Thursday, April 5, 2012

Persona 4, Sexuality, and the Illusion of Choice

Recently, I dusted off my Playstation 3 and decided to try and work through my somewhat extensive backlog. I decided to beat Final Fantasy XIII first. Afterward, I still had that Japanese RPG itch, so next I fired up Persona 4. For those not in the know, Persona 4 was one of the last great games to come out for the Playstation 2. It follows an unnamed protagonist who moves to the small Japanese town of Inaba to live with his uncle for a year.

The protagonist quickly makes friends at his high school and learns of a rumor that if you watch a television that is switched off at midnight on a rainy night, you'll see who you're destined to be with. In a series of events, the protagonist and friends learn that this actually a look into another world inside of the TV. The person depicted in the TV is actually trapped there, and if they stay too long, they will die, killed by their most secret desires and feelings made manifest in a shadow version of themselves. Cue the protagonist and his friends banding together to try to save the people trapped in the TV, whilst also trying to figure who is throwing them in and why.

One of the first characters you save is a boy named Kanji Tatsumi. Kanji is the typical high school punk: doesn't take guff from anyone, yells a lot, likes to get in fights, wears lots of black, etc. etc. etc. His shadow version, however, is quite different. The “dungeon” where Kanji is trapped takes the form of a steamy bathhouse, and from confrontations with Shadow Kanji (who is only wearing a towel, by the by), you learn that Kanji's deep dark secret is that he's gay. Or that's what signs point to, anyway, considering that Shadow Kanji talks about finding the right man and sports a stereotypical lisp and high, lilting voice.

Kanji's confrontation with his shadow self ends like most others; he denies his dark secret, giving his shadow version power and allowing it to transform into a monster. Shadow Kanji's boss form is...interesting, to say the least:


For those who can't tell, that's a large muscular man with a mane of roses wearing a towel, and holding two giant, golden male symbols. Oh yeah, and he's flanked by two other large, muscular men.

Subtlety, much?

Now, other shadow bosses you fight are also over-the-top, but not to this extent. The worst part, however, is after the fight. One of your other party members, Yosuke, starts acting pretty homophobic towards Kanji starting almost immediately after the fight. The worst of this happens later, when your party of characters goes to an outdoor education camp. Kanji hangs out in the boys' tent with the protagonist and Yosuke, the latter of whom goes so far as to say something along the lines of “Are you sure we can be safe sleeping next to you?” Yes folks, classy implied rape jokes!

On top of this, Kanji remarks a couple of times that his real deep dark secret is that he's just afraid of rejection. Any efforts to bring up his sexuality, positive or negative, is met with anger.

All in all, the whole thing is dealt with very poorly and ended up with me feeling uncomfortable every time Kanji's sexuality was brought into question.

This leads to the second topic I wanted to discuss. During the outdoor education segment while Yosuke is berating Kanji, not once am I able to step in as the protagonist and put a stop to the events. Throughout the game, you can respond to questions and events in a Dragon Age style of several different responses/emotions represented. However, I'm not offered the opportunity this time. I have to stand by and watch this happen.

The topics of sexuality and choice extend beyond the game world. In the official strategy guide for Persona 4, published by DoubleJump Books, there is a section that sports an interview where fans asked Atlus, the game creators, questions about the game. I picked out two choice questions and answers:

“jayroo: Looking to the past, specifically [the Shin Megami Tensei series]; will you ever create dual leads for the player to choose from again? Specifically a male or female character?

Atlus: Given the idea that 'the main character is the player' in the Megaten series, we understand that the option of selecting your gender is something we should consider in the future.

Yukichin: In previous Persona games, there's only been one case where the main character could date a character of the same gender. Is there any specific reason why this is? Also, will there ever be the option to have the main character date another of the same gender?

Atlus: Is the first question in reference to Jun Kurosu in Persona 2? We created that scene as an experiment to see how the players would react to this particular scenario. There is a subculture within female Japanese fans of anime and comics where they value relationships between fictional male characters, in a different way than in real-life gay culture. We were wondering if we could satisfy those fans.

In regards to the second question, we have no plans to do so at the moment, but we cannot rule out the possibility. However, there won't be a case where that becomes the principal axis of the game.”

Now wait just a minute here. In one question, Atlus states “the main character is the player.” In another, it denies a group of players for no reason. Not to mention the fact that they had a same-sex relationship in a previous game to satisfy “a subculture within female Japanese fans” rather know, actual gay players. It also begs the question: Why? What possible reason is there to limit the amount of interactivity within a game? Consider also that if a future game were to have a male and female protagonist, one assumes that Atlus would put relationships into the game for both genders. Why not allow all relationships to all characters?

I would like to assume ignorance of a playerbase rather than outright hostility on Atlus' behalf, and given their response, it seems like they just haven't thought about it. Honestly, though, while being overlooked is better than being discriminated against, it's still frustrating, especially when the creators of a game went as far as to make a gay (or “gay”) character, even if they didn't do too well creating said character.

My hope for going forward is that Atlus realizes that there is a community of gay players that would appreciate being recognized and catered to. As it stands, Kanji serves as more of a butt of a joke than a well-written character who is trying to come to grips with his sexuality. It would also be nice to feel like I could actually interact with the events of the story and change it somehow. I feel that a company like Atlus can do better.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"

Oh, Gaga. You are something of an enigma. Part fashion easel, part crazy pop star, part champion of human rights, what can't you do? I, along with millions of others, eagerly awaited the release of Lady Gaga's third album, "Born This Way." What landed was certainly not what I expected. And yes, you should have seen this coming. I am the gay geek, after all.

First, let's get this out of the way: the album cover sucks.

Lady Gaga is a Transformer, apparently.

Now, on to the music itself. Like I said, it's not what I was expecting. I was expecting more songs in the style of her previous two albums, The Fame and The Fame Monster. But what I got was quite different indeed. Lady Gaga has somehow conceived a whole new sound. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but after reading a couple pieces of other reviews, it struck me: she's combining genres in her songs. To me, something like this requires quite a bit of work, not to mention just the idea to look outside of "pop" as a genre and pull from several different musical influences.

Consider Lady Gaga's competition, the other popular female pop stars at the moment. We have Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Britney Spears (or if they were part of the Seven Dwarves, Stupid-y, Trashy, and Batshit Insane-y). Katy Perry is a hypocrite whose biggest song is probably "California Girls", where she states that the biggest reason why California Girls are so awesome is because they're whores. Also one of her singles is "Ur So Gay," where she insults an ex for being more effeminate than her. Classy. Ke$ha looks like she's permanently ensconced in sweat and glitter and all of her songs are about going out to clubs and "hitting on dudes. Hard." Okay. And Britney Spears has been making the same kind of music for the past ten-plus years. See also batshit insane. The one thing unifying these three strong women is the fact that their music is all the same, which is to say mindless schlock that would be fun to dance to. Except for Katy Perry. Her's is just mindless schlock. So if nothing else, Lady Gaga has to be commended for at least trying something new.

The competition. Yes, I'd be intimated by her artistic integrity, too.

Now, when Lady Gaga was recording the album, she stated how she wanted to put in more of a political edge, and...well, rather than trying to tackle the album as a whole, let's look at the songs individually, shall we? As well as looking at the song musically, I'll also try to interpret the song's meaning as I see it. Now, take my interpretations with a grain of salt, since what I say certainly isn't what the song is actually about.

1. Marry the Night (Youtube Link): An interesting choice for the first song. I was going to comment on how you would think the title track would be first, then I remembered that "The Fame" was in the teens on that album, and "Monster" was third on The Fame Monster, so I guess that has never held true. "Marry the Night" starts off slow, building up to a heavy pop beat. The song itself tells of giving in to night life, since that's where Lady Gaga feels at home. A pretty good starter song, very dance-y with a nice beat, and I wouldn't be surprised if it became a single.

2. Born This Way (Music Video Link): The first single released a couple months prior to the album itself, and the first taste of the album we got. Now, I have to be honest: I didn't like this song at first. I think it was the religious references. However, after listening to the song a few more times (and seeing that the "God" referenced in the song is an alien queen Gaga giving birth to other Gagas in the music video [yes, really]), it's really grown on me. That was when the song was originally released, and I must say that I still love this song. It makes me want to dance, easy to sing along without even realizing you're doing it, and has a great message too. One of the best on the album. Also, absolutely insane music video, which is a plus in my book.

3. Government Hooker (Youtube Link): One of my favorites of the new songs (that is, the songs that weren't released before the album), "Government Hooker" is the first song that tries to say something political, and it's just on the fringe, the very edge of actually doing it. Unfortunately, instead of saying anything that makes me think, it doesn't go beyond the title, which is that we're hookers...for...the government. And while I'd really like to say, "Man, that was some biting commentary on the government using its people instead of helping them!" it just makes me say, "Yes, and?" Which doesn't mean it's a bad song, because it is. It just doesn't hit the mark I think Lady Gaga was going for.

4. Judas (Music Video Link): The second single release, Judas is a song about forgiveness. The singer (who is apparently Mary Magdalene, if the music video is, er, "canon") proclaims "Jesus is my virtue, but Judas is the demon I cling to." Very dark beats mixed up with an almost bubblegum pop chorus, Judas is a great song.

5. Americano (Youtube Link): Another new song, very obviously inspired by Spanish and Mexican music. Most of the lyrics are in Spanish, and I have taken the time to painstakingly translate them. That is, I googled what they meant. They...don't really add too much to the overall song. I think the sound of having Spanish lyrics adds to the overall song more than what the lyrics themselves mean. I'm not entirely sure of the meaning of this song, though some lyrics ("I don't speak your languagono, I don't speak your Jesus Christo," for instance) hint at a possible meaning, that of two cultures clashing as well as two loves. I like it!

6. Hair (Youtube Link): The fourth and last single released before the album itself dropped, "Hair" is also an excellent song, with a great message about individuality. There are some weird lyrics ("I just want to be free, I just want to be me, and I want lots of friends who invite me to their parties"? WHAT?), but overall it's fun and catchy.

7. Scheiße (Youtube Link): "I don't speak German, but I can if you like" starts off another rocking song. Gaga then launches into a string of German that serves as the background for the song. What I thought was cool was when I went poking around to see what the lyrics actually meant, I found out that it was pretty much nonsense. So when she says she can't speak German, she actually means it (in the song, at least). Now, when I saw that there was a song whose title means "shit" in German, I was slightly hesitant. But it's actually really good! It basically is about how people (women in particular) have to go through a lot of bullshit in putting up appearances and such. Really good song and one that I skip to if I'm need of a quick dance fix.

8. Bloody Mary (Youtube Link): This song always marks the halfway mark for me (which is basically true anyway) in that the first half of the album is all the hits, the really solid songs, while this second half, starting with "Bloody Mary", is the other stuff (with a solid finish, but we'll talk about that later). So, "Bloody Mary." A song about Mary Magdalene. It's okay, I suppose. It's kind of boring, especially right after the very dance-y "Scheiße." Also, it seems like Lady Gaga couldn't think of new lyrics part of the way in and just fills in some "Dum dum da da da"s. Probably the weakest link of the album to me.

9. Black Jesus + Amen Fashion (Youtube Link): Interesting song. I think it's about taking fashion as a religion? Maybe? Pretty fun song in general.

10. Bad Kids (Youtube Link): I like this song! It's very interesting, and has a message about being a rebel rather than being a sheep, which I like. Also has kind of a weird dichotomy between the chorus which is pretty poppy, compared to the lyrics which is more rock.

11. Fashion of His Love (Youtube Link): I never understood all of the talk about "Born This Way" sounding like a Madonna song, but "Fashion of His Love" totally does. It's okay, I suppose. Just a generic love song in the end. Decidedly meh.

12. Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) (Youtube Link): Fuck yeah, unicorns! I mean, there's other things I could say about the song, but it's about UNICORNS. It's also got a pretty rocking, heavy beat. BADASS UNICORNS.

13. Heavy Metal Lover (Youtube Link): "I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south." Yup. No better way to start a song than with that lovely line! The song itself is okay, mostly forgettable though.

14. Electric Chapel (Youtube Link): Huh, weird song. I dunno, I can't really think of anything interesting to say about this song. It's a toss-up between this one and the next about which one I forget exists until it comes on. Not saying it's a bad song, persay, it's just...there.

15. The Queen (Youtube Link): Pretty good song, even if I do forget it exists sometimes. Also a good message about how we can all be queens if we want. I mean, I'm already there, but others need to discover their inner queen.

16. Yoü and I (Youtube Link): Now we're talking! Lady Gaga is winding up her album, and decides to end on a high note or two. "You (no, I'm doing doing the umlaut again) and I" is a mix of pop and southern rock with a "We Will Rock You" beat. Certainly something I can get behind. My only quibble is that she mentions Nebraska an awful lot. I hope Nebraska isn't, like, the state. Because you should never dedicate anything besides corn to Nebraska. Don't want them to build an ego.

17. The Edge of Glory (Music Video Link): The third single released and the latest music video to come out, "The Edge of Glory" is the last song on "Born This Way". And it's a pretty awesome closer, I must say. It has a freaking saxophone solo. How can you say no to that?!

And that, as they say, is that. Lady Gaga's newest album. It certainly rocks my socks off, though it doesn't stimulate my mind as much as I think Gaga wanted. However, considering that this is her first step towards a more meaningful sound, I think she is doing pretty damn well. From what I've seen, everything that Lady Gaga does, from making a song called "Poker Face" (actually a song about her bisexuality) to wearing a dress made of meat (a statement about the treatment of LGBT people), it is done with a purpose. I am very excited to see what she comes up with next. Thanks for reading!

Gay Geek signing out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection (PSP)

I'm a big fan of the Final Fantasy series, especially the Super Nintendo entries, so when I heard that a remake of Final Fantasy 4 (or 2 when I was a kid*) was coming-out for PSP, I was very excited. Of course, it's hard not to get excited for a new version of the game that not only packages the original game and the After Years (which was an episodic sequel that came out on the Wii's download service) onto one disc, but also comes with a brand new story that bridged the gap. When I got the game, I was blown away by just how good it was.


This version of the game has redone everything. The sprites, the character portraits, the monsters, the world, the spell effects, everything has been redone with a cleaner, prettier look. They even added in some (not very well done, honestly) cutscenes! The whole game looks leagues better than its Super Nintendo version.

Side-by-side comparisons. Top: Super Nintendo, Bottom: PSP.

On top of all this, the game sports a brand new translation which is very well done. This translation fills in some storyline gaps while still keeping in some fan favorite lines.

There also seems to be a definite bump in difficulty, though I don't know if it's above the Super Nintendo "hard version"** or not. It's certainly easier than that awful DS remake***, that's for damn sure.

Now, I waited to post this review until I actually completed the game, which I finally did last night (Zeromus is a bitch). I also went through the Interlude scenario, which was pretty short and honestly felt a bit pointless. I mean the main point of it is to say "Hey, there are monsters again and people are having babies!" which...well, yeah, that's going to happen. Most of the events confused me more than anything. Also, as a side note, Cecil, the main character, should not be allowed to name anyone's child, including his own. One of the other character's wife has a daughter, and so Cecil is asked to be the godfather and name the child. What does he choose? Ursula. I'm sorry, Ursula? Ursula is reserved for sea witches ONLY! Then he names his own son Ceodore.

Final Fantasy as a whole isn't known for its realistic names, but 4 was an exception for the most part. Cecil, Rosa, Edward...mostly normal names in there. So what the hell is Ceodore supposed to be? It's like almost a real name, but just dumb sounding enough to not be.

I'm not going to lie to you, Final Fantasy 4 is my favorite in the series (I think I've beaten it all of 5 times across several versions now), so I am a bit biased, but I think this version of FF4 is truly the complete version. If you're going to pick up any version of the game, it should be this one.

Now on to something a little different. I find it interesting how SquareEnix is giving the special treatment to various games in the franchise. 10 was first, getting its own sequel. Then 7 got special treatment for a while, getting its own movie and several spinoffs, now it seems to be 4 with the After Years and remakes. What I'm wondering is, when will 5 and 6 get this treatment? They're both awesome, and 6 is a lot of people's favorites, and I'd love to see it get the same treatment as 4 has on the PSP. Get on it, guys!

Gay Geek signing out.

*For those who don't know, Final Fantasy 4 was originally released outside of Japan as Final Fantasy 2. The reason was that the actual Final Fantasies 2 and 3, which were both NES games, were never released outside of Japan. Neither was Final Fantasy 5. So we got Final Fantasy 1, 3, and 6 labeled as 1, 2, and 3. Then when the Playstation was released and Final Fantasy 7 was made, they decided to call it 7 in all regions, confusing just about everyone, or just me. Now any other remakes of the series just goes back to the original numbering sequence. And now you know!

**In addition to releasing it under a different title, we also received a different version of Final Fantasy 4 which toned down the difficulty of the game and also removed some character's abilities. When the wonder that is emulation gained popularity, someone saw fit to translate the Japanese version to English so we all could revel in the glory of what was actually supposed to be the game.

***I hated this version of the game. They amped up the difficulty of the game waaaayyyy too much, so that fighting a boss became a chore. Oh, you hit him magic? Well, he's going to counter with this. Oh, you used a physical attack? Well, he's going to counter with this! Annoying. I eventually gave up halfway through because I just got frustrated.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 3, 2011

The iPad 2: Tokyo Drift

So. The iPad. iPad 2, to be specific. I recently received one for my birthday and it has pretty much replaced my laptop.

A picture of the iPad 2 since for some reason mine can't take a picture of itself.

Now, like I said, mine has pretty much replaced my laptop. For one, it's something like an eighth of the weight, so I can actually keep it on my lap while barely even noticing, not to mention being extremely portable. It also doesn't overheat like my laptop does (thanks for that, hp, for putting a mini-radiator on my legs) and runs so much smoother.

However, I am having a couple problems with it. First of all, the extreme ease of use that comes with "man, who needs a mouse when you can manipulate the screen WITH YOUR HANDS?!" suddenly becomes rather frustrating when you realize that your fingers don't have buttons, and neither does the iPad. This makes some more complex actions a bit more frustrating, such as trying to select a block of text. Now, in my mind, it should be as easy as swiping one's finger over the text in question, but, of course, that action is solely used for scrolling. Now, it's not that much harder to actually do it. You just have to hold your finger on the screen until a little magnifying glass pops up on the screen, drag it to where you want it, tap "Select", then drag the corners of the selected word to select the rest of the text you want. And that's it!

Now, that's a bit nit picky, sure, but I do have a couple other, larger problems with the iPad. For instance, there is something that I call The Douchebag Factor. That feeling you get when you see someone at your local Starbucks or on public transportation whip out an iPad or some other fancy bit of technology and start slicing fruit or whatever.

Sign of a douchebag.

Now, if you're like me, your first thought is, "Oh, look at Mr. Fancypants over there with his technological doodad!" And yes, I'm aware of the irony of actually owning an iPad. It's something I grapple with everyday, let me assure you. On the bus, I have to decide just how much I want to pull out my iPad in front of everyone and be judged until (and after!) I leave. Most times, I content myself with simply staring out the window rather than feeling the mental slings and arrows of my fellow San Franciscans. They're quite painful, let me assure you.

The final little quibble of mine is the game selection. Now, I'm not trying to say that the game selection is bad or anything. Quite the contrary! The iPad has hundreds of games in the App Store, not to mention all of the games developed for the iPod Touch/iPhone that you can play on the iPad as well. The main problem is that I can't play the multitude of games I have access to on my desktop PC. Of course, this is more if a personal problem more than anything else. It's not the iPad's fault that it was built the way it was. It's Apple's fault. It's just annoying that I have to put down what is basically a laptop and grab my laptop or go to my desktop to play a game that the iPad should, technically, be able to run.

A picture of Infinity Blade, one of the forerunners of what kind of technology can be produced on the iPad.

This is all, of course, connected to the fact that, apparently, Apple doesn't want you accessing the guts of your iPad. You can add Apps, sync music, and download photos and such, but you aren't allowed direct access to the hard drive in an explorer-like fashion.

However, at the end of the day, I'm willing to look past all that. Because it's fucking cool.

So, if you can tolerate the quibbles I've stated and don't mind looking like a complete ass around your friends, the iPad is a very powerful, accessible, and fun machine.

And this post has been way too long.

Gay Geek out.

Location:San Francisco, CA

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Gay Geek: Welcome!

Hello and welcome to my blog! I am The Gay Geek.

I started this blog for two reasons, the first being that two of my housemates also started blogs and the second being that summer vacation has started and I need something to do. So here we are!

I plan on using this blog as a medium to weigh in on various items, from games I've played to news stories and such. I'm into a lot of geeky things: video games, board games, card games, science fiction, fantasy, I'm also a theatre student, so I'm a bit of a theatre name it, I like it (well, almost).

This is a video game. I like those!

First point of interest: my original title for the blog was going to be "The Gay Nerd". Then I decided to look up what the actual difference between a geek and a nerd was. Apparently nerds are more socially introverted, which I'm not (see: theatre student), so geek it is!

Also, I did pull up a site that was basically a "discussion" on the difference between geeks and nerds. I put discussion in quotation marks because it was basically the two sides saying "MY group is better than YOUR group because of THIS arbitrary reason, so HA!" The debate rages on, apparently.

These are men. I like them too! Notice a trend?

So, in closing, welcome. I hope you enjoy yourselves as I start posting some more content. Gay Geek signing out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad