Thursday, July 21, 2016

Down On The Farm: Portrayals of Mental Illness In Stardew Valley

 I started playing Stardew Valley because it was right up my alley: a Harvest Moon-inspired farming sim with a charming in-game world and a slew of enjoyable characters.

I kept playing Stardew Valley not just because it offered a wonderful world, charming characters, and engrossing gameplay (although it does) but because of the nuance just beneath the surface.  So many of the characters felt familiar to me, were people with problems I recognized from growing up in a rural small town.  They're complex and interesting; even the most stereotypical characters venture beyond the rote roles expected of them.

Oh, and some of them struggle with mental illness.

In fairness, it's hardly as though portrayals of mental illness are new to video games.  But I'll be damned if I've ever seen a nuanced portrayal in a farming sim, of all places, nor one that feels so spot-on.  Mental illness isn't at the center of Stardew Valley, but I think that's precisely why it works: these characters deal with their mental illnesses as a matter-of-fact reality, and as a participant in their lives the player begins to gain some understanding of the shape that these issues take over time and why they aren't always neatly resolved.

There are several characters throughout the game who appear to struggle with mental illness, among them the elderly George (who may well be depressed) and Pam, who is an implied alcoholic.  But for the purposes of this essay, I'm going to focus on two in particular: Kent and Sebastian.

Fair warning: spoilers follow.

The essay is broken into two sections:

I. Kent, PTSD, and The Family
II. Sebastian, Depression, and Marriage

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Undertale: A Study In Curiosity and Trangression

I'm used to being scolded by games when I play them.

It's rude to read a diary that isn't yours!

This isn't your bed!  You can't sleep there!

Hey!  That's private!

But what can I say?  Doing those things is a part of who I am.  Given the opportunity, as an in-game player I like doing everything that seems like it might be possible.  I go through people's diaries and sometimes their garbage.  I sleep in other people's beds.  I walk through doors that are meant to keep me out.  And what I've found is that while games often play at encouraging curiosity, they often limit it purposefully - most often as a way to keep you glued to the narrative or to a particular persona.  You can talk to everybody in town, but you can't read that diary - at least not yet.  You can go everywhere you want, except not there, to the place where the plot isn't ready to take you.

And then I played Undertale.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kamisama Hajimemashita 135: Full Circle

I have always believed that Kamisama Hajimemashita would end up being one of my favorite all-time mangas.  The potential was there, and yet my faith wavered from time to time: I wasn't sure if Suzuki Julietta would be willing to follow through fully on the threads of evil and redemption, grace and love, humanity and cruelty, that she originally stitched into the series.

With this chapter, I can say that she absolutely has.  Whatever happens after this, Kamisama has made a meaningful - and, more importantly, authentic - statement on those themes with this poignant chapter.  Keeping the focus on Akura-ou and the relationships he's formed as Kirihito, Suzuki does what I'd always hoped she'd do: she allows these characters, all of them, to evolve in ways that still remain true to their identities.

You can read the translation here at Kira Kira Treasure Box; now let's go on and discuss the chapter!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kamisama Hajimemashita 131: Mutual Growth

 I somehow missed a couple of chapters, but I'm glad to blog this one because this chapter actually showcases the evolution of both Tomoe and Nanami in ways I didn't expect.  In particular we're dealing here with an interesting discussion of selfishness and selflessness and where the two overlap.  As always, for a wonderful translation/summary of the chapter, go check out Kira Kira Treasure Box.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker Review and Analysis

 When I first heard that Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker would be released in North America, I was equal parts giddy and concerned.  DeSu2 has long been my favorite game of all time, and I fretted that the new amped-up version, complete with a new arc, somehow wouldn't meet my expectations.

I needn't have worried.  Not only is DeSu2:RB everything I hoped for and more, the game gave me things I didn't dare hope for or even think to dream about.  In short, this game is a joyful little gift to fandom, and I loved it so much that I figured I'd break down what I loved about it in an in-depth analysis/review.

The first portion of the review will focus on gameplay; unless you're new to the DeSu2 game generally, there will be no spoilers here.  The second portion of the review will focus on content, and spoilers will abound because there's so much to discuss and I want to get down to specifics.  Avoid the second half of the review if you don't want to know anything about the Triangulum arc of the game; both sections will be clearly marked.

**I'll be referring to the Protag as "Hibiki" throughout as this hews back to the anime version and it's the name I usually use for him

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Anime Recommendation: Death Parade

I'm often jaded by the prospect of original, twelve-episode animes.

The time frame is short for a series that wants to set up a story with any kind of depth; there are limits to how many ideas you can explore.  And so when Death Parade started, I dismissed it as a formulaic case-of-the-week type show, where the dead popped up in Hell's Waiting Room to see whether they'd be reincarnated or not.

But I was wrong.  To my delight, Death Parade turned out to be infinitely more than what I'd hoped: not a formulaic death-of-the-week show, but a series that very eloquently illustrates the bare-bones nature of existentialism and seeks to explore why the temporal, mistake-riddled, passion-driven lives of people matter.

Memento mori: remember you must die.  That credo is at the heart of DP's philosophy and, if you can handle the attendant darkness and sadness, this is a show I think you'll enjoy.

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