Episode #72 – “Explicit Progress”

Episode #72 – “Explicit Progress”

Nov 25

Our seventy-second episode features Tzufit and Apple Cider tackling this week’s news and games by themselves. We discuss Tzufit’s interest in Super Smash Bros. 4, as well as Goat Simulator: The MMO, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s passel of women, as well as the mechanics of progress in video games on Gamasutra.

If you see any news that you want us to cover, let us know via e-mail or Twitter.

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Music used in our episode is courtesy of The Orchestral Movement of 1932, via Opsound.org

Below the cut is a full transcript of Episode 72, “Explicit Progress” Many thanks to Laila for transcribing this episode.

Tzufit: Hey everybody, welcome to Justice Points. This is episode number 72, and this week Apple Cider Mage and me, are flying solo. Unfortunately Lulu, who you may know as the awesome creator of the upcoming fantastic witch collective, couldn’t join us this week. She wasn’t feeling well, but we are going to have her on the show next week. So in the interim you get the two of us.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, it going to be a party. So awesome.

Tzufit: All bets are off.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah it’s gonna be a wild show.

Tzufit: Apple Cider, what have you been playing this week?

Apple Cider Mage: Not much because as people know, well people don’t know this, but I happen to work a job that is directly related to retail, so retail adjacent, and I sort of work with advertising. So, needless to say my job is a little busy right now as we all come up to black Friday and the holiday season, so when I get home at night I usually just go to bed. So I haven’t been playing too much, which is so weird, because there are so many games out right now that I’ve been hearing about. I’ve just not had time to buy them, play them, don’t have the right console for them- so I am hoping that once black Friday, we get over the hump with that, I will actually get to play all these amazing games that everybody’s been talking about. But, in the interim I have been trying out a lot more, like, twine games because I can put them in my browser and just sort of click through them as I’m doing other stuff, especially at work. And the one that I’ve been playing right now is You’re Made For Loneliness by a whole group of people actually. It’s on Javy Gwaltney’s itch.io account but it’s like a whole, it’s like a huge list of people who put this game together, and I can see why because it’s a very extensive twine game that takes place I believe in the same universe, or at least the same canon, as the-

Tzufit: Terror Aboard the Speedwell?

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. So it’s all the games that Javy has put out so far, all take place in the same sort of universe, so, I think that’s kind of really awesome. And this one is about a sort of cyborg maid. It’s obviously not just about a cyborg maid but I’m still trying to figure out what the story is because it has a lot of like…temporal, and sort of jumps to it and that you take through the, like, text links, like the text links are obviously jumping to other people’s, like, encapsulated stories and I’m not sure how it quite all fits together yet, but that is the mystery. It’s a very well written game though but there’s obviously tonnes of writers on this game because each person’s story as you move through it has its own voice and it has its own style to it and a lot of the stories seem to sort of rotate around the idea of love and relationships and things like that, and so it’s kind of an interesting sort of thematic tie in to everthing else. So that’s what I’ve been chewing on for the last couple of days. I also picked up Never Alone which has been getting a lot of hype lately. It is a game that was specifically designed and put out by a group of game designers that worked with educators and an indigenous tribe from Alaska, the Iñupiaq tribe; made a game that told the story of a bit of their folk lore and it’s a really beautiful atmospheric story of side scrolling puzzle platformer where you are a young girl who has to find the source of a sort of villiage ending blizzard- like this blizzard has been going on and it’s slowly killing the villiage- with the help of her friend who is an arctic fox. You have to work together and try and figure out what is, you know, causing the blizzard. It sounds like it’s a really cute game and I’m really excited to try it out.

Tzufit: Yeah, I remember seeing the trailer for that when it first came out and being very excited about it. And I think the way it looks like from the trailer, as I recall it, it seems like either at some stages you play as the girl and some stages you play as the fox, or you kind of have to switch over to the fox to get past certain obstacles. It looks like it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah like, I got a little bit of those kind of mechanics when I was playing Monument Valley because Monument Valley also has a mechanic like that, although on a much smaller scale, with the totem and Ida, Ida and the totem. And the totem does help you get through puzzles so it’s kind of very much like that, and apparently it kinda pays off at the end from some of the reviews that I saw, so I’m really excited to try that. Especially because I really love to see games that tell a very different narrative than some of the other stuff we’ve been seeing lately, but also the fact that anything that does work to illumninate indigenous culture, native culture, that sort of thing, and you know, representing it in a modern way. Because I mean that’s the thing that kind of gets forgotten a lot about native peoples is that they’re still here. They’re not, like, historical anecdote or things like that. These are people who are still here and have a very relevant, really interesting culture, and to bring that to video games is ultimately, like, I really love that because it shows that these stories are so important to so many people; bringing them to another medium is just really important.

Tzufit: Yeah, I mean, especially something that allows you to interact with that story and get to know it in a different way, in a way that video games do.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I thought it was a really cool project and I would to see more stuff like this happen and get funded.

Tzufit: Well, I also picked up Terror Aboard the Speedwell I think last week maybe or the week before. I have not had the chance to play it yet but im really excited about it. I’ve also been a little bit busy at work recently but last night Smash Brothers for Wii was delivered to our doorstep so I had to get in on that for a little while.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh jeez that sounds like a lot of fun.

Tzufit: Yeah, absolutely. So I mentioned on twitter earlier, and I said I would elaborate on the show, that ever since the advent of the Smash Brother series I have always played one character and one character only, and that is Pikachu. Yes, I am the obnoxious person who spams the lightning so that- down, B basically- that’s me. But I started playing as Pikachu on the Wii U version of Smash Brothers last night and wasn’t super sold on it for some reason. I don’t know why really? Nothing is different really, all his abilities are the same, but I decided to experiment a little bit, so on a whim I tried one of the Mii fighters and those are, of course, new editions to the Wii U edition of Smash. You have three different Mii fighters that you can play: there’s a brawler who is melee, obviously; there is a sword fighter and there’s a gunner. And so I decided to try the gunner and am having so much fun with it that I think I have found a new main basically for Smash Brothers which was really surprising to me. I’m not a huge fan of Miis. I know that sounds really goofy to say but let me explain-

Apple Cider Mage: -they look weird!

Tzufit: They do look weird. I’m not thrilled with the way they look. I thought they were fine for Wii Sports when they first came out. Like, I thought they made a lot of sense in that context but I really hated the fact that they went on to become, like, the avatars for everything Nintendo does now and haven’t really been updated that much in the process. I hate that they are not super customisable. I mean, you get a lot of options, but Miis basically look the same.

Apple Cider Mage: It sounds like they’re fun to play, but the aesthetics, I wouldn’t be able to get over that.

Tzufit: No, well, and that is irritating. And certainly a bigger concern as well is that there are absolutely no ways to make a non-binary Mii. Not only are you sort of pigeon-holed into choosing male or female for gender, but also, like, you can’t have a male character who’s wearing anything but pants, and you can’t have a female character who’s wearing anything but a dress so it’s like worst case scenario. And I understand that, you know, Nintendo moves slowly even by gaming industry standards, so I don’t picture that really changing anytime soon. So that’s kind of the annoyance for me is that I’ve ended up finding a character that I love the way it plays, but not so much the way it looks. Now fortunately, this is tempered a little bit in Smash Brothers because you can actually get outfits for your Mii. Yeah, so it starts you out with the basic outfit, and for the gunner you have a heavy armour set, and then you have a wild west set which if you’re playing the girl Mii what you get is a dress with, like, a pair of leather slacks underneath and cowboy boots and a revolver for you gun and it is the most adorable thing. It is ridiculous. And there are a bunch of different weird hats. There are cat ears, and a chomp mask, and stuff like that, and you can get additional customisable outfits as you go through different challenges and play through some of the other modes in the game. So that has helped a little with the appearance issues. All that said, I knew that they were kind of slowing down the pace of combat in Smash Brothers this time and I can feel it. It is definitely slower and I’m kind of in two minds about that because it’s a little frustrating being used to old pace. And I always get frustrated when Mario cart or Smash Brothers comes out for a new console because I’m like “I’m awesome at this game” then I get the new version and I’m like “well im terrible now” so its gonna take a while. And in my household, slowing down combat is maybe a good thing- that has yet to be seen- because I’m at the unfortunate disadvantage of living with someone, and therefore playing Smash Brothers with someone, who regularly, you know, regularly participated in competitions when he lived in California.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh Jesus.

Tzufit: Yeah, right. And I am a very sore loser and I’m happy to admit that, so you can imagine that this doesn’t necessarily go well. And I don’t know if slowing down combat is going to benefit me all that much, or benefit him, or if it’ll just kind of be a wash. We’ll see what happens. So yeah, that’s been my week- or really just last night and a little bit this morning- getting a chance to play Smash Brothers on the Wii U.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, like, getting Smash is basically one of the reasons why I want to get a Wii U. So I’ve actually been spending a lot of time lately, like, trying to find if there’s any black Friday deals because I think I definitely want to get a Wii U now, especially because Bayonetta 2 is out, Smash Brothers is out, like, you know, a lot of really cool stuff. So I’m hoping, crossing my fingers, that I can find, like, a pretty good deal on it, and I think there’s a huge bundle on it which is like 350 dollars that comes with, I think, Mario party, and Smash, and the Wii U- the 32 gig- for 350 dollars, I think. So I might end up getting that and having that be kind of part of my shared Christmas gift for me and my boyfriend so-

Tzufit: -make sure if you’re getting Smash Brothers that you get yourself one of the controllers that is not the gamepad because you’re not gonna wanna play Smash Brothers on a gamepad.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh, yeah, definitely. I don’t that that’s gonna happen. I need a real controller.

Tzufit: And I have to mention too, because I know you’ll be excited about this, so one of the characters that was added in this go around was the villager in Animal Crossing.

Apple Cider Mage: Yes!

Tzufit: And there’s two different Animal Crossing stages that you can play into, both of which are predictably adorable, and lots of the different Animal Crossing NPCs kind of pop up in the background and are doing stuff, you know, as you go through. And the villager was the first new character that I experimented with before I ended up trying the Mii. And they are super adorable. They’re move sets are so fun. You, like, can ride a gyroid, you can plant a tree. But I found them pretty challenging to get a hang of their skill set, so I’m probably gonna mess around with them a little bit more, but then I ended up having so much fun with the Mii I’m not sure.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, the thing is that I have very little experience with Smash. Like, I button mashed a few matches at a friend’s house or whatever, so I don’t have a lot of understanding of Smash. So the Smash characters kind of have their own, like, special move sets and stuff like that? Like how do you know what kind of move set it is?

Tzufit: With most of the characters there’s not, like, a huge variety but you have people who have more ranged abilities, and people who have fewer ranged abilities, you have people who can kind of fly further to be able to get back on the stage if they get knocked out too far, you have heavier characters, and lighter characters, kind of. You know.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh ok.

Tzufit: But, like, one of the things that has been interesting in Smash so far is that there really do seem like there are characters that are closer to be being pure ranged which is bizarre and totally new. Like Mega Man for example. It seems like his main attack is really primarily a ranged attack. It’s really interesting. The gunner I’ve been playing has some melee abilities and the gun range is not super long, but she’s got a decent number of ranged attacks too, which isn’t totally unheard of in Smash. It’s always been the case that lots of different characters have ranged attacks, but the effectiveness of them is maybe a little bit higher in this version than it used to be. So that’s been interesting. Also Animal Crossing news related to this; so you know in Smash Brothers there are different items that you can use that drop down on the stage? So two new items got added in from Animal Crossing, both of which are hilarious in practice. One is the pitfall, which works exactly the same in Smash Bros as it did in Animal Crossing-

Apple Cider Mage: -oh my god my eyes just went like super wide. That was my favourite thing to do.

Tzufit: And the other is the bees nest.

Apple Cider Mage: Ok that’s even better.

Tzufit: Which is great. So the bees nest drops down and you can throw it at somebody and the bees will just chase that person around and continually damage them while they’re up. So both of those have been so much fun to play around with already, and there are tonnes and tonnes of other new items that were added to this. I’m kind of a purist when it comes to what items you’re allowed to use in a match. The friends I used to play with all the time, we have very strict rules about each thing, so I’m not usually as open to trying new items, but I mean I had to give them a shot for the first go around obviously.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I mean that’s one of the things that kind of eluded me about Smash Brothers is when people start getting into like the really high level talk about, like, Final Destination No Scope. I don’t know, like, it just becomes a jumble of words, and, you know, like, it sounds like some of the items make matches really overpowered or just not fun or…?

Tzufit: I mean it obviously depends on your definition of fun. There are certainly items that are extremely overpowered if they drop and, you know, we always, like I said, we had very tight rules about these things. And there are certain items that we didn’t allow because we- in our minds- wanted this to be more of like a pure skill thing without any chance of like “oh well you happened to get a hammer at the right moment” or something like that. And I have no idea because I am not the, you know, I am not the person who’s been in professional championships in the family or whatever. But I have no idea what items are and are not allowed in the tournament type play. I just know what was allowed with my friends and we certainly took that very seriously.

Apple Cider Mage: See that’s the thing that makes it sound really interesting as a competitive game is that it sounds like sort of part of the fun of Smash Brothers is there is the room to make it as purely skill and competitive as possible, but then for more casual play you have those randomised elements that make it just a little more like goofy and hilarious and things.

Tzufit: Yeah, absolutely. And you know when we were talking a couple of weeks ago about Splatoon and we were talking about Overwatch as well, with the idea of making FPS games that are more accessible and less violent and more a little bit kind of cartoony and friendly to a wider range of people? Smash Bros to me has always been a good example of that because it’s, you know, it’s not really that different from Mortal Kombat, except, you know, the number of button combinations is significantly reduced and the violence isn’t there. Now granted, I loved Mortal Kombat when I was a kid-

Apple Cider Mage: -oh absolutely me too.

Tzufit: But Smash Bros kind of just finds a way to give you those really fun elements of a fighter, like street fighter, like Mortal Kombat, any of those that we grew up on, but makes it safer, a little bit more palatable. Something that families can play together.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, so it feels more like a goofy nerf bat war than going after your family with a knife.

Tzufit: Exactly. So we’re going to hop into the news this week and the first item that were gonna talk about is something that I think we all knew Apple Cider Mage was going to be ecstatic about when we saw this coming across our twitters, or news feeds, or whatever it was this week. And that is that Goat Simulator is going to be an MMO.

Apple Cider Mage: Not even “is going to be an MMO”, it already is an MMO and it’s free and it is already out on steam and I cannot wait to try this. I actually got to watch a stream of the Stream Friends play Goat Simulator MMO, and let me tell you I was blown away by what I saw because I mean, as any of our fans know, we are huge fans of Goat Simulator. And it’s such a weird game. A lot of physics, and rag doll, and licking and things. Like, I was not expecting the level of detail and work to be put into this. Like, I thought “oh it’s just something. It’s like a five minute joke. It’s not going to be super substantial. They’re not making you pay for it. It’s just gonna be a cutesy mod that’ll do something to your UI or whatever’. No. it’s about as real as you could possibly get while still maintaining that it is a parody. Jack Dekey on twitter said that ‘the Goat Simulator MMO is as much a serious satire or parody of MMORPGs as Stanley Parable was a parody of first person Sims’. And like, I watched Ali play… no it wasn’t Ali. It was Janine- Bleeding Heart on twitter- I watched her play and it so clear to me that people who made Goat Simulator have obviously played World of Warcraft. There is no way that this is not a straight sendup of [edited] World of Warcraft. The UI is exactly the same. I mean obviously the controls are way scaled down. You only get four buttons because you’re still a [edited] goat, but you get to be an actual class and get gear. But they have, like, a whole world. They built like a whole actual separate world with their engine and you do actual quests. You do actual quests, you talk to actual NPCs, you kill actual mobs. But it’s all done in this extremely cheeky, referential way that can only be funny to people who have spent countless hours playing. Like, I was watching them play and she was getting quests from a quest giver that was making strange gurgling noises so like ‘blah blah blah’ and I was like ‘oh no did they really actually do a parody of murlocs?’. Except that they actually made murlocs the way that you would think that they would look if they were made by people who had no idea what murlocs actually were, and they were actually terrifying giant fish people with human legs attached to them. I [edited] you not, it is [edited] terrifying. But it was amazing because that’s what you did. You ran around licking fish people to death, and the thing is, is that whenever a murloc would talk to you, you wouldn’t actually know what they were saying. Like, the quest dialogue was in murloc talk, the NPC text was in murloc talk, so it’s obvious that they’ve got that cheeky sort of fun to it so you don’t just feel like you’re just playing another MMO. But the thing is, is that the world is huge. There’s multiple stages and they’re all giant maps and there’s actual, like, quest givers and stuff. But then on the other hand, there’s a thing where if you go to the auction house in game there’s an actual auctioneer whose actually saying things like, doing the actual auctioneer talk ‘…sold to the man in the back’ like there’s actually someone saying that in-game. But it’s obviously someone who doesn’t know how to do that professionally and is obviously just spitting out words randomly. But this is the part that pushes it over the top. I can’t tell if this is procedurally generated or if it’s, like, a text database that it’s pulling from with some randomised elements, but I watched the stream for a good hour. What they have in the game is a chat box. You can’t type anything into it, but it is at least an hours’ worth of generated actual chat channel MMO [edited] that will scroll on your screen. And the funniest thing is that it’s not offensive- it’s not offensive at all- but it is straight up the most on the nose World of Warcraft-

Tzufit: –Barrens chat.

Apple Cider Mage: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. It is randomly generated Barrens chat, except that it’s not offensive so it’s hilariously funny. It’s, you know, people asking like ‘oh I can’t find this NPCs wife, you know, where is she?’ and, you know ‘want to sell stick of spam’ and, you know, it’s so, like, I can’t go deep enough into saying how amazingly crafted this is, like seriously. Everyone needs to get this. Because it is, like, if you have played World of Warcraft or Everquest to any kind of great degree- or anything, like you know, Final Fantasy or Guild Wars- if you have played any of those games to any great degree, you need to check this game out because you are going to die laughing. Like im just…that’s just gonna happen. So check it out.

Tzufit: That’s quite a sell.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, no, I went in expecting one thing and came away from it completely blown away. Like I really didn’t think that they were gonna take it that far and make it that playable and also that funny. Like that much of a sendup, it’s so pitch perfect without being too like…it’s such a weird combination of, like, complete simulacra and, you know, very taught satire that never makes you feel like you’re actually just grinding out mobs on World of Warcraft. So I commend them for doing such an amazing job. So yeah.

Tzufit: Well next up we have an article that appeared on joystick this week called ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Women, and the Remarkable Ordinary’ which discusses the fact that several major lore figures in Dragon Age Inquisition including people who are leaders of your main political and religious movements in the game just happen to be women. And not only that but the game goes, I mean either you want to call it the next step or a step back kind of, I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just that the game does not point to the fact that there are women in these leadership positions and kind of go ‘wow isn’t that weird’.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, yeah.

Tzufit: It just accepts it as totally natural and the way things are, which is exactly what you should do.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, this piece was written by Susan Arendt, and I thought it was really good because she did a really good job of basically pointing out that ‘yeah that’s how it should be all the time’ like, put in women, a lot of them; increase representation across the board, but don’t treat them like magical special snowflakes because if you do that you’re pulling people out of that being normal. And if you’re trying to achieve normalcy, you can’t put a lampshade on it. You just have to kind of immerse people into that and people are going to do that if they play a video game and it has good writing. And you know Dragon Age is easily a really immersive story in this series, so having a bunch of women in a moment when it’s powerful leaders sitting round the table, and a good chunk of them are all women, having them be normal and natural is ultimately just a step forward.

Tzufit: Yeah.

Apple Cider Mage: Now the interesting part about this is I agreed with like 99% of what Susan was saying. It was just really interesting that she made, just, like a really good point about these kinds of concerns and these kinds of moments, and then she kind of needled a little hard on the idea that people who care about this stuff are like shouting, or preaching, or being angry, or dramatic, and that was like, I have such a huge issue when people like get my politics completely correct, or like, they have the same feelings that I do but they sort of undermine other people’s reactions about it. Like I never feel like people who wanna see more women in video games and see it being achieved like this are really dramatic. I thought the whole point was that if we constantly sort of bring this up, and fight for it, and have conversations about it, that seeing moments like this will be a lot more- more more normal- in the future. So that was kind of one of the nit-picks I had with the article. Which was kind of funny because she’s basically saying like well we need to see this diversity in games without the preachy grandstanding or drama and here I am being super nit-picky and dramatic about it.

Tzufit: Well, it’s interesting because I wasn’t quite sure- I know exactly which part of the article you’re talking about- but I wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be read the way that you interpreted it or whether her intent was more to say that opponents of representation say that people who want representation act in this way. I wasn’t really sure what side of the fence she was coming down on with that, but either way I don’t know that it was super necessary to the point of the article, unfortunately.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, it kind of felt like a kick on the shins or like sort of an irrelevant point because if we’ve got what we wanted, and you’re talking about that in a positive way, why drag that into it? I don’t know. Like, you and I were very much used to- even if people agree with us which is apparently not a thing that happens all the time either- people are really quick to point out that it’s ok to want diversity, but as long as you’re not a screeching harpy about it. So that’s basically how I took it. Because I’m so used to people saying that to me, when it’s like ‘no, but if I do take this really seriously maybe we will see more games that have just women being normal’ so-

Tzufit: -well and it’s always a mistake to assume that anything happens in a vacuum. Because even if, I mean, let’s say best case scenario, Bioware had always intended for all of these women to be the characters that they are now, in the positions they are in now, but if that’s not the case it’s equally possible that watching the conversations that have been happening over the last couple of years- and particularly this year since E3- was just that additional amount of encouragement to say “You know what? We’re in a position where we can do this really well. So let’s do this really well”.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, absolutely. I mean like I even think that Dragon Age Inquisitions is a good place to start, not even just a good place to stop. I know that Dragon Age as a series- which is funny because I have not played them to any great degree but I am friends with a lot of people who are- there’s still a lot of issues that Dragon Age has with representation. There’s been, still, a lot of like really heated discussions about the kind of stuff you can do with love interests and who gets to be flagged as a queer character- a queer romanceable character- and who’s flagged as, like, a straight character, the representations PoCs in the game. But you also have stuff where there’s a canonical trans individual in Dragon Age Inquisition. So it feels like Dragon Age is doing a lot of things really right, but it’s like, yeah, those conversations are still really necessary because you can always do better, you can always improve, you can always be better, you know. I guess that’s why I found Susan’s point really kind of undermining is, like, I feel that even when people are angry- and I definitely am one of those people that thinks that anger is productive, or that strong passionate feelings are not always anger or drama, and I hate that term being used- is that passion has an impact and I don’t feel that its necessarily negative most of the time. So I feel like it’s really weird when people try to lump that in with “also the opposition as well”, you know? So that was the only downside to the article when the rest of it I thought made some really amazing points. Because, yeah, I think that at the end of the day that’s the kind of stuff I want to see in video games is people that are cool to me, that look like me, that look like other people, other people can relate to those characters, and just have it be part of the norm, just like every day.

Tzufit: Right, yeah, and I mean and Bioware is good at this stuff for the most part. They’re not perfect and they do need those additional nudges once in a while, just in the way that I am more open minded now than I was two years ago, and two years ago I was more open minded than I was five years ago. You know, so we’re constantly in a state of revision and we shouldn’t assume that a gaming company is anything different than that. So even a gaming company that does well, and even has consistently done well when it comes to queer characters and representation, need nudges towards like “hey, you know, maybe it’s time that you included a trans character in your game”. And they have, so cool, and let’s keep going with that. And maybe get some non-binary characters, or maybe open up the romance options a little bit more. There’s lots of different possibilities, but the point is there’s never a reason to stop having those conversations, because as new avenues continue to open up, we have to revise our own thinking, whether “own” in that sense is me as the player, or the game developers, the game writers themselves.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, absolutely. Totally agree. And I feel that people’s passion is such a fundamental part of those conversations that it’s like, man, let’s just not embroider…let’s just not nit-pick people’s passion. Let’s just kind of keep looking critically at the media we’re all part of.

Tzufit: Yeah. Yep. Other good news in terms of female characters this week: Shadow of Mordor is offering a free DLC that will allow you to play as- oh god I’m going to butcher it because it’s some Lord of the Rings- “Lithariel”?

Apple Cider Mage: Lithariel, yeah.

Tzufit: Ok, whatever, I don’t care. But no, it’s sad that I’m saying- ok- I probably, in all honesty- we have owned Shadow of Mordor, I don’t know, almost since the time it came out, and I haven’t played it yet because I didn’t really want to play as that dude.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah.

Tzufit: Like, I was interesting in playing the game especially, you know, after all of the interesting writing that was going on with it. But now that I can actually play as random elf lady or whatever I’m fine with that. Now I might actually pick it up despite my abject hatred of all things Tolkien. I will try to overlook that and pay absolutely no attention to any parts of the story. I’ll make that sacrifice.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, because basically, I wanted to participate in the mechanics and kind of get my own read on it, but yeah, I don’t want to play a dude. I don’t ever want to play a dude at all. But I think the bigger, interesting point about this is that they already did this as a free DLC, you know, that just lets you mod the game. And I actually think that that is a really interesting way to turn around and make some modifications to your game that maybe were sort of left out as kind of a lack of foresight or maybe just something that you couldn’t get implemented by day one release and still have it be offered to your fans. I like the fact it’s free ‘cause man this would not have gone over well if you had to pay to be a woman.

Tzufit: Right, no, exactly. I mean it’s crucial that it’s free, and obviously best case scenario is that you make this stuff a priority so that it is ready by release date, but you know barring that, it is the next best thing I guess to have it as a free DLC. Which it absolutely should be.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, absolutely. Like basic character customisation I feel should not ever be an additional feature you pay for. Like, it should just be part of the game. And so you know this does feel like something that should have been at launch, but the fact that I can just get it now is still pretty ok. And it will definitely get me to actually buy the game. I will actually sink the money now to buy this Triple A game that I was really not wanting to play. Now, the interesting part that I have not heard anybody talk about yet, is that did they change that opening quest with your wife? Is that going to be different for this? Who knows? I would love to play a gay elf warrior so-

Tzufit: -no because, I mean, they mention the fact that apparently this character is somehow related to somebody who’s already in-game. But it doesn’t sound as if they actually redid the content for this person, but I don’t know.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, well, I think when I was listening to Maddie talk about this on Isometric is that Lithariel is the actual living version of the wraith that gives-

Tzufit: -oh my god I’m going to fall asleep. I’m sorry it’s not your fault. I just do not give a [edited], but go on.

Apple Cider Mage: I think Lithariel is the living version of the wraith that gives the dude in the main game his powers? So I think this is her living version. So does that make the dude the wraith now? That would be super interesting.

Tzufit: Yeah…I guess.

Apple Cider Mage: Look alternate universe Tolkien. Maybe we can also make an alternate universe of Tolkien where like the orcs are racial tropes-

Tzufit: -burn it down. There’s nothing to sell to me. Absolutely not.

Apple Cider Mage: I’m just mostly interested in seeing what this game has to offer as far as the kind of interesting randomisations and failure systems.

Tzufit: I can agree with that and, of course, I’m looking forward to running into Douche the Unconquerable.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh absolutely. Douche the Unconquerable, we will meet you again on the field of battle, Douche the Unconquerable.

Tzufit: “I saw what you were saying on Facebook about me!” So cool post that showed up on Gamasutra this week called ‘Dissecting Progress’. This was written by Fabien Fisher. A little bit of a heavy article, so, you know, don’t like try and read it while you’re watching something on Netflix. But really fascinating about different modes of progress in video games and what is sort of most beneficial for players, what sorts of thing players enjoy more, what they find to be more rewarding- so talking about explicit static progress versus persistent progress horizontal and vertical progresses- it was a little bit sort of jargon heavy but well explained throughout and really really fascinating. Especially, obviously, coming from somebody who’s used to playing a lot of MMOs that have a very specific idea of what progression is.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, this is a thick article. And this is definitely one of the reasons why I think Gamasutra is kind of wildly different from a lot of other news outlets, because it definitely is geared towards developers. But seeing developer concerns and developer mechanics being broken down in kind of a very straight forward basic sort of way actually gave me a lot of understanding to just some of the stuff that I have noticed just playing games. Like, you know, you said you play a lot of Diablo, play a lot of World of Warcraft. I mean every player that plays things that have that have kind of, you know, sort of persistent progress as the article calls it, knows how rewarding it is to feel that ‘ding’ and to get those new spells, and to have, you know, to build upon your progress over, and over, and over again, so that at some point you can go to the new dungeon, or get the new armour, or you know, that sort of thing. And that’s essentially the backbone of MMOs and other games like that. That continual kind of churn and things like that. But it’s really interesting to see that explained as to why that is so effective beyond the whole Pavlovian response when you hear that ‘ding’ noise.

Tzufit: Yeah, one of the most interesting parts of this article for me was talking about implicit progress which is the idea that players’ progress is based more on their own development of skill over a time. So, the examples that he uses for this are like Chess or StarCraft. And that one of the problems with implicit progress is that because sometimes the best lessons that you learn, the most progress that you make, is from seeing a defeat. So seeing what you did wrong, and seeing what you opponent did correctly, that can lead to a fear of playing because you know that you need to be defeated a certain number of times in StarCraft before you start to understand what you did wrong, and what the other person did right, and how to do those right things yourself. And I think- I mean maybe this is particularly resonating with me right now because I’m annoyed with not being as good at Smash Brothers as I used to be on the old one- but he talks about the idea that’s been termed “ladder anxiety”. So, right, the notion that you are starting at the bottom of the ladder and the only way to move up is to do so rung by rung. And you’re gonna meet opposition every step of the way.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, that was kind of an interesting part for me too because I know that I feel that it’s one of the reasons why I don’t like a lot of games that have a really hard core sort of PvP aspect to them. Because there’s just that idea that if you’re jumping in with people who are way better than you, it’s terrifying. And that anxiety carries through so many aspect of it that ultimately affects your play. It’s hard to get over that initial feeling and just knowing that “oh, all of this is a learning experience, all of this can be beneficial”. Mostly because I feel like the people that have most benefited from that kind of implicit progress, and have jumped up to the top of the ladder, often are the most critical and the most negative to players who aren’t as skilful yet. And I feel like that’s kind of an interesting, more like, sociological aspect, to this very sort of dry mechanical phenomenon. With the whole feeling you’re at the bottom is that a lot of the people- the actual people at the top- make it really hard sometimes to gain that progression because, yeah, you get anxiety. You get that sort of performance fear. And it doesn’t help that maybe some of the other people kind of trash talk you or make you feel unwelcome. And I definitely feel that that kind of keys in with a lot with, you know, marginalised people in gaming spaces in general. So it’s interesting to see kind of both the mechanical aspect of it and then also the social aspect of it as well.

Tzufit: Yeah. Yeah, so really fascinating article. Definitely recommend you read through it all the way because it really does, I mean especially if you are not someone who’s in the gaming industry, it’s really interesting to see the curtain pulled back a little bit like this.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. I mean it definitely made me think a lot more about the kind of things that I get into in games. And it feels like a lot of the games that I wanna play now have less of that kind of persistent progress and more are just kind of a static progress where you just sort of go through the narrative and once you, quote unquote, “finish the game” then that’s it. I feel like im looking for games now particularly that have that more static experience then persistent. So it’s kinda cool to see it all spelled out.

Tzufit: Ok, and finally, a just amazing piece that appeared on Paste Magazine in the games section this week. This was written by Justin Clarke and it’s titled ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos: Assassin’s Creed and the Power of Representation’. And Justin writes a really personal article about both his and his mum’s relationship with video games. Justin’s mum was a black panther in the sixties and he talks about the impact that they both kind of experienced the first time they saw the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Black Flags DLC campaign called Freedom Cry which featured a main protagonist who was from Trinidad-

Apple Cider Mage: -and he’s a freed slave isn’t he? Adewale is a freed slave. Yeah, I remember Alex talking about that and I was like “woah” because he played all of, you know, Black Flag, and I was like “wow” that they have a whole DLC that features a character like that. That’s kinda crazy.

Tzufit: Right, absolutely, yeah. And so, what Justin talks about, and I’ll read a little piece of the article here about that, so “We see him, as a boy, taken from his mother, sold into slavery, escaping by brutally killing his new master, running for his life, and then flash forward to see him fully grown, destroying pirates with pistols and a machete, before pulling up his assassin’s hood and walking towards the camera like it’s no big deal. This was a black man, of coal black skin and a commanding baritone, blatantly fighting against injustice, in one of the deep, dark spots in humanity’s history. For the first time, blackness had been flaunted with the utmost dignity. Adewale was not a stereotype. He was not an antihero with questionable motives. He was just a hero.”

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah.

Tzufit: Yeah, it’s a longer piece but absolutely worth reading from start to finish. He talks about lots of the other sort of smaller moments in the DLC that are really poignant. He talks about hearing slave’s hymnals, just totally amazing stuff, and you kind of come to the conclusion- that sort of sad conclusion that we all sort of come to- that unfortunately representation in and of itself is not enough. It doesn’t change the world- at least not in any instantaneous way- but the way that it makes us feel, the importance of what it allows us to see that we can do, the escapism that it allows us, are things that we can’t discount because they’re so fundamentally important.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, it feels like we’re kind of like in this watershed moment where the wheels are just kind of starting to turn with a lot of those kind of moments and experiences that people are having. And the last two years in games, I feel, have been way more full of those kind of moments. I mean you saw it with Gone Home, you saw it with, obviously, Black Flag, and you know, you’re just seeing kind of more and more. And I really hope that momentum kind of keeps going because, I don’t know, like between this piece and Austin Walker’s piece about Watchdogs and Shadows of Mordor, like, I mean the number Paste Games is putting out. Some amazing [edited] writing. Like, just really top shelf stuff. So that goes hand in hand. We’re seeing games that have more representation and are really impacting people in the gaming community who have been around for a really long time and have just not seen themselves in these stories. And now that they are they’re putting out these amazing moments and writings that we can also experience. We can kind of, you know, see where they’re at. How they’re feeling. And it’s just, I feel like, that is just as important as the games themselves is seeing how they resonated with these people. Because, I mean, this is an experience that I can have for myself on my level of being a queer woman or just being a woman in general. But I’m never going to truly understand seeing black characters, particularly in a moment of history in a game that deals very heavily with the slave trade, and things like that. That’s not something I’m ever going to understand. So being able to read a piece like this, it just makes me think so many things I just had not considered before, and I think that that’s really really super important.

Tzufit: Apparently some gaming awards were handed out this week. But we’re not actually gonna talk about that because the more important gaming awards have not yet happened-

Apple Cider Mage: –no.

Tzufit: Those are the Justie awards, which of course are going to be awarded by us. We haven’t entirely settled on all of the categories yet, but you can assume they’re all going to be awesome. And we will be handing out our Justie awards on our final episode of the year. But if you have some ideas for categories that you think we should include, we would love to hear those because we are absolutely open to suggestions.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, and you know, if you’ve got a suggestion for a particular award or you wanna nominate somebody for a particular award like maybe “biggest asshole” like, you know, something like that. Or “best game that featured terrible dialogue” or things like that.

Tzufit: “Best game that isn’t really a game?”

Apple Cider Mage: I feel like that category’s going to be the hot one.

Tzufit: I think that category will happen.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, so if you have any sort of suggestions like that, please send them to us. Because, I mean like other podcasts, other, you know, press outlets, they’re gonna call their game of the year. But who really cares about that? A year’s only three hundred and fifty-six days long-

Tzufit: –no.

Apple Cider Mage: Three hundred and sixty-five.

Tzufit: There you go.

Apple Cider Mage: I’m bad at math. Game of the year, that’s only something that can happen once. But I mean-

Tzufit: -well we are going to give a game of the year award though.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh we are? Ok.

Tzufit: Yeah, I mean you have to, right?

Apple Cider Mage: Can I nominate a game that isn’t from this year though?

Tzufit: That doesn’t make any sense!

Apple Cider Mage: So restrictive.

Tzufit: Yeah.

Apple Cider Mage: But yeah, if you have any sort of suggestions that you wanna give us for, you know, games that you’ve played that you think are really good, people in the gaming community, any sort of nominations or things like that, just let us know and we’ll try-

Tzufit: -“best twine game” or-

Apple Cider Mage: -oh best twine game. That’s gonna be hard.

Tzufit: “Best article of the year”. There’s lots of stuff. Basically what we’re looking to do is trying to give awards out that other people aren’t, and try to recognise contributions that maybe go unrecognised and shouldn’t. I mean and there also will be goofy things too.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah because we’re… Well I mean we can’t be serious all the time you know.

Tzufit: Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Alright, do we have anybody to thank for Patreon this week?

Apple Cider Mage: Yes we do. We have thank you to our Patreons Charles and also Elizabeth. Thank you so much for your contributions.

Tzufit: Yeah. Apple Cider, if people want to find you on twitter where can they do so?

Apple Cider Mage: Applecidermage- all one word.

Tzufit: And I’m at @soetzufit. The show’s twitter is @justicepoints. If you wanna tweet us any ideas for categories for the Justies that would be perfectly acceptable.

Apple Cider Mage: If you also wanna give us any questions, comments, or concerns you can email us at justicepointspodcast@gmail.com. We would also super super appreciate if you would give us a rating and a review on iTunes- or Stitcher, give us a thumbs up- we super appreciate it and it helps other people find our show on those various outlets. So it would be super great if you could check us out there.

Tzufit: Yep. So thanks for being on the show this week Apple Cider.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh well, you know, thanks for inviting me Tzufit. It was great to also have you on the show.

Tzufit: Yeah, thank you. You know I’m a big fan. I’m always happy to be on Justice Points. But you know, next week we will have Lulu on the show to talk about Fantastic Witch Collective and I could not be more excited about that.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, seriously, I’m always down for talking about witches.

Tzufit: Heck yes. Thanks to everybody who listened and we will talk to you next week!

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