Friday, 12 June 2015

A Shift in Values

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a Dragon Ball mood, which is odd because I never particularly liked the franchise when I was younger. TV reruns always stopped after the Cell games though so curiosity about the rest of the series finally got the better of me. Quite possibly the Great Saiyaman stuff will now become my favorite part of the series, in no small part because of how awesome Videl turned out to be and how cute the relationship between her and Gohan develops. Once the tournament and Majin Buu stuff starts up the storyline sadly slows down to a crawl again where endless fights take over everything (Saiyaman episodes tend to be from day to day, but Goku’s one day back on Earth lasts between 50 to 60 episodes and his time even got reduced because of the Super Saiyan 3 transformation). Still, I liked it enough to make me want to try out Dragon Ball Xenoverse (2015), and so far it’s been awesome.

A Shift in Values
How Dragon Ball Xenoverse made me reflect on H.P. Lovecraft

It has a surprisingly deep character creator for a DBZ game.

Xenoverse provided me with an opportunity to add something I found sorely lacking in the series: female warriors. Oh sure, Videl is cool and Android 18 is super badass but in the grand scheme of things they are sideshows at best (although to be fair, unless you are a Saiyan, everyone becomes this eventually). What Xenoverse does is give you the ability to revisit important plot points and inject your warrior of choice into them, fighting side by side with the likes of Goku.
When I started out I was fairly certain what I wanted to play as: a female Saiyan who kinda resembles Videl without looking exactly the same (that would be kinda lame). That’s what I did and I’m having a great time. All in all it's a bit of a Mary Sue plot to suddenly have an original character be necessary to save the heroes but hey, you primarily play Dragon Ball Xenoverse to kick ass, not for the high art story.

I named her Amelia, but for reasons
of canon I refer to her as "Selerie".

Since the recent update for They Bleed Pixels (2012) hit, I’ve been playing a bit more of that too (the addition of a Novice Mode meant I could finally beat some of the harder levels). They Bleed Pixels is a 2D platforming game with a simple yet surprisingly deep combat system and features a young girl who finds a strange book that in her dreams transports her to eldritch locations and turns her into a clawed monster. The entire thing is explicitly Lovecraftian in nature, though not quite so pessimistic.

There isn’t really a lot of overlap there but Dragon Ball Xenoverse giving you the ability to inject female characters in an otherwise male dominated series did spark a realization: that’s exactly what the gaming culture itself has been doing with the works of H.P. Lovecraft with games like They Bleed Pixels.

H.P. Lovecraft as an author was brilliant and has had a massive influence on the horror genre (The Colour Out of Space is currently my favorite story). Neil Gaiman going as far as saying he built the stage on which modern horror is played on. However Lovecraft as a person was considered less than progressive even for his day back in the 1930’s.
Consciously or unconsciously, this means that his stories very rarely included female characters at all, let alone as protagonists (on top of the racism). Amusingly the video game world has shown a bit of a tendency to flip this on its head when adapting his work. Possibly the cinematic tendency to employ women as the final survivors (the final girl) of their respective movies has rubbed off a bit on gaming when it comes to horror.

Alone in the Dark (1992-2015)

It’s undeniable that Edward Carnby is the main protagonist of the Alone in the Dark series. However female alternatives do occasionally show up, starting with Emily Hartwood as the second playable protagonist in the first game. Occasionally the player controls Grace Saunders in Alone in the Dark 2, although Carnby is controlled the majority of the time. Grace does star in the short promotional game Jack In The Dark. Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare/ Alone in the Dark 4 features Aline Cedrac as an option, who has an entirely different storyline from (though still connected with) Edward Carnby.
Although hardly Lovecraftian, with Resident Evil taking inspiration from Alone in the Dark I would wager Emily Hartwood also served as the inspiration for making Jill Valentine playable (and in turn Claire Redfield, Rebecca Chambers, Ada Wong, Sheva Alomar and all the others). 

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002)

Personally I have not yet played Eternal Darkness and the nature of its plot is such that I’d rather not research into it before having done so. However since it is a beloved cult classic I feel it would be a disservice not to mention it along with its main protagonist Alexandra Roivas. Now if only I had picked it up when I had the chance.

Eldritch (2013)

It’s a roguelike that looks like Minecraft, the enemies have a cutesy design and it somehow still manages to be absolutely terrifying. No wonder as this one has a story definitely set in the Cthulhu Mythos. Eldritch’s protagonist is customizable but is female as a standard, and is advertised as such. It's a pretty weird experience overall (again, it manages to be silly and terrifying at the same time), but one I highly recommend checking out.

Is it too late to move permanently to Draenor?

World of Warcraft (2004)

That’s a bit of an odd one, isn’t it? To a passing observer, Warcraft is set in a fairly standard fantasy setting (or mistaken for Call of Duty by completely clueless moral guardians) and you wouldn’t think it being much inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Well that is until World of Warcraft where the standard evil fire army (from space!) attempting to destroy the planet has taken a bit of a backseat to the more mysterious Old Gods who have been influencing the history of Azeroth from the shadows for the worse.
While World of Warcraft has an artstyle far too cheerfully cartoony to provide a legitimately pessimistic setting, they are frighteningly effective at introducing cosmic horror elements into their lore. Traveling Northrend in pursuit of the Lich King is bad enough, but then you learn something far worse is locked up deep beneath the continent, and it is whispers are spreading madness throughout it. He’s also not the only one.

I don't raid so I have no screens of Old Golds.
Here's something living at the bottom of the ocean though.

Considering World of Warcraft’s character creator (and the equal opportunity nature of the lore in general) I would call this a pretty big triumph for cosmic horror. Sure, you aren’t fighting Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth personally (that would be a slap in the face of what the Cthulhu Mythos stands for anyway), but you are fighting as the most diverse cast of characters imaginable against their Warcraft counterparts C’Thun and Yogg-Saron.

It's not quite notable enough for a separate entry, but I should probably also mention that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) quest "A Shadow Over Hackdirt" is obviously based on Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Given Elder Scrolls' character creator, this puts it somewhat in line with World of Warcraft.

All in all, hurray for video games for updating Lovecraftian horror.

And I'm off to beat Cell.

Links & References

Images from
- Dragon Ball Xenoverse (2015)
- They Bleed Pixels (2012)
- Eldritch (2013)
- Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (2002)
- World of Warcraft (2005)

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