How Persona 5 Taught Me the Value of Chores

I am a procrastinator. Or, what do you call someone who waits and waits and waits until it is too late to do it and never does it in the end? Like a super procrastinator? Procrastinator+? Maybe just lazy… In any case, I am that, or at least I was until I played Persona 5.

People who may not have played Persona 5 or its predecessors might think, in this context and by the title of this article, that it is a house cleaning, chore doing simulator like the Sims but more boring. No, well at least Persona 5 is not that. I can’t speak on the 4 others, as this is my first foray into the Persona series, but I can make a pretty solid assumption that any of the others are not that.

For those who have not played the game, it has a story that is inline with a lot of anime, full of crazy costume changes ala sailor moon, and a cat car (just a few seats short to be in a Miyazaki movie). persona5salesThe story centers on a young highschool student who gets the powers to go into the palaces created by the deep darkness in deplorable people’s hearts and, by changing into a flashy outfit and conjuring your inner rebellion (your Persona), you fight monsters and ultimately the evil person and make them change.

Well at least that is half of the game.

The other half of the game is being a normal highschool student. You take the train to school, you attend classes, and then after work you have many choices most of which progress the time forward until it is the next day and then you do it all over again. While this might sound boring, or like a simulator, it is not either of those.

Your character has 5 stats: guts, knowledge, kindness, proficiency, and charm. All of these can be increased during your time before, during, and after school and on the weekend day. (In Japan apparently they only Sunday off. Yikes!) 1493707209556There is an emphasis to use your time wisely as the calendar seems to always be counting down. On some days when you take the train to work you get a seat on the crowded car and you can read a book you might have bought previously which makes one stat go up. Or after school you can study at a Diner in Shibuya and have a steak that reminds you of home, which boosts your knowledge for studying and your kindness due to the steak. There is this sense that you should not waste your time. I don’t think there are even many options for you to waste your time (a very Japanese game, indeed).

These stats are not useless either. It is explained that the better and more well-rounded of a person you are, the stronger you are in the palaces of the bad people. It pays off to be productive, who knew.

So that brings me to the last few weeks. I haven’t beaten the game yet; it is long and I am busy (and not just scrolling through instagram busy), but it has already had a intrinsic effect on me. p5-reading-train-gameplay_08-31-16The last few weeks I have been whipping my book out on my 10 minute train ride instead of just listening to music. I have been doing dishes immediately and sitting down to write and writing. I have been going to work out inside of spending that time coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t. Somewhere in the close to 20 hours of playing the game I came to a silent realization: “Why am I more worried to waste time as a fictional character than in my own life?”

This focus on making all of your days count, struck a chord in me that no feel goody quote on Instagram or TED talk about procrastination could or has done. It was through doing things over and over, day after day between fighting monsters, and seeing the progress and benefits slowly accrue, that I realized I needed to live my own life this way if I wanted to get anywhere and fight my own monsters. And that is what I have been doing and I feel much better for it. If he could go to school all day and then talk to people important in his life and then study in the late hours of the night then I could too, and I am not even fighting any monsters!

I’ll say it once and I’ll say it a million times. Games are like no other form of art or media, because it is with games by which you do. Instead of watching or listening or reading, I was doing. I was being a productive persona and bettering myself and feeling grateful for that time and effort. I felt these feelings (although perhaps a bit more distant) and because of that I knew I could do these things in my own life. It is only by doing in the virtual world that I knew I could do in the physical world, and be a better person because of it.

Thank you Persona 5!

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Homophobia and Straight White Male Pride in Gaming

So a few days back I was scrolling  through Instagram (like I do all too frequently), when I came across a post from IGN, one of the more well known gaming and entertainment news sites. The post was a screenshot of a new PS4 theme celebrating pride month. The theme is all rainbow and says “For all the players”. It’s a cute sentiment and I always feel a warm excited tingle inside whenever the gay community is included in the gaming community , as IMG_8967LGBTQ+ are normally shunned or just disregarded by, if not the game developers, then for sure many of the players. So it felt nice to see 2 large companies (IGN and PS4) show their support for the other community to which I belong. My warm fuzzies were short lived however, as I noticed what the featured comment that exists just below the View all X,XXX comments button (where mine now exists) said,

@11holesju wrote “Keep this a gaming channel, opinions on other matters of life are not why you are followed”

I was slightly taken back, as for a brief moment I was lost in my joy and forgot I lived in 2018 America. But, to be fair to the author of this featured comment, it wasn’t all that bad. It didn’t bash LGBTQ+ or make an immature crude comment about something being “gay”. But there still was something there that didn’t sit right in my gut where the nice feelings were just moments ago. That feeling is what made me click that View all X,XXX comments button. Little did I know that the air of white straight male entitlement in the comment was just the beginning. It was if when I clicked the button, I opened a valve or broke the damn that held back the white male egocentrism essence and I became drenched in it. Drowned.

Now, I don’t want to say I was being naive or ignorant of the bigotry that exists in the world and in gaming, but in the same way you try to ignore the homeless man on the train diddling himself until you forget he is there, that is what I did. I forgot. I played multiplayer games with everyone on mute, not even wanting to take the chance to hear the word faggot come out of a 12 year olds mouth, and still did great in whatever game I was playing anyway. This wasn’t something I even did consciously. I have a hard enough time just existing as it is, I didn’t need a reminder of all the human beings in the world that either just wish I didn’t exist or wanted to make sure I knew that they were better than me, which seemed to hurt more. With the floodgates opened I began to swim in the muck.

@matt_cookie31 writes “Am I allowed to be a proud I’m a straight, white male? Oh wait no, that makes me a racist bigot…”

I read the comment and thought about what was happening. “How is this even relevant to the post in any way?” my gay brain thought. I then reread it and then that’s when it hit me, this person is probably also all too familiar with the #alllivesmatter hashtag. First off, this isn’t even about race, and secondly, no one said you can’t be straight and proud… You can make babies and further along the human race. That’s pretty cool. (Whether or not your child will be an asset or a bane to society I do not know.) You get to have BBQs and watch sports and live in the straight man culture that has been in every commercial since the dawn of time. But what on earth does that have to do with me? What does that have to do with the hate murders and social shunning of gay people since the foundation of America and organized religion? What does that have to do with the names I have been called behind my back and to my face because of the gender of the person I held hands with? What does that have to do with the fight for legal representation equal to that of everyone else? What does that have to do with choosing a female character in games JUST so I could feel a little represented as a child? What does that have to do with wanting to show the world that in spite of all the things that tried to destroy me because how I was born, I am still here. I will tell you. It doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do with it at all.

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UnderARock Review: Firewatch

UnderARock Reviews are reviews I have written on games that I must have been living under a rock to have missed. (And that rock is unceasing student loans and lack of time spent trying pay of those student loans.) These reviews are very spoilery and dance the line between traditional should you buy it or even try it and analysis. I will put a spoiler tag before any huge spoilers so, if you don’t mind a little foresight read on, otherwise for your own safety, stay away and come back after you have played the game. 

If we lived in an alternate universe, Campo Santo’s Firewatch would be a movie instead of a game it would be one of those Sundance Film Festival or SXSW celebrated Indie Films. But, thankfully, we do not live in that universe, we live in this one, where Firewatch is very much a game and all the better for it. However, it is still undoubtedly different than any other game I’ve played touching on the delicate vulnerable parts of humanity that we try to hide away.

The opening to the game was nothing I could have anticipated: a 10 minute choose your own adventure-like story about the meeting and “losing” of the protagonist’s (your) wife to the disease of Alzheimer’s . With only a few background noise cues, this section of the game was mostly text and while it offered only a few options in terms of how Henry’s life was before he moves to a remote state park, these key choices give us keen insight in to Henry’s emotions and mental state and these text cues profoundly touch on the story’s main themes that come to pass muchfirewatch_henryandjulia much later in the game. This interactive prologue gave the player stake in the story and no matter how much the player eventually says or chooses not to say to Delilah, the boss at his new job, there is a (literally) unspoken bond between Henry and the player about what happened and why he took one of the most remote jobs he could find and this short opening brings the player into his perspective, right into the muddy hiking boots he is wearing.

There are two aspects of the game that many players did not like and made sure other people heard about how much they dislikes them. Those two parts are the fetch quests and, the most divisive of all, the ending.

First off, narrative pacing was integral to this game’s emotional effectiveness of the story. For Henry the story takes place over 79 days, but for the player it can be as short as 3 hours. And while the time leaps can be entire weeks and the length disparity between the players experience and Henry’s might seem disproportionate and jarring, it is employed in a way that it makes sense to the narrative. Fetch quests make up a bulk of the game. Go here do this and now take that and go here. While these types of quests are usually cause disinterest in many players, these tasks *almost* never seem like a chore thanks to the beautiful enviroment design, vulnerable and generous voice acting, and the driving need for the player to know what the hell is going on.

The state park you are now employed to keep safe spans far into the distance and, with all the cliffs and caves and downed trees in your way, getting from point A to point B can be pretty harsh and take a while. There are long stretches where I found myself interacting with the paper map with my handwritten notes from my travels and just running for long stretches of time. Firewatch_20160506000659For a 3 hour experience to use so much of its time on just running, it can’t be just an accident. It could be just to add length to the game, but I trust the people over at Campo Santo and I believe that these long pauses in narrative or physical action are vital to the games story and pace. If the player is to believe that Henry has really been out here for 79 days the player has to feel some of the menotiny that the character feels. Also by not letting the player go from plot point to plot point, it allows them to meditate on what is going on and the nuances of the experiences of both Henry and Delilah. So, when the time comes for the climax and for all to be revealed, the player feel like they worked, climbed, scaled, and leapt for it. But the player might also understand the deeper human experience of both those characters and what they are feeling.

While some people feel that the last moments of the game landed on the wrong note, there were two moments during the games climax and ending that connected everything together and made this journey worth every grapple climb and downed log hopped over.

SPOILER ALERT

The conspiracy theory that builds tension throughout the game ends up not being real at all, but instead ends up being just a man in grief, unable to let go but unable to face what he has done. This directly involves Delilah, as she has made a few mistakes in her life. One of them, you learn, was not reporting a little boy and his father at the camp grounds since kids were not allowed at the park for safety reasons. She convinces herself that they must have left and everything was fine. A while later during the climax of the story you find Brian’s body in the bottom of a cave. It seems like he fell while climbing and his father never went back in there to retrieve him. You tell Delilah, and out of anger and sadness, she exclaims to nobody in particular, “How could someone just leave him down there?” This struck a chord as this directly reflects back to the choice you as Henry had to make for your wife. Put her in a home so she will get the care and attention she needs that you cannot give her or try to make it work at home but as your home life deteriorates then “let” her family take her to one anyway.  Henry isn’ the only one running from something though. What Delilah says mirrors what all three of the characters of this game have been going through, choosing to run and hide from the choices you made, when it is impossible to outrun the past. Henry running away from the fact that he can’t take care of his wife and she doesn’t even know who he is half the time. Delilah running away from the relationship that didn’t last between her and a lover and has now become toxic and one sided. And Ned, the person stalking Henry and giving the story it’s false tension, has been hiding from  the responsibility of his brash parenting leading to his son’s death. Her exclamation about Brian’s death is about all of the characters and their inability to move beyond the past and sends shivers down any players spine whom is awake and paying emotional attention.

This brings us to the much discussed ending which has been pretty polarizing in the gaming community. Many question if it even ended at all, due to the subtly and lack of a nice tied bow gamers may be used to. There is a wild fire that is growing and you need to be evacuated at Delilah’s Watch tower. She says that there is a helicopter already here and she is going to take it. As Henry, I asked her to wait for me and after a pause and a sigh she said she can’t. Henry is asking her to stay a little while longer so they can meet, but Delilah has made up her mind she is not staying here any longer than she has to, she is not hiding anymore because she saw what hiding can do to a person and she had made a choice for herself not to let her go down that same trail. She is not waiting for another distraction from her issues, she is going back to the real world. But this exchange runs far deeper than just their relationship. I had Henry not put his wife in a home even when things go really bad. I wanted her to wait for him and stay a little longer in the place that used to be the happiest times of their life. But just as it dawned on Henry in the beginning of the game, by making her stay, he can’t get back what he had with his wife, with her memory, that time has faded. But she was taken away and could not wait for him any longer, she, just like Delilah had to move on, despite Henry not wanting to. You investigate her tower and see things that she spoke about and then walkie her one last time. 2016-02-11_00001The interaction they shared was a veiled goodbye about false promises to meet if they are ever in their neck of the woods.

Then the helicopter comes, and the player is faced with one last choice. A choice that I didn’t know about until after I beat the game. As Henry, I ran to the helicopter and got on and decided to go back to his life and to face reality. But the player could also not get on the helicopter. They could wait a few minutes until the helicopter leaves. Either ending the player chooses reflects the themes in the game as a whole. What happens to a person when they cannot face their actions and in what ways these actions comeback to haunt them in the end? And the choice between either facing reality and letting the people and moments go or hiding away, continuing to dig deeper and deeper away from the truth and becoming lost in the wilderness of your mind. The choice that needs to be made in the end is does Henry either follow Ned’s footsteps or Delilah’s. And where will either of those trails lead him.

This game was a focused narrative that didn’t let on it was to the player until the very end. I believe this game is an achievement in storytelling and tells a valuable tale about humanity in a way that only this game could. And, yes. I believe very much that this game has an ending and I believe it’s ending is terrific.

 

 

Headcanon: Filling in Mass Effect Andromeda’s Gay Blanks

From the first trailer of the game I knew I was going to get with Jaal, the male crew member belonging to the new native race in Andromeda. And so, I created a male ryder in hopes that I would be able to have the great gay alien sci fi love affair my little nerdy homosexual heart ached for.

The issue was, I didn’t know if Jaal was available for a Male on Male romance option. Fighting the urge to turn to the internet and look it up, I stayed hopeful. But I made sure to keep my options open. I began to flirt pretty heavily with Gil, one of the only other gay romance options in the early game.

jaal2As a new species encountering aliens when his race had been betrayed before, Jaal was understandably distant. But just because I understood, didn’t mean I liked it. Then during one of the conversations I had with Jaal there was an option where the romance dialogue choice normally was and my heart leapt! It was time! But then I saw it was only an friendship option. What the hell was that! It also turned out the only time I saw that symbol of two people holding hands instead of the big glowing heart in my ENTIRE playthrough. I was devastated. He is a female only romance option. This is Garrus all over again, I thought. So with my hopes dashed I started looking more towards Gil who had less and less to say to me between missions and was all together boring. I was hopeless. That was until Kadara.

At this outlaw post run by thugs and criminals I met Reyes. A latin smuggler with a suave and dangerous aire to him. The first time that glowing heart showed up in the dialogue options I hit that button hard. There began my relationship with Reyes. Around that time the first heart option appeared for Jaal and I was stuck in the middle of a saucy outlaw and spiritual unfamiliar species, you could say I was in a bit of a pickle. As time went on I became more and more interested in Reyes, (you blew your chance Jaal!) and his eagerness about me, where Jaal was calming and philosophical, Reyes was exciting. There was his conflict ridden story: the rising tensions between the Charlatan, a anonymous crime lord that had a majority of control over Kadara and it’s people and Sloan, another mob boss and Reyes being stuck in the middle.

All the expectations I had when I first saw the trailer was thrown out the window as I found myself leaning further towards Reyes. It came to a point where I was purposely tumblr_oo2gonhlev1r8kbpjo1_1280bring Jaal on missions to just flirt with Reyes in front of him. I stared at Jaal when I was speaking, imagining the jealousy that may (or may not) have been brewing. Throughout my visits with Reyes and me blatantly flirting with him in front of Jaal, I thought back to the moment in Mass Effect 1 when you try to romance two of the male crew members as FemShep and they confront you and make you chose. They responded to you by stating this isn’t high school. After reflecting on that moment in the first game I realized that my brain was nearly autonomously creating scenes and scenarios that didn’t exist to make the story I thought was most interesting come true. I wished Jaal and Reyes knew just like the NPCs in the firs game did, so much so that I made it up. To get around the fact that Jaal never said anything, I told myself that Jaal was too much of a gentleman and he was thinking about the bigger picture, about the future of his species, so he swallowed his pain. Then, as I sat with Reyes on a rooftop of a metal shack looking at the Kadaran sky drinking pilfered booze we stole together from a crime lord, I decided, Reyes is the one for me. And then I took the mission to find out who the Charalton is.

Sloan accompanied me to the meeting place where the Charalton will be, a damp cave with some natural skylights letting in rays of the Kadaran sun. We entered the cave and was met by none other than Reyes, who as he crept out from behind the shadows divulged he was in fact the Charlton. tumblr_okn97lmt0z1vsq4fko2_r1_540I accused him that our entire relationship was a lie and he said that although he did deceive me, the feelings that were shared were true. I didn’t know how to feel. Reyes suggests a duel between only him and Sloan. She accepts and they began to circle each other. After a few moments of this I noticed the shine of a sniper’s scope aimed directly at Sloan from the darkness. I take a split second decision and tackle her out of the way of the snipers fire. Sloan makes a run for it. I chase him through the dark pathways of the tunnel until I see him running to a waiting ship. I get my chance to fire. I raise my gun, put him in my sights but I just can’t pull the trigger. Reyes boards the ship and turns to face me, and then with a salute and a wink he is gone. Sloan catches up and curses at me and then leaves in frustration.

And then it ends. I regain control and nothing happened. My character was wearing the same blank expression he always wore and I was left feeling betrayed and abandoned  by someone I started to have feelings for. This wasn’t enough for me. I needed more. Something character building. Something that reflected how I was feeling at that moment. So, I continued the cutscene. I took my automatic pistol and emptied into the sky where Reyes’ ship just vanished from, all the while Jaal and Vetra stood behind me in silence. After my pistol was emptied I nova-ed. Biotically flying up into the air and then smashing the ground with my fist. I was angry and hurt and so was my character, but there wasn’t enough just on it’s own. The writing was flat and felt cut short before it got really good. Perhaps it is mainly because I already missed Reyes that I was mad at the writers for taking him away from me, but there felt like there should have been more, especially for this kind of soapy space epic. I blame time and resource constraints. I don’t think that this is a gay thing, at least I sincerely hope not. I know a female romance option is possible but I doubt that anything would have happened differently. Also, by judging the rest of the games quality and shortcomings and reading about the nightmarish development process I can understand a rush to tie up a story.

But then this is where the what happened. This is the point in the game that what happened on screen and what occured in my imagination differed. In my scenario, after I smashed into the ground with my fist into the ground, I didn’t stand up, but stayed in that position breathing heavily, tears pooling over my searching eyes. I began to cry, feeling hurt and betrayed to the first person I let in since coming to this new galaxy. Then I look up, my eyes wide, someone has wrapped their arms around me. There is Jaal, wordlessly holding me without judgment, without even looking at me, being there just to make me feel a little less alone.

maxresdefaultNow none of this actually happened, well besides the gunfire and the nova, but by creating that headcanon I began to feel more invested in Jaal and my character as a whole. When I got back to my ship there was an email waiting for me. It was from Reyes. It was short and basically said that I was the greatest man he has ever known, ending with a goodbye. I deleted every message besides that one as I feel that I what my Ryder would have done.

On one hand I was upset that I had to make up this conflict and felt that perhaps if the game had more polish or maybe of homosexual relationships were treated more seriously I would have had that, but on the other hand I was extremely grateful for the recognition and opportunity to have an experience like this in the first place. Perhaps the lack of homosexual representation in the early formative years of my life had forced me to use my imagination to create gay subplots where there weren’t any and pretend in a digital world, but I am thankful for that practice in the end and very grateful I had the opportunity to play out the rest of the game as Jaal’s “darling one”. And if I have to continue to stretch the “truth” a little to make the game feel more alive to me then I will do so, but I am looking forward to the day where I can play a game of two homosexual men saving the day and my imagination won’t have to work at all.

Living Under A Rock Reviews: The Darkest Dungeon

This is my review series where I review games that have come out at least a few months ago, if not years. Because of lack of two of one’s most precious commodities: time and money, I buy games when they are on sale and take a while to fully experience them, thus when I get around to forming a full opinion about a game, it has been out for ever and a review is no longer relevant. In any case I will still write them, if only for my self, and perhaps this will be my first and only Living Under a Rock Review. Time will tell. Now, without further ado, here is my late late late review of Darkest Dungeon.


 

A RPG developed by Red Hook productions, Darkest Dungeon takes its gameplay cues from classic RPGs such as the first few Final Fantasy games, however, focusing on its themes and aesthetics, some of the gameplay mechanics are established to illustrate fear and madness.

VISUALS

Perhaps what I enjoy the most about the game is the visual design, which borrows a lot of its artistic horrors from H.P. Lovecraft. The game is presented in a sketched art style which adds to the folk-lore feeling that it evokes. The enemies are gruesomely detailed and each hero class has a specific look which assists in their back story and play style. uaidokakilx2There are little touches throughout the visual elements of the game which add to the experience, such as when your character comes back from battle and they need to let of some steam, they can either be placed into the tavern, where drinking, gambling and sex are offered, or if they’re a bit more pious, the church where they can meditate, pray, or  partake in Self flagellation. When you place a character’s portrait in the brothel, for example, small red pillows and dim lighting surround your character’s portrait. If it’s meditation, candles appear. These small artistic details go to show off the polish and care that went into this game.

Gameplay

The enemies are gruesome and frightening and the members of your party are not made of stone, for under their health meter is a fear gauge.This fear meter is what sets this game apart from other RPGs. Not only does the player have to manage each character’s health, while facing these beasts in dimly lit corridors, but the player also has to keep the fear levels of each hero under control. And everything in those dungeons frightening. Fear levels can be raised by enemies landing a critical hit, in which case usually the entire party becomes a little more afraid, or it can be raised by reading a dusty tome which passages drive fear into the heroes heart. darkest-dungeon-wallpaper-01_1920-0The gauge isn’t superfluous either. It is out of 200 points total. Once a character reaches 100 points their resolve is tested. They either can become virtuous and break out of their fear, which reduces every one’s fear gauge and makes them better in combat. Or they came succumb to the fear and be consumed with madness, in which case they start yelling at their team mates, stealing items, and just giving up and passing their turn. These mechanics add to the humanity of the characters as no other RPG I have played has. These are people going into the depths of the earth and fighting unearthly beast and demons. Of course their nerves will be tested. This feeds into the H.P. Lovecraft narrative and world they have explored. In most of the writers stories, the main character, after witnessing such horrors become mad and broken. This mechanic emulates that in a very tangible way.

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The Choice, or Lack Thereof, in Drama: The Last of Us

I recently finished The Last of Us. (As with most things I am very late, I know.) It was an incredible gaming experience. From the graphics to the acting to the gameplay and genuine horror and stress I experienced, every moment was stunning. However, with all this being absolutely top class, during the story was when I felt at the same time, the most immersed I have felt in a gaming experience and yet, the most uncomfortable.

(SPOILERS) So if you’re late like me and have yet to play it, stop reading. Now.

I enjoy games with choice. Any kind of choice, really, pulls me in and makes me directly responsible for what happens, even if those choices ultimately don’t matter, (See: Telltale’s The Walking Dead). walking-dead-choicesSo when I played The Last of Us, a story heavy game with no choice, I noticed a difference of feeling, while I made Joel run, shoot and kill. At first I didn’t notice this change in tone from the other games I played, it was there but creeping in the shadows, not fully apparent. This was because most of the choices that the characters made in the game, I would have also made as well, that is until the last chapter of the game. Killing of fungal-infected humanoides. Yep. Silently choking to death groups of armed marauders, whom at the sight of me would put two bullets in my face. Sure. Put up and care for a young scrappy teenage girl whom I don’t want to get close to but reminds me of my daughter who died the night of the infection, so I begin to love as if my own daughter. Eh, why not.

But there was a moment. A moment late in the game, right before the end, which Joel’s actions, and my actions differed. The entire point of the journey the two characters take is to find the Fireflies, a somewhat radical group on  the fringes of the societies that have
been built, but by no means enemies. They are trying to find a cure, and Ellie could be just that. So after months and months of driving and horseback riding and swimming and running, they find them. Well more like the Fireflies find Joel and Ellie since they were almost killed and unconscious and were rescued by the Fireflies. Joel wakes up to see a familiar face, Marlene, a Firefly he knew back in Boston. He says to take him to Ellie. Continue reading

Zootopia, and not Moana, Should Win the Golden Globe

Zootopia deserves the Golden Globe for best animated feature. This is coming from a gay quarter pacific islander who ugly cried when he met Ariel at Disneyland. Moana was a great. A Princess tale not about a girl finding her true love but resolving issues of the gods to be a good leader of her people. A Princess movie featuring heavier set (relative to princesses in the past) figured dark skinned 16 year old. Lin Manuel Miranda writing the songs for God’s sake. It’s a great film. But it is no Zootopia.

ZOOTOPIA

Zootopia is aware of itself in the climate of America at this moment in time and it every part pushed toward this. Zootopia and Moana’s themes are very similar: find out who you actually are and not what people tell you. Moana is drawn to the ocean because (SPOILERS) her ancestors were voyagers, but time a lack of courage forced them to lose their history.  Ancestral purpose plays a big part in Moana. This is where Zootopia is different. Zootopia is very contemporary, and not just because it is set in a modern metropolis, but also in its themes. Zootopia scraps Ancestry and actually outright states that is an invalid excuse for your individual behavior. Instead, Zootopia decided to have the main character go against their parents’ wishes, but this time not to follow some higher ancestral truth, but because it is what called her. The conflict arises when her race becomes an issue.

Zootopia adopts its anthropomorphic aesthetic, but is constantly pointing its big furry finger at the dangers of stereotyping. Judy can symbolize the struggle for women to be taken seriously in the workplace and be more than just cute or pretty. While her counterpart, Nick the Fox, is told he can be nothing but a thief and con artist. Because of this he chose to be the scoundrel society sees him as since he can’t seem to change their mind. The core theme is being misunderstood as well as being pushed inside a box so much they decide that it is easier to stay in it then try to break out of it. First of all, these characters are much more flawed and thus interesting than the characters in Moana. The only two characters who consciously make mistakes are Maui when he steals the heart and Moana’s father for turning his back on their ancestral ways, letting fear rule his choices. Sure Moana messes up once or twice and feels lost, but in the end she is a character of little complexity.

moana

A good piece of art is a container for the audience to pour themselves into. The better the art, the deeper and sturdier the container. Moana is a barrel already half filled. There isn’t enough space to put yourself into it. Know who you are. That’s the message with very little paraphrasing. Moana says it at least twice. On the other hand, Zootopia is crafted to be deep and strong. The thematic issue is not only much more complex but is also subtle and focused. Specific equals universal is something I learned in college, meaning that even though you are not a Filipino fisherman, you understand what the pain of failure is and is able to connect with his story. Zootopia is specific. Judy is a bunny and wants to be a cop. People, even her own parents, tell her she can’t do it. The audience watching this film are not rabbits, and yet we can sympathize when you are told you are not good enough.

Where Zootopia’s genius lies is in the context which this movie is being released. No art is in a vacuum. Nick and the rest of the predators’ struggle has been linked many times by others to the racial prejudice and inequality. The government of Zootopia, unrealistically and tidily pinned on one individual, was trying to get rid of all predators by painting them in a bad light on media. This speaks to the large injustice happening in our country now. And by making the characters Animals, the creators make the topics and themes digestible and subtle in effort to perhaps mold a more opened minded and racially accepting future generation. Moana helped me to find myself, but Zootopia forced me to figure out where that self belongs.