Video Games

Diversity isn't a Four Letter Word

I decided as part of the scope and focus of the blog that I wouldn't use it to discuss political topics. So, today, instead of using recent events in Indiana as a launching point for this discussion, I will instead use this insanity from the director of the new Final Fantasy 15 video game. He says...

"Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players," Tabata told GameSpot in a recent interview. "Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they'll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way."

I think we can safely assume that the new Final Fantasy isn't going to pass the Bechdel Test. That's pretty unfortunate, for a number of reasons.

  1. I really love Final Fantasy as a series of games. Granted, the past several (all numbered 13 coincidentally) have been moderately terrible, but I've always viewed them as really incredible story telling platforms. It's really disappointing that they are moving in this direction. The relationships between the party members always make for interesting tension and story development, particularly if there is a love story there. They are missing out on a huge opportunity here, if nothing else.
  2. This is a really unfortunate trend that continues pretty much everywhere even in the 21st century. You find it on TV, in Movies, in books, and in video games (not to mention in real life). Even the big, mega blockbusters are absolutely guilty of this. Marvel, for all its money and power, has no female lead cast anywhere, and it will still be several years before the Captain Marvel movie comes along. When the new Star Wars cast was announced initially, there was only one female cast member in the 'new' cast. Oh, and I think she might have been a princess. (Yes those are both Disney movie examples. Sorry) This has been improved upon recently by expanding the cast list.
  3. Finally, the entire point of a cast of characters is to change the behavior of your party. A story is successful IMHO because of the actions and reactions of the characters in it. I read stories almost exclusively for the character development. When the person responsible for implementing a story says he doesn't want his characters to react, I find that immensely troubling.

I recently talked about changing your perspective and why this is so critical as a writer. This applies to character as well as your setting and world building.

My novel has four primary POV characters in it. Three of those four are women. One of those three is African American. This is a stretch for me. I am neither female nor African American. I didn't do this to be able to punch my ticket and say "Yep, Diversity! Hooray!" I did it because I think these characters have something to add to the story. I think they have their own stories to tell, and because they are inherently different people than me, these aren't stories I know right off the bat. I get to grow with these characters and learn about their lives, about their challenges, and about their wants and desires. All of which are necessarily different than my own. I think that's awesome.

Because I have a gender diverse cast of characters, I get to experiment with tropes that are super over done in new and unique ways. I have a damsel in distress, except he's not a damsel. I have several super badass fighters that can absolutely throw down and hold their own without any help from anyone, and they are women. I think these things make my story stronger. I think these things make my story more honest. I think these things make me a better writer.

If you haven't tried writing outside your comfort zone, try it. Maybe you won't publish the first attempt, but seriously, try it. It's a great exercise. When you're writing your character back stories, really look at who you've got in the cast of characters. If it's a first person POV that might be tough to write from another gender. But that's ok. If you have a cast of several characters, ask yourself, what would happen if this one was a woman instead of a man? What if that one was gay, not straight? What if that one wasn't the same ethnicity as the other characters? You never know, it might make your story that much more interesting (and appealing) for yourself and your readers.

Other Mediums

I love the Dresden Files. It is, hands down, one of my absolute favorite series of books. I used to really like the Dresden television show that Sci/Fi did. Then I read the books. In retrospect, I now have a very hard time enjoying the show. The super quirky Dresden with his hockey and drum stick magic wands was, an appealing quirky character. That isn’t the Dresden of the novels, a Dresden I have infinitely more love and respect for. I found a thing I really liked, and went looking for more material in the world and in this case, the new thing I went looking for actually ruined the entry point for me.

This past weekend I got to play the Firefly board game. I have to say, I was impressed. It has a lot of elements that are a ton of fun. As with just about any game, there are elements that are also a bit out of balance. Overall though, it was a really enjoyable experience that felt like it had actually been crafted with the universe that had been created on the show in mind. You actually do fly around in a Firefly class ship (perhaps the Serenity, perhaps not) and do jobs, build your crew, tinker with your ship, avoid the Reavers, and there are definite times when you Aim to Misbehave. It is more or less what happened in every episode of the show. And it's awesome (if a bit long to play).

I mention this and found it blog-worthy because it really is genuinely rare that I found some additional piece of pop culture that I truly enjoy. Usually, in the case of Dresden, I find something I like better and ditch the original thing. Or, in the case of something like The Legend of the Seeker adaptation of Sword of Truth Series I just have a hard time getting into it altogether.

Digging a little deeper, I’ve found some generalities that seem to hold true for me. I typically enjoy movie adaptations of books more than television shows. Fight Club, for example, is so true to the book (in my opinion) that you almost don’t need to read the book. Dune, on the other hand, while a very good film, is a significantly different creature than the original work. Even the recent Hunger Games book to film adaptation was enjoyable, although I could do without the trend of shoveling as many movies down our throats as possible (thanks Harry Potter for setting that trend, despite being, on the whole, an excellent adaptation).

In the television world, I have a hard time finding book to tv adaptations I want to highlight. I mention this because in almost every case, I like either the book, or the television show (or neither), but not both. The Dexter series is truly excellent, but I had a hard time getting into Darkly Dreaming Dexter when I read it. I haven’t looked at the remainder of the series, but I understand that the books diverge significantly from the series of books. I’m not a Game of Thrones fan, but I do plan on watching the series eventually. I have tried to read the books multiple times and still haven’t been able to get into them. Obviously there are countless other examples here. I would be interested in hearing if you have any you like.

The world of games continues to fascinate me. The table top RPG world has opened to in the past to series like the Wheel of Time, and more recently the Dresden universe. The Flyfire board game was a great entry here. Even some video games have graced the shelves (the Wheel of Time PC game was not… awesome).

One thing I haven’t really seen much of yet is the video game to movie movement. Sure, Final Fantasy got a couple of films. Spirits Within wasn’t great, as I recall, but I still love Advent Children dearly (it’s Final Fantasy 7, come on what’s better than that?). Rumors of Halo, Mass Effect, and Grand Theft Auto movies continue to circulate. I actually went and saw the Need for Speed movie earlier in the year with my brother in law, and it as surprisingly not… terrible. I reserve judgment on these until there are more tangible examples. The Last of Us is supposedly forthcoming, and it’s probably the first horror more in over a decade that I will go see in the theater. I plan on talking a bit more about this particular example in a future post talking about long story arcs and how they can be affected in medium jumping. Watch for it!

The bottom line here is that a book isn’t always just a book. So often now a book is turned into one or more media. I just wish more of it was turned into good media. One thing that I think, fairly universally (but not entirely) is that deviation leads to failure. I think so many of the adaptations that I particularly love have in common the concept they are mostly true to the original work. (Yes, Dexter is an exception to this rule, and there are others as well). However, in general, I think it holds true. The series that set out in their own direction, almost riffing on the source characters or material, invariably seem to go down rabbit holes of plots or quirks that fans of the original work will dislike. There is, almost always, so much good source material in the original that inventing quirks for a character is wholly unnecessary.

I hope that the trend continues to follow the Game of Thrones model. Yes there's a lot of source material. Yes it's a lot for a new viewer to jump into. And yes, if you get past these things and stay mostly true to the book, you have a world that is massive and will grab the viewer and suck them in. You don't have to go and invent drama in good fiction. Honestly, if you do, it's not going to work so well. Take Dresden. Dresden has plenty of baggage and quirks. He doesn’t need a hockey stick to pull it off.

Destiny

Destiny came out today, and if you aren’t a gamer that’s ok. Suffice to say, I’ve been waiting for this and I’m pretty excited. As I sit and play the game, it reminds me of doing similar things with Halo (Bungie’s previous franchise) in college. Something I’ve struggled with a lot over the majority of the last decade… wow that’s scary, it’s really been almost a decade since I got my bachelors… is transitioning from ‘college writing’ to ‘novel writing.’

For instance. In my creative writing workshops (and I took a TON of them in school), our assignments were to basically write two short stories in a semester. That accounts to a lot of reading and critiquing for others and not a lot of writing for yourself. Short stories were usually in the 20 page ballpark, somewhere to the tune of five thousand to ten thousand words. I didn’t spend a lot of time prepping for my stories. I would get an idea, I would write them, I would clean them up, and I would turn them in. I really enjoyed writing and I knew it was something I wanted to do. People generally liked my stories (when the professor wasn’t complaining about me writing genre fiction in a literary fiction class, whoops). However, looking back, I realize that I wasn’t really being prepared to be a writer.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to write a book for a lot of years. First, I had an idea for a book. Then, I realized I was being unsuccessful at writing that book, and that maybe I needed some distance from it. So, I tried writing what would have been the second book in the series by my original estimations. I did several early drafts of this novel, but again I found myself not being successful.

Looking back now, I had pretty much the perfect storm of failure stacking up against me.

I had no concept of where my story was going. I was so used to writing just off the cuff based on concepts that I wasn’t really thinking about my characters, wasn’t thinking about my plot. I am still very much a discovery writer, but I’ve learned that you can’t discover your way through an entire novel. You have to have some sort of framework.

Every time I would write a chapter, I would immediately go back and edit it. Then, when I wrote the second chapter, I would go back and edit the first and second. And so on with the third, and fourth. No matter who far I got into the book, I was constantly stalling all forward momentum by going back and trying to make the book align perfectly together. I’ve probably written the prologue for that book over a dozen times, and I’m not sure I ever got past the twelfth chapter of the book (that’s a major issue).

Finally, I didn’t write every day. Well, I still don’t. That’s something I’m working on. See, I’m writing this blog post today instead of revising my book. I would work on my book every couple of weeks. And, since I was constantly revising, I was only actually writing new material maybe once a month.

All of these things totally stalled my ‘next’ book project. It killed it for me, and I never made any progress. When I started working on my ‘third’ book project, the one I just finished my second complete draft of, I was very careful to make sure and write forward. I had specific writing days at first, to get into the habit. I will talk more about the habit of writing in a future post.

If I can reflect back on this experience of successfully finishing a book, I think it’s that I now know that my experience in college prepared me to write, but didn’t do a very good job of preparing me to be a writer.  I wish, in retrospect, that I would have approached those first two books I tried to write in the way I approached my third one. I feel that those failures weren’t completely wasted, because they’ve helped me to get where I am today. I know I still want to write those books, and I hope to someday in the future. They are, after all, related to the story I’m telling now. Maybe it makes sense that I wrote the one I did first and I'll get back to those others some other time. Maybe you could almost call it destiny.

I’ll be talking more in my next couple of posts about how I started to change my writing habits, and some of the tools I now use in my writing to help me stay organized and on track. And, let’s be honest, I love gadgets and fun apps and there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it fun along the way.