITNB is how many of the episodes each highlight one character and weave in scenes from their past that help us to understand how they wound up behind bars. Sophia got her back story told in the first season and it was beautifully executed.

(Spoilers for OITNB ahead!)

Laverne Cox has a twin brother in real life and that twin was called in to play pre-transition Sophia. This struck me as especially moving because, with how much entertainment media wants to cast cis people in trans rolls, the producers of OITNB basically had the perfect excuse to continue that trend but still chose to represent their trans character with a trans actress. If they had cast a cis male, the argument that the story called for the character to be seen both pre and post transition would have been viable…still upsetting, but viable. OITNB took the harder path in order to properly represent their transgender character and it paid off. Both of the twins gave wonderful performances and Cox’s brother’s portrayal of pre-transition Sophia was so spectacular it could have only come from someone who literally watched a loved one go through it in real life.

Now, each of the inmates’ back stories also lets us know how they came to be prisoners. When telling us the story of Sophia’s crime, the writers one again bypassed the easy road. If you’re trying to put a transgender prisoner in your story, especialla TWOC, and you need a crime for her to have committed, prostitute is the go-to. While it’s unfortunately true that a lot of transgender women, especially TWOC do end up selling their bodies in order to survive, as a narrative tool it’s old and boring. Still, it would have been effortless to just go that route. Again, the show is about criminals and they have a transgender character. The narrative is practically moving them towards it. But again, OITNB didn’t go the easy route. Instead, Sophia was busted committing credit card fraud in an attempt to bankroll her gender affirmation surgery. It’s creative, it works for her character, and it makes her more than a cliché. So bravo to the OITNB crew for giving us a well presented transgender woman at Litchfield Prison.

Number 2: Violet and Paige – Her Story

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Why the fuck did this not win an Emmy?

My love of Her Story should be pretty obvious at this point. This six-part mini series on YouTube is just beautiful. It has a great cast, it’s well-directed, and the story is quite compelling when you consider how many characters it follows for such a short amount of time. Her Story seems like one of those “will obviously be on this list” entries; it’s build from the ground up to let trans actors tell the story of trans characters. Well, you might be surprised to hear that I almost left it off this list for that very reason!

Let me explain. While I have nothing but love for this show, when I talk about proper representation of trans characters I’m often talking about integrating them into narratives we already have. Like I said in my criticisms of Strut, it just always leaves a bad taste in my mouth when proper representation of trans characters can only be found in media that exists largely just to have them in it. Doing so makes the fact that they’re trans have to be a major chunk of the story by default, thus making it feel like some extraordinary circumstance rather than just another way of being.

But I didn’t bring you here to talk about what’s wrong. In fact, it’s how Her Story triumphs over this problem that earned it a spot on this list. It’s a story that kinda has to put a lot of focus on the fact that the characters are trans, but the narrative allows more interesting things to be the real focus of each episode. Paige gets some great focus as a woman trying to make it as a lawyer, but it’s Jen Richard’s Violet that really gets to stand out. Her transgender status, instead of being the focus of her arch, is actually just an additional complication thrown into her quest to find love, get out of her abusive relationship with her boyfriend, and ultimately come to understand her own sexual orientation.

And that’s the part of Her Story that really grabs me. Highlighting that even a trans woman can find herself in an abusive relationship is good, but it’s the sexual orientation topic that sets this show apart. The T has long been a part of the LGBT movement, but that brings with it its own unfortunate misunderstandings. People tend to think of gender identity as a part of one’s sexual identity, and it’s a confusion that even crops up in the LGBT community itself. A transgender woman who is attracted to men is a heterosexual woman: not a gay man. Likewise, a cisgender lesbian who finds herself attracted to a transgender woman isn’t suddenly straight or bisexual. These are the issues Her Story tackles and it does so beautifully. As Violet explores her relationship with Allie (a cisgender lesbian), Allie’s friends call her sexual orientation into question. It’s these outside forces pushing against their relationship that take up the bulk of the story, not the fact that Violet or Paige are trans.

Number 1: Nomi Marks – Sense8

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I consider Sense8 to be one of the most underrated things ever on television. It’s a sci-fi series that comes to us courtesy of Lilly Wachowski, a transgender woman herself. Nomi isn’t necessarily the main character of the story, but the beauty of Sense8 is that no one is. All of the eight characters that share a psychic connection also share about equal screen time and story focus.

I did put these characters in a specific order and I consider Nomi to be the best representation of a transgender character I’ve ever seen. She exhibits many of the traits we’ve already touched on in other examples. She has a rich and compelling back story that isn’t saturated in her gender identity. She also lends more to the narrative than being a token character; she’s a bad-ass hacker. But there are two things about Nomi that really help her stand out to me.

The first one revolves around the story of Sense8 itself and thus I must put up another SPOILER WARNING. The story is about eight people who share a psychic connection. They are able to communicate with each other, mentally transfer themselves into the same place as each other, and even take over each other’s bodies in order to lend them their specific skills (seriously, why have you not watched this show?!) Each of the eight has their own unique talents which are helpful for the group to achieve their goals. There’s the fighter, the actor, the criminal mastermind, and in Nomi’s case, the hacker.

Notice I mentioned an actor. See, someone who doesn’t understand what it means to be transgender may be under the impression that being so is an act, that they’re pretending to be something they’re not. But when any of the eight need to call upon acting skills, they don’t call Nomi. It may seem like a small thing, but it helps to confirm to the audience that Nomi is Nomi and no one else.

The second thing I love about Nomi is a trait I’ve not seen well executed in any other trans character: she’s allowed to be sexy. Notice I didn’t say sexualized. We see that shit all the time. Trans women walking the streets in dark alleys are an often used as visual shorthand to add to the motif of a derelict urban environment. They convey sex, but are not meant to be something the audience actually finds attractive.

Sense8 introduces us to Nomi during a sex scene with her girlfriend Amanita. They’re both fully nude and the cinematography is utilized to highlight how sexy the bodies of both women are. Nomi’s breasts, hips, legs, etc. are all given the same care and framing any cis woman would be in a scene intended to get a reaction of erotic enjoyment from the audience. And this is nothing compared to her sex scene halfway through the series which is hands down the hottest sex scene I’ve ever witnessed in anything that wasn’t actual pornography.

I know there’s a lot of ire around the notion of portraying women, even cis women, as sexual objects, but when sex is tied to an already well-rounded character it’s actually a very positive thing. Nomi owns her sexuality. She consents to all sexual contacts in the story and they’re always with partners she feels safe with. She’s not being exploited, but rather allowed to own and be proud of her sexuality in a way we still don’t see with a lot of cis women on TV.

So see, entertainment media, it can be done. There are plenty of ways to properly portray transgender characters. They can be just as diverse, just as deep, and just as engaging as anyone else you write. So can we please try harder–if for no other reason than it’s more fun for me to write pieces like this than to drudge up another thousand words or so on how you fucked it up again.

-Faith

Pokemon: The Tao of Sylveon

Here’s something I’m sure no one but the most dedicated MRA’s and PDE‘s will argue: a stupid amount of things in our culture are gendered for marketing purposes. Men and women, both trans and cis, use a lot of the same kinds of thing each and every day. We all have to eat, sleep, work, play, and occasionally relieve ourselves in the bathroom. Now, many of those things we do together, and thus we don’t see a lot of separation. For example, restaurants don’t bring their food out on different colored plates depending on the gender of the person ordering it.

However, once you cross over into the things we buy specifically for our own, personal use, things start too fall on either side of a very distinct line. Just about every teen to adult human being shaves at least some part of their body on a regular basis in this country, but a trip to the razor aisle will yield you two sectioned off groups of blades that are each “designed” for a specific gender. Now, we all know that there’s little to no difference between these items and any difference that is there isn’t supporting a vital function of the instrument (think Venus razors with the bar of soap around the blades), but marketers still feel the need to put a boundary between them as though a pink razor pressed to a man’s face will simply fail to cut a single hair.

We see this in a lot of adult stuff but that doesn’t hold a candle to the amount of gendering in things we see marketed to children. Even before kids are born, their lives are being pre-filled with toys, books, bedding, outfits, and even bath soaps meant to set them up on a specific side of the arbitrary gender binary. Toys are by far the worst perpetrator of this. Just about every piece of plastic aimed at the entertainment of young kids has been branded specifically for either boys or girls. You can argue that there are plenty of neutral toys like Legos, but even they are now themed differently with opposite color schemes and cartoon mascots on the boxes.

I clearly remember growing up as a boy and having a lot of toys aimed at that gender. I had Ninja Turtles and Batman action figures, Hot Wheels cars, Nerf guns, footballs, you get the point. Now, I liked my toys. My action figures especially were some of my favorite things to play with. But whenever I would go to daycare or somewhere else where there was a single room full of toys to be shared, I would always gravitate towards the Barbie dolls and the My Little Pony figures. Those were the things I didn’t have access to at home so I wanted the opportunity to play with them. See, I hear a lot of transgender people say they grew up “hating” the things they were given that were gender coded. I know trans men who only ever wanted to pull the heads off their baby dolls. I know trans women who would make their Transformers have a tea party when mommy and daddy weren’t looking. While that’s a perfectly valid experience, I didn’t share it. I liked my boy stuff, but I also liked girl stuff and I wished there were things that would allow me to enjoy both at the same time.

I finally got my wish in late elementary school when the first Pokemon game released for the Gameboy.

I was obsessed with Pokemon from day one. Aside from the fact that it was a well made RPG with compelling game play and a fun journey to be on, Pokemon was a one-stop-shop for everything I found entertaining. The little monsters (and no so little ones) you captured and battled with ranged from incredibly cute to extremely big and powerful. Some of them were even both. My team of six represented a snapshot of myself, with both masculine and feminine seeming monsters populating the roster. It was the first time ever when I didn’t have to choose. What’s more, Pokemon was something I could admit I liked and get away with it (To a point. High School became a different story). To my parents it was just another video game, and I had a few male friends that also liked it. While I wasn’t exactly free to express all of the reasons I liked the game, I was at least able to openly find enjoyment in something somewhat girly.

I have no idea if was intentional on the creator’s part or not, but I feel like Pokemon taught my generation of nerds (and those after me) a lot about gender expression. The monsters you could catch, even those just in the 150 real original Pokemon encompassed such a wide variety of tastes. I knew trainers who battled with Pokemon solely on how cute they were. I knew others that stuck to a specific type, or only wanted to use big ones that looked like actual monsters. Others still played a mix (like me). Pokemon could be anything to anyone. That could have been enough, but the game design goes a little further to actually convey some subliminal messages about acceptance.

For my fellow Poke-nerds, think back to the original three starters you had to choose from. What’s one thing they all had in common? Well, I’d say they were all pretty goddamn cute. Seriously, there’s a reason toy companies made bank off of stuffed animals of these things. They’re cuddly looking as fuck! Now, a lot of your very masculine fans of the game might have never wanted to try it if that’s all you ever got, but think about what those three evolved into. Gamer-bro X might not be too keen on picking a cute little lizard to start out with, but he’d sure as hell loved to train that thing into a big, fire-breathing dragon! Well, to get that dragon, you gotta step outside your comfort zone for a few levels and play with something cute. They knew some kick-ass moves like flamethrower to make them seem a little less “girly”, but at the end of the day you’re still playing with a creature that your girlfriend or sister probably thought was adorable.

And this is to say nothing about people like me who liked the cuteness factor but didn’t want to admit it. I got teased for saying I liked My Little Pony and Barbie, but I could play off my Squirtle love by claiming I was only training it into a big, bad, Blastoise. It was convenient cover, and it allowed me to feel safe enough in my hobby to peruse it. Looking back, I wish I’d taken more of that time to really try and understand how I felt about being a boy, but that’s a subject for another time.

As more and more versions of Pokemon came out, more monsters were added to the rosters that pushed the boundaries back a little farther. They also added the ability to have a female avatar as well, making the game more accessible to girls. In Gold and Silver (probably my favorites of all the pre-DS releases) many Pokemon were even designated male or female. This is where I think the game made another big push in the gender diversity. See, they didn’t make all the cute ones female and all the big tough ones male. Each species could be caught as either gender. So, yes, that adorable little pikachu you caught with its big eyes and cute little smile might have been a boy.

Gold and Silver started teaching players (again, not claiming this as intentionally) that males and females could look a variety of different ways. Females could be big and tough. Males could be cute and cuddly.It was all good, and the trend continued throughout the rest of the series. When X and Y came out for the 3DS, they introduced a new Fairy type to the game which quickly became my favorite Pokemon of all time.

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Sylveon

Look at that thing. Look at how goddamn cute it is! I was loving sylveon the very first time I ever saw one. It was a kick-ass fairy type that evolved from an eevee. See, I feel that sylveon represents the apex (at least so far) of Pokemon’s push for acceptance. But I have to do more than just show you a picture to help you understand why.

We’ve talked before on the show about things being “coded” either masculine or feminine. Big muscles, armor (real armor, not boob-plate bikinis), strength, confidence, and power are thought to represent masculinity; whereas bright colors, passiveness, flowing movements, and (sorry to say) weakness are thought to represent femininity. Key words in both of those statements are “thought to”. When it comes to the look of characters, females are treated rather unfairly. Our culture has always (very wrongly) thought of being male as some kind of default state, whereas the femininity of a character has to be clearly expressed to the audience with visual markers.

Think of a character like Mickey Mouse. He has absolutely no markers on him that definitely distinguish him as male, yet if you took someone fully immersed in our culture who’d somehow never seen Mickey before, that person would likely say Mickey was male. There’s nothing on him or about him that identifies him as such, but that means he embodies that stock, default state of being that we only allow males to have. On the reverse, think of Minnie Mouse. She wears a dress, high heel shoes, and most importantly, a bow on her head. In fact, re-watch some old Mickey Mouse cartoons sometime and see if you can identify any female characters that aren’t topped with a bow. As a society, we’ve been trained to only think of a character as female as long as they have visual markers to identify them as such. Watch this video from Anita Sarkeesian for a more in-depth look at this subject.

When you look at sylveon, every single marker it’s given is a visual cue that screams feminine. It has pastel colors with a large amount of pink, big eyes, flowing streamers, and…to literally top it all off…a bow on its head. Every single facet of sylveon from head to tail is meant to convey femininity, and I’d bet good money any non-Pokemon fan would refer to this character using female pronouns if shown a picture. Given my previous example about Pokemon genders, you’re likely expecting my point in all this to be that sylveon can found as both male and female. And while that’s true, there’s a bigger point to be made.

It isn’t that some sylveons are male… …most of them are.

See, a sylveon has to be evolved from an eevee, though it’s by far not the only evolution for that particular Pokemon. The interesting point of note though is that in X and Y, the games where this creature was introduced, male eevees were far more common to catch than female ones. That meant that if you saw a trainer’s sylveon, there was a high probability it was evolved from a male eevee. Imagine the mental gymnastics required to remember to call this thing a “he”.

There were several Pokemon fans, myself included, that looked at sylveon as a  direct representation of the struggle in being accepted in one’s gender identity or method of expression. I’m transgender. I know in my heart that I am female. But I know plenty of people who love girly stuff yet still identify as men. Sylveon is their champion. Sylveon is a way of getting their friends to understand them. You can watch them scratch their heads as you tell them you’re a boy but you just like to play with dolls and wear dresses, or you can just say, “think of me as a male sylveon”. It’s kinda like how some transgender geeks like to use the regeneration aspect of Doctor Who to explain our transition (i.e. we’re still the same person but we just look different). It’s a reference that puts it into understandable terms for those not going through it.

That’s what sylveon is to me; it’s training for people who need to stop assuming genders based on visual cues. It’s an exercise in respecting someones means of gender expression. As I stated already, I’m not implying that any of this was a deliberate intent of the creators. However, one of the beautiful things about pop culture institutions is that they can do more than they were intended to do based on how the consuming public interacts with them. Pokemon is still one of the most important things that has ever impacted my life. It’s one of the things I credit with helping me discover myself. I wish sylveon had been around when I was a teenager, but I’m happy it exists for the next generation of trainers who need a little help expressing themselves, and those who can use it to better understand the world around them.

-Faith

Pokémon GO’es Too Far

*sigh* This isn’t going to be fun.

As I’ve aged, I’ve passed certain moments that have made me stop and say, “shit, I’m really an adult”. I was an adult when I had to trade my awesome Jeep Wrangler for a mini van. I was an adult when I had to blow $200 on a lawnmower. I was an adult when I had to go shopping for insurance. Most of these are common and we all experience them. There have been cultural ones too. I’d like to think the internet has allowed my generation to at least keep up with the kids growing up better than my parents kept up with me, but teenagers today still do things I don’t understand or use language that I think is stupid (I’m still not sure whether my bae is on fleek or not).

I don’t like adulting, and I’ve done all that I can to either stave it off or lessen its control over my life. I play video games, watch cartoons, play laser tag with my friends, go out dancing at the club, anything to keep me feeling young at heart. Another way has been to continue enjoying the things I loved as a kid. Generation X and us early Millennials have had a pretty easy time staying connected to the golden days of our youth as popular culture keeps either bringing back the stuff we loved or making sure it never died in the first place. Most of it has ranged from good to okay as long as Michael Bay didn’t have a hand in it, but one thing that’s kept me firmly connected to the kid in me has been the ongoing releases of one of my favorite video game series of all time.

Pokémon.

I freaking love Pokémon. I count it among the top 3 games that have most greatly influenced my life. I’ve played since the beginning, back when Blue was dazzling me on my Game Boy Pocket (ask your parents). I’ve not gotten to play an entry from every generation since then, but I’ve dabbled in most of them. And like my fellow Poké-nerds, I was absolutely salivating when I heard about the upcoming Pokémon GO. You mean we can finally have Pokémon happen in real life? We can be walking down the street and have one jump out and we try to catch it. We can meet up on the school yard and battle so it looks like they’re really in front of us?! OMG ALL OF THE YES PLEASE NOW THANK YOU!

I downloaded Pokémon GO the day it released, an act I was clearly not alone in due to the number of server crashes I experienced. Still, I managed to create my cute little avatar and get thrown into the map. And it was my map! My street! It was my world! My inner child squealed in delight as I caught a bulbasaur hiding in my partner’s closet. Delighted so far with my experience, I searched around the room for more Pokémon to catch, but there weren’t any. The game told me I had to physically leave the area to find more, so off I went.

I stepped outside and fount a Venonat in my backyard. ‘This is so cool!’ I thought to myself. My inner child was practically euphoric. I searched for more Pokémon, but my property was tapped out. But wait! What’s that over there?! On my game screen I saw leaves rustling a ways from me. That’s the sign I might find more Pokémon over there! I started to walk towards the spot on the map, keeping my eyes glued to the screen in case the little bugger popped up on me.

Once I got to the driveway, reality set in. The spot I was heading towards was in my neighbor’s yard, not exactly somewhere I just have permission to go wandering around in the evening. What’s more, it was across the street. This was when adult Faith grabbed little girl Faith by the arm and pulled her back. ‘You’re not supposed to go over there’, she told me. ‘And were you just about to cross the street while staring at your phone?!’ Keeping my wits about me, I returned to my own yard and kept searching, but there were still no new Pokémon to be had. The fun within my personal space was over, and the only way to keep playing was to venture off my property.

I’ve not gotten to play Pokémon GO very much since that first night. My time out is spent driving or working, neither of which are good times to be playing a game. I want to play at home, but the amount of fun there has a very limited shelf life. I tried for a while to keep it fun, to let the little girl inside me have what she’d dreamed of since she was about 13, but Pokémon GO became one of the hardest hitting, ‘shit, I’m really an adult’ moments of my life. As much as it pains me to admit it, as much as I feel like I’m breaking the heart of a dear friend I’ve known for years, I can’t ignore the truth: Pokémon GO is a dangerous game with real world consequences.

The idea of being able to catch and battle Pokémon in the real world is a great one, and honestly one that still holds a lot of promise. The problem for this game lies in how it seems to have forgotten that interacting with the real world can’t go hand in hand with ignoring the real world. As stated in my earlier example, I can’t wander across the street at night into my neighbor’s yard. Likewise, I can’t go down the street to the gym location unless I have the time or means. Keep in mind that a lot of the people playing this are kids. This is a rated E10+ game that’s free to download on the smartphone you know most young teens already have. That’s not an audience that tends to think about big picture consequences when they’re having fun. Plus there’s the fact that kids will always be jealous of what other kids have. Sure, two players might have the same game, but kid A might have access to more places to catch better Pokémon than kid B, making kid B more likely to do something like wander away from home or go out late at night when they’re not allowed.

While we’re on that subject, the fact that the gym locations and hot spots are the same for each player is very alarming. Like I said, a lot of the people who will be playing this game are preteens. These are the same age kids online predators have been luring away from home for years. If they download this app, it’s doing the work for them. The hotspot near my house is a big church with an enormous parking lot that’s empty about 95% of the time. It’s the perfect place to sit and see if some unsuspecting preteen wanders by…alone…staring intently at their phone. As a mother, I find that horrifying.

Now, I realize everything I’ve mentioned so far is speculation, though the above mentioned scenario did similarly play out where robbers went to a hot spot and waited for someone they could mug to walk by. I know all those stories about it causing big car crashes have turned out to be hoaxes, but tying the playing of a video game to living in the real world has already had some clashes with day to day life. I have a friend who works in the office at a parks and recreation swimming complex. A co worker (her boss no less) was sitting at the desk beside her and playing GO on his phone. He suddenly turned towards her and pointed the camera of his phone directly at her crotch. Apparently he was catching an eevee sitting there. He showed her a picture of it when he was done.

Let me spell that out for you: He took a picture of her crotch without her knowledge or permission! That’s absolutely not okay!

Not everyone knows what Pokémon GO is or even that you’re playing it, but they do know what a smartphone is and how they work. Playing GO doesn’t give you the right to point your camera at people. It doesn’t give you the right to go into places you’re not supposed to be. Just because you’re playing a game that interacts with reality doesn’t mean reality is going to interact with the game. You still have to obey traffic laws. You still have to respect boundaries. Kids aren’t necessarily going to remember that. I’ve already heard reports of young teens sneaking into neighbors yards or loitering around businesses in search of Pokémon. You can argue that a lot of adults play the game and that they know better but: A-the game is rated for kids and B-adults can be pretty stupid too. I mean, adults are the ones cheating on their spouses, blowing all their money on lottery tickets, and voting for Donald Trump! They’re morons! And the game seems to have been tailor made to encourage these reckless behaviors. Apparently ghost types come out at night and electric types come out when it’s storming, because who doesn’t want to stand outside at night in a thunderstorm to play a video game?

This is all before we even get into the privacy issues. Pokémon GO requires access to an obscene amount of your Google profile. Why does this game need to be able to read my email? Why does it need to be able to see into my Google Drive folders. I’m not saying the game is actively doing those things, but you have to give it permission to. There’s no reason this game should need that kind of access.

I know a lot of folks are going to hate me for this post, but I want you to know I take no pleasure in this. I was really looking forward to this game. I wanted it to be great. I wanted it to be everything I’d ever dreamed of. But I’m an adult now, I’m a mother now, and I can’t ignore the many dangers this kind of thing presents. Had they made it so you could access all the content from within your regular gaming space; had they made it where the augmented reality Pokémon appeared anywhere you pointed the camera and not just in a certain spot; had it not required a ludicrous amount of access to your personal information, everything would have been fine. But it’s not fine. It’s dangerous.

There’s a chance I’m wrong. There’s a chance we won’t see a lot of negative consequences from the whole country playing this game, but seeing how it’s only been out for a few days and issues are already popping up, I doubt it. I’m still a big Pokémon fan. I still plan to be one of the first in line when Sun and Moon come out. Pokémon will always hold a special place in my heart. But it’s good to critique the things you love and Pokémon GO has to come with a massive amount of criticism. It’s a game that encourages unsafe behavior and a disrespect for privacy. It attempts to ignore real boundaries that have real consequences if crossed.

Pokémon GO is one of the greatest examples I’ve ever seen of ‘be careful what you wish for’. I was one of those kids once upon a time wishing the Pokémon world was the real world. GO represents as close to a realization of that dream that I think could ever be attainable. But seeing it come to life, especially as an adult, it’s time to admit that our beloved little Pocket Monsters need to stay on the screen where they belong. I will always enjoy traveling to their world, but they are no longer welcome in mine.

Now I need a drink.

-Faith