Atlus & Accountability: We Need to Stop Giving Queerphobic Games a Pass

I can’t decide if I’m going to play Persona 5 or not. It’s 2 AM, my eyes are fixed on the searing blue of my computer screen, and I’m railing on Atlus with the two people closest to me, a week’s worth of frustration and feeling condescended to by randos, peers, and friends alike pouring out. I don’t love Atlus. Well, scratch that, I want to love Atlus, and that’s what makes this so painful — like a specially tailored hurt that’s at once callus and personal.

I wouldn’t be writing this piece if I didn’t care. I do care about these games, and I find immense value in having played them. It was in my freshmen and sophomore years of high school that I took the Atlus plunge headfirst into Persona 3 and 4. I was sick back in those first two years of school, mostly bedridden and trapped in a bubble of close yet distant friends. Two friends — no, then one friend — were the only social interaction I had every Friday night, and my schooling consisted of a personal tutor in a public library for around two hours a day. I couldn’t walk without a cane, and the level of exhaustion I felt always tethered me back home.

In his recent review of Persona 5, Kirk Hamilton described the game as an ideal high school sim, but for me, these games took on a special meaning — a perfect escapist fantasy where I could explore themes of identity and friendship during a time when I felt so hollow. I could have a small shred of wonderment satisfied, suspend disbelief, ignore my social famine, and pretend to soar outside myself.

While I used to feel so strongly tied to these games due to their affect on my life, it’s been just over a year since I began transitioning, and my perception has changed. Those early months were something of a marketplace, where a feeling of gut-sinking betrayal was the currency paid to gain an understanding of my place in the American medical, political, and social cosmos. I could no more identify with my old icons than find any solace in them. It felt like a betrayal of the value I once found in these games.

Continue reading “Atlus & Accountability: We Need to Stop Giving Queerphobic Games a Pass”

The Right to Exist: Transition & Affirmation in ‘Final Fantasy IX’

Final Fantasy IX

[Trigger warning: mentions of gender dysphoria and transmisogyny.]

I was in the middle of finishing Final Fantasy IX because XV’s coming up when I realized that my playthrough was decidedly more impactful than a mere way to dredge up hype. I knew I loved the game back in the day, but I had never played it during my transition. So yeah, I’m transgender — presenting full-time, on hormones, doing all the stuff that makes me feel comfortable, and I’m surprised to find that this game feels like a sort of weird reflection of myself now.

Okay, way too dramatic, but I’ve been extrapolating a bunch of stuff that reminds me of my present fears and anxieties. This is a game about identity — how it’s established, refined, and even molded by experiences with others. Over its 40-hour play time, I witnessed a stuck-up (and completely hilarious) knight question his own loyalty and develop into a more independent person, a dragoon terrified of her own erasure, and a princess who learned to better understand herself as she discovered the world.

What about the entire existence of the black mages and genomes, both of whom develop a sense of individual and communal identity through social interaction and personal reflection? Then there’s Kuja, a man who rages against his progenitor for the simple right to exist.

I get it, really, I do — Final Fantasy IX is not a game about me, nor is it representative of trans people in general. I’m bringing a lot of baggage with me that colors my interpretation of the game’s themes. Yet the dilemmas these characters face has resonated with me so much more ever since I accepted my trans identity. I can recall when I doubted myself — when I raged against the kind of affirmation and definition that I now believe in. 

It all started months before this. I was staring at my first torrent of creepy internet messages when some guys on Reddit said they wanted to fuck me, and I didn’t know what to feel. My mind raced. I knew how I was supposed to react, but my disgust was purely cerebral. I started viewing the message as endemic of normalized sexual harassment, and while I was appalled by how casually these men treated me, the feeling was borne of distaste for the trend — not the immediate act. In truth, all I sussed out was terror, guilt, and shame. How on earth could I find this experience validating?

Continue reading “The Right to Exist: Transition & Affirmation in ‘Final Fantasy IX’”

The Curious Case of Sequels: Revisiting ‘Chrono Cross’

Chrono Cross

Gamers have an understandable apprehension towards sequels. Annual franchises treading water and industry luminaries getting lambasted for crowdfunded, half-baked nostalgia grabs have become normalized through gamers’ cynical lenses. Yet while I agree that it is important to be critical of games that resemble factory-assembled products, this wariness of the sequel has resulted in a trend that conflates sequels with an innate lack of creativity.

The rhetoric — as best I can surmise from the nebulous internet sentiment — is that, since sequels are iterative of their predecessors, they’re hamstrung by a lack of conceptual creativity. It’s natural to be skeptical in climate of exploitative, sequel-vomiting publishers, but I find the claim to be rather unrefined. Original works are typically stories all about establishment and the formation of identity, while sequels are invariably tethered to their predecessor. It’s true that both primary and successive games are bound by convention, but they’re left enough creative freedom to subvert, experiment, or even adhere to their given form.

While even my appreciation for sequels has been strained amidst the messy release of Mega Man’s spiritual successor Mighty No. 9, I got to thinking about Chrono Cross — the role-playing follow-up to 1995’s Chrono Trigger — a game that wonderfully utilizes its relation to its predecessor for purposeful thematic illustration. While many games like MN9 rely solely upon nostalgia to justify their existence, Chrono Cross is a game about nostalgia.

The game starts with the player woken by their mother with Trigger’s emblematic “Wake up…” but the the protagonist is no longer Crono. In Cross, players control Serge. Without the natural line’s natural denouement, the reading feels off — like an instrument out of tune. While a mere call-back on the surface, this small moment sets the game’s alien tone. Something is not quite right in the world of Chrono Cross.

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Part of Your World: Through the Years of Exclusivity in RPGs


In my initial contact with role-playing games, the genre held a kind of “mystique” that transcended the on-screen material and established, for me, a tangible allurement; both to that of the games themselves and the people who spoke about them. The narrative and gameplay depth had a captivating air of exclusivity and mystery, so it wasn’t long before I became enamored with the idea of interaction with the people who left YouTube comments I half-understood about that magnificently sprawling game Oblivion.

A critical gem and commercial marvel, Oblivion embodied each facet of my entrenched love of fantasy and newfound infatuation with the idea of role-playing. Of course, this perspective was mostly achieved through the benefit of hindsight and an extensive interaction with the community at large. But at the time? Shit, all I knew was that Oblivion looked fucking awesome.

Human sensibility directly coincides with filters. To varying degrees, we’re all aware of what to say, and the context in which we say it, so our internal filters act as a guide to upholding social propriety. Yet to view the human experience as a continuum of one-sided coffee filters — deciding which grounds are fine enough to let escape — only truly recognizes half of the possible paradigms associated with our ability to filtrate information, and in a vacuum at that.

Indeed, it’s far more apt to perceive humans as a two-way filtration system; that is to say both a representation of the aforementioned “exothermic” information filtration, as well as a permeable endothermic barrier. Just as it would be problematic for an individual to practice their death growls at church, so too would it be for someone to absorb and process all information at all times.

Continue reading “Part of Your World: Through the Years of Exclusivity in RPGs”

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