The Frank West Conundrum – Analyzing a Non-Traditional Protagonist

20190714095151_1As I play through video games, I love to think about the characters and their motivations. I enjoy parsing through how a game- or movie, book, or any other media- represents its protagonists and their journey. Do their actions reflect any growth or movement of any kind emotionally or in their maturity? Do they come to terms with personal flaws and grow from them or, sometimes even more interestingly, do they keep their flaws and find ways to work around them? How does this piece of media engage me with a protagonist that acts as my surrogate in the world I’m interacting with?

Being a huge fan of role-playing games, I’m used to finding myself with 40 to 60 hours of time to sort through events with a small cast of characters from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. They may start out selfish and have a turning point that leads them to a life of altruism or they may be a bit too naive and harden as the plot rolls out, becoming battle-weary and keen. In shorter games, it can be easier to track a character’s progression because the story beats are so close together and they have to have impact if the game takes pride in its narrative. On the other hand, it can be harder since there is only so much time to show someone’s story arc outside of the ongoing plot and changing a character too much in that time can prove disastrous. Games like The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, and Horizon: New Dawn work to fit an immersive story in with flourishes of character growth in a relatively short time. The protagonists, though, can be relatable to many of the audience members- those characters have their own struggles from the past and striking at them from time to time to rein the player into the mindset of their avatar.

In a bid to try to write a bit about the series, I’ve been playing through Dead Rising to refresh my memory and track improvements as the games released. While I’ve been enjoying it, there is one thing I can say for certain:

No one should be able to empathize with Frank West. Continue reading

When You See Yourself There – Pride Month Profile: Tommy (Indigo Prophecy)

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(Note: As these posts may dig a bit into character plot points, these may get a little spoiler-y. While the games involved may be old, I’d feel bad if I didn’t at least offer up a warning!)

Representation has been an issue for a number of folks across just about every media platform: literature, cinema, television and, of course, video games. When I started 3PStart originally, it was in part due to the fact that I didn’t see many folks from minorities present in the community with their work being showcased. That’s obviously somewhat changed since I’ve gotten to know more people from various places on the spectrum of race, sexuality, gender, and a number of other bloggers and content creators that fall into plenty of other categories. I feel fortunate to have come across so many intelligent and open-minded creatives in my travels through this mess we call the Internet.

Given that it’s Pride Month, however, this feels like the perfect time to highlight some of the characters that helped me feel a bit more included in the gaming world. At the heart of gaming and plenty of other mediums, I think a lot of people find characters that they can empathize with. Whether they are main characters or they show up in the periphery of the game’s story, a number of folks- especially those who don’t see their less common attributes on display very often- gravitate toward these characters no matter how prominent they are.

The first time I remember seeing representation that meant something to me was when I played through Quantic Dreams’ Indigo Prophecy. While I was really enjoying the game regardless, it wasn’t until the chapter, Dark Omen, that I felt a strong connection to the title. The main characters were interesting and the story was easy enough to dive into. I didn’t realize I could get more connected to the game as a whole, though, until a scene where Carla Valenti, the female protagonist, has a sit-down with her best friend, Tommy.

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Now, Tommy doesn’t show up much in the game. In fact, Dark Omen is the only chapter he appears in and aside from reading Carla’s tarot cards and making small talk, he does very little but push her characterization forward. When given the opportunity, though, Carla can chat her friend up about his life and goings on. It’s optional and obviously doesn’t have much weight on the plot, but if players pursue these conversations, an interesting tidbit is revealed.

At one point, Carla can ask Tommy if he’s met anyone. At first, this seems to possibly be setting Carla up to be interested in Tommy since we just met him and this is the first interaction we witness between the two. He responds, however, by telling her about a man that he met who seems to be a promising relationship prospect.

As a young homosexual adult in the mid-2000s, this floored me. It was a time when I was really trying to become more comfortable with myself as a human being, let alone with being out about my sexuality. To see this character, minor as he may have been, just having a “private” conversation about his dating status stopped me in my tracks for a minute- and I really do vividly remember that moment in my dorm room at college, sitting on the edge of my bunk bed. I also say “private” with big finger-curving quotes because while the conversation was in his own apartment with his best friend, an entire audience of gamers were listening in. The scope of the moment felt massive to me because while there were other games that were dabbling in the topic, this was my first exposure to this in a video game.

Cliche as it may sound- I felt seen.

After another line about lamenting on the old “society’s come a long way but still has further to go” topic regarding his alternative lifestyle, Tommy’s conversation goes back to Carla and the actual plot. The points aren’t driven in hard, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes, the representation doesn’t have to be overt. Sometimes, heavy-handed attempts can feel contrived and pandering. Not all of them, but like with many topics, if the attempt is strong and mishandled, it can be less than ideal. On the other hand, examples like Tommy may seem too obscured to be considered true representation to some.

For me, the subtlety of Tommy and his conversation was what I needed at the time and it has stuck with me for years. I’m sure plenty of people, no matter their life status, can trace back to when they started feeling empathy with a character (if they even do, as I know handfuls of folks who don’t become that invested). For a lot of us, though, it can be a really special moment, especially for those who feel like outliers in society at times.

There are plenty of positive depictions of various sexualities, genders, and race among other minorities who don’t see a ton of visibility in general. Heck, there are some quality depictions of more commonly seen walks of life that are much more productive and admirable than most. While I’ll surely be adding more of these throughout the month, I’d love to hear from others through posts, comments, or even just on Twitter if you have a character you empathized with that has meant something to you because you simply don’t see characters like them often. Characters resonate with us for different reasons, be it through aesthetic, concept, or otherwise.

Until next time!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)

PAX East 2019 – Paying Homage in the Physical – My First Time Cosplaying

PAXEast19LogoI need you folks to bear with me, as this is sort of PAX East adjacent and sits just next door to video game coverage. That said, I’d like to think folks are here to also see some of my ‘human interest’ stories. I’m human. I’m mildly interesting. Thus, here we are.

The weekend of PAX East, I tried something I’ve always wanted to but didn’t totally know how to go about.

I cosplayed.

This is your last warning to turn back, as you’re not going to see a game review here. Just some stream of consciousness chatter and some pictures of yours truly- in the case that you may have ever wondered what I look like and haven’t seen my multiple photos on Twitter.

Still with me? Still intrigued? Well, come on down and listen while I spin a short yarn about my lead-up and follow through on my first time cosplaying.  Continue reading

PAX East 2019 – Top 5 Most Anticipated Games

PAXEast19LogoHey, folks! Welcome to the first of a series of posts concerning my three days of exploration at PAX East in Boston last weekend. While I don’t want to capitalize too much of the blog’s bandwidth to the convention, there were a lot of great things to talk about and experiences that I wanted to document so hopefully, you’ll find some fun information and insights in the next few entries to the 3PStart archives!

My first post cuts right to the heart of what I think folks are waiting for: the games I’m looking forward to the most after perusing the massive PAX floor. Now I’m going to warn you- the idea of waiting in line for an hour for a game was completely unappealing to me so I may have seen some snippets of some promising high-profile games like Days Gone but there was so much to see. With my interests being as they are, I was more drawn to the smaller booths on the floor, as well. You’ll find plenty of coverage on those larger titles elsewhere, I’m sure, and hopefully, my list here will shine some light on a few games folks may not have heard of and will find themselves anticipating like I am!

With that, feel free to check out my in-a-particular order list after the cut to see the five games I am most excited to see come to my gaming screens over the next year or two! Continue reading

Testimony of an Apocolypse – Fondly Remembering Resident Evil 2

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(Note: this article will contain spoilers for the first five or so minutes of the original version of this game. Consider yourself warned! – 3P)

I remember exactly where I was and who was present when I first played Resident Evil 2.

In my best friend’s living room, the family had made way for us to play our new game on the big TV in the living room. He and I were ecstatic, having bonded over other games like Tomb RaiderWild Arms, and Syphon Filter among plenty of others. We had never played the original Resident Evil together, but both of us were so excited to get into the second installment after trying the demo that I had made a successful plea to my parents to buy the game for me; I was 14 at the time, so plea bargains were commonplace to get the hot new releases coming out.

Our mothers chatted idly in the kitchen while his brother, who was older than us by a few years, stood by and watched us with amusement and his own interest in the game. His then-girlfriend was also there, at least excited by osmosis, as I don’t think she was much of a gamer.

My friend judiciously decided that I should be the first person to break ground on this new trek through the undead. I popped the disc in, grabbed a controller, and stationed myself right in the middle of the room, the lights dim as the sun was setting outside, lowering us naturally into the looming shadows of the night.

Soon thereafter, I was greeted by my protagonist, a determined-looking young woman clad in red and black, gliding into Raccoon City on her motorcycle: Claire Redfield. As she stepped into Emmy’s Diner and found herself face to face with her first (of hundreds) reanimated adversary, my adrenaline started to pump. She wasn’t a hardened military type like her lost brother, Chris, or Jill Valentine. She wasn’t even a cop like Leon Scott Kennedy, the other option for the main character. She was a college student, unaware of the danger she was in. She was Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and Sidney Prescott; the Final Girl of Resident Evil 2.

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After being rescued by Leon, however, her composure is regained and the two of them, working to decipher their situation, wind up separated once again by an unexpected tractor trailer. Once again, I was alone, surrounded by the flames of the crash and already with zombies looming before me. It didn’t take long- maybe unloading bullets into a total of one of the many incoming stalkers- for me to realize that I was not going to have enough bullets to take care of all of these. This wasn’t the empty and unsettling front hall of the Spencer Mansion; Raccoon City was quite literally going to eat me alive if I didn’t do something besides mow down my problems.

With haste, I managed to maneuver Claire between her assailants, being caught once or twice but breathlessly finding my way from screen to life-threatening screen. As she held her side and ducked through an alleyway toward the gates that would lead to my hopeful salvation, I already had marveled at the memories I had from the last few minutes: losing poor Robert Kendo in his gun shop as zombies swarmed him from the window, being cornered in a too-tight alleyway and worrying that it may be the last of my already dismal moments, and even the fact that Claire was giving an indication of being wounded without my having to go into the inventory screen- all of it wrapped me in the immersion of this desperate slog to try to find salvation and a moment to breathe.

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As Claire slipped through another thick metal door, I started to wonder if the police station that Leon had shouted for her to meet him at even existed anymore. The city was in shambles and given that there had never been a view into Raccoon City proper before, it was possible the entire adventure was going to be Claire and Leon ducking from street to street to find an escape. This place seemed more open, though. Something seemed calm, though not safe by any means. My friend and I went quiet, as did the couple in the room with us. I made Claire descend a staircase, going under some bridge. It seemed safer than traveling in the open and to my relief, it was devoid of any un-life.

I stopped to look at the other people in the room.

“Maybe you’re almost there?”
“If you take another hit, you’re probably dead.”
“Wow, this is intense…”

No one really seemed sure what was going to happen next. I was resolved to find some safety- and a place to save because I could not take any more of the stress let alone have to relive it. Claire marched up an opposing set of stairs back to the surface, and I braced myself for another mad dash.

There it was.

The Raccoon City Police Department.

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I stood outside for a brief second to take in the victory that I had reached the massive double doors to what I knew was temporary safety. At the shouting of “GO GO GO” from the room, Claire lunged into the building, leaving the intense struggle through the streets of Raccoon City to dive deeper into the incidents that would bring her to be my favorite survival horror character in gaming to date.

I’m anticipating the remake of Resident Evil 2 this Friday so strongly because the opening sequence of the original was one of the best and most engaging I had experienced up to that point. I fell in love with the characters, the environment, and the mounds of atmosphere that the game set its foundation upon. Having played the one-shot demo of the new game, I sincerely believe it has a lot of potential to rouse those emotions in me again. As a longtime gamer, I’m looking forward to that. Those feelings were the reason I’ve been a gamer for so long, and Resident Evil 2 has been set into an unshakeable display case in my heart as one of my all-time favorite titles.

Any readers else looking forward to this remake as much as I am? Any memories or hopes for the series should this remake do as well as it’s shaping up to? Feel free to let me know in the comments or on Twitter, and I look forward to seeing you all again once I come up for air once Resident Evil 2 releases!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)