VOTE BARRET WALLACE 2020

20 Years Later, the Hardest Losses in ‘Final Fantasy VII’ Have Changed
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3kgv5/20-years-later-the-hardest-losses-in-final-fantasy-vii-have-changed

This is a game that is fundamentally about economic and environmental justice.

The world of Final Fantasy VII is entirely dominated by corporations who have polluted the world to such an extent that humanity has become cloistered in corporate-controlled nightmare cities where they’re bottled up to rot in slums beneath metal plates. Their entertainment is provided by a mega corporation that runs a theme park that contains all of the hopes, dreams, and physical activities denied the average person. The world is dying, and it is the fault of those in power.

There is definitely a sense in the final battles of Chrono Cross that yes, these avatars of sea and earth and sky have a point. As Serge and his companions, you’ve witnessed first-hand that the humans of the world have put their own interests above that of the planet — sometimes violently. When the great Dragon God — the planet’s ultimate weapon against its violent oppressors — asks you “Must one kill other living things in order to survive? Must one destroy another world in order to allow one’s own world to continue?”, it’s easy to read it as the typical pseudo-philosophical posturing of a villain before the final battle commences. But as forests continue to be clear-cut, the ocean becomes increasingly acidic, and dry lands become deserts, these questions start to sound less philosophical and more practical. If we destroy another world, can our own world continue?

I have to admit that I was never able to get more than a few hours into Chrono Cross – it’s one of the PS1/PS2 crossover era RPGs in which each random battle takes at least five minutes – but I’m always intrigued when gameplay reinforces a game’s central premise, especially when that premise is “maybe we should spend more time thinking about what it means to save the world.”

I’m looking forward to the PS4 release of Final Fantasy VII, and my one hope and dream for whatever new culture springs up surrounding the game is that people start taking Barret seriously.

Storytelling Is A Blade

This is a good post:
https://jenroses.tumblr.com/post/189772851336/ive-had-a-number-of-moments-of-shock-and

However, knowing how not to do this sort of garbage accidentally doesn’t fix the problem of the willfully ignorant or bigoted. It doesn’t spare us McCaffrey’s ignorant homophobia or Card’s malignant homophobia and warmongering. It doesn’t save us from Rowling’s transphobia or Dahl’s antisemitism.

But it does make it a little easier to understand how people whose fundamental worldviews are so profoundly warped can nevertheless produce works with characters whose experiences and difficulties resonate with our own. They’re painting a picture. They just aren’t always understanding what they’re painting. Does the camera know what it captures?

The thing these four authors have in common is that they are or were adept and evocative storytellers. But there is nothing inherently benign about storytelling.

Storytelling is a blade. Blades can be used to cut down grain, cut food, or slit a throat. The blade doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective. And sometimes even the blades that are useful to us hurt us. Sometimes the dullest blades hurt the worst when they slip.

This sort of sharp yet accessible mini-essay is why I first came to Tumblr, and I miss seeing posts like this. I used to encounter them much more frequently, but the people I followed who were reblogging them tended to get caught up in the “queer is a slur” and “if you ship the wrong thing you’re a pedophile” discourses of 2018. Activity on Tumblr has declined since then, but I’m still finding interesting people doing interesting things as I scavenge the ruins.

2020 Writing Log, Part Two

I spent most of the past two weeks preparing for and then beginning the spring semester, but I managed to get a few other things taken care of in the meantime.

– I finalized all the images for my book! There’s no need to go into the details of what this entailed, but it was a lot of work. This was the last thing that needed to be done before the manuscript enters production, so the press was finally able to make the cover public and post a promotional flyer.

– I submitted a review of Rachael Hutchinson’s monograph Japanese Culture Through Videogames to Pacific Affairs. It’s an amazing book. I read it twice (and certain chapters three times), and I have to admit that I teared up in places because it’s so brilliantly written. As an aside, I was honored to introduce Rachael to the work of auronlu, who’s cited frequently in the chapters about Final Fantasy. Rachael is at the top of her game, and it’s so cool to see fan scholarship acknowledged by such a respected and influential academic.

– I wrote support letters for the visa applications of Naotaro Moriyama and White Out Tokyo, who are going to be performing at the opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. I’m usually such a “please do not make generalizations about Japan” sort of person, but these letters required “an expert” to comment on “the cultural uniqueness” of the visa applicants, and I had a lot of fun leaning into that sort of discourse. There were ancient artistic traditions and cherry blossoms everywhere, it was kind of incredible. I wrote both letters in collaboration with a friendly acquaintance at the Japan Foundation, and I learned a lot from working with him.

– I presented my paper on Hiromi Kawakami’s short story “Summer Break” at the Association for Japanese Literary Studies conference. I ended up almost completely rewriting certain sections of the paper on the night before my presentation, but I think it turned out okay. The AJLS is consistently excellent, and this year was no exception. I think I’ve finally gotten to the point in my career where I can actually appreciate and enjoy academic conferences without feeling like an imposter and a nervous wreck, and I got a lot out of this conference in particular.

– I met Peter Balestrieri, a librarian at the University of Iowa, at the Fan Studies Network conference in Chicago last fall. He gave a talk about the university’s collection of fanzines and other fandom-related materials; and, when I got a chance to talk to him one-on-one, he mentioned that the University of Iowa library is accepting donations. After getting in touch with Peter again, I sent him two huge boxes of fanzines. This is material that I compiled for my own research, and it would make me happy if it were accessible to other people.

– I was invited to participate in a panel about religion in the Legend of Zelda series at PAX East. I’ve already got a full schedule of travel and speaking engagements planned for the next few months, so I had to turn down the invitation, but I got to have a nice conversation on Twitter with the person organizing the panel. I hope I can make it to Boston next year!

Tamagotchi On

I killed my Tamagotchi last night.

Or rather, I took the batteries out of the device. I’m not sure what effect that will have, but I’d rather not know. After playing with it for two weeks, it was time to stop, but I loved that stupid little thing.

One of the students in my Media Studies course in the fall semester did her class project on Tamagotchi. She did a lot of research, and I was so interested in her work that I tracked down all of the articles, blog posts, and videos she referenced. I also ended up buying the newest Tamagotchi model, Tamagotchi On, which was released last summer and retails for about $50 to $60 (depending on which color you want).

Like a lot of other 1990s children, I had a Tamagotchi back in the day, and the game was as basic as it gets – keep the creature in the plastic egg alive as long as you can by feeding it when it gets hungry and cleaning its poo. It beeped at you when it needed attention, and it needed attention about once every ten minutes or so. It would die if you left it alone for more than an hour or two, but I was a devoted Tamagotchi parent and managed to keep mine alive until the batteries ran out, at which point I put the device back in its box and promptly forgot about it.

According to my student, who gave a fantastic presentation of her work, the current “Tamagotchi On” generation is both more interactive and more forgiving. I spent a lot of December being very conflicted and unhappy, so I decided to take advantage of a holiday sale and get myself a new Tamagotchi. I put the box on my desk and let it sit for two weeks before finally starting the game on January 2. I needed to make sure I had enough free time, because the creature demands attention.

Your job is still to keep your Tamagotchi alive by feeding it and cleaning its poo. You also have to give it baths, help it vacuum its little house, and give it medicine if it gets sick. The most time-consuming aspect of the game, however, is making sure your Tamagotchi is happy, which you do by playing with it and taking it on (virtual) trips. You can earn in-game currency by playing minigames, and you spend this currency on toys and fancy food and snacks. Aside from your hometown, you can also visit other areas, which you unlock by meeting various conditions that you more or less have to learn about from a fan-written walkthrough. You can have simple interactions with other Tamagotchi characters outside your town; and, if you romance them properly (for which you might also need a walkthrough), you can create a baby that you raise using all the resources you acquired from the previous generation. In addition to breeding Tamagotchi children, you can breed pets for them, which serves no purpose aside from being cute. There’s also an app that will connect the Tamagotchi device to your smartphone via Bluetooth, but I didn’t want to mess around with that.

This generation of Tamagotchi seems to be programmed to pick up on the patterns of its user’s activity, meaning that it will leave you alone during the hours you tend not to interact with it and demand attention at times when you’ve given it attention before, which I appreciate. You can also turn the sound off entirely and pause the game by leaving your creature at its parents’ house, which I appreciate even more. I think that, if I wanted to, it would probably be possible for me to keep playing the game indefinitely.

The pixel graphics are wonderful, and the art direction and animation are lovely. The character design is a bit odd, but I think that’s probably part of its appeal. The physical design of the egg-shaped device is aesthetically pleasing, and it’s sturdy and sophisticated enough to warrant… maybe not $50 to $60, but the $40 I paid when it was on sale.

I quit playing for the same reason I quit playing Pokémon Go, which is that I passed my peak balance of time invested vs. emotional engagement. Basically, I realized that I was going to have to put in a lot more effort if I wanted to get more out of the game, and I wasn’t willing to do that. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun, but rather that I had no desire to be anything more than a casual player.

All things considered, I enjoyed my two weeks my with tiny little virtual pet…

…but I have to admit that I was also embarrassed to take it out of the house. Tamagotchi On is a neat little toy, but it’s designed for eight-year-old girls, and it’s so cute that it’s obscene. I accidentally left it in my laptop bag one afternoon, and it beeped when I happened to be riding an elevator with someone. They were like, “That’s such a cute text alert ringtone,” and I was like, “Yes… I receive text messages… like a fellow adult.” The downside of the game having its own device is that you can’t pretend to be checking your messages while you play it. I suspect that it’s intended to train children too young to have their own phones in the sort of behavioral patterns involved in constantly checking messages, which is somewhat disturbing. Still, I got some good serotonin out of the experience, so I’m not complaining.

Don’t F**k With Cats

This three-part documentary series on Netflix is really upsetting, and I mean really upsetting. It’s difficult to write a summary, but basically, a group of people on Facebook tries to track down a man who posts videos of himself killing animals, thus giving him the attention he craves and inspiring him to post a video of himself killing another human being. The documentary itself is well-made and doesn’t show the grisly bits of the actual videos, but it’s still not a pleasant experience to watch. Thankfully, there’s nothing particularly sensationalist about the project, and the “internet nerds” are presented as normal and intelligent adults.

The director has said that he created this documentary for the purpose of spreading awareness, which I appreciate. My experience with trying to get my anxiety treated over the course of the past year has been that a lot of people – especially people born before around 1980 or so – just don’t understand how violent and upsetting online engagement can be sometimes. Even people my age and younger haven’t responded well when I try to talk about this, and common responses include:

– Maybe the person attacking you has a mental illness. (That’s not a valid justification.)
– Maybe you shouldn’t spend so much time online. (That’s not the problem.)
– Maybe you deserve this. (No one “deserves” death and rape threats.)

What I think people who haven’t experienced extended episodes of online harassment aren’t getting is that sometimes it’s possible to encounter people on the internet who are genuinely scary. When you become the target of a person like this (as one of the primary “narrators” in Don’t F**k With Cats does), it has nothing to do with you specifically, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

I also recently read the book Nobody’s Victim, which is written by Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer and advocate for victims of internet stalking and harassment. This book is just as upsetting as Don’t F**k With Cats, especially since many of the people Goldberg represents (as well as Goldberg herself) have had to suffer through intense and pervasive victim blaming. No one they go to for help understands what happened to them, and everyone thinks the fact that they became the targets of scary people is somehow their fault. Very few people believe what they’re saying in the first place, and a lot of the evidence they produce to document what they’ve experienced is used against them.

I personally haven’t been the target of anything as severe as what appears in Don’t F**k With Cats and Nobody’s Victim (thank goodness), but it was still very easy for me to recognize the patterns of how popular online platforms enable abusive modes of behavior and the hate crimes of disturbed people. I’m finally starting to see people within fandom share resources (like this) discussing best practices regarding how to process and handle these types of encounters, and that’s wonderful, but I’m really looking forward to there being a greater awareness of these issues in mainstream society as well.

2020 Writing Log, Part One

This year I’d like to return to my practice of keeping a writing log. I’m not sure it will be weekly, but I’ll do my best to keep it updated. Here we go!

– I posted Chapter 23 and Chapter 24 of Malice, an urban fantasy fanfic novel based on Breath of the Wild.

– I posted a review of Riku Onda’s wonderful mystery novel The Aosawa Murders on my book review blog, as well as an abbreviated version on Goodreads.

– I sent my editor at Palgrave my book abstract and a set of chapter abstracts. This is the text that will go on the book’s webpage, so I spent a lot of time editing, refining, and polishing the abstracts I included with the initial prospectus. These abstracts are only about 1,200 words in total, but I’ve spent the past month working on this almost every day.

– I also wrote the “Acknowledgments” section of the book. I’ve been in a dark place for the past several months, so I wanted to wait until I was in the right state of mind to do this. I’d like to think the final draft is a good combination of sincere and concise.

– I also sent an essay abstract to an edited volume on JRPGs. I’m still playing with the title, but at the moment it’s “The Green Worlds of Studio Ghibli and The Legend of Zelda.” The essay is about how a postapocalyptic world is presented as something beautiful and full of potential in the Zelda series and how that worldview has been directly influenced by the work of Hayao Miyazaki. I’m scheduled to give a talk about this project at the University of Notre Dame in April, and I’m very excited! If you’re interested, I put a short description up (here).