justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
[personal profile] justira
HELLO FRIENDS strap in it is time to talk about RACE and ABLEISM and FLAWED PROTAGONISTS.

Yes!

Also semiotics! Readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of semiotics. However, this is not a post in that series. In fact, I want to hop back to a co-review I did with the inimitable Susan where I mentioned Leslie Jamison's essay, "Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain". Since this was in the spoilery section of the reviews, here is a quick recap: Jamison discusses how pain relates to the semiotics of the body, saying that flesh speaks the language of pain. Nothing grounds us quite so acutely in the moment, in our bodies, as pain. In this post, I argue that discomfort plays a similar role in the semiotics of the self, grounding us in a keen sense of self-consciousness, self-awareness. It is this that ties together two books I read recently.

These books are Borderline by Mishell Baker and White Tears by Hari Kunzru. I read these at the same time — one right in the middle of the other — and while they are nothing alike on the surface, I ended up having many similar thoughts about them. If you know anything about either of these books, you might be thinking, "Ira, you tl;dr gentlebeast, what do these books have to do with each other even?"

Oh, let's see... They both have deeply flawed protagonists (who are racist), they both deal heavily and in a very self-aware way with social issues, they both elide reality in a way that makes the reader work to pick apart what is objectively happening (is there an objective reality?), and they both use the tool of reader discomfort to achieve a sociopolitical goal, engaging the reader in semiotic self-work. Oh, and in both of them a lady dies to serve the narrative in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I think those are good places to start. But before we go on to talk about that, let's look at some nice spoiler-free jacket copy. I'm going to go as far as I can here without revealing any spoilers, and will clearly mark where the spoilers begin. Without further ado!

Read more... )
helloladies: Gray icon with a horseshoe open side facing down with pink text underneath that says Co-Review (co-review)
[personal profile] helloladies
Transistor cover


From the creators of Bastion, Transistor is a sci-fi themed action RPG that invites you to wield an extraordinary weapon of unknown origin as you fight through a stunning futuristic city. Transistor seamlessly integrates thoughtful strategic planning into a fast-paced action experience, melding responsive gameplay and rich atmospheric storytelling. During the course of the adventure, you will piece together the Transistor's mysteries as you pursue its former owners.


Susan
"Buy a bundle with the soundtrack?" I asked myself at checkout. "Why on earth would I do that?!" LITTLE DID I KNOW.

Ira
LITTLE DID YOU KNOW. As the game's developer, Supergiant, is apparently wont to do, the soundtrack for this game is absolutely gorgeous and woven into its storytelling and characterization. The music is a great way to start this review because it's so much a part of the game's atmosphere and worldbuilding. The game is set in a city, Cloudbank, that is ever-changing based on the votes of its populace, from what's on restaurant menus to the colour of the sky to the weather. We start the game with Red, the female protagonist, and a man's voice coming from the titular sword, the Transistor, and we face the Camerata as our antagonists. The cast also includes a variety of diverse characters, including people of colour and queer folks, though the way the narrative treats them is... complicated. Red is a silent protagonist, but the sword talks plenty, providing narration, commentary, and interaction. This is accomplished by absolutely superb voice acting on the part of Logan Cunningham, the voice of the Transistor. It's especially effective when he has emotional moments with Red or when he's being affected by the Spines.

Transistor screenshot: stopping to hum


Susan
Logan Cunningham carried so much of the game for me, entirely on the strength of his voice acting. The man in the transistor is our narrator, our primary source of explanations and world-building, and the voice acting adds so much colour and emotion – which is really what you need in a game where the protagonist can't speak for herself. The way he says Red's name breaks my heart, there's a world of backstory in the way he says "Hello again, Sybil," his pitch-perfect reactions – Ira, I don't think I can tell you how much I liked that voice acting, and the bits you picked out are the bits that got me too.

(The other voices are good too – Royce sounds like Matthew McConnahey's character in True Detective, played back at a slower speed, Asher is the right level of awkward stiltedness for someone trying to reveal and conceal the truth at the same time, and the distortions of Sibyl are appropriately unnerving – but the man in the transistor is the stand-out part for me.)

The voice acting is also what sold me on Red and the transistor's relationship in the early stages of the game. Who and what they are to each other isn't really clear for at least half of the game – I admit, I spent the first few levels going "Please tell me he's not a charming creeper taking advantage, that is a trope I recognise" until I caught up. But through the voice acting, it's crystal clear that he adores her, even though he's essentially talking to himself the entire game.

This structure – the transistor speaking mostly in monologue rather than dialogue – means much of the story and characterisation is told in gaps. Because Red doesn't speak at all during the game, you have to actually look for her characterisation. A lot of it is done through what the other characters say about her, or through her gestures and comments on the OVC terminals – public-access computer terminals set up all over town to enable the mass voting that Cloudbank relies on – but interacting with most of the terminals is completely optional, which means that you can actually skip half of the characterisation of the game's main character. But the way it's done is excellent - she can leave comments on news items and surveys, so you can watch her type, delete, type -

("Is it following me?" she writes, but she posts something different entirely.)

Transistor screenshot: stopping to hum


And there are only two chances that I've found to have Red and the Transistor actually interact, both of which come through the OVC terminals (one I actually MISSED the first time around - when I say that it's possible to actually skip some of the characterisation, I'm not kidding!).

Ira
At this point I want to pause and consider the problem of silent women. Read more... )

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