Tag Archive: Editorial


In my last update, “WordPress Necromancy,” I mentioned that I’ve spent a lot of time this past year writing fanfiction. And I have. I’ve also spent a good amount of time reading fanfiction. Why would I subject myself to such horrors, you ask? Because some fanfiction is actually good, believe it or not. A few are actually great. Blows the mind, doesn’t it?

More often, of course, fanfiction outright sucks or lands squarely in that “meh” domain that isn’t worth mentioning one way or another. But that actually has less to do with it being fanfiction than it has to do with the open-to-the-public nature of the thing; as there are no editors, agents, or publishers sifting through the work and deciding which authors are and are not worth investing in, there’s nothing to stop the sewage from being posted. Hence, the vast majority of the content on FanFiction.Net is either bad… or horribad.

That shouldn’t even need stating, really. It’s as much a fact of nature at this point as “the sky is blue” and “grass is green” and “Lewis will most likely forget trash day this week.” What I want to talk about isn’t how most of it sucks; I want to talk about the way authors react when told they’ve done something wrong with their work.

You see, I recently read a crossover story that looked mildly interesting at first blush, and in fact started out relatively well. It even has decent writing quality, which is usually… usually, not always… a sign that the writer knows what he or she is doing. It was a crossover story in which Harry Potter, being stressed out by his vital role in the ongoing war against Lord Voldemort, is visited by three Legendary Pokémon (namely: Mew, Celebi, and Jirachi) and given the opportunity to take a vacation of sorts in another world. He is thus transported to the Pokémon universe and the rest is history. Sounds trite? Maybe it does, but it was still going pretty well until Giovanni entered the picture.

I have no intention of naming names or linking directly to the story in question, but here’s the long and short of what sparked this article. The writer of this crossover introduced Giovanni into the story… who, canonically, is the leader of the organization known as Team Rocket. Keep in mind that this fiction apparently goes by anime canon, in which Giovanni (on those occasions on which he appears) is not at all portrayed in a positive light. In this story, Harry encounters Giovanni taking a random walk in the woods, within walking distance of Pallet Town, no less, who has sprained his ankle. Giovanni is a polite man, who has a sudden “Eureka” moment upon Harry’s suggestion that Team Rocket only steal (or “rescue”) Pokémon who have been abused by their owners rather than ones who are already loyal to loving trainers. Oh, and did I mention that Giovanni, even before his debut in this story, was apparently good friends with Ash Ketchum’s mother and Professor Oak? Check that: the leader of a criminal organization whose trademark is Pokémon theft… is friends with Professor Oak and Ash Ketchum’s bloody mom.

It’s flat, blatantly out-of-character, totally random, and more to the point, it has no redeeming qualities to it whatsoever. This kind of thing happens quite a lot in fanfiction, actually. Often, it stems from a particular writer wanting to emphasize a character’s redeeming qualities (or qualities they errantly think are there, if none actually exist) and instead forgetting to include the other ones. The result is not only as flat and unappetizing as that bottle of soda my brother left open on his desk for three days, it’s also not the character it was supposed to be anymore.

Now, I, in my infinite wisdom, took the overall decent writing quality of the story as a sign that the writer took their work at least seriously enough to appreciate constructive criticism. So I reviewed it, and said pretty much what I’ve already stated here. My response amounted to “I appreciate constructive criticism, but it’s my story so you can take your constructive criticism and stuff it up your arse.” The writer wasn’t so blunt in their wording, of course, but the point seemed to be that despite my complaint being legitimate, somehow the mere concept of “fanfiction” makes stories immune to criticisms involving character development quality, because the word “fanfiction” apparently means the writer isn’t obliged to take their work seriously. (Um, really?) Oh, and the usual FF.net mantra of “Don’t like, don’t READ!” (More on my passionate hatred of that mantra in a bit…)

I wasn’t quite sure I was dealing with a sore loser at this point, so in my (ahem) infinite wisdom, I decided to reply to this PM. I told the writer that it’s all well and good if you want to write a character that isn’t Giovanni, so long as you write a character that actually isn’t Giovanni. Hey, I think it makes sense. I also pointed out that even if this randomly Super!Good!Giovanni character weren’t totally out of sync with anything and everything Giovanni stands for, flat and one-dimensional characters are still flat and one-dimensional… which, readers, is never a good thing unless done for comedic value, which this clearly wasn’t. In my review, I had even provided a decent alternative suggestion to Super!Good!Giovanni… a redemption angle. You know, where the canon Evil!Giovanni actually develops into a good character through some believable sequence of events that change his outlook?

The writer then proceeded to block me, which at this moment is mildly annoying because it means I can’t go back and re-read the PMs themselves to make sure I’m portraying them fairly. But more importantly, the fact that I hadn’t said anything offensive in my review or response (I actually made a point to be as polite as I could) and still got blocked pretty much confirmed the type of writer I was dealing with. Which is a pitty, because the writing quality actually was pretty good and that’s a rare, precious commodity on that site (most stories are either grammatically butchered, formatting nightmares, or grammatically butchered formatting nightmares).

I suppose what I really want to say by all of this is that even if you’re not in it for “keeps,” as it were, fanfiction isn’t somehow magically immune to the standards that original fiction is measured against. Flat and one-dimensional characters are still flat and one-dimensional. Bad writing is still bad writing. And saying “I appreciate constructive criticism” when you really don’t only makes you look like a berk, so… fanfiction writers, if any of you are reading this, please do not follow this nameless author’s example. Take your reviews with grace, dammit. And for God’s sake, don’t tell me you don’t care what your reviewers think. You’re publishing your story on the Internet for the sole purpose of having it read by people other than yourself, so of course you care what others think. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t care about the positive reviews, either.

Closing Tangent: A prevelant sort of mantra on FanFiction.Net is the concept of “don’t like, don’t read,” which seems to be a ward against reviews that don’t agree with “love teh story, update soon!!!1!one!” Basically, it’s a supposedly nice way of saying, “If you don’t like the garbage I put out, keep it to yourself, because I’m too emotionally delicate to take criticism.” Some might say they only say it because they don’t want to be flamed, but the umbrella’s just too wide to limit itself to just one type of negative review. My real beef with this mantra is the sheer impossibility of it: how does one know if they like a story, without first reading it? “Don’t like, don’t read,” you say? How about, “Don’t read, don’t like?” Because that’s my policy toward pretty much everything that wastes summary space on something like “don’t like, don’t read…” I just don’t read it at all, and thus don’t give myself the chance to like it in the first place. It’s the only logical way to follow the author’s instructions, after all!

Edit: The author apparently has a brother, who thinks I owe his sister an apology for hurting her sensitive feelings. He also blocked me before I even had a chance to read his PM. So, um… how does he expect me to give any sort of apology, even if I felt I had done something wrong? Again, I’m not naming names, but… seriously, dude. Common sense. Go out and buy some.

In my Sonic Unleashed retrospective review, I droned on for a bit about how over the last few years, I grew up and started to see things differently — started to see how my previous views on some things were either too simplistic or, in this case, far too holier-than-thou… which is ironic, as I’m an atheist.

One-and-a-half of those reading this may remember an old rant video, which I made back when I was into that sort of thing on YouTube, a rant that raged about over-the-top sex appeal in videogames. I find myself in the awkward position of declaring yet another retraction, for the second article in a row… I am, honestly, no longer even slightly bugged by this aspect of videogames. No, seriously. I really couldn’t care less. I bet you clicked on this article expecting some scholarly dissertation on how game companies are whoring themselves out by exploiting the lowest common denominator with their hyper-emphasis on cleavage, fetish gear, and Team Ninja jiggle physics.

Surprise! This article swings for the other team.

“But Solaris, O great sage and eminent orange soda junkie,” I hear you cry, “what in the holy name of cowpatties does this have to do with SEGA?”

Bayonetta, wise guy. Now sit down and shut up.

I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea, though—I haven’t just given up and joined the droolers who only bought SoulCalibur IV because of how spectacularly Ivy’s top vomits on the laws of physics. Believe it or not, I actually do have a valid intellectual reason for this change of heart: at some point, I asked myself why this kind of thing is somehow bad, and I couldn’t come up with an answer. At least, not an answer that I couldn’t think of a good defense against.

There are, as a rule of thumb, three kinds of people who lash out at sex appeal in games. There are the prudes, who tend to exist outside of the gaming community more often than within it (example: Fox News… ‘nuff said). There are those—whether male or female themselves—who focus less on the sex appeal itself than what they perceive as a negative impact on women in our society… in other words, those channeling feminist ideals into their views on gaming. Then there are people like, well… me: people who at some point and for some reason decided that “standards” were more important than the logic behind the standards.

I don’t mean to boil things down to such basic ideas, though. Most people, I find, have some more complex mixture of ideas behind their views, and this is no exception. I was mostly Exhibit C, but I was also a bit of Exhibit B and, for a time when I was even younger and less world-wise than I am now (which is hard to imagine, actually), I was quite a bit of Exhibit A.

Oh, but now I need to bust out the ol’ fire extinguisher, because I get the feeling my little three-kinds-of-people speech just now offended all three of those types of people. In truth, the only people I intend to insult are the prudes. And that’s just me being spiteful because I can. I don’t mean to suggest that feminism or standards are, in and of themselves, bad things—I simply feel that in this case (both with regards to gaming and other forms of media), they are being mis-applied.

“But Solaris, O great sage and eminent Coca-Cola smoker,” you sigh, shaking your head in disappointment. “Do you really intend to suggest that the oversexifying of female characters does not have a negative impact on women in our society?”

Well, uh… yeah, actually. But this is going to take some explaining. You see, readers, I know the usual arguments well enough: overemphasizing this view of “sexy” puts too much pressure on women to conform to a certain standard, overemphasizing the idea of women as sex objects has a negative impact on how much respect men have for them as people, et cetera and so on and all that jazz. My problem is that none of these issues are actually about the sex appeal itself: they’re about the people who view it. It is perfectly possible for free-thinking men and women to play, watch, and enjoy these same “oversexified” media without any of the feared social problems occurring, and do you know why? Because all of these things are completely dependent on the maturity, intelligence, and worldviews of the person experiencing the media.

So, what, do we ban Rocky Road ice cream because a sizable chunk of our population never learned the definition of the word “moderation?” No. And I see no more reason to demonize sex appeal because a significant portion of our society is, for some reason or another, not mature enough for that “M” rating (or even the “T” one). Both maladies are curable via the same remedy: fix the brain behind the eyes, dammit. Instead of working to censor or demonize media that can potentially aggravate an existing problem with society, why not focus on mitigating the problem itself? I mean, I know it’s harder to have those oh-so-embarrassing heart-to-hearts with your kid when they hit puberty, but this is the root of a lot of societal issues. In this case as well as others, people are placing the blame on media rather than the people responsible for taking the ideas media presents and putting it into a mature and intelligent context.

An example of a mature and intelligent context? “The female form is a lovely thing. It is pleasing to look at. I enjoy looking at pleasing things. Is this particular portrayal unrealistic? YES, IT’S UNREALISTIC.” And that is all it takes to place sex appeal in a context that keeps one’s perception of the real world and society intact. And it’s almost identical to the line of reasoning that any vaguely intelligent person follows to determine that the wand-waving prestidigitation of the Harry Potter series is a case of fictional fun time and, ahem, not something you should be trying at home. It’s a very basic fact-and-fiction mentality that anyone should be capable of. Even if the subject matter isn’t as fanciful, making such logic a societal norm can’t be that hard!

“Alrighty, Solaris, O awesome sage and eminent Orange Sodaholics Anonymous flunkie,” you say. “You’ve said your bit about that, but what was that about my standards being bull?

…To which I say, that’s not what I said. Standards are a good thing, because quality is a good thing. The only reason anyone ever makes a quality product is because people want a quality product, and that’s standards in seedshell.  Giving up standards means giving up quality. But in this case, I have one simple problem with the way people view sex appeal in terms of standards: people tend to operate under the assumption that sex appeal is, in and of itself, an aspect of lesser quality. In fact, sex appeal is a victim of circumstance — it is entirely possible for a genuinely great game, such as Bayonetta, to verily explode with oversexification, while games that are complete and utter crap (Exhibit B in this case would be X-Blades, tho’ you’re free to insert any poorly-designed oogle-fest you like) are just as amorous. Sex appeal isn’t an aspect of lesser quality; it just happens to be easy to exploit regardless of quality.

It’s not unlike a licensed game based on a really good movie. Maybe the game is good. If so, more power to Electronic Arts; they managed not to suck this time! Maybe the game is bad, though. Is this the fault of Harry Potter? No. Is the blame then on licensed games in general? No. It’s because EA decided they were going to fail at life that day. Blaming Harry Potter for the failure of a licensed game that happens to include him would be silly. Following that logic, blaming overexcited jiggle physics and oversized mammaries for the bad game design that accompanies them is a classic case of missing the point. Don’t hate the sex appeal for how exploitable it is — hate the games that exploit it. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

There’s another side of the “standards” issue that boils my bladder, though, and mostly it boils it because I once thought this way myself. This side involves the idea that people who indulge in sex appeal or prioritize it in any way are lacking in standards. This is so snobbish that I can’t help but shake my head in dismay even thinking about it. “Standards” are about quality, not about the subject matter that entertains a person. Someone who enjoys television more than reading doesn’t necessarily lack taste. Someone who would rather listen to rock music than classical music doesn’t lack taste. Someone who would rather play a videogame than watch a movie doesn’t lack taste. Why, then, is someone who includes sex appeal in their list of gaming preferences automatically doing so in poor taste? It’s not a matter of “taste” or “standards” — it’s a matter of seeing something that isn’t for you and looking at it as “beneath” you.

There is a related point that should be addressed, here: much of this is aggravated by the perception that the people who buy games (or movies, or whatever) for the eye candy are immature or vulgar. Actually, it’s reversed: immature and vulgar people tend to gravitate toward this sort of thing. Once again, sex appeal itself is a misunderstood victim of circumstance.

Even having said all this, there is one point I made back in the day that I still at least partly defend: the portrayal of women as characters. I no longer feel any annoyance at the way women look in my games, but the way they act is another matter entirely. This isn’t even about sex appeal, though; Devil May Cry 4’s Kyrie would still be a squeaky little damsel in distress even if she wasn’t positively overflowing into her own dress. The problem with oversexified characters that are written poorly isn’t that they’re oversexified, it’s that they’re written poorly. Can sex appeal be used in interesting ways? Of course it can! The exaggerated “we’re pushing the envelope and laughing our own pants off as we do it” nature of Bayonetta even qualifies as some proof of that, and that’s before we even touch on using it as a theme all its own, the way Atlus does in the recently-released Catherine.

The funny thing is, I get the sense that a lot of people who badmouth sex appeal in gaming are actually thinking along the same lines as this article, and just wording it poorly. I think the difference is important enough that we — as the gaming community, and as a society in general — need to acknowledge it clearly. And not just for the sake of not being snobs about the games we play, either. I think that placing more emphasis on this distinction may just have a positive impact on the way society thinks in general.

I mean, will someone please think of the children? And not assume they’re all brain-dead morons incapable of independent thought? I think that would be a decent starting point for fixing almost every problem our society has, actually…

The above article was originally posted to SEGA HD on August 9, 2011.