Why Play… ‘Stardew Valley’

Google Images

Welcome to Stardew Valley, a quiet little town isolated from the rest of the world. When your grandfather passes away and leaves you his farm in his will, you pack your bags and begin a new life away from the hubbub of the commercial world to learn what it takes to become a farmer.

With the option to create your own items out of the resources you have collected, Stardew Valley is more than an homage to Harvest Moon.  It takes what made Harvest Moon such a success and adds a factor that minecraft players would find familiar. Additionally, the game also incorporates a level up system for each different skill the player may use on and around their farm such as farming, foraging and fishing. With each level the player will find using those skills easier to use and ultimately will discover that a good farmer uses each and every one of these skills in order to maximise their daily success.

However, it isn’t the game mechanics that make the game such fun to play but the relaxation that the game provides. This quaint little town that holds its own secrets, villagers with their own unique personalities and backstories and the bright 8bit pixels all create a tranquil charm to get immersed in. Most importantly, the game’s music also ties in a warm calming atmosphere that changes with each passing season.

Despite the soothing tone though lies a darker realism to the game. As you play through your first year as a farmer and start making friends with your neighbours, you realise things are not at happy as they seem. Through a number of cut scenes brought about by filling up villager’s friend meter, the game begins to explore a number of adult themes such as alcoholism, depression and PTSD.

Moreover, Stardew Valley also holds a negative view of the free market seen between Pierre’s general Store and the JoJa Mart; the freedom to choose where to shop has a tendency for major corporations, with the money to sell items cheaper, to end up monopolising the market and forcing their competitors to go out of business. Yet, the player does have the option to ignore the evidently exploitative nature of JoJa Corp and have a different experience to the game by buying a membership card from the Hypermarket.

The success of Stardew Valley is in the fact that it doesn’t force the player to do any specific job they don’t want to. Instead it allows us to play the game as we like. Whether it be to get rich, make friends or discover the secrets of the valley, the player will find themselves immersed in a small town and its community that one can’t help but wish existed in order to get away from our hectic lives. Stardew Valley is proof that sometimes the simplest things in life can turn out to be the best.

Advertisements

5 Comic Book Characters that have Come Out

Renee Montoya – Gotham Central #6-10

Google Images

Although she was technically publically ‘outed’ and we don’t actually see Renee come out to her parents, Montoya coming out to her parents is an important moment of LGBT issues in comic books. The experience turns out not to be the greatest one, however what makes this so significant is actually the pure emotion it portrays and not the act.

Before she does so there is a scene where she is asked by her brother why she wants to tell their parents as it will only make them ‘suffer’ and she defends herself by telling him that being a lesbian is part of her and that she refuses to lie to them anymore. This is made even more symbolic by the way she repeatedly shifts between speaking English and Spanish. The Spanish represents her heritage or identity whereas the English represents her ability to conform or seem ‘ordinary’ to everyone else in Gotham as well as the reader. This automatically can be paralleled with her hidden lesbian identity in relation to the heteronormative façade she portrays.

After coming out to her parents we are presented with her experience of how it went. Already aware that her parents will most likely not take her coming out to them well, we feel Renee’s pain and sense of loss the moment she tells her girlfriend what happened. Her mother’s extreme religious view towards her own daughter is heartbreaking yet depressingly realistic to some people’s own experiences with coming out to their parents. What adds to this heart crushing scene is when Renee breaks down into tears; until this moment Montoya has been portrayed as a hard faced cop who hasn’t let anyone get to her including her homophobic colleagues. The gritty realism of Renee Montoya’s coming out not only sheds light on homophobia in the workplace but also homophobia in strict religious households where the hate of homosexuality can overpower the love of a child.

Google Images

Iceman – Uncanny X-Men #600 (present drake) & All-New X-Men #40 (past drake)

Google Images

With the LGBT connotations that can be easily made between homosexuality and the struggles the x-men face in the comics, it would have been remiss not to have mentioned an x-man in this list. Not only is it an x-man but it is one of the first; Iceman, however his coming out is one of the most complicated due to time travel. In short, there are two versions of iceman; one from the past and one from the present.

The past Bobby Drake (Iceman) is 1st outed by Jean Grey through telepathy who questions him as to why he acts overly straight when she knows he is gay. Attempting to deny his sexuality, she confronts him with his own thoughts. In this sense, Jean Grey allows the past Iceman to truly be honest with himself.

Later on, the past version of Iceman confronts his present self over his discovery of himself and questions him why he hasn’t come out yet. The present Iceman repeats the same reason his younger self gave that he is scared of having to deal with being both a mutant and gay and one is easier to hide than the other. Again, this ‘coming out’ creates something that one battles with mentally into something physical, the past Iceman representing his honest self and the present Iceman representing the straight façade that a lot of gay people put on before coming out.

Google Images

The Pied Piper – The Flash #53

Google Images

This scene is given a strong impact as it is actually the first opening pages of the Fast Friends story line. It is brought about by a discussion between The Flash and the newly reformed Pied Piper talking about the rumours that the Joker being gay is true or not. The Flash naively states that there are telling features before Pied Piper claims that he can’t think of any villains that are homosexual other than himself. This automatically counters the Flash’s idea of the gay stereotype and ultimately breaks down the stereotype and stigma behind being gay with the suggestion that homosexuality isn’t evil.

Although The Flash is taken aback by the Pied Piper’s revelation and appears to leave him standing on the rooftop alone straight after, his coming out is handled very well. The Pied Piper’s coming out scene accepts that sometimes it can be an awkward situation to have however; it portrays Piper as being comfortable in his sexuality, stating his sexual orientation in a matter of fact way. Most importantly, DC doesn’t define the character by his sexuality but more his coming out is an addition to his character already.

Northstar – Alpha Flight #106

Google Images

Perhaps the most influential of all these gay comic book characters, Alpha Flight’s Northstar’s coming out is pretty blunt. However, what it makes up for in frankness it makes up for in pure bravery.

After adopting an abandoned baby girl born with AIDs who dies a few weeks later, Northstar uses his fame as a superhero and Olympic medal winner to publicly announce that his is gay in order to give media attention to HIV and how to prevent it. Although not a disease that only affects gay men, it was considered at the time of his coming out as one. Additionally, Northstar’s coming out was also Marvel’s first attempt at introducing a gay superhero into the universe, completely disregarding any trace of of the Comics Code Authority having ever prevented homosexuality from being discussed in comic books. Moreover Northstar also became the first X-Men to have a gay wedding showing that Northstar is a significant character in discussing gay rights in the Marvel universe.

By saying ‘I am gay’, Northstar not only represents how coming out can feel like you are being judged by everyone but also it gives hope that by coming out you can not only help yourself but help others around you; whether that be them going through the same feelings as you have or in some other way.

Google Images

Anole – New Mutants vol. 2

Google Images

Not an actual representation of coming out but one that would have made a big impact if it had gone ahead. There were plans for the Marvel writers to give Anole a coming out scene where his family and friends are horrified by his sexuality and ultimately reject him entirely. This would have lead Anole to have committed suicide. It would have been interesting to have seen the repercussions of such a negative experience of coming out as it would have drawn light on the gay teen suicide rate. However, by scrapping these plans, Marvel have still given Anole an important role in LGBT comic book history as he has slowly become recognised as a gay character who is comfortable in his own sexuality and at times has helped others around him come to terms with their own as well as shed light on some of the other experiences that the LGBT community have had.

Google Images

No two Gays about it: Celebrating our sexuality in different ways

First things first, I am gay. That is not how I usually introduce myself on a regular basis but I believe it is important when talking about LGBT+ topics. As I am sure anyone reading this is aware, it is not a choice, it is not anyone’s fault and it most definitely is not wrong. In fact, its just an aspect of what makes me, me.

What must be made clear however, is that being gay,bi, lesbian or transgender is not everything that makes someone themselves.  Being gay doesn’t mean I am not intelligent, funny or male. It doesn’t mean I like typically feminine things. Just like all women don’t follow the stereotypical female tropes, I don’t follow the gay stereotype, I dont use skin creams, I don’t wear make-up and I don’t like shopping. In fact, at first glance, you might not realise I am a homosexual. I am sure that after meeting me you might suspect I was but that is not to say that all gay people are easy to spot.  Just like you couldn’t tell who is a diabetic in a room full of people, you can’t always tell who is homosexual or bisexual in a room. Yes, some gay people define their complete identities around their sexuality because it is an important part of their life, and, after centuries of homosexuality being illegal and still being stigmatized by some, who can blame them.

However, being gay is not something that defines someone, they define what it means to be gay. Some people explicitly portray themselves as gay,bi or lesbian while others keep that part of them personal. I make no secret of my sexuality but I also don’t bring it up all the time. For me, my homosexuality is a small part of who I am, I am not ashamed by it, nor am I overly empowered by it, it is just a fact, I believe that in order to stop stigmatization of all forms of sexuality, we should stop Othering our sexuality from heterosexualism and instead normalise it, there is very little difference in any of them any way. We all love and want to be loved by someone after all.

Confessions of a Graduate – Forever Friends? The Difficulty of Keeping in Touch

(Google Images)

Remember when you wanted to see a friend in univrsity; all you had to do was pick up the phone and arrange to meet up that day? After uni that becomes much harder. Like some cliché narrative, after graduation you all go your separate ways; you all move back home, find jobs (if you are lucky) and make new friends or reconnect with pre-university pals and somewhere along the way you slowly merge yourself into a new/old friend group. However, you don’t forget your university buds and you promise yourself to make more an effort to meet up with them no matter how far apart you may be but to no avail due to work commitments or financial troubles.

The truth is that you don’t realise just how amazing those friends are until the possibility to meet back up with them is made more difficult. Memories of explaining what Barthes truly meant by ‘Death of the Author’ to each other around the kitchen table or playing board games with all your university chums under one roof brings a smile to your face. Nostalgic recollections to remind you just how amazing an experience university was with those you shared it with. These friends know exactly how it felt that first day you entered higher education, the time you set off the fire alarm and your first 3,000 word essay because they felt the same too. Even more so, they developed into mature academic adults the same time you did (if not for the occasional drunken slip into childishness that all uni students tend to suffer from on nights out). It is constantly thrown about that these people are going to be your friends for life but how can that be if you never find time to meet up or talk? Unfortunately, working and moving apart from one another is part of becoming an adult; earning a living and finding a career rather than a job becomes numero uno on a post-graduates list of priorities. So it is no surprise that some social groups begin to fade away into a sort of dream-like memory. But why should all of them? Surely some friendships, be it before university or during it, are worth maintaining?

So I ask you all to pick up that phone and make a long-awaited call to your uni friends because it’s always best to reminisce and giggle about the past with those involved.  Who knows, maybe with commitment to make it work, you can both make memories once again no matter how long ago you both graduated or how far apart you live from one another. You won’t know until you try.

It’s Not You, It’s Me – Saying Goodbye to a Book that Wasn’t Right for You

(Google Images)

Most of us can relate to having had an awkward breakup in our life and those lucky enough not to will be able to when I compare it to books you began reading but have lost interest in. There are two options here; keep reading and hope it gets better like it was when you first began or… come to realise that it isn’t what you are looking for and break its paper heart by ending it there and then. Unfortunately I’m the first option type of guy. Call it deluding oneself or arrogance but I force myself to finish a book I have started – this had led me to reluctantly reading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 (too weird for me) and Stroud’s The Amulet of Samarkand (just didn’t capture my interest). But is that a bad thing? Aren’t parents always telling us to try new things?

After all there are books that I am glad I have read which I perhaps did not enjoy at the time. One such example is Dante’s Inferno which I can guarantee is not a book for the inattentive. Dante’s classic needs complete attention at all times due to the lack of poetic rhythm lost in its interpretation. However, the one thought I had that helped me finish it was the overall sense of accomplishment in doing so. That and the thought about being able to name drop it at dinner parties with a glass of red wine in one hand (something I have now done). Moreover, some books, like a fine wine, do get better with time. For me, Wong’s John Dies at the End is a perfect example of this. Originally I found it to rely too much on the bizarre, leaving little room for any such narrative however, by a quarter of the way through I found myself finding difficult to put down; I was hooked. The book just needed some time to establish the character in order to guide the reader into the uncanny.

It is official, some books just aren’t suited for me but, like an ex, I know that they are perfect for someone else out there. The truth of the matter is that one should never be ashamed to admit defeat on a book nor give up to easily (all relationships require a little work even ones with books). However, next time you have an awkward moment when you see that book lying on your shelf, taunting you with the fact that it beat you, keep smiling. You gave it a go and there’s no shame in that. Pick up that book and hand it to a friend, a family member, a charity shop or a complete stranger, who knows, it might just be the right book for them.

5 Video Games worth playing in Co-op

Trine Series (PC)

(Google Images)

A physics-based platformer, the trine series follows 3 unlikely heroes group together to save their unnamed kingdom from all kinds of evil. All three characters (a knight, a wizard and a thief) have unique abilities from the other two; the knight has the strength to move objects as well as a shield to block attacks whereas the thief has a bow and arrow to attack from afar and a grappling hook to swing to areas. Finally, the wizard has the ability to conjure planks and boxes but no hostile attacks. This ultimately gives the game its co-op magic, by implementing teamwork successfully, you and two friends will find yourselves having built a special bond between one another as you have all come to rely on one another as the game goes on.

Monaco (PC/XBox)

(Google Images)

Ever thought to yourself you would make a great thief? Thought about performing your own heist with your friends but scared of the repercussions? Then Monaco is the game for you. Playing from a bird’s eye view, Monaco allows for up to 4 players to take part in cunning missions to perform heists and avoid guards (similar to the 1990’s arcade game Bonanza Bros). Each player can choose from a group of trained professionals to control, each with their own specialties such as the pickpocket who uses his pet monkey to collect coins, the lookout who can see every NPC in the level when not running despite everyone only seeing through line of sight and the mole who can eat through walls. What is most important about the game is talking to your team about how to go about the heist. Having each other’s back makes the level run smoothly and leaves you all believing you have what it takes to begin a life of crime.

Streets of Rage series (Mega Drive)

(Google Images)

Although these games may be difficult to play 2 player now as its console is out-dated, these beat ‘em up games were always a favourite of mine. You fight a crime syndicate on the streets pummelling the corruption out of the city until you reach the boss behind it all, Mr X. A fairly simple series, the games are easy to finish in a couple of hours but what makes it so enjoyable playing it in co-op is its simplicity; you do not have to worry about tactics or concentrating on what you are doing, giving you plenty of time to catch up with your friend.

Gain Ground (Mega Drive)

(Google Images)

Another Mega Drive game, Gain Ground is worth playing. The game centres on a simulating system that goes berserk and holds heroes captive, three characters decide to enter the simulator in order to free the hostages. Players must complete each stage by either reaching the exit zone with all their characters or killing all enemies. However, you can also save hostages by collecting them and exiting the stage with that character, this will give you another hero to play with on the next stage with their own unique ability. This game is made interesting as players can use co-op tactics to kill enemies and save hostages as well as aid each other out when an enemy has one of you pinned. Additionally, an element of sacrifice is added as only one player can save and use a hostage so one will miss out on a ‘life’. As an arcade game, Gain Ground can keep you and a friend occupied for an entire day and you will only realise once it’s dark outside.

Lego Series (Playstation/Xbox)

(Google Images)

Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Marvel, DC, Jurassic Park… Lego, is there anything it can’t do? These games allow fans to geek out with one another and the best thing is you don’t have to be an avid gamer to play as you don’t stay dead for long. Simply put, Lego games are simple; build and destroy! When I play with my good friend Bry we spend less time following the story and more times completely obliterating Hogwarts – and they thought Voldemort was evil! This is what makes the games so fun, although I love video games; you don’t have to, to enjoy the game. Just pick up a controller (and a cocktail or two), choose the character you always wanted to play as and let rip.

Fangs for the memories– How the concept of the vampire has shifted in the media

(Google Images)

After the sad passing of Christopher Lee I wanted to think of a way to commemorate his life and what better way than talking about a role he played for almost 20 years; Dracula. Its late posting after the sad news was due to wanting to make the article as informative and structured as possible to give Lee the respect he deserves.

So I would like to dedicate this article to Christopher Lee; the man whose performance of the bloodsucker remains as a cultural icon of the vampire to this day.

It is no coincidence that vampires are called the living dead; the legend of the bloodsuckers never seems to die down.  However, where the legend begins is not easy to pinpoint; most cultures appear to have had their own versions of vampiric entities long before Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819 or Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Vampires have permeated out of myth and into popular culture making them real in some sense but with each portrayal of the vampire, what they are used to represent becomes something completely different.

Perhaps thought to be the key text when discussing vampires, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was used to revive the Gothic genre. Count Dracula was the epitome of everything the Victorian Britain wasn’t. The vampire was used to take advantage of contemporary issues of the day, one such issue was the fear surrounding the foreign Other, the vampire myth itself added to this fear as Britain was unaware of the Eastern European legends until then. By doing so, xenophobia was interlinked with the fear of the unknown.  However, it is sexuality that sums up Broker’s vampires fully by depicting and interpreting human instinct that the sexually repressed British male ignored. Vampires were used as the physical portrayal of a sexual liberation thought to be highly dangerous at that time. However, the female vampire; Lucy is not viewed as threatening as Dracula. She remains passive in her hunt for blood by feeding on children without killing them, something that the 1960’s and 1970’s soon changed. The Hammer House of Horror Studios added to Stoker’s portrayal of the vampire by making female bloodsuckers an even bigger sexual threat than Dracula was. They were regularly presented as being busty female seductresses who would ultimately ensnare men with their bodies and looks. With a predominately male audience, it was a means to reinforce the heterosexual ideology of the time by sexualising women but also to suggest that sexually active women were dangerous.

During the 1980’s, a new form of vampire manifested itself through Anne Rice’s  Interview with a Vampire, heterosexuality was replaced with homosexuality, with male vampires feeding on men instead of the traditional female in distress. Additionally, discussing homosexuality in correlation with death ran parallel with the AIDs epidemic making vampirism the epitomising example of the HIV carrier in the 1980’s. Moreover, Rice writes Louis de Pointe du Lac as a sympathetic character rather than the monstrosities that were portrayed before it allowing readers to empathise with the man who had been ‘infected’ with this curse. In doing so, HIV carriers were perhaps viewed a little more sympathetically. On the other hand, they may have been viewed as something less than human. In the 1990’s Joss Whedon attempted to also change how a certain minority was viewed; women. Buffy the Vampire Slayer challenged gender norms with a female lead that fought off the bloodsucking undead while fighting every day high school issues at the same time. Not only did this mean that everything vampire was now not completely focussed towards a male audience but it also started to mean people began to discuss gender stereotypes rather than reinforcing them within the horror genre. Nonetheless, it can be argued that despite Buffy challenging gender norms unlike other vampire platforms did before, women were still viewed as threatening (something that Whedon challenged later on within Buffy with her boyfriend Riley who felt emasculated by her ability to protect herself).

In 2005 Stephanie Meyer brought to the world another form of the vampire, similar to Rice’s portrayal, the main vampire presented was one that audiences could feel sorry for. Edward Cullen was a pessimistic vampire who was troubled by the fact that he has fallen in love with a human but does not want to condemn her to a life of vampirism to be with her. This is the same form of vampire that Harris used in her True Blood series with Bill Compton. These vampires represent a form of forbidden love that ultimately is a form of sexual fantasy where although humans shouldn’t be with vampires, can’t help but do so. Although, the vampire still follows the theme of sexuality, this form seems to struggle with the sexual liberation of Stoker’s and removes vampires as being a sexual threat all together.  In fact, True Blood reverses the roles of man and monster by portraying vampires as those sought out by humans for sex instead. Additionally, it ironically twists which are the sexual threat when people are found killed by other humans for fornicating with vampires.

Most recently, the vampire has once more transformed itself, however unlike the others it seems to be paying homage to one of its original roots, Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Characters such as Adventure Time’s Marceline the Vampire Queen as well as the Canadian web series’ Carmilla (based on the Le Fanu’s original text) both present female vampires in a lesbian manner as Le Fanu did. However, both programmes have altered its reasoning to do so, unlike the 1871 Gothic novella, both contemporary series attempt to normalise lesbianism although the latter does so more explicitly than the former. This ultimately shows the changing societal opinions as lesbianism has come to be seen as an accepted sexual orientation whereas before it was seen as a monstrous act.

Perhaps most interestingly, vampires have also become used in order to define some people’s identity. With the option to be vampires in videogames such as The Sims series and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, players can ultimately live the life of a bloodsucker.  Additionally it was only a little less than a decade ago that everyone had a Facebook app that allowed you to ‘convert’ your friends into your own vampire coven online. However, some have taken vampirism as an identity outside of the virtual world and into reality itself. Fan clubs as well as communities for “real vampires” have been set up for those that relate to the creatures of the night.

It is evident to believe then that, throughout history, vampires have been appropriated for multiple reasons other than its original purpose; to explain the unknown. It is perhaps due to vampires being uncanny in the full sense of the word; a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar that is experienced as being peculiar. Since people can ultimately relate to the vampire as something similarly human, they are perfect characters to imprint with; allowing subtle critiquing or reinforcement of societal norms of the time such as sexuality or gender. However, no matter when or where vampires are portrayed, one thing remains certain – through becoming part of not only Britain but the world’s cultural capital, the vampire myth, similar to the notorious monster itself, shall live on.

(Google Images)