Glutted on Games: How Many is Too Many?

I have a backlog problem. This is not unique. It’s so not unique it’s a cliche. My excuse is like many excuses: I grew up fascinated with games, but didn’t have the money to actually have any until after college. And suppose your salary grows some at about the time bundles and deep sales become a thing, and it’s very easy to end up with hundreds of games, many of which are only of marginal interest, most of which you will never finish.

On the one hand, I find it easy to feel guilty about this, all this extra money I could have used for something else (realistically: more take-out and books). On the other hand, I can get this idea that having all of this will do for me what working as a video store clerk did for Quentin Tarantino: Make me just that super literate in games.

The truth is, guilt probably isn’t that reasonable of a response, and the other truth is, I don’t know how educational it really is to have a copy of Tobe’s Vertical Adventure, since I’m not really sure what it is. What I do know is that finishing isn’t all that important, and that’s even assuming a game has a win state. I have these early game memories of playing Tie Fighter at my grandparents’ house, or watching a friend play Ocarina of Time, or using the fail states of Red Baron and Oregon Trail 2 to draft stories, sometimes actually written. And these are valuable memories, even though, in many cases, I never did more than sample. I have a copy of Red Baron today. I could play it at any time. But firing small red dots into vague grey shapes on the horizon won’t ever be quite the same. It isn’t about graphics moving, it’s about the whens and whys you experienced something. Context changes. Old haunts can be comfortable, but there may be nothing left to explore.

Exploration is my thing, discovery. I’m greedy and value games that are generous. Not always with length, but difference. Some difference. Anywhere. There’s a line, of course, between having a balanced collection that offers some of everything and a lot of a favored type (RPGs), and having a collection for distractable people, and I leap back and forth over that line. Worse, I can also have this tendency to feel like I ought to finish something I don’t love at all, and that’s not always rational. Merited. Do I need to play WizOrb because I own it, like a hundred or so other games that filled out bundles, but don’t interest me? There could be wonders inside WizOrb, but probably not my wonders. Games are my favorite medium, but it’s story I’m hungry for. It doesn’t have to be spelled out. Just give me a frame or few and I’ll fill in the rest.

At the same time, I’m more impatient and less willing to meet a game halfway than I was when I was a young teenager. I’m spoiled. I can still appreciate the treasure in a clumsy, ugly, and wildly ambitious novelty like Deadly Premonition. I can call it a good game hiding in the skin of a bad one and getting some mileage out of how it’s dressed, rather than “so bad it’s good.” But it is ambitious. It does a lot of the work for me. I am spoiled on density. Something like King of Dragon Pass or Academagia or even a Grand Theft Auto take some of their quality from close readings. From time spent. I completely understand why Rockstar comes under fire for its depictions of women, but I can’t shake a phrase from a radio commercial in Grand Theft Auto V about “It’s masculine posturing, just like everything else you do.” Is a game a power fantasy if it also hates you?

Thing is, I wanted to be literate, but each year, I also grow more specialized, more demanding. I grow less likely to play large percentages of what I already have. My bundle buying has left me with too many competent games that just don’t stand out otherwise. If Crusader Kings 2 and Alpha Centauri provide strategy and amusing disaster with excellent atmosphere and enough narrative to build war stories on, why should I bother getting any strategy games that lack those elements? Why should I bother playing strategy games that are less than completely excellent in every way. If I can have, and do have, five billion Heroes and Might and Magic-likes, why should I ever get another game about gathering an army and fighting turn-based battles? I run into the same problem I run into with books and increasingly film: your ability to enjoy any given piece is blunted the more you’ve seen it before.

I want to spend at least 10 minutes with everything I have. Eventually. It’ll take a while. I want to make sure there’s something I’m not writing off because of lack of polish, or because of less than stellar presentation on the store page. I’m still convinced Consortium will be special once I get it working: I’m not so convinced of Telltale’s Back to the Future games, or 1C’s Elven Legacy. But I haven’t really given them a chance. If I give it a chance, like Sacred Citadel, and find nothing personally worth pursuing, well, that’s another thing entirely.

But I buy fewer and fewer bundles. You want to take a chance on everything, when you’re in it for a dollar, when you’re in it for free, and isn’t it fantastically privileged to have that option, that “problem.” It’s almost like a public library for my favorite medium. But I let myself go wild enough that I don’t even know what I have. I can’t be grateful. It’s like checking out every book in the library and hoarding it in your closet. You look back and go “oh,” but you still reach for the titles that are more familiar. More abundance seems less attractive than finding something special, finding the best and nurturing it and sharing it and understanding what makes it beautiful. And that means I need to slow down. In everything, really. Rush to finish, rush to beat, rush to have, rush to be, rush to eat everything in front of me, and hope that the barrage of detail and minutiae turns me wise, turns me powerful.

It doesn’t. I can do more with less. I am privileged and fortunate in many ways (self-eating and wounded in others, but this is how it’s been), but I have not always had the luxury of more. I may not have it in the future. When I was young, I savored everything, because I did not have the power of having new things whenever I wanted them. Everything was precious, even planes that stalled out if you turned the nose up too quick, and enemies that were nothing but pale blocks against the horizon.

You grow older and everything is less likely to strike you as NEW. But every moment is precious. It is perhaps not right to sanctify some moments and not others, to call time spent playing video games wasted (or to call time serving someone else’s needs for money wasted, at that). Perhaps you remember an article, some years ago, that the time spent mastering Dark Souls would be better spent reading War and Peace.

Well, I’ve read it. It’s worth it. Dark Souls is also worth the time, if you wish to give it. We must all give back to the world, we all must balance those we love with what we want and need, we all need to survive where we can, and how we spend our time is perhaps not what we do, but how we do it and how we share it. These are old platitudes. But I need the reminder sometimes.

2014 could be spectacular, if I give it the chance.


Frozen (spoilers for all who enter here)

Anna’s problem is she’s genre-savvy, but she doesn’t know she’s in the wrong genre. Please contrast with Rapunzel in Tangled or Giselle in Enchanted, who may spawn into rough worlds, but bring a genre’s worth of sweetness with them. Anna looks like she’s got a universe of sweetness in those big eyes, but it’s a lie, as sure as Elsa’s big ol’ song Let it Go is a lie. It’s tempting, easy, to see Elsa as the broken one who needs transformation, but both sisters are deeply wounded. Both sisters have difficult paths to walk; if this is a princess movie, it’s far from an entirely light and frothy one.

In fact, Frozen may be more softly subversive at its core than I was initially willing to think of it. Observe how both girls try to find happiness. Elsa runs off to be herself by herself, where no one can see her to judge her and her crazy magic powers. Anna, she tries to find a boy, any boy, and neither of these paths are right. Elsa’s choice is based in fear — and so is Anna’s. Immediately marrying the first prince you see isn’t just youthful naiveté, it’s escape. It’s flat out running away. I don’t have to worry about Elsa’s continued rejection if I have a contingency plan, and now I have a boy, I have a plan, and everything will be all right.

Anna spends most of the movie in “everything will be all right” mode, and she’s wrong. Everything isn’t going to be all right; the gulf between her and Elsa could never be mended by just talking. I mean, we’re talking about years of this crazed mutual isolation, with Elsa hollowing herself out because she’s “bad” and she’s “innately destructive” and she “hurts people,” sure, that’s obvious. But Anna, well, again, she’s not dissimilar. Sure, she doesn’t have the intense guilt, the immense parental pressure. She’s just the princess, not the future queen, and she doesn’t have to amount to anything. But not having pressure while a silent sibling is bearing it and bearing it, having so much parental focus swung thataway, well, that’s not healthy either. Anna, she’s running herself in circles with no one and no one, and loneliness has a way of feeling like a deficiency. Why won’t anyone love me?

If Elsa feels like to be seen, to be exposed, is to be hurt, for Anna, it’s to be invisible. Take a look at these girls. Even after Elsa runs, she’s horribly visible. All the people she’s trying to avoid trek right for her, and she falls because she’s got no one to watch her back, because for all her bravura claims of “letting go,” walling off, running, shouting “go away” are all the patterns she knows at this point. You can’t break those patterns with a song.

Look at Anna, who can’t be found. She’s the protagonist of this story, because she has to do the finding. Rustles up Kristoff, treks up to Elsa, struggles to find her prince before time runs out. And when time’s actually running out, she’s only found by a snowman, of all people and things, who’s willing to die for a little summer. All he can give her is an epiphany — and it’s initially the wrong one, because this is a movie full of wrong epiphanies. I’ll talk a bit about those trolls in the coda, but part of the problem is how Anna hears. She’s genre-savvy, but in the wrong genre.

Look at it again. Both girls are dying of the cold. I see the movie, I’m disappointed that they’d literalized the original Snow Queen’s “frozen heart,” which has more to do with being alone and caring about nothing, nothing, nothing than, you know, literally turning to ice.

Except I looked at it again. Anna’s hair turns white before we start dipping into some freezy body horror, and Elsa, pale-haired Elsa’s been frozen for years. “Let it Go” isn’t actually about freedom. It’s about accepting that cold is all you’ll ever feel. And just because Anna presents friendly, sweet, extroverted doesn’t mean that her heart’s been healthy all this time. It’s partly cultural, maybe, that we see extroversion as a sign of happiness, but even if Elsa is all reserve and Anna is just that rambunctiously lovable, you don’t marry the first prince you see because you’re just so in love with life. Anna is looking for someone to save her. That’s how the story’s supposed to go if you’re a sad princess. If it’s not the prince, just Kristoff, then. Whoever! Even Elsa. Can’t someone just love me, the world looks so empty without love.

The only way Anna or Elsa get out of their cycles is that at the last minute, and I mean the literal last, Anna realizes why a snowman might actually risk oblivion for a little summer. What that actually means. Why asking Elsa to, you know, please remove the winter so we can have a better time, isn’t the right action. Anna realizes that kissing a boy isn’t going to fix her heart, and it never was. And even here she hesitates, because it looks like that boy might finally find her, and to say that none of her dreams and future matter at the cost of her sister’s life is not easy. She has to hesitate. The whole weight of the movie rests here on the definition of love, and maybe, just maybe, love is not a feeling, but a decision.

And this is what saves them both. Elsa would have done it for Anna, too, sure, but she can’t for two reasons. 1. Everyone knows where Elsa is, but no one sees Anna. She can surprise the prince, because she was never more than an afterthought anyway. 2. Part of what Elsa has to learn is that she’s worth saving. She has to learn that before she can understand she can survive without the cold and concealment she’s used to (notably, even the fragile snowman makes it). And Anna learns that she’s much more than just what she can cling to.

Both girls find their strength without losing their natures — Elsa doesn’t suddenly turn into a summer witch and Anna is still going to perky and like her lonely reindeer boy. And everything is all right only after both girls have reached their nadir.

May as well note: Anna would not have survived her moment of selfless sacrifice if she had not been at her freezing nadir.

It’s all maybe more delicate and complex than it seems at a first glance, and that middle, which wanders, does wander. Still, Elsa and Anna need to heal the gulfs in their hearts before they can be happy, be bold, and that takes love beyond fear. Everything else is just hopeful posturing and detours. But to get to our destination, to even realize what our destination is, we need the hope and the detours. A proper epiphany takes a journey, doesn’t it.

* On the trolls. I’m not sure how trustworthy those little jerks are. They have a way of giving advice that is technically correct, but phrased in such a way to be more harm than good. Look at poor little Kristoff. He speaks of them with love, but that’s how you tend to speak of family, isn’t it, even if they’re not so kind to you. The “Fix-er-upper” song makes nice enough lyrical points and contrasts the openly flawed humanity of Kristoff with the too-good, too-convenient appearance of the prince. I can even argue that this song helps Anna realize that real relationships are messy because people are messy, and if it looks too smooth, it is too smooth. Sucking a little is the human condition.

But it’s still an uncomfortable song, because there’s just that touch of meanness to it. And I can’t help but notice that every time you follow a troll’s advice, you end up in the wrong place. I’m choosing to see that as intentional. The misdirection can’t be all on the parents or all on Anna, because it happens twice. Watch out for trolls, I say. They may be right in some sense, but they have the empathy of a rock, and that skews everything.

Gotta Design the Right Protagonist

Okay, so you’ve got a game. Maybe it’s got a scrap of story, maybe it doesn’t, but if you’ve got a something that can maneuver around a screen and do crap, that’s a protagonist. Far as video games go, anyway.

A few types, and I’m just riffing on a few of the few.

The Blank

We know what Gordon Freeman looks like because everyone does, but you play a Half-Life, and you’re mostly well-acquainted with the gravity gun and a crow bar. That’s what matters, what’s in your hands. Motivation, who needs it? There’s those nasty skittering head-crabs jumping right in your face. Doesn’t mean the world isn’t deep or there can’t be a few scraps of backstory, but what’s important is where you’re going to walk and what you’re going to shoot. You’re sitting in Freeman’s brainpan. It’s cool he has glasses, but it’s not important. Not all these protagonists are in first person shooters, either. What does PacMan want. Why is he haunted. Does it matter?

The Customizable Blank

Lot of stuff falls in here, and we’re usually talking about stuff that’s third person or that you can switch to third person, because what’s the point of a chargen if you never see yourself and what. You see a ton of this in RPGs, and not just in your Bethesdas, but in your Fallouts, your Might and Magics, your anything with a scenario and some droog who’s dropped into the middle of it all. For the purpose of this arbitrary categorization, I’m not counting protagonists with a lot of voice acting, because “lots of voice acting” tends toward “establishing a character as a specific kind of person.” Some chargen systems are more granular than others, and some games offer much more “figure out who you are and what your karma does” than others, but protagonists in this category are largely who you want them to be.

The Silent Hero

Somewhere between or beyond The Blank or the Customizable Blank, but related, is the hero who has a little back story, who has a little motivation, a few shreds of unavoidable personality, a distinctive appearance. He or she may not have much to say, but you can tell by the slump of their shoulders, their fastidiousness of dress, the way every rare dialogue option tends a certain direction, that if you were to make a movie of the game, you’d cast so-and-so. Their development and/or story trends fairly linear, but may not be explicitly spelled out. You get some JRPGs here, heck, some adventure games (Amanita’s adventures, anyone?). We might stick Journey here. The silent hero can’t coexist with extensive voice acting. It’s like trying to film Drive, but having Ryan Gosling talk out all his feelings.

The Choose Your Own Adventure Hero

Now we can have voice-acting. The Choose Your Own Adventure Hero can be a pretty specific person. He can be the Witcher, she can be Commander Shepherd, he can be Lee from the Walking Dead. Yes, you can choose the gender / appearance / back story of Shepherd, but there are pretty distinct limits to your character. There can be choice and consequences and blocked off content all over the place, like in Witcher 2, but Geralt is still more or less a Geralt. If you try to play him as a celibate monk, the game narrative is not really going to support that. There are choices, routes, and different textures you can give to your protagonist’s actions, but blank slate, this isn’t.

The Novel Hero

Commentary, commentary, commentary. Many adventure game protagonists, for example, will provide descriptions of what they’re seeing. Everything they’re seeing. The feedback is continual and more or less verbal / written. Every piece of the game is delivered through a particular voice or voices. You play Monkey Island and you know what Guybrush Threepwood is like. It’s unavoidable. You know what he thinks about everything and everyone, because you went and clicked on all of it. The pace is more likely to be rather sedate, at least, compared to the Movie Hero games below.

The Movie Hero

Sometimes similar to the novel hero in that there may be running commentary, but you’re more likely to see cutscenes, here, and lots of them. Taken to its extreme, you may in fact be watching a movie with occasional gameplay bits, but it needn’t be an extreme to qualify. Anything by Naughty Dog is absolutely here, but so is anything by Rockstar. These heroes are very defined, the action is cinematic, you could run all the cutscenes together and have something fairly coherent. There may be differences in density, for certain — the gameplay in Uncharted exists to link story bit to story bit, while the gameplay in Grand Theft Auto is more robust, and allows for intertextual elements — but we’re talking protagonists, here.


Well, tons of these. I just classed a GTA protagonist as a “Movie Hero,” but when you’re actually playing him, fft, it doesn’t matter what he’s doing in the cutscenes, does it? Open-ended gameplay of any sort can muddy the waters a bit. Player freedom of any sort will always toss ’em into the protagonist seat and let them decide who they really want to play. That can mean you end up playing two games, and that’s where people like tossing around “ludonarrative dissonance,” but eh, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a game straddling two lines. In fact, please give me an Oregon Trail create-your-party-like with over-the-top space marine cutscenes. Bob the Doctor sheds his armor to cradle his love, dying, dying of alkali poisoning. Or whatever. There are no rules.

Shin Megami Tensei IV

You know, I get it. No one really wants a mash-up of Shin Megami Tensei gameplay with the massively-textual visual novel / life sim format of a Persona. For one thing, it’d be 300 hours long, and for another, while there is some overlap between “Atlus crawler” fans and “Atlus life sim with crawler elements” fans, we’re probably looking at a majority that don’t overlap. And Persona is making more money.

Still, still. Can’t most of us agree that Persona 3 and 4 dungeons are mostly pretty dull affairs, and that Persona side quests (outside of the social link wrangling, which is really more the primary gameplay) are nothing but an excuse for more grinding? And there’s the personas themselves. Sure, it’s fun to fuse Satan from the depths of your soul, but picking persona raw material from a list of cards post-battle isn’t only kind of easy, it lacks personality. And personality is the whole point! Or something.

Shin Megami Tensei IV doesn’t have a lot of talking, and I’m not yet sure that’s actually to its detriment. Heaven knows all the talking in the Atelier games exists to keep me from making potions. It’s also not quite as tough as its reputation. The first bit, yes, because you have few resources and a less-than-optimal stable of demons, and also you don’t really know what you’re doing. But once you get the hang of SMT, it doesn’t become a cakewalk so much as manageable if you don’t get careless – and save often, because you will still get utterly wiped once in a while.

Anyway, once you’ve stopped weeping through every encounter, random, boss, or otherwise, Shin Megami Tensei IV really shines in a few areas, especially in contrast to popular Persona. First off, demon and demon negotiation. You ever played Persona 1, 2 IS, 2 EP, you’ll recognize demon negotiation, and even if you haven’t, you’ll still notice that some demons look an awful lot like personas you’ve fused in the past. All one and the same, baby, except there’s a lot more demons than personas, and the demons are, in fact, your party.

Yes. It’s a little like Pokemon.

Except you have to talk to all these guys. You run into a pixie in a dungeon, you can sweet-talk her and give her gifts until she agrees to fight on your side. You run into a griffon, you have to impress it with your toughness. Negotiations aren’t always easy, and failing one leads to the demon party taking the initiative and kicking the crap out of you. But personality? Demons got personality, that’s for sure, and when you get that powerful critter finally on your side, hey, it’s a sense of accomplishment.

Just like in Persona, you can fuse demons into other more powerful demons, etc., and you can force your favorite skills to transfer. In the meantime, you get delightful bits of weirdness. You might be sweet-talking that pixie, and she complains you only want her as a fusion ingredient (and as you get higher level, you will in fact be revisiting low-level demons for just that). Or you might be talking to an “old” demon, who’s thrilled about the idea of fusing young again. The negotiations paint this wide, bizarre world where there are no (or few) mindless monsters, just entities with their own motivations. And since you’re wandering around murdering things, well, demons are good at that.

This idea of a “wide world” also benefits from actual places to explore. Most dungeons, per se, aren’t very large. Unlike Persona 4’s 10ish+ level dungeons or Persona 3’s single five billion level dungeon, most SMT dungeons are a handful of levels, if that. Or they aren’t levels so much as open city areas. And while there isn’t a lot of “oh, here’s a journal, let’s find out what happened here,” and you may be visiting the same places for different reasons, quests are often more substantial than “gather stuff,” and you have to actually pay attention to see all of a given area. You might return to a well-mapped dungeon to chase down the Monkey King, or help Isis with an Osirus-being-dead-again problem. If maybe a Bethesda-infinity of dungeons might be fun, these modestly narrative-driven quests are much more of a draw than “kill another set of mobs.”

Over-world navigation is tricky, though, because it’s honestly hard to see what routes you can take, what a given node is, and so forth. On the other hand, getting completely lost and ending up in a high level area has its benefits. SMT IV is not the kind of difficult game where it’s impossible for a level 20 party to take on a level 30 demon party, or a level 30 party a level 75 boss. If you understand how to exploit weaknesses, if you have a party optimized for a particular set of weaknesses (or against them), and if you use buffs and debuffs when you need ‘em, level matters much less than initiative and tactics. (And vice versa. You can get wrecked by a party much lower level than yours if you mess up.) This means both that battles tend to be quite quick, and that playing in a higher-level playground earns you XP hand over foot. Whenever you level up, your HP and SP refresh, so there’s incentive not to play to conserve resources. Burn them to earn more. Too much caution will leave you weak.

And I guess there’s also a plot. It’s just – there are different kinds of video game plots. Sometimes, the plot is why you’re playing, and Persona 4 is definitely one of those games. As in, hi, I’m a modestly interactive narrative with some gameplay grist. Sometimes, the plot exists to add structure to the world’s texture, to tempt you outside, to get you talking to people and demons, and thinking whatever you like. Shin Megami Tensei IV has more of the latter kind of plot. Unlike Persona, the story beats aren’t rewards for doing your fighting set-piece as required. The gameplay is the reward and, oh, I guess I advanced the plot incidentally. That doesn’t mean I won’t think it’s cool if the story shapes up to more, or if I actually care if a so-and-so lives or dies. It just seems a little beside the point.

We’ll see. But so far, I am enjoying the on-your-toes fighting and negotiating and the bizarre everything immensely. And really, much as I like Persona, I would love to see one with the flexibility of a mainline SMT. It’s just hard to have textual density, gameplay density, length, and flexibility all in the same title.

GTA V Gender-Swap Summary, Michael/Michele, Intro

Manny: Michele, you are fat. Look at how fat you are. No wonder our marriage is terrible.

Michele: What?

Manny: No wonder our daughter is so fat, when she has you to look up to. You big balloon. You whale.

Michele: So what if I’m a whale. You’re a barnacle. Barney.

Manny: But look at me! I’ve taken care of myself. I passed forty, and I’m in fact more boyishly handsome, fit, and tan, than I was when you met me.

Michele: And who paid for the tan and the chin reconstruction.

Manny: That’s beside the point. You have the means and the money to look your best, but you just whale around in the hot tub, listening to the Pointer Sisters and dreaming you were free like that crazy girl in the Breakfast Club.

Michele: You know, I’m only mildly overweight. I wouldn’t be out of place in a Dove ad.

Manny: What, are you going to roundhouse kick me for criticizing you. Again? Because that’s not exactly wifely. Or feminine.

Michele: I’m too comfortable right now.

Manny: Of course you are. I just want to know how you never have the energy to go to the gym with me, but if any of our family or the neighbors or the help or some random celebrity at the wrong place at the wrong time piss you off, you can cross Los Santos on foot in five minutes flat and kill fifteen people with your bare hands.

Michele: I got my priorities, honey. If a woman can’t be strong when she’s crossed, is she a woman at all?

Manny: Your priorities are why we want to smother you in your sleep.

Michele: You’d go down with me. Barnacle. Trophy husband. I made you. I sculpted you with my ill-gotten money. If it weren’t for me, you’d still be turning tricks for bored matrons in the outskirts, you prince of a nobody.

Manny: Whatever, Michele. I’m going to go spend some quality time with that tennis instructor you hired, the one under 25, you know, with the tight buttocks and the perfect tits, neither of which you have, you bloatmonster. Later.

Michele: I need comfort, but apologizing to Manny for breaking the dining room table again or for breaking his foot or for pissing away our savings on the stock market – that’d hurt my pride. I’ll go try to connect with my estranged daughter, instead.

Jamie (the daughter): (playing some splatty video game or the other, yelling at the screen) Hey hey! Want me to glue a strap on to your vagina and turn you into a little boy and then violate you, because I will.

Michele: Hey, Jamie, would you like to go on a jog or something? That’s what your father always wants to do when we’re on the outs.

Jamie: Jogging would require moving, and I think you’re being a crappy entitled mom trying to relive her glory days by asking me to move.

Michele: Have you been playing the same game for the past five years? I just noticed.

Jamie: No, Mom, duh, this is, like, the five-times-improved iteration of the same game. Can’t you see the resolution on the blood is much sharper? Can’t you actually see the creases in the soldier’s uniforms? Don’t you pay any attention to my hobbies at all? No wonder I hate you.

Michele: On second thought, I’m going to try to reconnect with my son instead. Look, Jamie, try doing – a sit up a day. In your bed, if you want.

Jamie: Screw off and stop wasting my time. I love me the way I am.

Tracer (the son): (through his closed door) Man, you aren’t half as attractive to the ladies as you think you are. You see the pinched up disgusted squints they get when you’re around?

(Michele barges in. Tracer is lying in his underwear on the bed, on the phone.)

Tracer: Mooom! (in the phone) Hang on, my psychotic sexually-suffocating Mom is in my room, I swear she’s never read Freud, I don’t think she can read. (tosses phone) Mooooom, I’m having private time in here.

Michele: Obviously. Why are you naked?

Tracer: I can’t believe you’re asking that! I have the right to be naked in any situation I like. I’m an adult! And I’m exceptionally skilled at exposure, so you have to stop holding me back! You have no idea how crazy the ladies get when I take off my shirt. I’ve got three thousand friends on Lifeinvader.

Michele: I’m sure you have other skills besides nudity. Don’t you? Right?

Tracer: Get out of my room, Mom. Go paint your toenails and make me hot chocolate like Moms are supposed to do. Support me. I love me the way I am.

Michele (departing, closing the door): Why does everyone in this house have only one trait? I have at least four traits. They might be all bad, but at least I have a few.

GTA V Gender-Swap Summary: Franklin/Francine, Intro

Timmy: Francine, I need me a woman who can make my house a home, not a woman who sticks Cadillacs in the rear window. Not a woman with highly variable income and highly variable enthusiasm for cooking and cleaning. Sometimes I come over and find you lighting up and watching cartoons and your shoes are on the floor and your jacket’s hanging off the couch arm and you’ve got fifteen wadded dollar bills stuck out your pocket like you pulled ‘em out of a vending machine, and there’s a pizza box sittin’ on the table, just sittin’ there. You’re not the woman for me.

Francine: Timmy, I love you, but you let me chase my first need, money, and we’re both gonna benefit from it. I’ll take care of you. You can buy yourself all the Dormeuil suits you need to impress other dudes.

Timmy: Honey, that’s not what it’s about. It’s your lifestyle. Your scuffed up shoes, your scuffed up jeans, your well-meaning attempts to actually care about other people that end up discarded whenever there’s a few bucks involved . . . I need a girl that’s stable, predictable. Who wears make up when we go out and doesn’t love driving cars more than she craves sex. I need a girl who doesn’t know how to load a handgun.

Francine: But baby. You knew all that about me before I picked you up. We grew up together, darling. You knew I don’t stand on ceremony. You knew I could hold my own in a fight. You knew I was poor.

Timmy: I thought you’d grow out of it, Frankie. But this is goodbye. I’ve hooked up with a lady doctor who cleans up awful nice and lets me decide what we drive.

Francine: Aw man, there goes Timmy. Guess I’ll go smoke a bit and send out some more resumes.

Francine’s Uncle Dennis: There you are again, taking up a whole couch that’s half mine. This is why I hate women. Selfish, eternally immature layabouts, the lot of them. You ought to be doing some cleaning, it’s in your nature, but the laziness in your nature’s even stronger, isn’t it. Look at that padding about your middle, and look at me. Not a hint of excess nothing. That’s because I’m a man and we can have perfect waterboard abs without half the effort your baby-bearing fat-nurturing gender needs. I hope you die in a car crash. I’m off to engage in some primal yawping with my male pals, and they are all male, worthless infantilized woman niece.

Lanette: Hey, Francine. I know you been sending out resumes, and I just got this sweet gig with a European ethnic caricature who needs more people who are good with cars and not asking too many questions. It’s totally legit!

Francine: What kind of cars?

Lanette: All kinds of cars! Also, I might need your help with totally-legit and completely-legal getaway driving on the side. You could be like the guy in Drive, you know, a black, female Ryan Gosling. Who doesn’t want that? I bet Timmy’d fall right back into your arms . . .

Francine: Hold up. Is there any money in any of this?

Lanette: There’s a five to ten percent chance of you making any profit at all. I mean, you also have to factor in that I’m completely unreliable and we have a 99% chance of running bloody and naked away from a massacre or an explosion or something.

Francine: I’m in.

Morrowind Level 1

I’ve been Firgus the Fury in Oblivion, an orc who just wants to expand his library collection, that’s all. I’ve been Diego the dark elf in Skyrim, a mute and grim figure married to a burly, scarred up blacksmith who bakes pies for me, because that’s what husbands do, apparently.

But the Morrowind Overhaul just came out, and what is Skyrim? What is Oblivion? Compare these pretenders to a chance to replay a game that’s never eked out of my top ten with nicer graphics, and let’s not even mention I haven’t chanced the expansions yet.

And you know what. It’s still special. You always want to check your nostalgia. I know I try to boot up Daggerfall and find the UI borderline unplayable and the combat both dull and miserable and is there anything else but dungeon crawling to look forward to. There are plenty of people who boot up Morrowind and hate it within hours. Morrowind demands a certain patient play style, a certain tolerance for NPCs who are often literally walking in-game wikipedias, for combat that’s about as visceral as clicking and occasionally praying, for running and jumping and swimming for miles.

But it’s special. It’s special in a way that Oblivion and even Skyrim will never approach for me. Skyrim is lovely, and it has its surprises, its jumpable waterfalls and its wandering headless horsemen who offer no quests and no combat, just run while you chase them. But it’s still no Morrowind.

How can I explain this. I haven’t reached level 2 yet. I’m a high elf mage. I use only magic. This is how it plays. I explore a submerged cave outside Seyda Neen. Treasure’s at a premium. I’m poorer than a church mouse and I’m out of lockpicks and without money, I don’t get better spells, and I don’t get alchemy gear, and I badly need both. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a swimmer and the cave dead-ends deep underwater. I’m drowning. I’ve just been attacked by a slaughterfish. Normally, I can take enemies this weak out, but I’m spending all my clicks and mana on healing my lungs. I’m running out of mana.

I have a single scroll of Divine Intervention, which immediately teleports you to the nearest temple – of the Nine, not the Three, but I’m in no position to be theologically picky, and the Nine are foreign interlopers like I am. I use the scroll. I end up in Pelegiad fort, miles away. I sell all my worldly goods (mostly flowers and mushrooms and restore attributes potions I wince getting rid of – there’s disease everywhere here) to join the Imperial Cult and get a few more spells. Then I go wandering, looking for coin. I make a few minor thefts in empty parts of the fort, but I’m not much of a thief either, and Pelegiad isn’t rich.

I run into a key shrine of Vivec, one of the Three. I need muck to sacrifice. I don’t have any. I happen upon a tiny farm close by, run by an unpleasant and unfriendly man. He likely has muck. Farmers always do. I don’t have the skills to steal in front of him. So I look right, I look left. I murder him with a newly bought temple spell. There’s some nasty irony in that, I’m sure. And I was right. Muck in his possession. I go back to the shrine and my first sacrifice to Vivec is complete. The shrine praises me for understanding humility. Ho ho.

I find a Bosmer a few meters away, looking for a friend of his. No sooner have I promised to find the man when I’m attacked by two territorial and mating kagouti (which look kind of like tusked triceratops with two legs) and there’s no way I can fight them. An unarmed farmer in cloth is one thing, these guys are tough. So I run. I run for the farm, healing myself all the way. I shut the door and sleep to regain my strength. I open the door and there they are, waiting for me. I run for the lake. I leap off the dock. They’re still on the dock, waiting for me. I swim across the lake to a plantation, too large and well-guarded to make murder an easy prospect, but I think my karma needs some recovery anyway. I think I’ll walk back to Seyda Neen.

That’s Morrowind. That’s just the start of it.