In Love with a Dread Wolf

I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition (again) and Trespasser (for the first time) this week. Somehow, every time I play this game, I fall in love with Solas. And I mean matter of factly. I don’t just have my character romance him as the game allows me. I actually feel love in my real self. This time, it was particularly strong, and I’ve been puzzled by it.

Image result for solas
Solas is the kind of villain you want to forgive. In this way, he reminds me of Medea, and perhaps this is partly why he fascinates me so. Medea is a woman I sympathize with and perhaps cheer for as I read. Who among us hasn’t been mistreated by such a man, one who so cavalierly tossed aside the woman who loved him? She is a victim of injustice around her, yet a vocal advocate for herself. We side with her in her battle of words with Jason, and we also thirst for vengeance. But the vengeance she chooses is a vengeance that horrifies us. Like a ghost in the corner of your vision, you can almost understand her choice, and you almost want to. But never quite.

After 110 hours (this time) of playing this game with Solas at my side, I know him well enough to understand his choices and almost justify them, participate in them, in fact. The game is quick to remind me that, actually, destroying the world is bad and our only choice is to fight him. But for me, a female elf, it’s more complicated than that.

Related image

Long ago, before any history humans could remember, elves lived in a world where matter and spirit were intertwined. Wonders we can hardly imagine were everyday life. But what seemed like a utopia had that one flaw common to us all – the heart. The leaders became corrupt. They enslaved their own people, and eventually murdered one of their own because she was kind and caring to the people. But one person stood against those rulers. He created secret havens for escaped slaves, and he taught them how to fight for freedom. In time, he led a slave rebellion, but in order to overthrow the ruling elites, he had to cleave reality from itself, thus creating the world we have now. Earth, the world of matter, and the Fade, the world of spirits.

That Pyrrhic victory for the elves destroyed their world and way of life, but gave them freedom. It was a choice Solas says he made because “all the alternatives were worse.” To him, freedom is worth the loss of everything else. But now, that freedom too is long lost, and once again, elves are slaves to cruel rulers, silenced and sidelined for existing. A desire for freedom and a vengeance against the unjust is natural.  And this time, he doesn’t just want to give them freedom. He wants to restore the world that was to give them the perfect harmony with nature they had so long ago. When it comes time for him to say this world is also worth destroying to achieve that goal, I can almost agree.

Solas stands for the downtrodden. He is the hero of the enslaved, the silenced, the ridiculed, the mistreated. A person like this you may expect to be kind, but he is not kind. Nor is he cruel. Any action may be the right action if it results in a better world. When you bring a problem to the Dread Wolf, you may get an unexpected solution. He is too clever for a mundane response to injustice, too smart to not see around the corners. The world is grey for Solas, and even enduring love cannot shift his commitment to the freedom and happiness of his People at whatever cost.

Sounds noble, right? And he is. He is a loyal friend, someone who despises authority but respects a kind leader. Despite his dissembling, he has integrity, refusing to more than kiss his lover when she didn’t know the truth of who he was. He has regret for mistakes and a fierce devotion to knowledge.

So why is he a villain?

Related image

We think of the destruction of the world as necessarily bad because it inherently requires mass annihilation of life. You can’t simply remove the Veil, changing the very nature of reality, and expect many survivors, even if doing so in the interest of others. His plans only have room for his own People, and everyone else is as worthless as the dust they’re made of. Even his own life is of value as only a sacrifice for the freedom of the elves. It’s all so inequitable, you know. Why should the elves matter more than anyone else?

But I wonder. Has the status quo resulted in any less of a loss of life? Centuries of enslavement, violence, rape, disease, and murder. Residents of Thedas have been content to allow this and in so doing have allowed a mass annihilation to happen, slowly, over time. Have any fewer people been murdered in this slow march of apathy? Have we, in our disregard, shown that we think we matter more than others?

We aren’t uncomfortable with the number or the loss of life itself. It’s the optics we don’t like. It’s easier for us to look past the slow pileup of death. Our own world has poverty and disease, violence and murder in spades. Would we be willing to save them if it meant destroying ourselves if we had the chance? Or would we rather let the lives pass slowly, as through an hourglass, believing that one day change will come, believing we are doing as much as we can. Perhaps beyond optics, it’s simply that this time it isn’t in our favor. We are quick to say that you can’t value one life over another, so you can’t destroy the world for your own people! But we implicitly value one life over another by continuing to be content in a world of injustice. The lives of those we love hang heavier on the scales.

In some ways, perhaps Solas has the right of it. If freedom is truly an ideal above others, then the loss of everything else is of little consequence. For those who have been content to enslave or who have been implicitly complicit in silence, why would we choose their lives over those of others? Why do we think it is worse to destroy the world when we’ve been content to let the elves languish in their ghettos and die as slaves. We have kept the world from them, for no reason but selfishness. Why does it seem like Solas is worse than us for destroying everyone indiscriminately at once when we have done so with discrimination forever?

Perhaps it’s a false choice. I hope we can find a way to give us all a better world. But mostly, I just want to save Solas, because the lives we love seem worth more than others.

Image result for solas fighting dragon age

Advertisements

Cities on Wheels

The other day, I was about to take a long drive and wanted an audiobook to entertain me on the way. I opened up Libby, the hugely convenient Library app, and searched the sci-fi category. The most intriguing title of those available was one called “Scrivener’s Moon” by Philip Reeve.

Little did I know that this YA author is actually quite popular. Friends told me that one of his series is being made into a film directed by Peter Jackson. Pop culture and I don’t hang out much. But that aside, the story made me think of cities and nature and the naturalness or not of engineering.

One of the main themes in this series is that of the mobile city. It’s a tiered city that is built on enormous machines that power its engines and drive its wheels forward across the Earth. All of London, in this book, is being torn down and rebuilt as the first “Traction City.”

traction2bcity-mortal-engines
More

Confession Corner: I play a Facebook game

Remember back when all our mothers came on Facebook and started playing Farmville? Well around that same time, Zynga released a game called Cafe World. It was a game about having a restaurant, making various dishes, and keeping your customers happy. I played it for awhile, because I was fascinated by the trend of social games at the time, and despite cooking like once a month in real life, I loooove cooking in games.

That was over five years ago. Fast forward to today when the landscape has changed. Facebook games still exist, but they aren’t really a thing anymore. Now it’s all about mobile. And mobile isn’t about farms and clicking (ok, well, a lot of it is actually) – it’s about puzzles and math and beauty and “real” games.

Monument Valley

Except if you take a look at my tablet, it has Monument Valley and Star Wars: Uprising and Fallout Shelter, sure. But it also has a group of little icons labeled “Cooking.”

Recently, I really wanted to play a simple cooking game again. There’s something so satisfying about setting a dish to cook, coming back a couple hours later, and making a whole restaurant of people happy with my amazing Jalapeno-Bacon Poppers. And what’s more, it feels productive (even though it’s not), and it consumes my attention for just long enough to stop any other stressy thoughts from entering my brain. Just get the ingredients, choose what dishes to make, let the pot boil, as the cheesy music plays.

jalapeno

It feels a little like the gift of a Lotus-Eater in that I can waste so much time and feel so peaceful doing it.

The game I’ve mostly played (though I’ve downloaded FIVE (5!!!) variations on the cooking sim) is Restaurant Story 2 by Storm8, a company that makes a host of simple Match-3 games, casino games, and various other little simulation games for mobile. I don’t think very many people play these kinds of cooking sims anymore – if you look on the AppStore, most cooking games are all variations of Diner Dash now. Apparently, peacefully cooking over time wasn’t frantic enough for most mobile users or maybe the crap is coming to its end.

“We feel like we are participating in a great social idea, but we are truly isolated and lonely, and in the end, we are wasting our time.  Our brains don’t naturally realize that what we’re doing is worthless, because these things are by their very design trying to trick us into thinking we are being productive and social.  I say kill the crap actively, because evolution can make mistakes.”

What keeps me coming back to these games though is the quest system. The reason I stopped playing Cafe World years ago was because they created quests (fun!) but made them impossible to achieve without spending money (not fun). I’m an achiever, and I want to have the satisfaction of achieving something on my own, so naturally this did not appeal to me. Now today, in Restaurant Story 2, there are occasional events that require you to cook or master certain recipes, acquire ingredients, and accomplish certain objectives by a strict end date. THIS GETS ME. It’s possible to achieve these goals, but only with some diligence. If you only log in once a day, you will end far from the goal. So there’s that push to succeed at a challenging (in terms of time management at least) but obtainable goal, and then the end reward, which is usually a new recipe to cook. Who doesn’t love new recipes??

baconq

I sometimes wonder if these things appeal to me so much because the path to reach them is so clear. In my real life, work is about strategy and decision-making in a changing landscape. Will my choices impact people’s lives? Yes. Will they help them? I hope so, but I don’t know. In my personal life, I’m constantly juggling health, family, desire, and sleep. I never quite feel like I’ve figured it out, but I’m always trying to get somewhere, get better, get smarter, get a break. To have a goal that I can achieve with just a little persistence feels so achingly good that I truly do feel some guilt for feeling it.

So yes, there’s my guilty gaming pleasure these days. I mostly share it to give a fuller impression of the kind of person who plays a game like this – not just your non-gamer (grand)mothers – but also to raise a little flag for those mindless social games that can still play a meaningful role in someone’s life to feel better about myself.

Handholding your Learning, or what FFXIV has to do with my (real-life) job

I’ve played games since I was a toddler, and I’ve been teaching either myself or others since not long after that. Games and teaching/learning are both intricately woven into who I am, so rather than try to separate them, I’ve decided to embrace this delightful marriage. I’m starting today by talking about Final Fantasy XIV in the context of education, technology, and the human process of learning.

Much of my educational work has recently centered on online learning, including massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the form of Coursera or edX, where millions of individuals take university courses for free. In these classes, video lectures guide students through content while quizzes and exams test their progress. What does this have to do with games? Well, if you’ve ever heard the term “theme park” applied (negatively) to an MMO, I’m about to explain just what MOOCs and other online education platforms similar to them have in common with MMOs.

Disney Theme Park

More

Cities: Skylines has politics?!

Cities:Skylines is the latest darling to hit the PC market. Everyone, or just most people, is calling it “the SimCity we deserved.” It’s a classic city-sim with the familiar task of zoning land to balance residential/commercial/industrial demands, while keeping basic services operating in your city before it implodes due to your own negligence, or well, your own negligence, since there are no disasters in this game. It’s fun, has a robust modding community already, and scratches the city-building itch without all that EA bad feeling creeping in.

Where we're going, we don't need straight roads.

Where we’re going, we don’t need straight roads.

So what’s wrong with it?

It’s not that it’s wrong, necessarily, just that it has some political assumptions that are too simplistic. Yes, that’s right, a city-building sim has politics. More

This is my dissertation

It’s raw and it’s ugly and I feel shame when I read it, but dammit, it’s mine, and I made it.

These ideas may not be presented as beautifully, as clearly, as completely as they could be, but I still think these thinks, and I would love feedback on them.

Story in, around, and of games is still my greatest love. 

I present to you:

The Princess Is in Another Castle: Multi-Linear Stories in Oral Epic and Video Games

On Proteus

I opened my eyes to a sea full of sea. Looking around, I spotted a faint outline of trees and made my way toward them. The island was lush, and I thought, full of life. Trombone-plants and horn-weasels dotted the landscape. Leaves fell, sun rose. Proteus is about many things, but for me, it was about life or the absence of it. It’s about making meaning because we must, because we can, because otherwise, we would close our eyes and stop.

Image

In Proteus, life is all around you. Rushing down the hills, you find creatures who flit away, owls who fly off when they catch your glance, and dragonflies whirring and buzzing. The sounds of life are all around you. Creatures blow whistles and owls sing out their whoo in the night. The fireflies are bells and the lights a symphony. I saw gravestones and roses. Did I plant them? Had my family died here?

Image

I found a house seemingly abandoned, but shut tight. Was it mine? I found broken trees that looked like castles, and totems of animals high on the hills. Had I built those?

Image

I found drum-beetles marking the beat of their march through the muck. I found mushrooms who could jump further than I could. I couldn’t jump at all. In fact, I’m not sure how I moved. I moved through the water, but I didn’t swim. I moved over hills, but I didn’t walk. I came up to the house’s door, but I couldn’t knock. Surely there was something to find in this beautiful land. A path I had ignored or a side of the house I hadn’t tried. Perhaps there was some other island out to sea, and I was just on the wrong one.

Image

My search for something ended in the realization that for all the goals I constructed, the names I created, and the stories I told, I was nothing. I made no sounds. Was I even alive? Why did I keep moving? Because there was nothing else for me to do. Why did I follow the stars? Because there was nothing else I prescribed enough meaning to. In an open world, waiting to be explored, I followed the signs. I needed the signs. The trombone-plants made their song and needed no signs. The horn-weasels hopped out their melodies and needed no signs. The stars, the stars, those malicious keepers of time, led me on to my eventual path into nowhere. Or so I could say. But really, I made meaning because I needed it. Because I lacked it. I made meaning because I wasn’t alive.

Image

Previous Older Entries