rynling: (Mog Toast)
When it comes to video game villains, there's a certain amount of puppy kicking that you have get past in order to figure out what's going on with them. Nintendo villains tend to not kick a lot of puppies, especially compared to Final Fantasy villains, who routinely have puppies positioned directly in front of their waiting feet.

Seymour is especially bad in this regard. He doesn't particularly come off as insane, but the game gives him so many puppies to kick that it's hard to understand who he would be if he weren't a video game villain. He hardcore creeps on Yuna and then tries to kill her, he murders multiple highly ranked members of Yevon (including his father), he orchestrates the mass slaughter that is Operation Mi'ihen, and his ultimate goal is to become Sin so that he can end human suffering by destroying every person in Spira. I define all of this as "kicking puppies" because it's over-the-top evil behavior that doesn't really serve any narrative purpose aside from establishing the villain as the bad guy. Seymour is difficult to understand because, once you take away all this puppy kicking, there really isn't that much there.

In the Japanese version of the game, a lot of the heavy lifting is done by Seymour's voice actor, Junichi Suwabe, who is quite prolific and especially known for playing characters who are brilliant but slightly unhinged (such as, most recently, Victor in Yuri!!! on Ice). Suwabe's voice basically sounds like liquid sex, which goes a long way toward establishing a seductive quality to Seymour's character, thus offering a partial explanation as to why he would have risen so high in Yevon. In Japanese, there's a strong social positivity attached to the sort of highly formal and "soft" speech that Seymour uses, which is supposed to give us an impression of him being cultured and intelligent and every bit the summoner and scholar everyone makes him out to be.

I think this is the key to understanding the real conflict that Seymour represents, which has more to do with Yevon than it has to do with him. In Spira, Yevon controls absolutely everything. Although tradition and religious faith comfort the people, Yevon is thoroughly corrupt and does nothing to actually protect people from Sin. The high-ranking clergy know that Sin can never be defeated by summoners, but they still take advantage of the people's faith for political and economic gain. Because Yevon's power is so deeply entrenched in the culture and society of Spira, only an outsider would be able to resist it.

As a the child of an interracial couple who lived in exile for most of his life, Seymour had the potential to be that outsider, but he devoted all of his energy to becoming an insider. He rose high in Yevon, which is, after all, what his father and mother wanted him to do, both of them hoping that he could prove instrumental in easing the racial tensions that were exacerbated by Maester Mika's integration policies. As one of the members of the esoteric inner circle of Yevon, and as someone who has witnessed the horror of what it means to be a Fayth, Seymour has access to information that most people in Spira do not, but he is not able to do anything productive with this knowledge and insight.

Seymour resists the myth that Spira can be saved from Sin, but he has also bought into it so deeply that he has begun to embrace the original purpose of Sin, which was to protect Spira from complete annihilation by blasting its level of technology back to a preindustrial level. Seymour could have become a radical, but he is way too invested in the system. Essentially, his "evil" is that he has assimilated.

Tidus is a true outsider, which is why he gets to be the hero of the game. Still, Seymour is correct in his understanding that everything in Spira is a "spiral" of death from which it is incredibly difficult to escape. If Sin is not defeated, people may suffer at some undetermined point in the future; but, if Sin is defeated, everything will change, and people will suffer right now. Basically, change is hard, even if it's beneficial in the long run. If the system changes, people will lose things that are important to them. Tidus is clueless about all of this, and so he questions and undermines and breaks the system without really thinking about the larger consequences.

In the end, however, neither Tidus the radical nor Seymour the reactionary is a sustainable position, and it's actually Yuna, the compassionate young women who can understand both positions, who survives and addresses all of Spira after both Tidus and Seymour are gone.

I think Final Fantasy X is a very political game, and I get the sense that what is being critiqued by its story is Japan's Imperial system. With strong references to Okinawa and hip hop fashion, Final Fantasy X draws on the culture of Japan's "lost decade" of the 1990s, when people desperately wanted to see change in their society. Japan can't escape the dark legacy of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War if it doesn't change, but it can't transform itself if it doesn't let go of the Imperial system, which is difficult to reform or dispose of. The older Seymours are too invested in the system, while the radical inclinations of the younger Tiduses fade like a dream. Someone like Yuna, who is both an insider and outsider and possesses the empathy to see the problem from multiple viewpoints, needs to step forward and save Japan by uniting disparate groups of people with a message of hope and a vision of an alternate future.

And that, as they say, is that. Or not?? To be honest, I'm still thinking this through.
rynling: (Cecil Harvey)
(1) What happens to the Al Bhed city of Home?

(2) What happens to a summoner when they summon the Final Aeon?

(3) How does Yuna escape from Seymour during the wedding scene?

(4) Which character is the most effective against machina enemies?

(5) What is the purpose of the Al Bhed Primer items?

(6) How does Final Fantasy X convey a sense of distance traveled?


Although it has two possible "correct" answers (Rikku or Lulu), a lot of students were unable to answer the fourth question. I think what may have happened is that, by this point in the semester, some of them have started relying on abbreviated playthrough videos. I told them that they should still consult the strategy guide regarding the gameplay elements if they choose this route through the game, but it seems they've let this slide. I therefore started giving informal verbal quizzes regarding gameplay during class so that everyone is up to speed.
rynling: (Default)
(1) What is an "empathy game"?

(2) What specific person attempts to abduct Yuna as she's crossing the Moonflow?

(3) Why does Yuna kill Seymour?

(4) Draw ze shoopuf?


If I had to pick a point in Final Fantasy X where the story starts to go off the rails, it's definitely around Guadosalam, and I don't have answers to many of the questions that arise during this segment of the game. What are pyreflies? What is the Farplane? What exactly does Seymour show the party (on his own personal holodeck??) when he proposes to Yuna?

So instead of diving into Tumblr-level meta I had my students draw a shoopuf, warning them in advance that this would be a thing they would be expected to do. Not everyone got it exactly right, but that didn't really matter to me. They’re good dogs Brent.
rynling: (Teh Bowz)
(1) Why were the Nintendo DS and Wii consoles so successful?

(2) What happens when a summoner defeats Sin?

(3) Why do some people in Spira (including Wakka) dislike and distrust the Al Bhed?

(4) How successful is Operation Mi'ihen (the battle against Sin on the beach)?

(5) What type of enemies are Wakka's standard attacks effective against?

(6) How would you describe Seymour's behavior and attitude regarding Yuna?


For the last question, all the women in the class answered with a variant on "creepy and predatory." None of the men picked up on this aspect of Seymour's behavior at all, giving answers such as "he likes her," "he has a crush on her," "he feels protective of her," "he wants to support her," and so on. This was very interesting to me, and by "interesting" I mean "extremely disturbing."
rynling: (Default)
(1) What video game company gave Sony investment money to develop the PlayStation?

(2) What happens to the village of Kilika immediately before Yuna and company arrive there?

(3) Who is Seymour Guado (the man with the impossibly styled blue hair)?

(4) According to Auron, what is Sin?

(5) What type of black magic is strong against Yellow (lightning) Elementals?

(6) How would you describe the relationship between Tidus and Yuna?


The answer to the first question can be found in Chapter 14 ("Mario's Advance: Nintendo's Discs") of Jeff Ryan's book Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, which was the assigned reading for last week. The title alone should give you a pretty good idea of what the answer to the question is, but a number of people still got it wrong, even though I like to think I gave a fairly lucid and detailed presentation on this era of video game history. I suppose you can lead a horse to water, but...

The students said they wanted more quiz questions about gameplay, so I gave them a question about gameplay. I figured that they had probably fought enough Yellow Elementals on their way to and from the Kilika Temple to have picked up on their vulnerability, especially since this is the point in the game when just about every weapon has the Sensor ability tacked onto it. Alas, about half of the kids got the answer to the question wrong. I had decided not to include gameplay questions so as not to penalize the students reading or watching a playthrough, but they were very insistent that I include these questions, so... Idk, I'm including another gameplay question on this week's quiz, and we'll see what happens.
rynling: (Celes Chere)
This was last week's quiz in my video game class:

(1) What sport does Tidus play?

(2) Who are the first people Tidus encounters after he leaves Zanarkand?

(3) What is the name of the island where Tidus eventually washes up?

(4) What does Yuna become after she completes her trial in the island temple?

(5) What do you think is the main visual motif of Final Fantasy X?

(6) How would you describe Tidus's attitude regarding his father?


Almost everyone got the answer to the third question wrong. What I learned from this is that I need to be careful about proper nouns. Even if a word is written and repeated multiple times in the game, the students may not remember and internalize it until we've discussed it in class.

Although there are multiple possible answers to the fifth question, about half of the students got it "wrong" because they didn't understand what I meant by "visual motif." One of the students asked me to explain what the term means during the quiz, and I did my best, but this last-minute impromptu mini-lecture was apparently not effective. I need to remember that, when it comes to the majority of undergraduates, they're really starting from zero.

The students suggested that I write multiple-choice questions, but I'm not interested in testing passive knowledge. Because I have to print everything out at home, I'm also not too terribly interested in writing quizzes that take up more than the front side of one sheet of paper. There is an art to constructing quizzes, and I suppose I'll have to figure it out as I go along.
rynling: (Default)
Tomorrow is my first class about Final Fantasy X ahhhhhhhhhhhh


I am so not ready haha.

The syllabus is finished and posted in several places, and after work this evening I'll print out physical copies for the students at a copy shop. I've already uploaded most of the assigned readings to the course site on Blackboard, and I traded favors with a friend who promised to send me pirated copies of the rest by the end of the day today.

(But why doesn't she just ask the university library and/or Interlibrary Loan to scan the readings?? you might be thinking. The answer is that I did, and they did a remarkably shitty job. As someone dating a university librarian, I'm not going to say that university libraries are useless, but they could do a lot better in certain regards.)

In any case, the course has a full enrollment of 25 students, and I intend to overload anyone who shows up and asks to be added to the class. The more the merrier, right? For what it's worth, 10 of the 25 students seem to be female, although some of them have Chinese and Korean names that could go either way.

The class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I've structured it so that we will talk about industry history, Japanese culture, and game design theory on Tuesdays, and on Thursdays we will apply this information to FFX. In terms of assignments, this means that students will be asked to read academic articles and book chapters for Tuesday classes, and they will need to have played FFX up to a designated point by the beginning of class on Thursday.

FFX is extremely well written and has excellent pacing, and it lends itself to division into "chapters" of relatively even length. It actually wasn't that difficult to figure out that students should play "until the morning after the Djose Temple" and "until you wake up in the Sanubia Desert" and so on. The kids should be in the Calm Lands by spring break, and they will have beaten the game at the end of the first week of April.

Something that is true of all undergraduate students everywhere in the world is that there are a lot of demands on their time, and they often have to make difficult decisions regarding what assignments they are and are not able to complete. I understand that playing a video game can feel as if it's not work, which means that many students may procrastinate if they're not given an incentive to treat these "reading" assignments as serious coursework. I'm therefore planning on giving written quizzes on FFX at the beginning of class every Thursday, which should be fun.

(I suppose I could reproduce those quizzes here if anyone reading this is interested.)

A friend of mine who teaches at a university in Australia has been thinking of developing a course like this, and he asked me a good question regarding a practical concern, namely, what happens if students get stuck? At the boss fight with Seymour on Mount Gagazet, for example?

In my own experience, dealing with the difficulty curve in FFX is mostly a matter of level grinding. One of the reasons I chose this game is because it's fairly easy – and because it has a minimum of level grinding. I took the major hikes in difficulty into account in the syllabus, and I'm going to do my best to alert the students to potential problem areas in advance. I also put PDF copies of two strategy guides up on the course website on Blackboard, and I'm planning on including links to a number of fan-written online guides as well.

From what I understand, the way that other instructors teaching games have handled the issue of difficulty is to pair students up or put them into groups of mixed skill levels so that they can help each other out. When I was an undergraduate, however, I worked well over 40 hours a week at multiple jobs, and I think there is a special place in hell for college professors who assign mandatory recurring group work. The university where I'm teaching this class has a fairly high number of nontraditional students (a few of the ones enrolled in my class are already professional game devs), so I don't think something like that would work there anyway.

If I had better library or media lab support, I would consider scheduling something like a "lab" for class, meaning that I would book a room for a certain number of hours a week where my students could play the assigned texts together. If I were assigning multiple games instead of just one, I think this would be an ideal scenario, and it's something I might consider if I have an opportunity to teach a class like this again.

The one thing I'm really worried about is that I will have one or more Final Fantasy Experts™ in the class, by which I mean people who are obsessed with game trivia. I've played FFX five times, and I will play it again along with the students, but I don't remember all the tiny details of the game perfectly, and there are other Final Fantasy games I've only played once or twice, like FFVIII and FFXIII. I don't want to try to pass myself off as some sort of authority on the series, but I do need to act as a moderator and as an administrator, and I hope I will be able to maintain a friendly atmosphere while still commanding at least a small degree of respect. I know this is something that probably no female professional has ever struggled with before, so wish me luck lol.
rynling: (Celes Chere)
Starting in two weeks, I will be teaching a class about Final Fantasy X at a DC area university. A lot of my students are going to be baby game devs, and I'm assuming that the rest are high-level Japan dorks. I'm excited and very, very nervous.

When I was asked to put together a course on video games in a Japanese context, I saw two options for how to structure the class. The first was that I would assign a number of games to emphasize breadth, and the second was that I would assign one game to emphasize depth.

My main concern is accessibility. A lot of people who love (and develop) games genuinely suck at playing them, and I didn't want to assign any texts that my students can't "read." I also don't want to try to force my students into a major commitment of time or money, which will only result in them not doing the assignments. For practical reasons, it made much more sense for me to only assign one game.

I decided that the game would be FFX because of its accessibility. It's not a difficult game, it doesn't require a great deal of grinding, and it can be played from start to finish in about forty to sixty hours. There are two official English-language strategy guides floating around in PDF form, and there are numerous fanmade walkthroughs as well. Even if I somehow get a student who has never played a video game before, I'm pretty sure they can handle FFX.

The game also exists in multiple versions, which include the original PS2 game, the PS3 HD release as a disc and as a digital download, a digital version augmented for the PS4, a Steam version of the PS3 HD remaster, and a quality ROM for the PCSX2 emulator. What this means is that I won't have to try to swim upstream to get the university library to make a copy of the game available for students who wouldn't otherwise have access to it (which is convenient, because I gave up on that battle in early December).

What I also appreciate about FFX is that it's a good game. It's not my favorite Final Fantasy, and I haven't adopted any of its characters as my children, but there's certainly a semester's worth of material there.

More on this later as I iron out the awkward folds in the syllabus.
rynling: (Terra Branford)
I'm about two hours (10%) into I Am Setsuna, which was purposefully designed to feel very much like Chrono Trigger. The battle system is snappy, and the writing is competent.

The scenery is all snow all the time, which has been dampening my enjoyment (so to speak). The snow is pretty but unrelenting, and there are no lighting or physics effects of the sort that made the sand in Journey so interesting and dynamic. The piano music that serves as the score is also pretty but unrelenting, and I ended up turning the in-game slider for the BGM almost all the way down. The voice acting is embarrassing, so I turned it off.

Setsuna is basically Yuna, a "sacrifice" who has been sent out from her village to appease "the monsters." She will give her life in "the Lost Lands," and that will for some reason keep everyone else in the world safe. Setsuna is accompanied by a Rikku character and an Auron character (the references are obvious), and the player-protagonist is not so much Crono as he is Squall. So mercenary, much angst.

It's fun to play the game while I'm playing it, but I never really feel compelled to pick it up. To be honest, the strongest feeling I've had toward I Am Setsuna is nostalgia for Final Fantasy X. I never thought I'd prefer Tidus to... anyone, really... but so far I Am Setsuna feels merely derivative and doesn't add anything new or interesting to the genre.
rynling: (Cecil Harvey)
This morning I came across an interesting and well-argued essay defending Tidus...


What bothers me about Tidus, however, is not that he displays emotions, but rather the intense focus that the game places on him. "This is my story," he says at the beginning, but it's not; it's actually Yuna's story. Sure, Tidus is in a difficult situation, and I understand that he's hurt and confused, but so is Yuna. Lulu and Rikku are going through incredible trials of their own; but, like Yuna, we don't get to see their stories from an inside perspective. By placing Tidus and his trauma at the center of the story, the game is mandating that we care about his pain and emotional development more than we care for the female characters. Because the player-protagonist characters of Final Fantasy VII through XII are also male, it's difficult not to view the privileging of Tidus over the female characters as being representative of a broader privileging of the emotions of men over the emotions of women.

Meanwhile, I apparently somehow still care about Final Fantasy X fifteen years after its release.
rynling: (Celes Chere)
A friend of mine just started playing FFX, and he wrote to me to say that, after watching the opening sequence, he doesn't understand all the Tidus hate he's encountered. These are his exact words:

The reason Tidus acts the weird, silly, monkey-like happy-go-lucky way he does is because the alternative - the realistic option - is someone curled into a fetal position and staying that way for the whole game.
Here's the thing about Tidus at the beginning of the game, though. People get annoyed with him mainly because he's childish and passive; instead of taking control of his situation, he waits for someone else to save him. Aside from being a doofus and completely shutting down, he's actually got a third realistic option, which would be for him to wo/man up. Sure, he's seventeen, but so was Ashe when she had to pretend to commit suicide in order to become the head of an underground political resistance movement. Garnet was sixteen when she orchestrated her own kidnapping in order to find a means of overthrowing her corrupt mother. Celes was eighteen when she betrayed the Empire. And Yuna? She's seventeen, and she's already made the decision to sacrifice her life for the possibility of a peace that she knows won't last.  

On a more personal level, I was seventeen in the winter when FFX was released in the US, and I was going through an extremely tough period. Sure, there wasn't a giant magic whale destroying my city and sending me a thousand years into the future, but my world had been painfully shattered, and I was more or less on my own. Instead of waiting for someone to come in and fix my life, I got my shit together and did what needed to be done.

The point is not that I'm a special snowflake (although I am a very special snowflake), but rather that I know from personal experience that it's entirely possible for teenagers to deal with all sorts of terrible circumstances with dignity. Anger and poor decisions are to be expected, but the level of petulance that Tidus demonstrates is unnecessary.

Also, as I wrote in response to auronlu's recent post on Spiran politics, I think it hurts the game for the point-of-view character to be so self-centered. There's a lot of interesting geopolitical stuff going on in the background that eventually gets shifted into the immediate foreground, and the suspense and buildup would be much more effective if Tidus weren't so focused on himself. I also think a more comprehensive perspective on the broader picture wouldn't have detracted from the teenage love story but rather would have served to make it more poignant, as it would have encouraged the player to be much more aware of just how brightly the bond between Yuna and Tidus shines against a backdrop of chaotic darkness. Sin is scary, but other human beings are much, much scarier, which is one of the major themes of this game and its sequel. The best moments in the game are when Tidus removes his head from his ass and pays attention to what's going on around him, and I wish there had been more of those moments, preferably in the interest of developing the game's amazing cast of supporting characters.


rynling: (Default)
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