Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

Blossom Tales is a Zelda clone modeled on A Link to the Past with graphics that feel like a cross between Final Fantasy IV and Secret of Mana.

It’s a cute game that takes about six or seven hours to complete, and it is delightful.

The world design is intelligent, the writing is clever, and it’s a lot of fun to walk around and mow grass while collecting various items and discovering secrets. The dungeons are a bit tedious, but the level of challenge is relatively balanced, with no inexplicable puzzles or sudden jumps in difficulty.

It probably won’t surprise anyone that I play a lot of Zelda clones, but I never make it past the first hour of most of them. Blossom Tales is good, though. It’s fun to play, and the Princess Bride style frame story of an older man telling his grandchildren a story that is most definitely not *cough* Legend of Zelda works well as a lighthearted metacommentary and a source of jokes and silly puns.

I know it’s not that easy, but now I kind of want to make a Zelda clone too.

“Sorry about your ass.”

A lot of the dialog in the Final Fantasy VII remake is not well written. It’s like someone turned the original game into a weird cringe comedy, and the game itself is the cringe.

A good example of this is the character Wedge, who is fat. We know he’s fat because that’s (almost) his entire character. Just in case we forget, there’s at least one fat joke every time he’s onscreen.

During the game’s second trip above the plate, Jessie takes Cloud, Biggs, and Wedge to her house in Sector 7 so that Cloud can appropriate her father’s Shinra employee badge while Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge distract her mother. The “nice” suburbs of Sector 7 are soulless and awful, and it turns out that Jessie’s father is in a coma after coming down with mako poisoning. The fact that this easily preventable accident was caused by corporate greed and mismanagement convinced Jessie to give up her dream to become an actress and join Avalanche, but the situation with her father is so dire that she’s been lying to her mother to keep her from worrying.

This should be a powerful and sobering moment in the game, but the atmosphere is broken by jokes about how Wedge wants more pizza and hasn’t had enough chips. Because, you know, he’s fat. Aren’t fat people hilarious? It’s too bad Jessie’s father is in a coma, but at least he’s not fat! Ha ha ha!!

I put the game down every time there’s a line that physically hurts me, so I haven’t been making much progress.

2020 Writing Log, Part Seventeen

– I finished grading, and I submitted the final grades for the semester. After reading through everyone’s work, assigning precise point values, and making exact calculations, I decided to give everyone some version of an “A.” What do I care? No one will challenge me, and I want the students to be happy and successful.

– I replied to all of the comments I received on AO3. This was a lot of fun, but it took all of the time I would normally have devoted to writing Malice. That’s cool, because I needed a break.

– I sat down and made a bunch of edits to my story descriptions and tags on AO3. I tried to strike a good balance between “informative and descriptive” and “overwhelming.” I’ve also been trying to negotiate the tricky space between “what’s unique to my stories” and “what’s popular on the site.”

– I finally posted my review of Chris Kohler’s book on Final Fantasy V. It’s a short review, but it’s also a short book. I wish I could have done a more thorough job, but I needed to get this out there so I can move on.

– I finished a rough draft of “Don’t Eat the Fish,” which ended up being about 2,000 words. It could have been longer, but I think this is a good length for an anthology submission from an unknown writer. I’m going to let it sit for a month and return to it during the first week of June.

– I wrote the first five stories for Haunted Houses. I also got in touch with the artist I’d like to create the cover, who seems to be onboard and enthusiastic about the project.

– I sent out a lot of Etsy orders this week. I’m happy my zines are doing well, but I’m considering raising the price of each zine from $3 to $4 to help cover the cost of shipping, seller fees, taxes, and manufacturing. At first I told myself that putting my work on Etsy was just for fun, but I’m starting to realize that I’m literally running a business.

– I’m totally sold out of stickers, and the manufacturer I usually use, Sticker Mule, seems to have been bought out and furloughed by Amazon. I therefore ordered several new sets of designs through StickerApp. The site is somewhat difficult to use, but I think (I hope?) I figured it out.

– I finished a Moleskine sketchbook I’ve had since last November. This is probably the last one of these I’ll buy, as the paper is thick but doesn’t handle Copic markers well. In addition, I think I’d like to start doing all of my serious sketching digitally from now on. If I want to start drawing comics for The Demon King, I’m going to have to get better at drawing with a stylus.

– I finished my third Fabriano sketchbook in three months. I’ve been doing a lot of anatomy studies lately, and I swear I’m actually getting worse. I wish I could take an actual art class that isn’t online or some sort of anodyne amateur-hour bullshit for “adult learners.”

– I put together a few more pages of a Legend of Zelda fan art zine, which I think I’m going to call “The Legend of Cutie Pies.” Finishing this zine is going to be the end of drawing Zelda fan art for me, at least for a while.

– With that in mind, I’ve been wrapping up all of my Zelda fan art projects. During the past week I posted three pieces: a Breath of the Wild 2 gift comic for a friend, a Wind Waker digital art card for a friend, and a Zelda/Ganondorf drawing that I did for no one but my own ridiculous self. I’ve got two more unfinished Zelda-themed illustrations on deck, and I’d like to go ahead and finish them up so that I can post them during the coming week.

All of this might seem like a lot, but it’s not much more than me gradually picking away at small projects.

I think it’s probably okay to admit that I’ve been severely depressed for more than a month now. I worked really hard on a book that just came out, but the timing of the release couldn’t be worse. All of my talks and panels have been cancelled. I had a handful of articles and reviews returned to me with the explanation that the journals are “on indefinite hiatus.” The semester is over, but I can’t celebrate with my students. The university that recently fired me on the basis of disability keeps spamming me with “self-care” emails. My mother is in an ICU hospital ward, and there’s still no way for me to contact her. Meanwhile, multiple crazy assholes with guns are shooting black men in broad daylight. Oh yes, and tens of thousands of people are dying in a pandemic that could have been prevented, or at least better contained.

It’s hard to get things done when I can’t concentrate on anything for more than fifteen minutes at a time, but I’m doing my best. Good luck to all of us, I guess.

Disrupting the Heroic Narrative

I spend a lot of time talking about the character Ganondorf in the Legend of Zelda games as a symbol for the disruption of monarchies, with “monarchies” serving as a cipher for “entrenched power structures based on arbitrary hierarchies of privilege.”

A response I occasionally get, especially on Tumblr, is the assertion that the people who worked on the Zelda series couldn’t possibly have put this much thought into suggesting that Ganondorf is a figure of resistance because they’re Japanese. According to this line of reasoning, Japanese developers wouldn’t hint at the necessity of challenging authority because Japan is a constitutional monarchy.

Japan is indeed a constitutional monarchy, but Japan is also a modern postindustrial society with a highly sophisticated media culture and an enormous population of roughly 126.4 million people. As with anywhere else in the world, it’s impossible for a generalization about the political views of a population of that size to be accurate.

In addition, many progressive thinkers in Japan have been highly critical of Japan’s imperial household and its symbolic role in enabling some of the darker chapters in Japan’s history.

To give an example, Junichiro Tanizaki, often celebrated as one of Japan’s greatest twentieth-century writers, translated The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese during the Pacific War as a form of protest, as the eleventh-century court romance suggests that the imperial line is very much “broken,” as well as undeniably human.

More recently, Kenzaburo Oe, who received the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, has been a vocal critic of the emperor system and the role of the United States in maintaining it. Haruki Murakami, who is often dismissed because of the popularity of his novels despite being an extremely political writer, has published an extensive body of work challenging Japan’s imperial legacy and advocating resistance against the shadowy forces that allow its ideology to persist into the present.

What I’m trying to say is that stories about toppling monarchies aren’t rare in Japan.

Although Nintendo has frequently been used by Japanese officials as an instrument of international soft power – Shinzo Abe wearing a Mario hat to announce that Japan would host the 2020 2021 Summer Olympics, for example – Nintendo is an international corporation and no more an arm of a national government than the Disney Corporation is a mouthpiece of the American state. Moreover, like Disney, there are hundreds of artists and writers working at Nintendo, and the views of the individuals creating the media licensed by the company may not align with the company’s brand image. In the case of Nintendo in particular, a lot of the key players in Shigeru Miyamoto’s generation don’t make any secret of the fact that they belonged to various counterculture movements when they were younger.

What creators working for these giant publishers do is what artists have always done – they tell stories that will appeal to a broad audience on top of stories that are much more serious and subversive. For example, Lilo & Stitch is about “ohana means family,” sure, but it also sets up a real conversation about the various “aliens” who have come to the Hawai’ian islands and how these flows of people and culture have affected the native population. In the same way, the Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon games are about stopping bad people from hurting animals, but they’re also about how economic development impairs local communities in Hawai’i, not to mention how many of the research foundations that come to the islands to “protect nature” are just as bad as the corporations. These secondary stories aren’t hidden or otherwise kept from the audience, they’re just more apparent in the details of the story and setting than in the main narrative.

So, while the Legend of Zelda games feature a mix of Arthurian legend and Tolkienian fantasy that informs their easily digestible stories about “brave heroes saving our sacred land from evil forces,” they’re made by intelligent adults who are entirely capable of using themes relating to “empire” and “divinity” and “heroism” to offer critiques regarding what this sort of mentality actually does to individual people and entire nations. Even if these games aren’t directly addressing Japan’s imperial legacy – and there’s no reason for them to do so, because not everything coming out of Japan needs to be about the Pacific War – adding this sort of political and emotional complexity to the story is just good art.

I’m not denying that there are clear undercurrents of nationalism in the Legend of Zelda games – and sometimes, as in the case of Skyward Sword, giant waves of nationalism – but I think this is endemic to the heroic narrative that structures the gameplay of the series. The archetype of “the brave hero who fights to defend their homeland against malevolent outside forces” goes back to the earliest recorded human stories, of course, but I think the nationalistic elements of this narrative have been emphasized by the cultural context that shaped the heroic fantasy that directly inspired the Zelda games.

Specifically, the Zelda series gets a lot of its DNA from popular Japanese fantasy epics of the 1980s, including Guin Saga and Record of Lodoss War, which were inspired by Robert E. Howard and Dungeons & Dragons, respectively. There’s no small amount of Lord of the Rings in the mix as well. Nationalistic ideologies from WWII and the Cold War are therefore built into not just the dominant tropes but also the fundamental structure of contemporary heroic fantasy, including many video games.

I think it’s fair to argue that the Zelda series has challenged this narrative, however. For example:

– The hero is deeply traumatized by what he was forced to do (Majora’s Mask)
– We should look at this from the perspective of the bad guy (The Wind Waker)
– It’s possible that our homeland is just as evil as our enemies (Twilight Princess)
– The bad guys are just like us and deserve sympathy (A Link Between Worlds)

I loved Breath of the Wild but was disappointed by its story, which felt incomplete to me. For example, why would the Hyrulean royal family ban technology? What inspired so many people to defect from the Sheikah and establish the Yiga Clan? If Ganon was once a person, how furious and tormented by pain would he have to be for the Calamity to take the specific form it did? Where are the old temple “dungeons” that are present in the other games? Why is the player never allowed to go underground?

The way the game brushed off these types of questions did indeed feel like an excuse to suggest something along the lines of “Hyrule never did anything wrong and is an innocent victim of malicious foreign powers,” a narrative that has disturbing echoes in real-world political ideologies.

Removing (most of) the shadows cast by the heroic narrative made Breath of the Wild’s story seem curiously flat, especially given the relative depth of previous games in the Zelda series. That’s why, when I first saw the trailer for the sequel, my immediate thought was, “Good, so we’re finally going to get the rest of this story,” which has a great deal of unexplored potential.

In any case, the games in the Legend of Zelda series are interesting and complicated, and I think it’s a shame not to give the creators who make them credit for the full range of storytelling they’ve put into their work.

If nothing else, I think it’s always worth challening the assumption that any given person or group of people has no choice but to think or behave in a certain way because of their race or nationality. After all, if someone named “Hayao Miyazaki” can make bold statements about the evils of authoritarian regimes, who’s to say that someone named “Hidemaro Fujibayashi” can’t also tell nuanced stories about the human cost of the narratives used (and misused) for the purpose of maintaining political stability?

Karen Would Like Your Attention Please

How ‘Karen’ Became a Coronavirus Villain

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, “Karen” has been adopted as a shorthand to call out a vocal minority of middle-aged white women who are opposed to social distancing, out of either ignorance or ruthless self-interest. It’s the latest evolution of a long-standing meme. In The New York Times last year, the writer Sarah Miller described Karens as “the policewomen of all human behavior,” using the example of a suburban white woman who calls the cops on kids’ pool parties. Karens have been mocked for being anti-vaccine and pro–”Can I speak to your manager?” They’re obsessed with banal consumer trends and their personal appearance, and typically criminally misguided, usually loudly and with extreme confidence.

Their defining essence is “entitlement, selfishness, a desire to complain,” according to Heather Suzanne Woods, a meme researcher and professor at Kansas State University. A Karen “demands the world exist according to her standards with little regard for others, and she is willing to risk or demean others to achieve her ends.”

This is a relatively short article, and it’s worth reading to the end. I would say that it goes to a surprising place, but at this point I’m not actually all that surprised to learn that some of the more high-profile Karens on Twitter were manufactured by right-wing content farms.

2020 Writing Log, Part Sixteen

– I posted Chapter 35 of Malice on AO3. I’m glad I gave myself an extra week to edit this chapter and add an additional section. There’s some good character interaction, and I think I was able to clarify and strengthen the central conflict.

– I edited Chapter 33 of Malice and posted it on FFN. Since writing this chapter took forever, I’ve been dragging my feet on putting it through another round of edits, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

– I commissioned Ositia to draw a character sketch of Zelda and Riju from Malice. This artist also created a gorgeous illustration of the canonical characters for a short Breath of the Wild postgame story I wrote called “The Seven Heroines,” which is continued in a two-page comic I worked on with Mjoyart. I’ve written a few short stories about Zelda and Riju being friends, and it’s been a lot of fun to explore their dynamic in greater detail in Malice. What can I say, I am very emotionally invested in gals being pals.

– I commissioned Thousandwrecks to create illustrations of Balthazar and Ceres from The Demon King, and they did an absolutely incredible job. I met this artist at one convention or another in 2015, and I’ve been following them since then. I keep running into them at cons, and I think I must have chatted with them briefly at least once or twice a year. This artist is one of those people who has such good taste that I end up getting into any fandom they create work for, and at any given time I’m probably using about half a dozen of the bookmarks they’ve made. This might be cheating a little, but I put aside some time this week to make one-off bookmark-style prints featuring their gorgeous illustrations of my ridiculous OCs.

– I wrote the first two thirds (probably) of “Don’t Eat the Fish,” the story I’m going to submit to the body horror anthology that I mentioned last week. I’m really enjoying myself! It’s funny, though. Although I would never in a million years use first-person POV in fanfic, I’ve found that a vague Murakami-style first-person “boku” is the easiest voice for me to use in original fiction. It allows me to bypass a lot of issues relating to gender and appearance, to begin with, and the boundaries of the narrator’s subjectivity allow me to impose concrete limits on the range of the content (and the wordcount).

– I finished the first two stories in my next horror fiction zine, which I’ve decided to call “Haunted Houses.” I’m going to save the title “Philadelphia Doesn’t Exist” for a potential fourth zine that I might? write after I actually move to Philadelphia next month.

It Never Happened has done surprisingly well on Etsy, so I reprinted my first horror fiction zine, Ghost Stories. If it doesn’t sell, I can take the leftover copies to Philly Zine Fest, which might?? still be happening in November.

Although who even knows what “November” means at this point. Even though March lasted for roughly five years, I have no idea what happened to the month of April. If I didn’t have a digital log of “active days” on Animal Crossing, I wouldn’t believe that April happened at all. For all I know, November could be three weeks from now. Does time still exist?

Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, is about why we can’t catch people who are lying and don’t believe people who are telling the truth. Gladwell is very careful to divorce the act of not believing any given person from identity politics. What I believe he’s trying to suggest is that our cognitive failures have more to do with human psychology than the particularities of any given society in any given place at any given time. Moreover, suffering from a critical misunderstanding is something that could happen to any of us, regardless of race or gender.

Malcolm Gladwell makes a strong and convincing argument, because Malcolm Gladwell always makes a strong and convincing argument. Malcolm Gladwell is an excellent writer and very good at the sort of journalism he specializes in.

That being said.

Oh boy.

That being said, it’s a bit disingenuous for Malcolm Gladwell to remove gender from the equation when almost every single example he references involves people either not believing what a woman is telling them or not believing that a woman could be who and what she clearly is.

A clever reader will pick up on this, of course, but it would have been nice for Malcolm Gladwell to include, like, I don’t know. A single footnote? Acknowledging the existence of the incredible amount of research that strongly suggests that gender is a major contributing factor regarding whether or not we believe what someone is saying, especially when all available evidence supports their testimony.

For example, why does no one believe the female victims of sexual assault and abuse, even when the incidents are well-documented and reported by multiple unconnected parties? Is it because of complex psychological reasons, or is it because, I don’t know, women are lying liars who just want attention and will only cause trouble if you take them seriously? I mean, it’s always good to hear the full story and judge these incidents on a case-by-case basis, but it’s also taken for granted as a truism in the LGBTQ+ community (especially transgender and nonbinary communities) that people either start believing you or ignoring you almost immediately after you change your name and gender presentation.

Also, I keep saying this, but it’s not necessarily the case that people don’t believe women, but rather that they don’t care and hope the problem will go away on its own. Based on my own experience, I would say that this is doubly true when it comes to women refusing to act on the testimony of other women, as the credibility of the woman who takes concrete action based on the report will be disbelieved or disregarded by association.

Personally speaking, as someone who is not female but presents as female for the sake of job security in a precarious environment, I have deliberately made myself unavailable to meet with female students whom I’m reasonably certain intend to speak with me about being harassed by a male student or by one of my male colleagues. I know this sounds evil, but listen.

If I can only justifiably report one incident of sexual misconduct or gender-based discrimination in any given academic year, I need to make sure that the case I report is worth it, meaning that the report will add evidence against a serious repeat offender instead of “merely” giving the student a sense of support and closure. Title IX “compliance” offices at American universities need only to “address” an incident on paper, so it’s unlikely that anything will be solved – or even change – for the student who has experienced abuse, harassment, or discrimination. As a result, the only way I can help anyone is by not “wasting” the impact of any given report.

(How did I arrive at this conclusion? Believe me, friend, you do not want to know. Not to mention that no one believed me or cared when I tried to tell the relevant story in any number of informal and professional forums.)

If you’re disgusted by this, you absolutely should be. If you happen to be a cisgender man (of any race, ethnicity, nationality, or sexual identity), you should also take away from this that your privilege gives you an incredible power to do good in the world through allyship and advocacy.

Speaking as someone who is often on the receiving end of not being believed, even with impeccable credentials and a strong and assertive affect, I think all of the reasonable, intelligent, and sane reasons Malcolm Gladwell provides for why we can’t catch people who are lying and why we don’t believe people who are telling the truth apply if and only if gender is not a factor – but let’s be real, gender is absolutely fucking always a factor.

2020 Writing Log, Part Fifteen

– I wrote the first half of Chapter 35 of Malice. It would probably be okay to post where it stands at 2,500 words, but I think it might be worth expanding by another 1,500 words or so. I’ll post it next weekend.

– I wrote a basic outline for the fourth and fifth story arcs. There will be eight chapters in the fourth arc, six chapters in the fifth arc, and a silly glossary with a cute illustration at the end. This will bring the story to an even fifty chapters. I should be done at some point in September if I can keep to schedule.

– I started writing the stories in my third collection of original flash fiction, which is tentatively titled “Haunted Houses.” What I’ve got right now are the stems of fifteen stories that I can work on bit by bit over the next month.

– Although I’d like to believe that the stories in these collections work well on their own as flash fiction, the way I’ve been thinking about them is that they’re seeds that can be planted elsewhere. I want to start contributing to anthologies, but different projects have very different (and very specific) themes and wordcount limits, so it’s easier to pick a story seed and shape it according to the demands of the venue than it is to write a full story and then try to figure out where to place it. This week I started developing a story from the last collection, “Don’t Order the Fish,” for submission to an anthology on body horror.

– (This) is the manuscript format I’m using, if anyone’s interested.

– I took the first baby steps toward putting together my second zine of Legend of Zelda comics!

– I finished writing all the assignments for my online classes. Now all I have to do is grade them. I should be finished with the semester by the end of next week.

I’ve had a rough month – HAVEN’T WE ALL – and I’ve been canceling or declining professional projects instead of trying to negotiate or extend deadlines. Are there immediate and long-term consequences? Sure, but the most important thing is for me to keep my head above water until the tide eventually drags me back to shore.

Desktop Pets

About desktop pets & virtual companions: discussing the inhabitants that fill the void of our digital spaces

I see a strange irony in how people used to say “Don’t download Bonzi Buddy! It’s adware!” when (today) our web and desktop environments are so much worst of a privacy nightmare. Some of our current, completely normalized, practices of user tracking would legitimately qualify as extreme “spyware” back then.

Between the push and pull from platform holders slowly turning the desktop into an environment that only they own, that only things licensed from them can run on, that only things that adhere to their quality guidelines can exist on, that only allows licensed software from certified developers rich enough to pay for that… contrasted against shareware creators making the space interesting with things like desktop pets, experimental software, digital pranks, or parody software… I kind of view creating a desktop pet to inhabit this polarized space as an act of rebellion against that ever impending content monopoly.

The idea of making something that is meant to just simulate an inhabitant in a polarized virtual void is special for how it keeps the dream alive.

I think I might be too young to have any actual memories of desktop pets, but this sounds like a neat subculture from the 1990s. This isn’t what the article is about, but the author mentions how Neopets launched the careers of a lot of young artists and programmers. I thought the culture surrounding Neopets was kind of creepy and ended up on LiveJournal instead (which was totally not creepy, definitely not), and I wonder how much generational overlap there was between the two platforms.

Tokyo’s Underground Cathedral

The Underground Cathedral Protecting Tokyo from Floods

Cecilia Tortajada recalls making her way down a long staircase and into of one of Japan’s engineering marvels, an enormous water tank that crowns Tokyo’s defences against flooding. When she finally reached the tank’s ground, she stood among the dozens of 500-tonne pillars supporting the ceiling. In the cavernous, shrine-like cistern, she felt humbled.

If Japan is a pilgrimage destination for disaster and risk-management experts like her, this is one of its main temples. The floodwater cathedral hidden 22 meters underground is part of the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel (MAOUDC), a 6.3 km long system of tunnels and towering cylindrical chambers that protect North Tokyo from flooding.

I have to admit that, even though I’ve known about this for years, I assumed it was an urban legend. The way I’ve always heard people refer to this structure is Tōkyō no hashira (the Pillars of Tokyo), which sounds a little like a Legend of Zelda dungeon. It’s wild that this is real, and the photographs in the article are stunning.