Saturday, 28 February 2009

and she may cry, but her tears will dry/when I hand her the keys to a shiny new Pastalia....

Further to my previous "no Reyvablog posts until Sunday" missive, winters just made a guest post over there, so there's something up right now after all. :) Go check it out.

Did another Reyvablog photoshoot in SL last night; mostly just test shooting, putting together new avatars for some story-related snaps we're going to take later, but got several images in the meantime that I wanted to show off (as well as a little outtake comic that I'll post after tomorrow, since it contains spoilers for the current plot).

Mir and Lyuma 2.0 chilling at the Mirbunker as furnished by IKEA, and looking far more villainous than they really ought. If you were wondering exactly what happened to neonsunray and what she looks like as a result, here you go; that respirator actually makes some pretty terrifying hissing sounds in-game, by the by. 1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Just a random shot I thought was amusing; it looks like Mir's checking out a stain on the carpet.

And, at long last, our esteemed blogger herself, AR, enters the picture! And is also chilling at the Mirbunker, for the reason that we'd already set up the room and were basically just putting together her avatar. 1 / 2 / 3

And, taken a while back, but haounomiko got some wonderful glamour shots of briyante posing and enjoying the Tenba facilities-- and IIRC none of you have seen what she looks like yet, so I had to show these off when I got them in my inbox. 1 / 2 / 3

And finally, courtesy of haounomiko-- JAKURI PER4MANCE UPGRADES 4 UR MIND. That's all I have to say.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Secret Jakuri costume!

For those following the current Reyvablog plot arc, just letting you know that our next update is planned to be on Sunday; do tune in for that. As of now, all our characters can do is wait for news, and control of that is in Mir's hands....

In the meantime, tide yourselves over with this awesome discovery I made in AT2. By fulfilling certain super-secret criteria in game that have been previously undisclosed, you can access Jakuri's ultimate, hidden costume... the "Standard (AT1)" costume.

Yes, it is what you think it is. (Slightly NSFW image; nudity covered by hair on tiny pixel person?) And yes, the silly damage numbers are because I was trying to take a picture of the screen and get to a decent frame of the battle at the same time.

...okay, okay, so this was totally 'shopped, but you have to admit, when you first found out Jakuri's secret, you all wondered whether she'd have this costume.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Reyvateil rights goodies ahoy!

Just so you know, you can now treat yourself, courtesy of the Reyvablog, to a selection of pro-Reyvateil-rights goodies! We've got shirts, caps and mugs in a variety of designs, and we've done our best to make everything size- and style-inclusive within the limitations of Cafepress' system-- if you need something in a size or style it isn't in, let me know.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all of you-- the proud, the few, the greatly appreciated-- who have participated in the Reyvablog up until now. We couldn't have done it, and couldn't continue to do it, without you, and trust me when I say that all of you who've participated have contributed something invaluable. You've all played along with the spirit of the blog extremely well, needing little guidance or instruction, and it's been inspiring to see what you've all done with the format. You've challenged our expectations, brought in new content and plot twists, and generally done an excellent job of Getting It. We hope you'll stick with us until the very end; the best is yet to come, so do keep checking back for updates, as we're forging ahead with the plot.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

Not normally the kind of subject I cover over here in my fanblog, but... this is absolutely fascinating, and bears mentioning everywhere.

Wikipedia article
An excerpt from Walter Wink's original essay on the subject

Even before I got to the point in the Wikipedia article where it mentions videogames, I was thinking, "this is my problem with most RPGs". Discovering this myth allowed me to locate the missing piece that's always eluded me when talking about how I think violence is too often assumed to be the default solution even in games that otherwise promote pacifism; how the concept of a "battle system" undoes the good that many games try to encourage through their storylines; how developers seem to be incapable of realising the conflict between their use of battle mechanics and the messages of their games.

They are incapable of realising it.

It's endemic. "Good arises only when you have defeated (the physical manifestation of) evil; therefore, beat the bad guy" is such a standard plot that even cartoons for very young children feature it. Sure, they'll include caveats so as not to appear too bloodthirsty, like the bad guy retreating while cackling "I'll get you next time!" rather than being killed, but the core plot remains: we mst conflict with the servants of evil, and we must triumph.

If I believed in Satan, I'd be up for saying this is Satan's biggest lie; I certainly now know how Christians feel when they make that kind of statement. Of course, the idea of Satan is in itself forged from this myth, from the idea that an entity can personify evil and that this entity must eventually be hunted down and destroyed, but the sentiment behind at least that statement-- that humanity has, for countless years, operated under the influence of a lie so seductive that the vast majority don't even know they're being seduced-- makes sense enough. We're pretty good, as a species, at telling ourselves lies; it's an unfortunate side-effect of the fact that we make sense of our lives through telling ourselves stories. We're good at telling ourselves that the current hated group of the day is really out to get us, that freedom isn't and by implication never should be free, that the good guys always triumph and, as such, if we triumph then we must be the good guys.

There's nothing wrong with good winning, but the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house, to quote one insightful individual. If we use violence to attempt to best evil, we only play into evil's hands; for there is no such thing as evil, really, other than our oppression of each other with violence in word, deed and thought.

I want to see society stop using the master's tools to try and dismantle the master's house. I want the lie that we should strive to fight evil, to maim evil, to laugh in the face of evil as it dies-- no, even to reluctantly glance back at the fallen corpse of evil, and say "it was regrettable, but it had to be done"-- to be undone. Because evil isn't a living thing; it's a concept. What lies before you is no more or less than the corpse of a being that was once alive, slain by evil itself. You can't kill evil, can't stick a knife through its heart.

And that disturbs people who've been raised on the myth of redemptive violence, because they feel powerless unless they can lash out, unless they can stab, unless they can subdue, because that's what society tells us winning is. And that's why we need to stop teaching people that myth, because it makes us feel sure that to do good, one must hurt evil, and leaves us feeling hollow when we can't hurt, when we can't attack, when we can't conquer. Most people would feel unsatisfied if they got to the end of an RPG and there was no final boss battle. We need the "satisfaction" of defeating our enemy. We need it because we've been raised on the myth of redemptive violence.

Once we recognise that this is holding us back, as a species, from resolving all of our problems, we'll finally begin to grow. I'm confident the world will come to realise it in time. After all, so many of you already do.

Peace won by the sword will fall by the sword. I've always thought this statement was profound; turns out I hadn't even realised the extent of its profundity until now. With one carefully-tuned phrase, Mir both echoes both the words of feminist writer Audre Lorde and attacks-- no, not attacks; she rebuts; see how easily it creeps into our language-- the myth of redemptive violence. Tellingly, she says this when you're about to kill her, when you take the bad path in AT1. Even more tellingly, perhaps, she says this even while preparing to fight you, even after a lifetime of fighting. She knows it's true, but she can't escape, because the myth is such a seductive one: just beat the ones oppressing you, and your oppression will be gone! But it doesn't work like that, because every act of violence is an act of oppression, and the oppressed, and those who cared for them, will strike back in turn; and on it goes.

This is the lesson Mir teaches. This is the lesson that, if you fight against her, she recognises yet fails to embrace the whole way, because someone has to drop the sword first; and if it's not you, why should it be her? Why should she concede? It shouldn't have to be any of us, we think, but it needs to be one of us, because, as the bad ending shows, otherwise the violence never ends. It needs to be one of us, even if that one is the one who was attacked first. Even if we're in the right. Even if we have every reason to want to fight back. Someone has to. Someone has to, or else no one will.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Showing off my talk topic collection....

Gratuitous completion-bragging ahoy! Don't click if you don't want to see pics of maxed-out affection stats/talk topic grids (also shows one of the late-game costumes). Really, that's all it is; nothing special here. Just shameless "yay, I maxed out Jakuri!" picspam. See my previous post if you'd like something more meaty/informative/interesting.

Talk topics, 100%

Stats, 100%

The way to Jakuri's heart....

Apparently, this is to be the 100th post on exec_harmonious. Given the purpose for which the blog was opened, I can't think of many more fitting subjects for this anniversary post than my completion of AT2, on Jakuri's route.

Spoilers for the entire game and for Jakuri's path follow, blacked out for your convenience. Don't read until you've finished the game. (Spoilers for WALL-E, too, if you were planning to go see that movie. Yes, I am comparing the two. Don't ask.)

Ever since I finished AT1 and started dwelling heavily on Mir's role in the game, I've been hoping to see a game in which Mir finally fulfils her childhood dream: the creation of a perfect world. Her dream was never a flawed or selfish one; it was only the methods by which she attempted to realise it that left something to be desired. I'd always hoped that we'd get to see her in a position to finally craft her utopia-- one much more positive, one much more pure, than one that requires genocide in order to bring it about.

From the events that transpire in AT2, one of my biggest speculations about how the series will go has, I think, been confirmed. Simply put, the AT series is, overarchingly, about Mir. It's about one person's quest for a paradise.

Born the most powerful being in the world with a heart full of hope, she was pushed so far into negativity by human mistreatment that for a time she sought to tear the world in two in order to accomplish her dream of utopia. Yet eventually she overcomes this, and continues to work for a perfect world. For large parts of the first game, we've no idea that it's her story. She's not even named. But over the span of the first and second games we see that her plan for the world's future has shaped, underpinned and intertwined with a good portion of the events of the series so far, and that the individual struggles that happen along the way, while important, are also wholly dwarfed by the sheer scale of her plan. Metafalica is small beans to her; she doesn't, ultimately, have a huge investment in its happening. She's got bigger fish to fry, much bigger than Metafalica, much bigger than saving the people of an entire continent. She wants a paradise for the world.

In AT1, she is thwarted from making it, and ends up realising that her way is not the right way. In AT2, one is created, but it won't serve all the people of the world. In AT3, presumably, she plans to finally bring her world-renewal plot to fruition... and what a wonderful world it will surely be, better than either Metafalica or Reyvateilia could ever have been, exclusive of large parts of the world as they were.

Very few other stories to date have followed such an interesting character as Mir: a good-guy-turned-bad-guy-turned-good-guy-again who dreams on a much grander scale than most of the other characters can conceive of, and who, if the plot's focus on her is anything to go by, is likely to ultimately make her dream a reality. True utopias aren't often created in RPGs. Mir is one of the few characters who I believe could do it.

Turning away from Mir's grander dreams and towards her more immediate life plans, I did rather like her ending. It's full of all the same ambiguities and conditionalities that have characterised her Cosmosphere; she's constantly at pains to point out that she has a lot of reservations regarding ever being with a human, and that it may very well not work out long term. She's not willing to say forever. She's not even willing, even at the climactic moment, to say that she loves Croix. She's making it crystal clear, in case he had any doubts whatsoever, that things won't be easy for him and she won't go easy on him. The relationship is to be conducted entirely on her terms. I wouldn't expect any less from Mir, and I'm glad she was done justice here.

I also do particularly like that the way to her heart, ultimately, was through a song. This seems particularly fitting for Mir, who needs, perhaps, more than any of them, to be related to as a Reyvateil, to be approached on her own terms rather than forced into a human-normative mould regarding relationships. Croix, in the end, couldn't win her over with human gestures, human kindness. She'd seen in the past how fake such things could be. The only way he could persuade her was through the language that could speak to her on a core level, the language she knew could not lie; the language of song.

If any scene between the two of them was truly romantic, I think it was this one. It's a love story in which a human encounters an alien being, falls in love, and, at the climax, professes that love using the alien's own methods of communication, foreign as they are to him. I think this is important, because-- if you'll allow me to delve into film/literary criticism for a spell-- there are far too many stories in which the alien character, who in symbolic terms is representative of "the Other, people who are Not Us", eventually comes around to human, "normative" ways of thinking, and thus transcends their "lesser" alien nature and becomes acceptable as a being equal to the humans. The climactic moment of these stories, often, comes when the alien finally learns to do something humanlike that we see as endearing, such as hug or kiss or say "I love you".

Take WALL-E, for example, Pixar's latest blockbuster movie about robots in love. Even though neither of the main characters are human, or have reason to act in human ways, the climatic moment of romance comes when the more alien robot is able to imitate the more human-like robot. At first, she doesn't understand the meaning of holding hands; but WALL-E, who's watched human movies, teaches her that this sentiment is a great way to express her feelings. When she finally does so, abandoning her alien-like personality temporarily in exchange for a more human-normative one, we recognise this as a good thing, a beautiful, positive moment. She's changed. She's become more appealing to us-- because she's become more human.

Now, I rather liked WALL-E, don't get me wrong. I thought it had a lot of good feminist messages in it, for one thing. I'm just pointing out that this is a trope that's endemic to Hollywood, perhaps to our current understanding of narrative in general, and that it's not a particularly good thing. If the unfamiliar always has to become like the familiar before it can be seen as "good", that sends the message that those who aren't like most of us, those who seem strange and foreign and Other, must succumb to our way of thinking, to the normative, dominant culture, to be acceptable.

And so I liked AT2's twist on this message. All Croix's human words will not woo Jakuri, nor does she particularly want to be wooed. She's not eager to concede to him; she's not a savage looking to be made civilised. She's perfectly content to remain as she is, and she'll quite happily move on without him if he doesn't do something. He is the one who has to prove himself worthy of her, not the other way around. He is the one who has to change, to show that he understands her way of life, because she will not bow to him, not one inch.

So he sings to her, in Hymmnos. Because that's the language she understands best. Song is the energy that drives her life. She's not just a human with an install port; she's a Reyvateil, through and through, an utterly alien being. Croix will have to understand that if he wants to have any chance of building a life with her. And so he shows her that he does.

And while I'm still not convinced that any human is truly a good match for her, if Croix did anything, in the whole of the game, to prove that he comes anywhere even close to being potentially worthy of her-- to prove that he's even in the ball park-- it was that. And I liked that, because I wouldn't have wanted her to settle for anything less.

(It was a nice song, too.)

Also, note that I probably won't be updating Reyvablog until Monday, due to generally being busy with personal stuff (and having to work out precisely where the current plot arc is going). Expect the next post then. :)

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Huntin', racin', and chasin' the wimmins

So I decided that at some point I wanted to get a box shot of AT2 "in the wild", as it were, so I dropped by a GameStop while I was out yesterday to fire off a quick candid snap.

Sadly, it was on the top shelf, so I couldn't really get a great picture. It does, however, do a pretty good job of capturing all that's disappointing about the gaming scene these days. I'm not arguing that there aren't some great, fun, innovative new games being released, or that the games industry has completely sold out to the lowest common denominator, or something. It's just a particularly unpleasant spread, all said and done. AT2, with its "revamped", super-sultry NA box cover specifically designed to grab the hormonal adolescent's attention, sitting next to: a compilation of a series of racing games famed for their emphasis on reckless driving and spectacular, explosive crashes; the "Worlds (sic) Number 1 Hunting Games" (a double dose of macho, clearly: nothing like blatant disregard for the sanctity of life and the sanctity of grammar all in one package!); and a display box crudely enticing you to "cash in on your past conquests". Never before have I seen such a comprehensive example of how certain sectors of the games industry love to sell the idea back to gamers that they should think with their testosterone (because only men game, of course), not with their heads.

I'm not saying all of the things seen here are bad, and I don't think any of them are deliberately placed, or anything. The "cash in on your past conquests" boxes are all over the place, though that doesn't make them any more revolting (and the positioning next to AT2 is unfortunate); they're a slur against responsible relationship practice (and, given the male-targeted nature of most games advertising, almost certainly a slur against women) and a slur against seeing videogames as anything more than "conquests" all at the same time. (What happened to the idea that both one's relationship with a person and one's relationship with a videogame are precious things to treasure and carefully uphold, not to merely "trade in" the minute something new comes along?) And I admit to having played some of the Burnout games, and they're mindless fun in a cathartic sort of way; I don't think they're horribly amoral, or anything, especially since the emphasis is on blowing up machines and enjoying the explosive fallout, not thinking of them as containing actual people. Just, like I said, it's a sad spread. And I didn't really notice until I looked at the picture at home. It's an interesting snapshot to have captured of a certain trend in gaming in 2009, I guess.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Cosmospherical reflections

Spoilers for Jakuri's Cosmosphere, up to and including level 9, in the blacked-out text.

...So apparently Jakuri's dream is "all you can eat pancakes". In honour of this, we went out for pancakes the other day; they weren't supposed to be the all-you-can-eat variety, but in practice the servings were so large that a regular one ended up being all we could eat and then some, so there were leftovers for breakfast the next day too. Mmmmm, IHOP.

I've now cleared Jakuri's Cosmosphere-- with aquagon being an invaluable help in my quest to heal her heart, as I ran into sticking problems with acquiring several of the talk topics-- and I have to say that I'm surprised at how much I got right about her, in my reflections and in my various writings. I was pretty sure that most of the stuff I wrote about in the AT Whistleblower was going to be blown out of the water by canon, but they're really pretty compatible, and some of the coincidences regarding minor details I'd imagined being present in her Cosmosphere are downright spooky. It's heartening to see that I really have understood her, in some ways, all along.

I was also pleased to see the game acknowledge that she'd still have some reservations towards even a human who'd cleared her Cosmosphere. She couldn't bring herself to hug Croix at the end, nor could she guarantee that there wouldn't be times when she'd be angry at him for being what he was, when just seeing his face would remind her of all she'd been through and upset her. I thought that was a fairly realistic depiction of the troubles any relationship between her and a human would face, all said. I didn't feel like they forced her into being too OOCly fluffy in order to pair her up with Croix, which was my main concern; I felt like in AT1 the characters were often warped out of proportion and made to concede points they wouldn't concede so that they could be more amenable to a relationship with Lyner, and I feel like that happened a lot less here (probably in part since for the vast majority of people to consider a relationship with Lyner you'd have to warp them pretty badly out of character).

That said, there are a few things I would have liked to have seen in there that I didn't. For one thing, I wanted to know more about precisely what happened during her rebellion; what that was like for her, what she felt about fighting a war in which countless people died. Not just her guilt and her struggle to accept herself afterwards, but what, exactly, the experience was like at the time. I think I also wanted to know more about what humans were using her for exactly; we get hints that she was being used as a weapon against the rebelling Reyvateils, but I'd like to have heard more about that.

It would have been nice if Harmonious had got to be a spell, too, but that's kind of wishful thinking. XP

More thoughts on this later once I've digested the whole game, perhaps.

Also, if you're following the Reyvablog, you'll probably want to check today's post, as the plot is moving on in quite a surprising direction....