Category: Gaming (page 1 of 73)

D&D Matters

I’m really glad I started playing Dungeons & Dragons again.

It’s taken me the better part of a year to feel comfortable going out-of-doors again. I was walking around like a man with my skin peeled off, and the fresh air and particulates of the outside world stung like a son-of-a-bitch. I had to take that time, in a place of safety and solitude, to reacquaint myself with myself. Take a good long look in the mirror. Start fixing some shit. Get better.

Then I started going out to watch soccer matches again, and I made a friend.

She noticed my d20 ring, a souvenir of days gone by that has only the meaning I’ve given it. No other associations, no bad memories. Just a spinning random number generator for rolling skill checks in the real world. We got to talking about D&D. And she mentioned a game she was in on Monday nights. Without knowing what I was doing or why, I jumped at the chance.

Then I got nervous.

You see, I might have gone a bit too far the other way in correcting myself. I was a little hyper-vigilant. I had trouble trusting my instincts. Here was a smart, lovely, challenging person who saw in me enough value and goodness to invite me into another part of her life, and I was asking myself a bunch of questions — do I have the right reasons for doing this? Am I going to be an invasive presence? Will I get along with everyone? Should I be scared?

In order: yes, no, yes, and no.

My partner told me so. A few times. I can be a little thick-headed; it’s an aspect of myself I’ve had since I was young. Still, the answers were conveyed to me in love, even if they had to be repeated. I finally quieted the head weasels, drew up my character, and headed downtown. My head was on a bit of a swivel before I got into the Raygun Lounge. I didn’t know how my Paladin of Bahamut would go over with these new people.

I guess the best way to put it “like gangbusters.”

He had to leave the party at one point because a fellow party member made, in his opinion, a monumentally bad and immoral decision. So I reintroduced one of my favorite characters, a dark elf necromancer, to the party. Again, he was a big hit. Sure, he was the complete opposite of my paladin in personality and motivation, but therein lies the challenge. And since my life isn’t exactly on hardmode, being the sort of white male of education and relative means that often serves as a poster child for the Patriarchy, I tend to game that way. See also my pacifist/stealth run of Deus Ex Human Revolution’s Director’s Cut that is my current PC gaming ‘project’.

Long story short: I was worried over nothing.

With everything going on, within and without, it’s been difficult to fully engage with my writing brain. Certain parts of myself have lain somewhat dormant while getting better, engaging in self-care and self-correction, and generally being an isolationist hermit have dominated my time. Being with others and collaborating in telling a story about people making bad choices has started reawakening my own storytelling synapses. If nothing else, it’s underscored my need to shift my career path away from banging out code for a living to making words happen. That’s been mostly what I’ve been looking for when I’m on LinkedIn looking for a new job that has nothing to do with start-ups — I am unsuited for such a life. Perhaps I’m just too old at this point.

Anyway. Dungeons & Dragons.

The classic role-playing game matters to me because it hits all of the right buttons. It’s escapism. It’s storytelling. It’s interacting with other humans, revealing parts of oneself in a safe environment and bouncing off of one another and the Dungeon Master in delightful and intriguing ways. It’s taking chances. It’s putting on a performance in the ‘theatre of the mind’ just because you can.

I want to start my own group, and guide people through the bones of a story I construct, and watch them flesh everything out and make it a living, breathing thing that we all enjoy.

Storytelling matters. Collaboration matters. People, their dreams, their imaginations, their fears, their potential and ambition and passion — all of that matters.

All of that comes together in Dungeons & Dragons.

That’s why it matters.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

Art courtesy Wizards of the Coast

Book Review: Ready Player One

Fan Cover by Ali Kellner

I state the following without hyperbole: the first few chapters of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is some of the most difficult reading I’ve done in a very long time.

Not because of the nature of the events, or even the quality of the writing, in and of itself. It was difficult because it was just so damn proud of itself for the number of 80’s references it was making. Reading over our protagonist Wade’s list of 80’s nostalgia subjects was like reading over the results of a search for “80’s pop culture references” and had just about as much emotional effect. Hey, I remember the Atari 2600! I remember Adventure! I remember Joust! I remember WarGames! I remember… wait.

Let me back up. For those of you who don’t know, Ready Player One takes place in a near-future Earth where things are not necessarily post-apocalyptic, but are definitely bleak and cynically prophetic. With fossil fuels all but gone and the global economy in dire chaos as a result, homelessness and unemployment are as rampant as power outages and autonomous corporate monstrosities. The only refuge most people have is in the OASIS, a free (ostensibly) virtual world which allows user VR access to a universe that takes notes from the Matrix, MMOs, and even SecondLife. Our protagonist, Wade, is a high school student who uses the OASIS for his schooling, since he lives in a refugee camp/shantytown of stacked RV trailers called… well, “The Stacks”. He is also participating in a hunt for an item hidden within the OASIS by its creator, who recently died, and left the bulk of his fortune and the controlling share of the OASIS to whomever can find the item. Wade is not alone, however; not only have many other nerds started the hunt, but a corporate rival to the OASIS’s company has mounted a major operation with tens of thousands of employees scouring the virtual universe for the item. What chance does one little reclusive nerd has against those odds?

Well, if he starts rattling off 80’s pop culture references every time he takes a breath, his chances are probably pretty good.

I grew up in the 80’s. I didn’t quite hit my teen years until 1990 or so, but I do remember a lot of the things Cline gleefully barrages readers with during the opening chapters of Ready Player One. When he described the crude, pixelated characters of the Atari game Adventure, I could picture it clearly in my head. I’ve played through the D&D dungeon “Tomb of Horrors” a few times since I first learned how to play 2nd edition in the 90’s. Quick aside: I am really looking forward to the full-blown campaign being built around the latest version of the dungeon. It’s called “Tomb of Annihilation” and I plan on ordering it in at my Friendly Neighborhood Comics Store.

The novelty of Cline’s zeal in rattling off his references quickly wears off, and soon becomes tiresome. Yes, Ernest, we get it, you love the 80’s, and a lot of other nerds do too, and this is aimed at making them feel like this is a story for them. That this protagonist is someone they understand and can relate to. Specifically, the tone and timbre of Cline’s opening feels like it’s leaving out huge chunks of cheese for spectacle-wearing mice, where the cheese is references to Back to the Future and Joust and the mice are mostly males, and probably a majority of them are white. It felt, to me, like pandering to a horrifyingly shameless level. I nearly stopped reading entirely.

Like the hunt within the book, Ready Player One contains three gates. This was the first one, and it was definitely the hardest one for me to get past. And to get past it, I had to take a step back.

Ready Player One was published in 2011. This was a time before the Oculus Rift, perhaps the most prevalent equivalent to the OASIS’s VR/haptic hardware. This was a time before GamerGate and the rise of social justice as a major component of the online narrative. Hell, this was a time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was really a thing; until The Avengers debuted on 4 May 2012, nobody really thought Marvel could pull off its grand experiment. The world into which Cline presented his novel was one where nerd culture was still most definitely a sub-culture, one far less part of the public narrative than sports, celebrity scandals, and reality television. Tournaments for games like StarCraft II happened largely away from public eyes in the Americas and Europe. Other accessible mutliplayer games geared for what is now called ‘e-sports’ like League of Legends, Hearthstone, and DOTA 2 hadn’t been released. Unlike today, where you can find people playing D&D every week on Critical Role, if you wanted to see people doing that, you had to find a special episode of Community or a fan film like The Gamers.

So, yes, while Ready Player One is pretty blatant in pandering to a certain demographic, at the time of its publication, that demographic was not this directly represented. Sure, plenty of white male power fantasies existed — comic books in and of themselves were as power-fantastic as ever, and look at games like God of War and Call of Duty. But here was a novel in which the protagonist, like much of its intended audience, was a reclusive nerd. Even during the first few times we see him in the OASIS, he’s kind of a loser. He starts getting ahead because of all of this esoteric knowledge he has in his brain. Not because he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, or discovers an alien rock, or because he’s some kind of Chosen Onetm. Wade finds the first key, and clears the first gate, by knowing his D&D, his Joust, and his WarGames.

I can see the narrative merit in that. I saw that there was some value in a protagonist, especially in the context of young adulthood, thinking their way through a problem rather than punching their way through it. When I looked at it from that perspective, I found it a bit easier to move forward with the book. And, to be honest, the references became less pervasive and persistent as the book went on. Such was clearing the first gate of the book — whether you embrace and delight in the references, or merely endure them, accepting them gets you into the meat of the story.

Spoilers abound past this point. Fairly be ye warned.

The second gate involved seeing Wade as a human being. With all of the pandering in the narrative’s set-up, and the many ways in which it was clear (at least to me) that Wade was meant to be just as much an avatar for the reader as Parzival was Wade’s avatar in the OASIS, how do we contextualize Wade as a person? This involves not just raising the stakes but also making Wade respond to pressure, dealing with real complications, and so on. When his horrible aunt and her idiot meathead of a boyfriend are killed when the evil corporation bombs the trailer where Wade had his mail sent, it’s horrific, but Wade walks away from it pretty nonchalantly. By now, as an online celebrity for clearing the first gate of Halliday’s challenge, Wade has sponsorship money in no small amounts and can look after his own needs. Sure, it establishes EvilCorp — sorry, “IOI” — as a pretty major threat, but it also shows Wade is capable of planning and forethought to a pretty high degree considering where he goes and what he does next to keep himself safe for the hunting to come.

There is a romance, and this being not just a novel with a young adult protagonist but a romance in the context of online, things run anything but smoothly. It feels like pretty standard teen angst, albeit with the backdrop of nerd ephemera and virtual laser-gun battles. The zero-g dance party held by The Great And Powerful Og was a highlight, to be sure. But it isn’t until another character is killed — literally yanked out of his rig and thrown out a window by IOI goons — that suddenly the threat becomes incredibly real. In his conversation with the victim’s brother, Wade shows us that he has a capacity for respect and compassion that, honestly, runs extremely counter to how straight white male nerds tend to comport themselves in modern society.

I feel that it is this, just as much the moment where I considered the second gate of the book cleared, is really what sets Wade apart from quite a few other young adult protagonists. While he did get a little obsessive over his paramour Art3mis in the wake of her cutting off communication, lovesick teens do a lot of dumb shit. He never goes so far as to invade her privacy or compromise her safety or integrity, but he does do the whole standing-outside-the-window-with-the-boombox routine. The window, in this case, being set in a huge fortress on the remote world of Benatar. Wade is someone who can learn from his mistakes. He can take steps to improve himself — he sets up a system for himself to get and stay in shape rather than just become a sad sack of meat strapped into an OASIS rig. And, most of all, he can see past the digital avatar to the real person on the other end, and imagine them complexly.

When he sits with Shoto, the brother of the murder victim, their conversation is quiet and meaningful. There are no explosions of angst or huge dramatic reveals; instead, Shoto tells his story, Wade conveys his condolences, and they start to plan what to do next. This could have been another young-adult-standing-in-the-rain moment; instead, both Wade and Shoto demonstrate a strength of character that is not only difficult to find in the genre, but all too often lacking in many of the denizens of the Internet we deal with here in the real world.

What happens next in the book, with Wade infiltrating IOI, was to me, a very pleasant surprise. After all of the tiresome reference-making and the teen angst — which, again, Cline handled very well — we come to a moment where Wade risks everything. He sacrifices his safety, his comfort, and his very identity to find a way to overcome the villains. He doesn’t do this by kicking down doors, shooting up goons, or even confronting the enemy mastermind in the real world. He lays out an elaborate plan in secret, sets himself up for success, accepts the hardships that will be involved, and without a word to his friends, disappears into the IOI corporate machine. To me, this sequence is the highlight of the book. Moreso than the explosive climactic battle (which I’ll get to), this demonstrates what Cline is capable of in terms of storytelling. Devoid of his toys, his resources, and his allies, left with only his wits and whatever he prepared for in advance, Wade has to be clever, subtle, and think on his feet to accomplish his goals.

There’s no violence, no explosions, no rants, no moments of big drama. Just tension, a touch of corporate horror, and — if I’m honest, much to my delight — a very subtle nod to Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

I never said all of the references were bad ones.

The second gate is cleared when Wade is picked up after his real-world infiltration gambit by one of his closest friends and allies, H (spelled out ‘Aech’ since the OASIS doesn’t allow one-letter monikers). While presented in the OASIS as white and male, H turns out to be neither of those things. How does Wade react? Barely at all. H’s race, gender, and sexuality matter very little in the grand scheme of things. Cline, in his fashion, may make the point in a bit of a heavy-handed matter, but considering how relevant a point it is to this day, in this case I think it’s justified. Wade’s character sketch is now complete; we can move on to the third and final gate.

The third gate is — what’s the point of this story? What’s it trying to tell us?

As much fun as the epic final battle is, with everything from a tiny Johnny-5 robot being a key part of our heroes’ plan to a showdown between Mechagodzilla and Ultraman, the payoff for all of the fireworks needs to be worth all of the time it took to set everything up. While Wade’s obsessive knowledge-farming and gaming skills get him up to the climax of the battle, it is a combination of things that see him through to victory. He relies on a little luck — a one-off scene from earlier in the book becomes incredibly vital to success — as well as knowledge his friends possess that he does not. In the end, his recollection of Halliday’s message to the world and an understanding of where Halliday’s heart lay are what secure victory. And what lays beyond for Wade is not just the prizes and the accolades, but something far more interesting — he has the ability to turn the OASIS off.

Would Wade ever push the Big Red Button? I don’t know. Probably not, not unless IOI put some sort of virus into it that might kill everyone if he doesn’t. But that seems far-fetched. The message, though, is that Wade can turn it off for himself and, more than likely, should do that more often. After all, he’s proven that he can handle himself in the real world, without having to be some kind of hyper-masculine badass or post-human savant. His friends respect him because of who he is, not because of what he can do for them. The last scene of the book, between Wade and Art3mis (Samantha) in a lovely garden maze in the real world, is quiet and touching, and it makes it clear that however amazing and dangerous and empowering a virtual world like the OASIS might be, it is the people we connect with, not the systems we use for that connection, that really matter. And it doesn’t really matter who that person may pretend to be, but rather who exists behind the digital avatars and the character sheets and the bells and whistles. That’s what matters. That’s the crux of the story. That’s what lies beyond Ready Player One‘s third and final gate.

Maybe I’m still too optimistic after all of these years. Maybe I’m trying to find meaning where there is none, where other critics see just an endless pile of pandering 80’s references aimed at a demographic that already has more than enough representation in pop culture, thank you very much.

I can’t shake the feeling, though, that Cline has smuggled something to us under all of that seemingly shameless tat and glitzy graphics in our minds that actually means something. On the surface, Wade is a stereotypical gamer — reclusive, introverted, obsessive, maybe even selfish or downright mean. But look again at how he treats those around him. Examine the way he tackles his problems. Read over how he looks into himself when he runs into obstacles, and how he works to overcome them. How many gamers do that? How many dedicate themselves more to practice and self-improvement, rather than screaming imprecations and slurs and insults at their opponents before throwing down their controllers and jumping on Twitter to blame SJWs for the woes of the world?

Wade takes responsibility for his actions, and pushes himself to do better. He doesn’t give up, never stops trying. He reigns himself in, checks himself, corrects himself. This is something a lot of people, not just gamers, fail to do when the time comes for the individual to step up and do the work necessary to make things right.

This is why I ended up liking Ready Player One. This is why I feel it has value, and why I will be interested to see how Speilberg’s film adaptation turns out. I don’t think it’s a “HOLY GRAIL OF POP CULTURE” as the self-fellating promo text tells us in the preview. I think it’s good, and honestly, better than its superficial reference-making pandering appearance would make it out to be. Like Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors, if you can navigate the various traps and get past some of the more monstrous parts of things, there’s definitely treasure to be found.

In my honest opinion, to see a protagonist behave like a decent human being in a world where most of the populace would rather be anything but a human being is definitely a treasure worth finding.

It’s easy to blame the controller or the other player or the world or your circumstances for whatever made those dreaded GAME OVER words flash in front of you.

It’s a lot harder to dig out another quarter, take a deep breath, and put yourself in harm’s way again.

Ready, Player One?

Cover artwork by Ali Kellner

500 Words on Elite Dangerous

Courtesy Frontier Development

When I finally get home from long commutes down to and back from the home in which my start-up employer operates, I tend to be tired and mentally drained. It’s difficult for me to muster the juices I need to fuel my writing — a fact I try not to be too hard on myself over. Still, between the fatigue and my growing disgust over the situation in this country and on this planet, I prefer to wind down my day by going to space.

For a while, this was facilitated through Star Trek Online. Star Trek is one of my favorite sci-fi universes, and I’ve met some wonderful people there. However, I slowly came to realize that in terms of gameplay, I was unfulfilled. Like all MMOs, the world is mostly static; no matter how many times to beat up a certain enemy faction, the missions in which you do so never change. It’s hard to feel like you’re having an impact on the world around you. There’s still a hard divide between your reality and that of the game world, unlike something like Skyrim.

Then, I started playing Elite Dangerous.

Digging out my old Attack 3 joystick and G13 game pad, I quickly found myself immersed in one of the best space sims I’ve ever played. A few years ago I played through a few Wing Commander games for charity, and when I was younger, spent hours upon hours in Elite Plus and Wing Commander: Privateer. In addition to the nostalgic feeling of having my hands on a “throttle” and stick, the more I play the game, the more incentive I feel to keep playing. The galaxy is truly vast, with a plethora of options of how to play. Trading, combat, mining, exploration, even hauling tourists to exotic locales — all of these are profitable ways to make your mark on the galaxy. And you can truly make a mark; the game’s background sim and Powerplay functionality mean that if you choose to, you can influence system control, shifts in allegiance, and even the course of superpowers.

I’m trying a bit of everything. My Commander has made his way far from his home system, has joined up with a like-minded group of spacefarers, and I’m fictionalizing the journey. I’m finding more and more ways to make my time in space more rewarding, more immersive, and more challenging. I’m upgrading my joystick, adding voice commands, and I’m very much looking forward to earning enough cash to fund true exploration endeavors to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. I also want to contribute more to the cause of Princess Aisling Duval, the only member of the galactic superpowers outspoken on the idea that owning people is inherently wrong.

The only drawback, so far, is a relative lack of roleplaying. However, I know that storytellers are out there. I hope we’ll run into one another eventually.

Space is, after all, quite big.

Which is why I can lose myself in it for a while.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

500 Words on Journey to Un’Goro

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

Part of having more bandwidth for games now that I have gainful dayjob employment has included a return to playing Hearthstone on a regular basis. The latest expansion, Journey to Un’Goro, drops this week, and I’m quite excited to see what it will bring. It’s already had a bunch of coverage, some absolutely fantastic promotional materials produced, and a bevy of cute art accompanies the cards. As someone who both loves to build decks, and has an eye on competition, I already have some first impressions of what this set brings, and what it will mean to the game as a whole.

Adaptation

The Discover mechanic introduced in the League of Explorers adventure is one of the best things to happen to Hearthstone. Adaptation is an extension this mechanic. Allowing you to adapt to an opponent’s strategy lends a great deal of flexibility to your deck, much as Discovery has until this point. Hearthstone’s designers like to key into the notion of ‘delightful surprise’, and Adaptation is a great example of this.

Elementals

A new grouping of minions — known as a “tribe” in the parlance of this sort of game — is the Elementals. Like Dragons and Murlocs, Elementals synergize with one another in interesting ways. Shamans already had a couple of Elementals, but now there are so many that we may actually see Elemental decks that ramp up for huge finishes with big minions.

Questing

Questing is essential to MMOs like World of Warcraft, but outside of the player’s quests that reward gold or packs, this mechanic hasn’t been seen in Hearthstone until now. Each class now has a Legendary spell that lays out some criteria. Complete the task, and you’ll be rewarded with a powerful minion, a portal to another realm, or a spell that gives you an extra turn. As impressive and bold as these spells are, it remains to be seen what impact they will have on…

The Changing Meta

For a long few months, a scant few deck types have defined the meta of Standard play. It’s been difficult to try new decks or find new ways around very powerful, solid decks. With the new expansion and the change of available cards in Standard, it’s my hope, and that of other players, that the meta is finally getting shook up. But Standard is not the only mode…

More Wild!

I used to regard Wild as more of a ‘sandbox’ mode, focusing mostly on the Standard meta. However, with so many things being relegating to Wild, from staples of the last rotation like Reno Jackson to long-standing all-stars like Sylvanas Windrunner, I will need to play more Wild for sure in the Year of the Mammoth.

I will be cracking open my many packs of Journey to Un’Goro this Saturday, and I invite you to come with me on the quest for exciting new decks! You can find my Twitch channel here, and follow my Twitter for updates, thoughts, and shenanigans. I’m definitely looking forward to this!

On Fridays I write 500 words.

The Kerrigan Question

The Queen Bitch of the Universe, Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

“Girls don’t belong in games/movies!” This is the cry of “men’s rights activists” who point to things like Rogue One and female gamers & game journalists (Susan Arendt, IRL Jasmine, etc).

“What about Sarah Kerrigan?”

I suspect I’d mostly get blank stares. Maybe a bit of drool.

Here’s the background: Sarah Kerrigan is a major character in StarCraft and its sequel. StarCraft is a massively popular real-time strategy game that is played professionally as a multi-player contest & sport. Its single-player campaigns, while maybe not having the best writing, is still full of affecting moments — the rise of Arcturus Mengsk, the sacrifice of Tassadar, etc — but I would argue that the growth and arc of Kerrigan’s story is the beating heart of the narrative, though I admittedly haven’t played the last chapter, Legacy of the Void, yet. It’s a bit beyond my means at present.

I’m going to run down Kerrigan’s story for those of you who don’t know, and proceed to my point after.

Show »

StarCraft depicts a large-scale conflict between three races: the Terrans (that’s us), the psionic and aloof Protoss, and the swarming, ever-evolving Zerg. Sarah Kerrigan is a Terran operative, a “Ghost” (read: psychic sniper assassin) who joins you early in the Terran campaign alongside rough’n’tumble backwater space cowboy Jim Raynor. They don’t get along at first — Jimmy’s initial thoughts are about how hot Kerrigan is, and she immediately reacts with revulsion and rightly scolds Raynor for a lack of professionalism. But, through the course of fighting for survival as the Protoss and Zerg clash with the Terrans in the middle, they grow to admire, respect, and appreciate one another.

Their partnership, both professional and romantic, was short-lived. In a callous act of sacrificing his resources for convenience and advancement, master manipulator and all-around bastard Arcturus Mengsk left Kerrigan to die as her position was overrun by the Zerg forces Mengsk himself had attracted to a Terran world to better secure his political position. Disgusted, Raynor left Mengsk’s service, and looked for Kerrigan, only for her to emerge some time later as a new weapon in the Zerg’s arsenal, the fearsome and deadly ‘Queen of Blades’.

Empowered by Zerg evolutionary strains and determined to unlock her own full potential, Kerrigan proceeded to align both her former Terran comrades and several Protoss factions against the Zerg Overmind who’d had a hand (or, rather, tentacle) in creating her. Her plan succeeded, and she thanked her erstwhile allies by betraying them. Some of these allies were Protoss warriors Jim had come to trust as friends; when they were killed, he swore he’d avenge their deaths, and be the one to kill Sarah. Laughing off the threat, Kerrigan wiped the floor with what was left of the Terran forces and retreated to her own corner of the sector.

After the so-called Brood War that’d seen Kerrigan triumphant, she began to hear whispers of impending doom. To arm herself and her Swarm to face it, she invaded Terran space to find more powerful weapons. Raynor set off to oppose the Zerg invasion, seemingly still driven by his vendetta and supported by an old friend from his previous life. Things got complicated when a Protoss warrior, one of the few Raynor knew from the Brood War who hadn’t been killed, told him that Kerrigan needed to live to fight what was coming. The Terrans used the very weapon Kerrigan had sought to claim to rob her of her Zerg enhancements and leave her vulnerable. Conflicted, Raynor decided to save Kerrigan’s life at this moment, choosing to give her a chance for redemption rather than letting his friend shoot her.

Kerrigan was held for experimentation, with Raynor keeping an eye on her, and her memories as both Mengsk’s assassin and the Queen of Blades haunted her and made her question her morals and sanity. While previously Kerrigan’s ambitions had been aimed towards conquest and victory for her Swarm, her restored humanity narrowed her focus to revenge on Mengsk. The facility were she was being held was attacked by Mengsk’s forces, and in their escape, Kerrigan and Raynor were separated. While Kerrigan was able to escape, Raynor was reported to be killed, much to Mengsk’s delight. Consumed by her need for revenge, Kerrigan turns to the Zerg, returning to the Swarm to regain her former power.

Kerrigan returns to the homeworld of the Zerg and seeks her own path to evolve along instead of having it imposed upon her. In doing so, she comes to understand the Zerg on a far more fundamental level, and in doing so, not only guides it to great success, but forges it into a far more powerful force than it was before. With a renewed Swarm and her powers and memory finally under her control, Kerrigan tears across the sector towards Mengsk. Along the way, she finds Raynor alive, but her rebirth as the new Queen of Blades puts an incredible chasm between them; Jim can’t let go of everything she did as the Queen of Blades, and as much as she wants to repair that breach, since she was not the creature she was before, Jim can’t bring himself to meet her halfway. He can’t kill her, either, but joins her to kill Mengsk.

Having joined forces, Mengsk’s defenses folded under the assault of Raynor and Kerrigan. They work together to bring down the tyrant, Kerrigan saying Mengsk had “made [them] all into monsters” before blowing him up Scanners-style. With their nemesis dead, Kerrigan leaves to turn her attention back to the doom that had brought her back in the first place, leaving a conflicted and emotional Raynor in her wake, looking up at where the woman he loved (and perhaps still does) disappears.

This isn’t the end of the story, but it’s all I know, since I’m avoiding spoilers for Legacy of the Void.

The essence of Kerrigan’s story, to me, is that after getting betrayed and turned into something awful, she took control of her own destiny. She seized control of a massive, powerful alien force, just because she could. When she caught wind of something bigger coming to destroy everything, she set out to stand up to it, no matter what it cost. And after everything that happened to her, she decided to recreate her power on her own terms in order to either rescue a dude important to her or avenge herself on the bastard who’d betrayed her in the first place. To me, that speaks of self-actualization, independence, and empowerment.

I can see some counterpoints to this perspective, but the fact remains that she is a major character who becomes a protagonist in a major sci-fi gaming franchise, and yet, insecure man-kids haven’t brought her up as an example of something that doesn’t belong in their games. So is it because she’s not as prominent as the leads in Rogue One or The Force Awakens, or is it because they felt some sort of satisfaction in what happened to her when she was disempowered? I’m not sure; it’s a headspace I have a lot of trouble getting into.

I’m just going to toss this out for potential discussion. What do you think of Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, as a character? Is she a positive or negative influence on female empowerment in science fiction? And does Legacy of the Void go on sale regularly, so I can finish the story and also get some awesome, shiny Protoss action? Let me know!

Mondays are for making & talking about art.

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