Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pitfalls

Apologies for being away for so long. With the new job comes new stress due to a steep learning curve and I’m adjusting to an environment that is completely unlike anything I’ve been in before. Whereas I used to sit in a cubicle staring at the clock, I am now running around, arranging charts, answering phones and grabbing a quick sip of water or bite to eat when there’s a small break in the rush of patients. It’s definitely challenging, and I’m hoping to hit my stride soon.

To deal with the stress I’ve broken out my used copy of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey for the X-Box. I bought it for under 20 bucks on the suggestion of my visiting and adorable younger gamer cousin. It didn’t really bother me that I didn’t first play The Longest Journey, as I’ve started a lot of series playing sequels first.

I immediately felt that I could identify with ZoĆ« (though not because she first appears in her underwear!). The first things that you find out about her is that she dropped out of school, broke up with her boyfriend, and moved back in with her dad. She’s lost and disillusioned, which is, I’ve found, a common emotional domain of many 20-somethings. The story of Dreamfall is excellent: it’s filled with cross-dimensional political conspiracy. While not all characters were completely developed, I noticed that there was a definite effort to give specific attitude and background to many of the NPCs—something that is usually ignored in many other games.
That doesn’t save it, however, from some huge complaints that I have. In a game that features so much diversity in its characters, I was appalled that the developers relied on some pretty insensitive and stereotypical portrayal of Chinese people. How many games do I have to play that feature a Chinese NPC wearing ancient-China style robes and hair, sporting extremely slanty eyes and speaking with a mouth full of buck teeth high-pitched and quivering English? Another aspect that confused me was how the very beginning of the game, which takes place in Tibet, features NPCs talking in their native tongue. I liked hearing an unfamiliar language. I initially thought it cool that a game that travels the world would feature different languages instead of just pretending that everyone speaks English. Yet after the first chapter in the game that completely vanished.

There was a lot of good in Dreamfall: specially the complex story, the game’s focus on women characters, and it’s genuine diversity. While playing the game, I kept comparing it to Indigo Prophecy, and found Dreamfall much more satisfying. However, there was a lot lacking too. Despite two of the main characters being women, the game didn’t lack sexism. Despite the game’s push towards multiculturalism, it had racist elements and was specifically grounded in white privilege. While these aspects really did turn me off to the game in a lot of ways, I have to admit that I’m hooked. I ordered The Longest Journey (soon to come in the mail) and am awaiting the next installment(s) of the series. I’m anxious to continue the narrative and see if it’s shortcomings continue or are improved upon.

1 comment:

David said...

"Yet after the first chapter in the game that completely vanished."

I thought Eternal Darkness had a good idea when it came to handling languages foreign to the audience, which I'm surprised more games (and, heck, more parts of that game) don't use.

When you began certain chapters the characters would begin by speaking their native language, with subtitles, and then the game would cross-fade after a while to English. Although personally I don't mind subtitles, I know that many people can't stand them for more than short bursts. So, this approach seemed like a good compromise; the developers were basically saying "Please remember that they aren't really speaking English, but to make it easier on the English-speaking player, here's what it would sound like if they were."

I haven't played any of the Dreamfall series. Do only the NPCs that you don't directly interact with ever talk in their own language?