13 July 2015

retrospective - persona 3

What if I told you that there are more than 24 hours in a day?”

On 7/13/2006, the role-playing game Persona 3 was released for the PlayStation 2: after years of silence from the Persona franchise, this title renewed the franchise, helped bring us Persona 4 (again, for the PlayStation 2), and was featured again in Persona Q (Nintendo 3DS). There is a set of four animated feature films for Persona 3 airing in Japanese theaters as well, one based off of each season: the first one entitled Spring of Birth, the second Midsummer Knight's Dream, and so on.

But why did Persona 3 capture the imagination?

After all, it seems very violent: the Evokers used to summon the characters' Personas takes the shape of a gun, so it often looks like (upon Persona summoning) the characters are shooting themselves. There is much talk of Death, of time, and how it comes for all. Even the imagery of Tartarus, the dungeon, seems like something out of nightmare: the walls oozing blood or ichor, the abnormally full moon shining through as if grinning at the party.

It's dark.

But at the same time, Persona 3 carries a message of hope – of fighting against the darkness. The main protagonist, who in the films is called Makoto Yuki, is shown to suffer from trauma due to the deaths of his parents in a mysterious accident 10 years before the events of the game: and surprising even him, Makoto does not seem to care whether he lives or dies. Most of his decisions are what might be interesting to him, or because he has no strong feelings one way or another: this is someone who has lost their passions and dreams. This may reflect the “depressed generation” of Japanese people who grew up after the economic bubble burst: that is a topic for another day, perhaps. But what we are shown, is someone who has to learn from those around him about life and connections, especially when he is made the leader of a group called SEES – ostensibly an after-school club, SEES is actually meant to combat the mysterious creatures called Shadows that plague the city, and investigate the mysterious Dark Hour phenomenon, the “hidden hour” that takes place at midnight every night, and the secrets of Tartarus. He has to learn to fight back – somehow – and figure out what might be worth fighting for. And in the fantastical world of Persona 3, you can fight the monsters head-on with swords and baseball bats; you can fight, and you can win.

All that's built up over the course of the game, all the little interactions, or the little storylines of the people you meet along the path of the story, build up to the climax of the story. Not only is there the rich symbolism that the Persona franchise is known for, but Persona 3 introduces the Social Link system, encouraging you as the player to find out more about the other characters in the game by spending time with them. As you spend more time with them, you get to know their problems - and see them overcome, or get closure. These Social Links range from stories of abandonment to divorce anxieties to even just anxieties about growing up and becoming an adult. There are other stories too: you adopt a dog called Koromaru (modeled after the famous story of Hachiko) whose loyalty and closeness to his deceased owner seemingly helped him gain the power of Persona, an alternate self to use in combat. You encounter Strega, another team of characters who can use the mysterious power of Persona just like your team – only their motivations are more about power, and holding on to it. As the player, you also see one of the teammates grow from having a massive hero and inferiority complex to realizing that being the hero isn't great, and that he was already good enough to begin with. You delve into stories of revenge, of tragedy, and into the linchpin of it all – the incidents that happened 10 years ago. 

(Author's Note: In Persona 3 Portable, if you play the female protagonist, the story is a bit different in that she seems to have more of a connection to life.)

And in the end?

In the end, there is a sacrifice, but the sacrifice is meaningful because of the very journey it took to get there: and it helps to show the value of each of our lives.

Life – with all its sadness, strangeness, and wonder - is worth fighting for.

29 June 2015

ramblings on digital life and death, in second life

Earlier this year, I received the news that a member of the steampunk community in Second Life had passed away; the typist (i.e., the person behind the avatar) had declined and passed away due to a form of cancer.

I did not go to the funeral.

First off, the typist in question had been from England - he was a proud Englishman both in Second Life and outside of it, and I could not afford to fly out. Besides, the real world funeral was for his family and friends there - so what could the friends and acquaintances he had made in Second Life do at all?

There was a memorial service in Second Life, also.

I did not go to that, either.

Not because I didn't mourn. I remember, in my days as a DJ in the steampunk neo-Victoriana community of Caledon in Second Life, doing a set for him before his diagnosis - to all everyone knew, he was quite well, if obstinate. And he was pleased that I had done a set themed around him, even though we had only talked in passing; after that, it led to asking how I was doing, how me-the-typist was doing, I talked with him even over Skype a couple of times. The avatar taught my avatar - and me behind the screen - how to craft tiny, tiny virtual jewelry using the basic building "blocks" called "prims" that made up user-created content in Second Life. It took patience, and attention to detail, but he was patient.

So I mourned. But I mourned in private, wanting to hold on to my memories of him as he had been, a crotchety but good-hearted yellow-haired avatar with a jewelry shop known for crashing entire regions. It is only recently - months after the fact - that there is a need for sharing in this as well; that we are not alone in our mourning.

But what is it to mourn someone whom we know from a game? People interact all the time in massive multiplayer settings: from World of Warcraft to EVE Online and more. And in MMO settings, especially those with a high emphasis on user created content, guilds and corporations and players occasionally hold fundraiser or charity events to help fellow players (whether personal events or organized through charities like AbleGamers), or even memorial services for fellow players who had passed away. 

 It's not just MMOs, either. We interact on Twitter, we interact on Tumblr, we interact on Twitch and YouTube and other social media channels, often with people we know only through digital means - digital recordings of themselves, or avatars, or a social media / game handle. When it is someone we do know more, we try and search for ways to come together; when all these factors combine, it seems that online memorials and ways to celebrate lives online would be easy to find.

But they aren't. Not yet.

We try, though. Dealing with loss is nothing new.

Dealing with loss - in an increasingly digital context, with people we may have only interacted with through a digital lens - is, however, something that we have to find ways to deal with, ways to approach, new rites and rituals of memory and moving on.

We'll try. We are human - we'll find a way to meet a human need.

Until then, celebrate and love those around you.

 Dedicated to the memory of Alistair, who was always a gentleman.

For more information, check out:

How MMO Communities Memorialize
After a Death, Celebrating a Life Online (Wall Street Journal)

14 May 2015

the little con that could: in remembrance of BAMcon

Conventions come and go, be it through luck or mismanagement, or any other factor that can drop attendance or cause any event to suddenly no longer be viable. Its just part of the game, one that anyone who chooses to run a con has to contend with. Success has a weird barometer these days, and sometimes “sure things” grow like crazy, or just fizzle out. This is the story of my time spent at BAMcon- the Berkshire Anime Manga convention- which felt like it was on the verge of explosion, but ended up a footnote. 

“The convention was the dream child of Jon Wynn, founder of the Berkshire Anime Club,” said Amelia Ritner, BAMcon’s guest relations social media promotions guru. “He and fellow club member Crystal Howcroft had begun planning the early ideas of the con, along with a couple of other anime lovers, just as I joined the club. 

“The goal was simple: to create an anime convention for Western Massachusetts.  Crystal had experience helping run other conventions before, Jon had the love of anime, business sense, and the money, and I had enough time on my hands (as a stay at home mom at the time) to do most of the legwork.  We started to plan in July of 2011 for a convention to be held in May of 2012.”

10 May 2015

(primordial) Mother's Day

Well, it’s Mother’s Day, and in keeping with my new promise to write down every moment of inspiration I get (so as better to discipline myself...thanks Mom!) I’ve decided to share with you something I’ve spoken about many, many times in the past. Today, as we celebrate our Mothers and the profound impact they’ve had on us, I want to talk about the Primordial Mother, an archetype that pops up in a lot of folklore, but which often gets ignored because, let’s be honest here, a lot of those primordial parents weren’t the best role models, but they did offer us something powerful by which we can live our lives. So give you moms a hug, or some flowers, and be glad that they’re the Mother goddess, and (hopefully) not the Primordial kind. 

And if you do, Satsuki has methods for dealing with them.
Mythology has no shortage of mother figures: the Greeks had Gaea, Rhea, Demeter, and Hera (and Hestia, she who knew compassion, mercy, and sacrifice in the name of one’s children); Isis ruled the Egyptian court for some time; half the Celtic goddesses were known for being fiery defenders of their progeny; Frigga and Freyja embodied dueling concepts of fertility, hearth, and protection; and we can’t forget every single Mary in the Bible. And by and large they all had something to do with the same core concepts: home, love, and fertility. They were the strength by which their respective pantheons and heroes drew their resolve and noble deeds.

08 May 2015

bandwagon jumping: thoughts on cards against humanity

Given the sheer number of shares I’ve seen relating to this, I’ve decided to break my writing drought chipping in my two cents about “Cards Against Humanity.” And at the same time boost for a game I feel is far superior, that doesn’t get enough love as far as I’m concerned. You may direct criticisms of my rantings to me in person through the creative application of pies and/or homemade soup. 

my favorite is Italian Wedding, btw

I first discovered Cards Against Humanity at ConnectiCon 2012, when I was drawn into a game with some friends and fellow geeks. We took over the Starbucks inside the convention hotle for about two hours, during which time I laughed at a lot of the cards, and began making up a fantasy list of my own, in the event I ever managed to score a set. Three years later, have a massive custom set of cards chock full of weird in-jokes (Baron von Schaftenrectum, The Floating Head of Henry Rollins), references to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (Getting Blasted In The Ass, Pretending to Have Cancer So A Girl Will Have Sex With You), political topics (Things Conservatives Want to Eliminate From the National Budget), and other, more strange collections of words, all run off at my local Staples and shared with anyone who requested a copy.