To continue the trend of me not getting into games until they’ve been out for a year or so, I’ve been playing Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla Games’s adventure for the PS4 that follows Aloy, a young woman tasked with discovering why the dangerous machines near her home are going crazy and murdering people. When I looked into what this game was about, I felt sold immediately. It has everything I like: a strong female protagonist, robot animals, beautiful settings, and lots and lots of sidequests. The A.V. Club’s Clayton Purdom calls Horizon Zero Dawn a “map game,” which isn’t completely fair. Yes, it’s a game where the player is invited to explore a map and complete quests in different areas of the map, but it also does a good job of building a complex world full of robots and intricate social hierarchies.
I want to preface this post with a disclaimer that I’m attempting to be as spoiler free as possible.
I won’t reveal any big plot points beyond the basic premise of the game, and I encourage you to play it to find out what happens for yourself! I will, however, be discussing central themes and mechanics of the game, so if keeping those things secret would make the game more enjoyable for you, save this post for after you finish playing.
Oxenfree, a 2016 game by Night School Studio, released to positive reviews, but quiet fandom about a year ago. I played the game when it first came out, and loved it, but I’ve recently picked it up again on the Nintendo Switch. A year is a considerable amount of time in some ways. Since I first played this game I’ve finished my comprehensive exam, immersed myself in my dissertation, moved, got a new cat, had some personal life changes, etc. etc.. The game feels different now in a way that’s hard to explain, but for this post I’m going to try to.
The game follows Alex, a high school senior who’s going to a semi-illegal beach party with her best friend Ren, his crush Nona, Alex’s new step-brother Jonas, and Clarissa—whose relationship to the group becomes clearer as the game progresses. The crew begins encountering some spooky things once Alex tunes her radio to a weird frequency and soon Alex begins a quest of self-discovery and memory and healing.
If this summary seems vague, that’s because it is. The meat of this story isn’t the gameplay mechanics or the puzzles—it’s the plot. The very intricate plot that gets slowly revealed over the course of several hours. There are a few key points this game covers, all of them favorite plot tropes of mine:
As anyone who has ever heard me talk about my childhood of my favorite books knows, I LOVE science fiction and fantasy. I was raised on superheroes, I run a biweekly Dungeons and Dragons game, and I audited a science fiction graduate seminar. I’ve forced people to read The Southern Reach Trilogy. I’m invested in promoting the work of Octavia Butler. Considering my love of sci fi, I’m always disappointed when stores have lackluster “genre fiction” sections that only cater to pulpy paperback readers and Game of Thrones fans (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but like Ariel, sometimes I want more).
Mary’s blog post this week is adapted from a presentation she delivered at the Children’s Literature Association Conference in Tampa, FL today!
It’s 8AM, first day, so I want to start with a little exercise. The photograph on the left is me, Mary, and though I hate describing myself, as most people do, I would say I’m funny, empathetic, emotional, smart, and, sometimes, gullible. I’m a pretty tame person, all things said. I like an early bedtime.
The photograph on the right is my avatar, or one of them. It’s a character I play in Dungeons and Dragons, Vektro Velakov. Aside from being half genie, Vek is attention-seeking, impulsive, and hopeful. He’s also emotional, and often worried in the ways I am in real life. I say all this to emphasize the point that I am not my avatar—I’m not a man, not as attention-seeking as my avatar, yet we share many similar qualities. The idea of using avatars to represent oneself is not a new thing in the world of gaming. Old school tabletop RPGs ask players to create and pilot characters of their own design and contemporary video games, like the Fallout series, Skyrim, etc., frequently include an option for players to customize their character down to minute details. Avatars in tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, and in video games like the OASIS system in Ready Player One, are both different and the same as their creators, and ultimately they blur the line between fiction and reality. They occupy a strange liminal space in the gaming world and fiction inspired by it. These avatars are simultaneously the player and not the player. The self and the other. Avatars afford players the chance to behave in unpredictable ways, guarded by the reassurance that their character isn’t them, not exactly. We are our avatars, but we’re not.
(Spoilers for Ready Player One to follow!)
About the Blog
The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.