http://www.cwtv.com/shows/supernatural/halt-and-catch-fire/?play=1abc4f3e-bd60-4e85-b1cf-b3347422a309

Supernatural and Fan Fiction

So what makes a television show like Supernatural popular? What creates a fandom, a following and/or dedicated sites run by fans for any form of popular culture? Fan fiction always springs from fans (stating the obvious here), but it makes me wonder why. What inspires anyone to write fiction based on an established popular fiction that already exists with its’ own canonical history. It’s not as though these writers are likely to get noticed or gain popularity or even make a living from it. Writing is hard and writing takes time but one caveat regarding fan fiction is that for good writing to work, you have to be passionate about your subject. Which obviously is in big supply if you’re already a fan of your subject matter. As a fan, passion is what drives you to watch every episode (TV), see every movie your object of interest has a role in, or play every game your favorite character appears in. That’s passion, but writing fan fiction goes beyond simple fandom. It takes time, work, effort, dedication and likely a lot of research as well, which in my opinion seems just a little bit obsessive.

I don’t have anything against writers of fan fiction, far from it. What I do have against fan fiction is when fans take the next bizarre step that veers way off the beaten track of established canon for any work of fiction. When Supernatural aired it’s 200th episdode, Fan Fiction, they covered some fan fiction that’s not canon and, in my humble opinion should never be explored or even written down. Part of this non-canonical fan fiction was mentioned in a previous episode of Supernatural, during Season 4, Episode 18 The Monster at the End of this Book, when Sam and Dean discovered a series of books called Supernatural, that somehow chronologues their lives. Dean mentions that he is “full frontal” in one book and on the fan website that Sam has found, the following conversation occcurs:

Dean: There are “Sam girls” and “Dean girls” and – what’s a “slash fan”?
Sam: As in… Sam-slash-Dean. Together.
Dean: Like, together together?
Sam: Yeah.
Dean: They do know we’re brothers, right?
Sam: Doesn’t seem to matter.
Dean: Oh, come on. That… That’s just sick. (he shuts the laptop in disgust)

I have to agree with Dean’s assessment on this one. Some things should just never be explored or expressed. It is a work of fiction people. Now as if that wasn’t going too far already, apparently fans have taken this non-canon fandom to an all new level of just plain wrong. As mentioned in the episode Fan Fiction, the second act of the play that (thankfully) is never shown, Dean is told that the second act explores the “subtext” of the relationships between Sam, Dean and Castiel, which is elaborated on by the director when she says that you can’t spell subtext without s-e-x.

Now I understand that fantasy s-e-x is something nearly everyone likes to explore, but in my opinion taking existing fictional characters that have no business engaging in sex with each other is just plain wrong. I don’t care how attractive, sexy or “hot” a fantasy might be, there are just some things that are best kept to yourself. I’m not against any form of sexual preference of any kind, but taking fictional characters that have no business becoming romantic interests to one another, (especially when canon has already firmly established that the basis of their relationship is the strong family bond the main characters have for each other), no one (and I don’t care who you are unless you’re the original creator of the work), has any business creating connections that don’t exist.

Fan fiction writers and other types of fans can be downright scary when you dare to dip your toe into a world of http://sizzlingsuperstars.com/misha-collins-an-american-actor-and-director/fandom you have only looked at from the outside. I’m a fan, but I’m not scary about it. A few weeks ago, I caught a tweet request from Misha Collins that I happened to be in the right place and time to respond to but within minutes of posting my @ reply, was slammed by an uber fan who felt it necessary to point out my error… which, by the way was not an error, but knowing what I know of uber fans felt it best to let it slide. I mean seriously people, it’s not as though Misha was going to respond to either of us Twitter fans so who really cares who got there first? It’s nice to think that a celebrity you admire will like what you have to say but realistically, if I was the one with over a million followers I would not ever make it a habit to respond to individual messages from people I don’t know. More than likely I would live to regret that one time of reaching out to a fan tweet only to have my Twitter account crash as a result (or some other equally unpleasant repercussion).

Bottom line, if you want to write fan fiction don’t let anything stop you. But if you do, think long and hard about writing anything that isn’t canon. If characters are related by blood, they shouldn’t be sleeping together, period. If established characters are not in any way romantically involved and are never intended to be, don’t create fictional romantic connections where they don’t exist and never will. In my honest opinion that’s just crapping all over someone else’s hard work involving character development and plot lines and in the words of my man Dean, “that’s just sick.” (And wrong).

Join me next time when I explore what truly makes Supernatural so “super.”

What a Character!

assassins creed 2

Image credit: Ubisoft

Good characterization matters. In most cases, characterization is the most important element of any form of entertainment whether it be for a movie, a book or a video game. Great characters can make or break a good story. It can even make a good story epic. In the case of books and movies, without good characters a movie is a cheap form of entertainment. In books, characters are what drive the story forward and keep readers reading through to the end. It may even lend itself to a book series which isn’t just good writing, it’s also good business practice.

Assassins creed brotherhood

Image credit: Ubisoft

In the world of video games the importance of writing and creating great characters is even more important than what you would expect to find in a book or movie. Great characterization in video games is typically THE driving force behind a successful franchise. Without a believable or sympathetic character that gamers can relate to, a video game is quite literally doomed to obscurity. What makes for a great protagonist in a book or movie? One that has “human” qualities both good and bad. They have flaws, weaknesses, strengths and downfalls, as well as several redeeming qualities, and you spend much of your time with them learning things about either themselves (you) or the world around them, which typically includes people they are surrounded or supported by or have to interact with.

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Image credit: Ubisoft

A successful video game encompasses all of these elements and more depending on what type of game is being developed. In this case I am referring to games whose play centers on a protagonist that you play as, who has a background, a problem to solve and various  things in his or her environment that will help him/her move forward to a conclusion. Ubisoft discovered the subtle yet powerful driving force of great characterization when they introduced Ezio Auditore to the Assassin’s Creed universe and the gaming community at large. Ezio’s story was so compelling that by his influence alone, two more titles were released with him as the lead role in both Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Revelations.

Assassins-Creed-3-3

Image credit: Ubisoft

What happens when a company ends a popular characters’ story? Well…. Assassin’s Creed III is your answer to that question. And it’s not a good answer – at least not where Ubisoft developers are concerned, nor the fans for that matter. AC III was disappointing at best, a complete and utter failure at worst. After all the commercial hype that Ubisoft poured into the AC III title, fans were sorely dismayed at the product they received after all was said and done. Sure they had improved combat, added cool boats to sail around in, there was weather like snow that you had to navigate – which was a nice touch, wild animals who “could” and usually did, manage to kill you if you weren’t smart, but overall the game itself was a bomb.

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Image credit: Ubisoft

Why did AC III do so badly? Well I’ve played all the titles to date and for me and I’m guessing many others, the problem wasn’t with the game or the game play. But had everything to do with the lackluster main character, Connor, and his completely boring background and lack of depth. He was probably the most uninteresting, stereotypical character I’ve yet come across in games – but that’s not what made it a bad game, lots of games have that trouble – it was the fact that it was an Assassin’s Creed game, a franchise that many fans had come to expect great characterization from which was utterly lacking in this title. And who paid the price for this bomb? Developers and fans. Some fans were so disappointed by this title they stopped being fans, and in an effort to gain them back Ubisoft had to release a new game on the heels of AC III that somewhat made up for the failure of it, but not by much.

I enjoyed AC IV: Black Flag, but in my honest opinion, it still does not compare to the success of AC II. Which brings us back full circle to my point. If you’re going to design, craft and write a game that depends on the strength of your protagonist, you have to take the time to write compelling backgrounds and characters that have enough depth whose story allows players to easily identify with on some level. If that’s missing, you may as well be designing a side scroller like Angry Birds or a smart phone app like Candy Crush. Without character depth and well thought out background development, you’re going to drown yourself AND your game and no amount of beautifully rendered, artistic environments or compelling “action” driving game play will ever be enough to save you or your story.

This May Be….Problematic

Feros_Thorian_Full_Shot_SecondYesterday I re-blogged a post written two years ago by another author that explored how the relationship aspects of NPC characters can unexpectedly blindside you into reflecting and/or comparing your own real life relationships just by playing through the Mass Effect universe.

I have played all three titles in this series, not once, not twice, but several times now and each experience reveals new and never-before heard conversations and dialogues that somehow got missed the first time around. I am currently haunted by a silly fetch-quest I somehow missed in my most recent play-through of Mass Effect 2. I got it every other time I played this title and was pretty miffed that I missed such a silly thing and yet I seriously contemplated “restarting” Thane’s recruitment mission to complete it. Why would I do such a thing?Thane_Krios_02_by_johntesh

Well I have no idea how long it took to accomplished this, but the developers of this series have made it so that what you do in one game is reflected back at you in the next game installment and is not limited to only your team or main characters in the story. Pretty much anyone and everyone you interact with as Commander Shepard has the potential to show up in the future – either to welcome you back for your help with a problem they had or to curse the ground you walk on for not following through or even never knowing you missed something since they didn’t survive into the next title.

The quest I missed wasn’t even a formal request for help, just some random Salarian on Illium who is talking to a relative about a lost file regarding his family’s pedigree that is missing and that without it, negotiating any future marriage contracts will be detrimental to his entire family. If you find it and bring it back to him, he is most grateful and you get a feel-good feeling for helping out a stranger. Much the same feeling you get when you deliver a lost locket to an Asari widow, the last memento her daughter has of her father who died while she was still too young to remember him.

There are so many of the fetch-quest instances of this type that I’d need to write a wiki. But for now I will post those that stood out for me, simply because they unexpectedly cause you to become emotionally invested in characters that you will likely never see again. You know that these characters aren’t really relevant or even have much (if any) impact on the main story, and yet you still find yourself standing around eavesdropping on random conversations, wanting to know more and feeling compelled to wait to find out if there is anything you can do to help…. just because.me_wallpaper___shiala_by_pineappletree-d2zv45c

In other cases with characters you met in Mass Effect 1 for instance, if you save the Asari of Zhu’s Hope who was a victim of Saren and the Thorian, you meet her again on Illium asking for help with a contract that contains fine print for invasive tests on the colony survivors. She asks you to speak to Erinya of Barrier Frontiers whose daughters and bondmate are dead and she blames all non-asari for their deaths. What follows is rather potent:erinya

Erinya: The aliens will never be my allies. The best they can do is give me useful medical data.
Shepard: [Charm] Why was your bondmate on the Quarian homeworld?
Erinya: Studying the Quarians. Not their technology, but their music. She loved all their art. Said they had old souls. I think that’s where my daughters got it from. Both of them loved talking to people, exploring new cultures.
Shepard: They sound like wonderful people. The Galaxy is lesser for their loss.
Erinya: [crying] Yes, it is.
Shepard: Do you think they’d want you to do this?
Erinya: [breaks down] I’m not… I didn’t… Oh… [Slumps to the ground; Shepard helps her back up] I’m sending an amended contract. No more tests. No fees. There’s enough grief in this galaxy, I don’t need to add to it.

 

This is just a VERY small example of how Mass Effect can instantly create emotional connections with characters you likely will never see or hear from again. For the bigger “feels” (as some fans have termed it), members of your crew have some monster emotional scenes I will explore next time.

Until then, “Can it wait for a bit? I’m in the middle of some calibrations.”

How Mass Effect 3 Kicked My Emotional Ass

Originally published June 18, 2012 @ Destructoid.com by Sophie Prell

 

LiaraWhen was the last time a videogame made you think about relationships? Truly reflect on them, I mean? BioWare has a knack for making them just about mandatory in each of their games, but they’re hardly the only ones that have made romantic relationships a fleshed-out feature of contemporary gaming. We’ve seen a relationship develop between Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher over the course of three games, and Heavy Rain focused heavily on the fallout of a broken family. We could sit here all day and list similar titles.

But there is one thing I’ve never seen a videogame do, try as they might: treat relationships holistically and realistically. It seems like such an easy thing to do, but apparently storytellers just aren’t ready to go there.

Nathan and Elena have obviously had troubles and tension, as can be seen when they reunite in Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3. But we never see what life was like between titles, only the happy moments or snippy barbs of humor. They’re the videogame equivalent of a romance novel relationship. The Ross and Rachel of videogames.

Heavy Rain shows what Ethan’s life is like post-divorce, as well as his pursuit of and involvement in a new relationship. But we never get a glimpse of what the divorce proceedings were like. We don’t see the fallout of a family breaking apart. It’s not like the game could’ve been made any more depressing, so why weren’t we taken on the journey with Ethan as his wife blames him for the death of a child and forces him out?

On a happier note, I’ve always remembered the scene from The Darkness where Jenny rests on your chest as you watch To Kill A Mockingbird together, because relationships aren’t always turned up to 11. Sometimes you are as much one another’s friend as you are lover. Why don’t we just “hang out” with our romance options sometimes?Heavy Rain

And then of course there’s Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Which summarizes the complexity of human interaction as “Buy me things and I’ll wear sexy swimsuits for you!” Which, by the way, happens to be one of my favorite aspects of a relationship.

Seriously though, the only games that have come even close to showing the true complexity of a relationship for me — though I’d love to hear if you have your own examples — are the Mass Effect games. If you romance any of the original crew from the first game, they don’t welcome you with open arms in Mass Effect 2. They have conflicting emotions and motives with you and your new alliance with Cerberus, and if you want to get back together, you need to deal with that issue. That’s more realistic and a step in the right direction, but it’s still too easy to persuade your crew that you are the impeccable pinnacle of perfection. Plus, as seen above, there are so many aspects to a real relationship that we just can’t seem to get in one place.

But let me tell you why it’s important that videogames get to that point. Let me tell you a story. Two, actually.

I’ve been plugging away at a second playthrough of Mass Effect 3 lately. After all, I gotta get ‘dem ‘cheevs! Only this time, a conversation on the Citadel gave me pause where I had previously skipped along on my merry Reaper-slaughtering way. This isn’t an important conversation, mind you. It doesn’t even lead to a side quest. It didn’t mean anything to me before. But now, I can’t stop thinking about it.

See, people do funny things when they’re scared. Sometimes they become bitter, selfish assholes who wouldn’t just shove women and children out of the way, but gladly offer them up as a sacrifice if it would mean sparing themselves a less pleasant fate. Sometimes they conquer fear and assert themselves as the righteous redeemed, a shining beacon of all that the spirit and soul can be. And sometimes, it’s not always clear who’s being which.

The conversation I’m referring to takes place between a human female and an asari, early in the game. You can find them chatting the first time you’re able to visit the Citadel, on the Presidium Commons level. The first thing you’ll hear is the human, denoted as “Wife” in the subtitles, say, “I think I’m ready to end it with him.”asari mistress

The “him” being referred to is a male soldier, deployed and off fighting in the war. Want to add a little story and emotion to the multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3? Maybe he’s your multiplayer avatar. The Wife laments how she feels there has been a growing distance between them, and how she no longer feels happy. The asari, “Mistress” as she is described in the subtitles, assures the Wife that she must be honest. That she must tell her husband. Thus ends part one of the conversation.

While others rang in 2012 on New Year’s Eve with toasts of wine and champage, party hats and streamers, kisses and cheers, I was nervously pacing before an audience of my friends and girlfriend. Did I have it? Was it in the bedroom, where I’d left it? Had anyone seen? Was this right to do? I thought forward, backward, up and down. My mind did not run in circles, but instead flew and buzzed about like a balloon oozing out a steady stream of dry, oppressive air.

My toes wrinkled the socks on my feet with a cold sweat. They flexed and gripped at the carpet. I looked to my girlfriend, my eyebrows piqued in concern and anxiety. I say her name. Quietly. My voice struggled to elevate itself above the cheering from the television behind me as crowds of euphoric humans reveled. “I need you to stand up.”

The next time the conversation picks up, it seems fairly innocuous. Wife is debating in her mind how to tell her husband her feelings. Text? Recording? Face-to-face video chat? The first is too impersonal. The second? No, she gets too flustered. Video chat is only available on open comm channels, and as Mistress points out, who knows when he can get to one of those? After all, he knew it would be difficult when he left her behind.

… Wait, what? Left? Left her?

It may seem like such a little thing, such a harmless way of phrasing things. After all, it’s technically true: The man has left his wife behind. But the phrasing now makes it seem as though it’s his fault. And perhaps this growing distance between he and his wife might not be so great if there wasn’t someone in the middle, summarizing their relationship to Wife as a conflict of interests where he left her. It steams me to say the least, but the conversation, for now, ends here.Relationships Mass Effect 3 Liara Shadowbroker romance-620x

My knees quaked. My knees quaked. I let one fall. “I was with you in 2011. I want to be with you through all of 2012. And 2013. And every year after. I want to spend every year of my life with you.” I pulled out a box containing the ring I had been hiding in our bedroom. My fingers struggled to grip the edges and pry it open. It felt like wrenching Arthur’s sword from the stone. Finally I felt it give, and the diamond revealed itself. The sparkles lit up as reflections in her eyes. “Will you marry me?”

The force with which she hugged and tackled me almost knocked the wind from my lungs. It had happened. I was engaged. It was the happiest moment of my life, lying on the floor with a beautiful woman I trusted and loved more than myself. She was warm, and I was whole.

The first time I played through Mass Effect 3, I’m sure I left this conversation alone by now. Hell, I probably didn’t even stick around long enough to hear beyond “I think I’m ready to end it with him.” There are bigger things to worry about, better ways to be spending my time. The Reapers are coming, the Reapers are coming! But now… I’m finding myself transfixed. This conversation makes me all at once mournful, infuriated, and pitying.

I eavesdrop once again. Now Wife contemplates aloud how, “I guess it doesn’t matter how I do it. I just need to tell him about us.”

Mistress responds, “Wait. Us?” I imagine a look, a mix of surprise and dread, washing over the asari. I imagine the blue draining from her face, and a sudden tightening in her stomach. I hope she’s uncomfortable. She struggles to redirect Wife into staying tactful, to just tell her husband that they’ve grown apart. To mention another woman would be “rubbing it in.”

I hope the asari has a partner. I hope they find out. I want to rub it in.Relationships Mass Effect 3 Ashley-620x

I had a fiancee now. I had to plan for the future. I had to provide for her. We talked and decided to move into a new apartment, closer to our places of work. With adventure and joy in our hearts, we set out to search for our new home. When we found it, we both immediately knew. It was a beautiful apartment, and affordable. The carpet was soft and warm. The living room breathed with open air and large windows. There is a patio off of the bedroom, with trees and a small creek just behind the building. With bittersweet goodbyes, we said farewell to our friends in town, pack our boxes, and ship off.

The day we moved in however, I received a call. My fiancee had just lost her job. I could hear her voice cracking as she told me. I panicked. What were we going to do? There was already a new subleaser at the old apartment, and we wouldn’t be able to afford this place now. I found myself getting angry. Furious. I told her once, I told her a thousand times, you need to be at work on time, or they’ll replace you, I thought. I didn’t come home from work that night. Not right away. I was too angry. There was a poison of resent pounding against the back of my brain.

When I did enter the new apartment, she said she was sorry. I told her to talk to me about it, to open up. Because I was the one who should be sorry. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t talk to me.

Now the Mistress and Wife are arguing. Mistress insists she isn’t the reason for the breakup. It’s the war. It’s the distance. That’s what made everything clear. Wife agrees… to an extent.

“Meeting you is what made me realize how bad it had gotten,” she pointedly insists.

Mistress deflects. “I’m not the one who broke up your relationship.”

No, of course not. It was the husband’s fault before, now it’s the Wife’s. It could never be your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. I want to strangle this asari. Shepard stands awkwardly close to the two of them. It’s really not her business to mind, and yet she doesn’t leave. I won’t move the controller to let her.

Wife shoots back, “Was it someone else who pinned me to the wall with her mouth?” I find myself wondering, a bit too much, what the dynamic is between these two. Is it a sex thing? Is it purely physical? Is there something more that they don’t dare pursue? Or are they flirting with disaster, the rush and thrill of danger giving them a constant mental high? Has either one said “I love you?” Has either one secretly messaged the other while in the arms of their partner, “You know, if we were together…”

I feel like I know the answer. I look down to my hands gripping the controller and notice the small indent on my finger: a groove where something once rested, snug and tight.Relationships Mass Effect 3 Joker EDI-620x

My boss and I were good friends. We teased each other about videogames often. We talked about which ones we thought were good, and which were crap. A fierce Halo v. CoD debate was practically mandatory. I rolled my eyes and laughed every time she transformed into a giggling schoolgirl obsessed with her boyfriend, but appreciated her enthusiasm for life. I also realized that, with no job and no one to hang out with other than me, my fiancee could’ve used a friend in the area. I introduced the two, and was happy they found so much fun in one another’s company.

My fiancee soon landed another job. Hard labor, early shifts. She would come home exhausted, mentally and physically drained. I asked how her day went, and she would often reply, “Tired.” Nothing more. Just tired. I would press and ask if she wanted to talk about it. I could see there was much more than just fatigue behind her eyes. “Just tired,” she would tell me. It would occur to me that these times were a test of our mettle. That maybe this work was going to show who we were. Maybe it would be something that would make our feelings clear.

Dropping the subject, I would pick up my controller and play as she sat next to me on the couch. My gameplay days were punctuated by gunfire, the roaring of dragons, the humming of Electoons, and the clicking her thumbs made as they pressed down rapidly on the keys of her cell phone.

I contemplate not listening in this time. I don’t have to eavesdrop on the Wife and the Mistress anymore. I don’t have to. I could just run right past them. The game won’t penalize me.

“Where is this going?” Wife asks. “Because if this isn’t serious, we need to talk.”

“Sophie, we need to talk.”

The Mistress responds, a tone of resentment and submission mixing in her voice. “These are two different things. You’re important to me…”

“You’re important to me, but I don’t feel the same for you as I used to.”

The Wife is confused. Dejected. Her voice sinks. She laments how she’ll lose her partner benefits, including an apartment.

Mistress suggests that, for her own safety, Wife should figure out an exit strategy.

“I thought I had,” Wife says, her voice pinned under the pressure of loss.

I felt I knew. I suspected. I grabbed my fiancee’s phone and looked through the messages. So many from her. My boss. My eyes flipped through page after page, each message lighting a tiny fire in my heart, each one a punch to the stomach. Explicit sexts, doe-eyed longing for one another; each one ran me through like a blade, though none of these messages was so shattering as reading:

“I love you.”

I couldn’t tell if it was the revelation, the lies, or my own weakness that threw me to the floor. I collapsed, my lungs struggling to pull in air as the carpet began to swell and choke with tears. How long? When? Why? The questions came all at once, thrashing against me like bullets and hammers.

Mistress assures the Wife, “I cherish the time we’ve had together. But…”

Days passed, and as I packed my things, I asked the woman I thought I had known, “How are you and…?”

“I don’t know. She says she loves me but all she does is talk about her boyfriend. I don’t think we’ll ever really be together, as much as I would want it.”

“Yeah,” the Wife closes.

“Yeah,” I said as the door closed behind me.

People do funny things when they’re scared. Sometimes they cower, sometimes they stand. Sometimes they work themselves single-mindedly into tunnel vision, focused only on the future and not what the present needs. Sometimes they run and flee the cause of anxiety, into the safety (however temporary) of another person. Who can say which is worse?Relationships closer-620x

I love videogames, and I take them very seriously. Maybe a bit too seriously, I’m sure some of you would say. But this small, insignificant part of Mass Effect 3 produced a reaction in me unlike anything else in games ever has before. It made me think. It made me reflect on the human condition.

That’s what I want more videogames to do, because that’s what art does.

I want them to be seen as art. I want more videogames to show us and make us think about what it means to be human. I want to cry because I’m so upset by what I’ve seen. I want to smile and laugh, too. I want realistic, not-always-pretty, not-always-overwrought portrayals of life, love, and everything in between. It may seem like a pipe dream, but it’s not.

I know videogames are capable of capturing the human spirit. They can make us ask ourselves questions we may not have the answers to, but needed to ask ourselves nonetheless. They can impact us. There was friends and family ready to support me in almost any way I could hope for after my breakup, but it wasn’t until I heard a seemingly insignificant conversation in a videogame that I could truly allow myself to feel everything I needed to feel. By observing a similar situation from a distance in which I had no stakes, I was able to deal with my own thoughts and emotions in a more comprehensive way.

It was a mature vision of a relationship, and one infinitely more true than anything I’d come across before. And that truth was exactly why I needed to see it, hear it, and experience it. That truth is something videogames would do well to incorporate more in the future.

We don’t need every game to do this, of course. I’m looking forward to mindlessly carving my way through zombies in Lollipop Chainsaw, and while many of my favorite games tell great stories, they’re hardly going to make me stop and think about how I’m living my life. But sometimes… sometimes we need our medium to show that it can do that when it wants to; that it can reach those levels of maturity, and that it can make us believe in the power of art.

If nothing else, a real-life failed relationship and an asari Mistress have shown me that much.

Although I did not make the same choices this author made for “my” personal experience of the Mass Effect trilogy, I am impressed and awed by the depth of thought put into writing a post such as this. I will be writing a similar post in the future based on my own Mass Effect choices and how those choices kicked MY emotional ass. Until then…writing such an emotion-driven post will likely prove to be “problematic.”

The Shifty Cow

Just a bit of a beef really. Maybe a big beef. Or perhaps it doesn’t involve Shifty Cows at all?
Have seen (and been unimpressed), by an info-graphic regarding player choices for Mass Effect 3. No idea how they compiled this information and also have no knowledge of whether or not these statistics are a reflection of exclusive Mass Effect 3 players or if the information gathered was compiled over the course of all three Mass Effect titles. But one thing is clear, the statistic shown for percentage of players who saved Kaidan vs. Ashley are wrong.

Shifty Cow

Image copyright: BioWare

Why do I say this? Easy. For the simple fact that should you, the reader, feel so inclined to Google search a Kaidan/Shepard or Kaidan/FemShep romance, the amount of “hits” received from said search blows that statistic out of the water. I’ve no idea whether or not the devs of this game at some point thought that because they “assumed” (I’m guessing here – view the female character images and make your own decision), that their target audience would be young males, Kaidan would automatically get the player shaft when choosing who to sacrifice in the first Mass Effect title.
The trouble is that over the past 2 years, female gamers have increased to 46% of all known gamers and of those who have played Mass Effect©, the majority of female players saved Kaidan. (Except for the ones who went for Garrus, which I think is a bit weird myself, cause seriously? Garrus is your best friend and buddy with a gun. Why would you want to mess that up with romance? But that’s a whole other post, so moving on.) Also, many gay male players also chose to save Kaidan which you will also find in any YouTube search for a Kaidan/Male Shepard romance arc.
So for whatever reason, (which as a huge fan of the Mass Effect universe), I can’t comprehend how players completely disregard all of Kaidan’s awesomely redeeming qualities by chalking it up to – “he whines a lot.” Um what? Did you actually play Mass Effect and listen to what the characters were saying? Or did you just go “meh, he’s a guy and Ashley is hot with that “be first always attitude and big guns?”
But since I didn’t choose Ashley I can’t say, although I’ve seen enough comments about Kaidan that I feel I’m not far off the mark. Which is a shame since as a result of  either deliberate assumptions or oversight on the part of the writers, Kaidan got the shaft in ME3 with a lack of screen time, dialogue and not a heck of a lot of interactions with him. Not too bad if he’s not a love interest, but even as a very interesting and well-developed character, extremely disappointing. Especially if you take into consideration all the great conversations you probably had with him in the first game on the SR1 – SSV Normandy.

Then after several dozen hours or so, you arrive at ME3 and when Kaidan is finally (after nearly playing half-way through the game), a part of your crew, and in great anticipation, you click on him for dialogue and get something like this in return: “Hey, Shepard.” “Can’t wait to get back out there.” Or my personal favorite, “Maybe we can talk later.” (Which if you’re like me are then sitting there thinking uh, wtf was that?) As a writer, I don’t understand at all why any writer would veer off from what was a great character in Mass Effect 1 and turn Kaidan into something he really wasn’t for Mass Effect 3. To show growth and maturity the way they showed and didn’t tell was awful. Kaidan was not like that in ME1 and after 3 years he could have been so much more than what the devs/writers gave him in ME3. Which to my way of thinking is a huge loss. Not just for players, but for the writers as well. Kaidan is a great character, who for whatever reason was hugely over-simplified by devs or writers (no idea where to lay the blame here) to the point that the majority of male players passed him off as not that interesting due to the horrid dialogue he was given in ME2 and 3. As a writer I feel this is more than just disappointing, it’s complete disregard of fan feedback. As a player and lover of the Mass Effect Universe, I also feel it was a betrayal of player loyalty and a huge lack of caring on the part of devs/writers on how fans would react to this “out of character” treatment of  a much-loved and well-developed character.
So that’s my beef. No shifty cows involved this time unfortunately. But if you wold like to see a Shifty Cow, check the top scores in the Combat Simulator. Just don’t turn your back on him – he’ll rob you blind. Huh… maybe that’s a metaphor for some entity that “should not be named” company that picked up the BioWare franchise? Okay nope. Not gonna touch that one. Not even with a Shifty Looking Cow.
That being said, *I* should go. Or maybe it’s I SHOULD go. Or, I should GO? 😉

Endings…

I have been MIA for a couple weeks now, drawn away from my writing practice due to a strong passion for a great game story, namely the Mass Effect trilogy. As a reader and writer I am always fascinated when an author can breathe life into a fictional character and am drawn to discovering the secrets of such an accomplishment.

Copyright: Bioware.com

Copyright: Bioware.com

In the case of Mass Effect, the original authors did this not once or twice, but multiple times with multiple characters over the course of 3 independent games, over the course of a 5-year period beginning in 2007 through 2012.
Not only did they bring these characters to life, but each one has very distinct personalities,complete with rich and varied backgrounds and histories, strong belief systems and opinions and definitive character-defining moments.
This is not something that is easily achieved by an author. Even should an author succeed in bringing to life a fictional character to the point at which readers are emotionally affected by what happens to that character, doesn’t always mean the author will be able to do so in the same story with more than a handful of characters.
In the case of Mass Effect, what has been accomplished with this series, character-wise, is amazing, astounding and extremely note-worthy. As only one of thousands of fans of this story, I too have been emotionally drawn to care about each character to the point that I want to “know more” about each and every one of them – regardless of how big a role they play in the overall plot.
As soon as I have exhausted my immersion into the Mass Effect universe, I plan to explore endings in story, and how for whatever unknown and as yet, never disclosed reason, the writers of Mass Effect chose to end an epic series in such a negative, illogical way. An ending that ultimately lead to some rather loud and undisguised anger and backlash over the authors’ treatment of the much loved characters of Mass Effect and how that treatment lead fans of the series to feel largely betrayed, abandoned and ignored.
Until then, “I should go…” 😀

Writers and Gamers

I grew up in an age of as yet unrealized new technology. The future of the tech world was just beginning to blossom. We had

Copyright: Ubisoft.com

Copyright: Ubisoft.com

Nintendo and VHS players that were just becoming affordable enough that everyone who was anyone had one. Computers were slowly making their debut into the commercial landscape. Admittedly they really weren’t much to brag about, but if you had a computer you were SOMEONE important. Even though computers were not very exciting, no one really believed that eventually we would all want one.

But I digress… again. At the time, video games were something kids seemed to enjoy, although they were nowhere near as graphically beautiful or immersive as games are today. Being a teenager at this time, I saw games as a new way to experience “story” in a whole new way of experiencing someone else’s imagined world.

Today as a writer and a daydreaming, fantasy-loving Pisces, games are a very engrossing, very immersive and addictive form of procrastination. Why write a story when you can actively participate in “writing” a story that stars YOU as the hero? Especially when that world is a beautifully rendered, fully realized and a graphically engaging place that makes you feel you are part of something much bigger than yourself.

Games have evolved so much in such a relatively short period of time, that it’s not surprising to me that today millions of people own consoles and games and spend an average of 10-20 hours a week playing videgames. Which brings me to my next point. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity or desire to delve into the world of video games, I have one question for you. Why the heck not?

Some of the most engrossing and epic stories can be found in today’s best-selling video games. Sure there are those that leave you feeling ‘meh’, but at the same time there are games out there whose story arcs are so deep, so well thought out and so emotionally engaging as to make them epic in the world of story. Looking for inspiration? You only need look at what is currently on the best-seller list at your local video game retailer. Not sure what kids and adults alike are drawn to story-wise in our fast-paced world of tech? Again… video games.

Video games are now part of a multi-billion dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down or fading away. And video game designers always need writers. They need engaging content, then need relevant content. They need writers who know how to engage gamers on an emotional level and who would love to see their written work brought to life by some of the most talented artists out there.

So whether you’re a writer who games or just someone who thinks that games are for kids, think again. Games are slowly making their way into everyone’s daily life. Games are everywhere. They’re in your phones, your Facebook, your tablets and your consoles (if you have them). And as a result the demand for good writers is increasing, which if you’ve never considered writing for the game industry before is a very good thing.

For those interested in games with good story lines, I’ve played only a few that fit that criteria, which I will list below. I’m sure there are more out there, but so far I’ve only come across two or three that contain good story arcs and characters that take your breath away. And I’m guessing here, but I believe this likely due to the fact that good writers have yet to realize what a gold mine writing for games could be. If you haven’t done so yet, perhaps now is a good time to check it out?

Copyright: Bioware.com

Copyright: Bioware.com

Games with great stories and epic characters:  Mass Effect (trilogy). Although its first installment was not all that impressive from a graphic perspective, it does contain over 300 dialogue options and that is no small task to accomplish. But that’s not all, this game goes even further by building on the choices you make in the first game and allowing you to import what you did there into the second and third in the series, making for the most immersive “choose your own adventure” story I’ve played to date.

Red Dead Redemption. What can I say about this game? Red Dead is one of those gems you discover when you’ve finally

Copyright: Rockstargames.com

Copyright: Rockstargames.com

earned all those achievements you couldn’t seem to grasp in your favorite titles and find yourself with nothing to play. As with the other titles I’ve listed here, the story arc in RDR is exceptionally well-planned, well thought out and wonderfully rendered. It engages you, it gets you emotionally connected to the main character and personally invested in his success and/or failure. And again all this is made possible by some very talented writers.

Assassin’s Creed II is another game that fits this category with its beautifully rendered landscapes and emotionally real protagonist who was brought to life by talented writers who knew how to engage their audience. This game is so impressive that even today, fans of the AC Universe still call this the best game of the series, even though they just published Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in October 2013 and ACII came out in November of 2009. Makes you wonder what, exactly, was so special about AC2… having played it, I would have to say it has a whole lot to do with the storyline and the dialogue, which says a lot about the writers behind this title’s success. But don’t take my word for it, play it yourself and find out. 😉

Related: Writing for the Gaming Industry

What Do Video Game Writers Do?

On Becoming a Game Writer

Genres: What’s Your Flavour?

Cover of "Magic Kingdom for Sale--Sold! (...

Cover via Amazon

Do you know what flavour your genre is? In the big, intimidating and more often than not exclusive world of publishing there are just two very basic forms of writing. Fiction and non-fiction in others words, based on real-life events or made up worlds and characters.

For each of these there are an ever-expanding list of sub-categories that never cease to change and evolve, much like the human race itself. On a simplified level non-fiction can include but is not limited to biographies, autobiographies, history, culture, love, relationships and the ever popular self-help.

Fiction has just as many varieties and categories as there are in the non-fiction world but the problem dear readers, is that in order to market your work you must know into which category your written piece falls into. If you can’t figure out what genre you’ve written or what your target audience is you will have a very difficult time marketing your work to the write publisher.

A good example of not knowing your audience or your particular flavour of genre was when several years ago I attended a writer’s group meeting at my local library. The things many of these writers didn’t know was where they fit into the world of books or how to go about discovering whether or not what they had written was had been done before. When they read their short writing samples I was shocked by how little they knew, not only about their target audience or their subject matter, but were completely oblivious to popular works in their category.

For example, an older gentleman read to the group a fight scene between a father and son that had within it a weapon they were using to teach the son discipline while strengthening their relationship as the son “came of age.” The problem was the weapon itself. The author failed to describe the weapon at all. He continued referring to it by the name he’d given it while the rest of us tried and failed to picture what it looked like. I stopped listening after only a few minutes because I could not picture the weapon mentioned, which made it impossible to imagine the scene he described. When we pointed this out to him he was confused that we would need a detail like that just to listen to a sample of his writing when his focus was on the interaction between his characters.

A second author, after reading their particular sample, made knowing your target audience paramount to writing any story regardless of genre. This author presented a story about a young brother and sister team who used their dreams to enter a magical kingdom in the woods at night. While listening, many of the other writers, including myself kept thinking that there was something extremely familiar about this story. When he finished reading, everyone thought his writing was well done, with vivid description and his dialogue wasn’t bad either. But there was just one problem. We pointed out that this story was very much like the popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. To which he replied he had never heard of this story. He was also quite adamant that this book was for young adults, but as a group we said that there would be very few, if any young adult readers who would gravitate to a story like this. When questioned, he admitted that he had never read any books for young adults or children which I felt was not only irresponsible but lazy to boot, considering that you will eventually expect other authors in your genre to read your work. Plus without knowing your competition, marketing your work will be very difficult if you don’t know what is currently popular. If you don’t know your audience, how do you expect to be heard?

When you first begin your writing endeavors you should always be very clear and honest with yourself about what you want to write about, what you’re passionate about and who you want to write for. Once you’ve determined these points, you really must read what is out there in that genre or age group so that you can get a feel for style, content and what kind of genre you want to write. For example, choosing to write a fantasy novel is all well and good, but what kind of fantasy novel? Will it be loosely based on real-world locations? Are your ideas drawn from a time or place in history? Will it be an epic fantasy world that never once mentions this world? Or will it have a link to our present time that allows readers to connect by imaging themselves crossing over into your fantasy world? If you’ve never heard of a book like that, there are several that should be available at your local library – some popular, some not so much. The ones that come to mind are: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, and Terry Brook’s, Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold!

There are a multitude of genres out there but I believe the biggest key to unlocking your success is to know your genre as well as you know the back of your hand, and then some. If you’re writing mystery and suspense, you will need to read at least one from each category that you feel your story falls into. For example in mystery, there are hard-boiled detective novels, whodunnit stories, crime novels, cat-solving mysteries (yes even cats solve mysteries), and forensics and/or csi which could then be termed crime/drama.

Below you will find authors that I have read in different genres that I feel show some of the best talent their genre can offer. What you will not find is authors I have never read nor books that I couldn’t get through even though they may have been on someone’s bestseller list or were recommended by this or that celebrity. You also will not find any romance authors here. I have read many romance over the years but that was long ago and even then they had to be historical in nature or I quickly lost interest. Nowadays, I fill my romance needs by reading stories or novels that also have a great, meaty plot and vivid characters much like what you would find in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

Authors for a variety of genres and/or age groups: Horror authors; Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Edgar Allen Poe, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, and Robert McCammon‘s earlier works. Fantasy/Sci Fi; Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis, Terry Brooks, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R Tolkien, Barbara Hambly, Laurell K. Hamilton, Sara Douglass and Diana Gabaldon. Mystery/Suspense; Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, Kathy Reichs, and Tess Gerritson. Literary Fiction: Maeve Binchy, Jane Austen, George Orwell, Charlotte Bronte, Yan Martel & Margaret Atwood.

I hope that if it was previously missing, you are now able to better understand how to determine what genre your work of fiction may or may not fall under. For a long time, I believed that my greatest passion was to write fantasy fiction. Perhaps that is still one of them, but for now I am content to write as many non-fiction pieces as my muse cares to dictate to me. So long as my momentum doesn’t waver, I am fine with allowing my muse to pave the path I walk upon.