Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Kara's Frequently Asked Questions, September 2019



Every few months or so, I get an influx of new followers on one social media platform or another — generally either because I did something well-received or because I said something people want to fight about. Whatever works, I guess.

Long-time followers know the basics because they come up in posts, conversations, convention panels, random rants, etc. But I realize that, every few months or every year or so, there will be a lot of people who don't know the basics, and all the questions come around again.

So because of that, and because some things need updated answers... time for a basic FAQ. I will probably miss some. But I'll do my best.


Is ConScrew coming back?

Nope, it's done. It ran its course. It was fun. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I do another comic with my friend Rob Lantz, and you might enjoy it, too. Once that one's run its course, though, I will probably be out of webcomics. Unless I guest write for someone else.

I read an article you wrote on Crunchyroll. Will you cover my project for me?

So, up front, as a contracted news writer I can't write features/advertorials for people who come to me. That's just a thing it's overall not good to do, because it amounts to sliding you free advertising on the platform, and that's not really something I'm allowed to do in my day job.

If you are part of a project that has an imminent release that would be of genuine interest to an anime-viewing community, your best bet is to send it to the news tip line. That goes to our whole group, and we decide together that it's newsworthy it may get a standard short post as part of our daily news cycle. A good rule of thumb is: if we came across this casually as we're looking for content, would we be likely to cover it under our own steam? If yes, then sure, send away.

How did you get your job at Crunchyroll?

Majored in English. Spent ten years working at a mainstream news site. Spent about as much time working in fansubs and familiarizing myself with many different eras of anime. Went into pro-localization and familiarized myself with the industry. One day they asked if I wanted to do news and I said yes.

How can I get a job writing for Crunchyroll?

Write a lot. Study good journalistic form. Cultivate a good sense of humor about anime. Watch things outside your wheelhouse and learn to write about them. Get used to writing mainstream news. Be willing to accept gigs that aren't anime-related so you can get experience writing. Make sure your grammar and punctuation are solid. Then keep an eye on the jobs board.

How did you get into writing Doctor Who spinoffs?

I pitched an Iris Wildthyme story during an open call. They haven't sent me away yet.

How can I get started writing Doctor Who spinoffs?

Write a lot. Study good literary form. Read. A lot. Get used to writing non-Whoniverse stories. Be able to tell a solid story without using licensed characters. Pitch to non-Whoniverse publications (Submittable always has a few dozen open for submissions). Get used to being rejected. Get used to being accepted. Get used to being edited. Learn to work with editors on refining your stories and pitches. Take part in Doctor Who charity anthologies: license holders buy these to scan for new talent. Continue to write. Be patient. It took me 'til I was nearly 40 to crack this; you don't have to hit all your bucket list points at 22.

How can I get started writing actual Doctor Who?

Shit, I don't know. Tell me when you find out.

Are you ever going to do conventions again?

Probably. In fact, highly likely. I will not be staffing again, but I may guest/panel them. Watch this space.

Have you seen those guinea pig Halloween costumes from PetSmart?

I own two of them already. I promise I'll get some good photos made; just expect the pigs to be glaring angrily in all of them.

Can you explain to me why [company you work with] does/doesn't do [thing]?

No. Whatever it is, I can't. These are actually super awkward questions, because they amount to asking me to speak on behalf of the company. And unless you're talking, like, Altrix (which I co-run with Paul Driscoll) or Owl's Flower (which I co-create with Ginger), that's something I neither want nor am in a position to do.

Do you have any super secret work you can't talk about coming up?

Yes, and I can't talk about it.


I've also rather foolishly opened up a CuriousCat account, which you're welcome to hit up with questions at any time. I won't be answering any questions that would obligate revealing confidential information or speaking on behalf of an employer, but other than that, ask away. Doesn't even have to be serious.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

SPIDER-MAN and the Narcissist Narrative


Earlier this week I went out and saw Spider-Man: Far From Home in theaters. It took me a while to be ready to acknowledge the loss of my favorite Avenger (and judging by my reactions throughout the film, I still wasn't ready). But, with or without the wait, it was absolutely amazing on every level: technical, visual, story, positive representations of the fine people of The Netherlands...

What it did for me most, though, was finally nail the narcissist/victim narrative that I've seen other MCU films attempt to depict and fall short of. In all fairness, it's not an easy one to depict properly. Narcissists are difficult to show onscreen for what they are while still retaining the genuine fear they can cause. Interactions with them, if shown accurately, aren't exactly a major source of wish fulfillment or power fantasy. But it's an important thing for people to be able to see larger-than-life. At least, I think so. And Peter Parker's latest outing nailed it in a way that blew my mind.

As a heads-up, I will be spoiling basically all of Far From Home, because it's impossible to talk about narcissistic relationships without talking about how they end. So if you haven't seen it yet... honestly, go see it. It's a stunning movie and there are bits you will absolutely not get the full impact of if you come into them with forewarning. Otherwise, off you go.


What is a narcissist?

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In psychological terms, Narcissistic Personality Disorder refers to a very specific set of symptoms related to lack of empathy, self-image, and treatment of others. No one can diagnose a narcissist except a psychiatrist, but it is possible to note symptoms in tandem with each other. In short, a narcissist is someone who uses others as resources to build and maintain a false image of themselves, insisting on their own superiority. This can take many forms, small scale or large.

The term "narcissist" gets thrown around a lot, which is the first way to start making it impossible to ID them. Someone who's mean to you, who lies to you, who says something you don't like, etc. isn't necessarily a narcissist. They might just be a jerk, which is more than enough reason to avoid them.

Generally narcissists seek out good, talented, upstanding people with some weakness that can be exploited. That weakness is exploited through a mix of kindness and carefully executed cruelty, until the person in question is used up and gets jettisoned, or gets smart and runs away. 

Far From Home's Quentin Beck fits the description in every possible way. He's built up an illusion around himself (literally and metaphorically) that demands respect above and beyond, like, just about anyone. He knows how to target different people in different ways and get what he wants from them. He truly believes he is deserving of everything he's aiming for, and is unable to see the value in others... be it Peter Parker or Tony Stark. And the man behind the illusion can be taken down with one punch... almost.


Choosing the Victim

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Narcissists aren't dumb. That's part of why they're so hard to deal with. They know who to latch onto, who will fall for their treatment, who will most readily divulge their weaknesses for later abuse, who will internalize the blame in an effort to make the narcissist's abuse make sense. They also know how to compartmentalize. Some people (generally the strongest and most influential) are kept at arm's length and given the narc's best face forward, so as to ensure victims won't be believed if they go public. Others are kept at a middle ground, friends and lieutenants and confidants who don't fuel their ego directly, but keep the machine ticking over. At the center are the direct targets — what H.G. Tudor calls "primary" fuel sources — in other words, those extremely useful people who will give away their own weaknesses and take all the blame.

Beck has his three tiers of fuel. His tertiary suppliers are Fury and Maria (or "Fury" and "Maria"... their Kree nature makes their actions make a lot more sense, as I feel the real Fury would be able to sniff out Beck's MO). They're the ones who get only his best face, thus unwittingly becoming his last line of defense should someone catch on.

His secondary suppliers are his fellow former employees: people whose emotions he can whip up, whom he can make feel important and trick into believing they will share in whatever he gains. Despite his genuine skills, though, he would be nothing without them. His job is to make sure they never know that... or at least never feel a need to test it.

And right at the top? Peter Parker. The "fuel" Beck gets from him is quantified in the form of EDITH, whereas a narcissist in a world without superheroes will thrive on the emotions they can evoke from their target (both positive and negative, with negative apparently being more fulfilling). Still, it's a fitting metaphor, as an embodiment of the tie between Tony and Peter that is currently making Peter's grief even more painful.

Plus Peter is just a perfect target: young, insecure, and completely willing to spill his emotions to anyone who can earn his trust. This doesn't mean Peter is bad, weak, or deserves what he gets. It just means Beck can spot that source of emotional fuel from a mile away. And unfortunately, once you've spilled your guts to a narcissist, they have all the rope they need to keep you tied down.

Gaslighting

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Speaking of misused terminologies. Let's talk about what "gaslighting" is. Because it is terrifying, and I hope you never have to go through it.

"Gaslighting" isn't just lying. There's a word for that: it's "lying." "Gaslighting" also isn't just having a differing viewpoint, disagreement, saying you're wrong about something... true, those are all things that can indeed be weaponized (because anything can be weaponized). But let me tell you about the reality of gaslighting.

Imagine someone telling you that something you are sure of didn't happen as you perceive it — a day, an event, a conversation. Not in an argument, not in a back-and-forth, but in a concerned, caring way. Imagine they latched back into things that are true about you — an illness, say, or a past trauma — to bolster their point. Imagine them doing that calmly several times, with the kind of confidence that usually only comes from someone who knows they're speaking the truth. Imagine your entire worldview. Your entire worldview, your ability to trust your own mind even slightly, your ability to credit extremely clear memories you have. Imagine that completely stripped down, to the point that you lie awake in bed in the middle of the night, crying and terrified because you literally don't know which version of the world is the real one.

That's gaslighting: purposely breaking down your perception of reality and your trust in your own sanity, to the point that you no longer know what is true. To the point that, eventually, they don't have to do a thing to keep you off their scent; you'll already assume nothing is as it is. It's a full-on psychological nuke, and when executed properly, it is debilitating.

A character like Mysterio is, of course, tailor-made to become a modern-day metaphor for the narcissist. He's an illusionist; you see what he wants you to see. As soon as Peter pours out his soul (both literally and metaphorically in the hand-off of EDITH), Beck has all he needs to destroy his perception of reality from the inside out. Besides being some of the most mind-bending cinematography I've seen in a film ever, Mysterio's illusory fight with Spider-Man doesn't have a single wasted beat. Each image conveys something that serves to break down Peter's grip on reality or reinforce an anxiety he currently struggles with.

And then he gets hit by a train.


Inside the Illusion

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How do you defeat someone who has you by the emotional gonads, who has perfectly sensible and trustworthy people convinced he's on the level, and who the entire rest of the world sees only as the false persona he's created for himself? You get inside the illusion.

What Peter learned is what a lot of victims of narcissists learn: there's no point trying to convince other people of what's going on. It's a waste of time and will likely only hurt you. The only real way to defuse a narcissist is to shut down the illusion. Or, if nothing else, to blind yourself to it.

Far From Home is a superhero movie, and that means the villain has to be defeated. When dealing with a narcissist, there is a very low likelihood that you will ever shut down all their machinations at once, rescue all your friends, and have a chance to show everyone that you were right after all. Spider-Man has to save the day, though; so with the superhero narrative in mind, the movie holds. Once you can realize that their warping of reality isn't reality, you can stabilize and see what's real. If nothing else, you'll save yourself.

There is, though, one last thing. One thing that I've never seen a narcissist metaphor do before that Far From Home did. It's one of the most necessary things to know in these encounters, while also being one of the most depressing and unfair aspects.


The Parting Shot

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Whether you've escaped a narcissist or they've discarded you, one thing is certain: they are not done with you. Escape is not escape. If you left and they aren't done with you, they'll find a way to get to you (and your job becomes to deflect). Even if they're the one who threw you away, they may come back around for another go.

Some people call it a "Hoover": it's an action that brings you back into their influence. It could be an attempt to make amends. It could be starting nasty rumors about you to get you to acknowledge them. If you're dealing with a real piece of work, it could be acts of violence or vandalism. The point, though, is always the same: they are demonstrating that they still have power over you, and you don't get to decide that they don't.

The mid-credit stinger in which J Jonah Jameson reveals Beck's heavily-edited video is the ultimate malignant hoover. Even in death, Beck still controls Peter's reality. The worst part? Widespread character assassination is actually a very common narcissist tactic when they want to regain the upper hand. Everything else struck true from a largely metaphorical standpoint, but this is just flat-out truth.

I've seen stories that attempt to show the narcissist as defeated, as finally succumbing when they see the victim's strength. God, I wish that were true. The sad truth is, save for the potential that the narcissist gets treatment and reforms, the only sure way their assumed bond between you will break is if one of you dies. The reality of this was heartbreaking; but it drove home for me that the writers knew exactly what story they were telling.

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When the movie is out on DVD, I'd love to take Mysterio's illusion shot by shot and really dig into what's happening. For now, though, I'm still amazed that the writers landed their message so perfectly, even going so far as to outline the ugly truth of escape. Not only that, but it stepped outside the usual realm of narcissist/abuser relationships as being romantic and made it about... coworkers. Literal coworkers. I don't often call things "important" because that sounds a bit high flown but that's important.

I'm grateful to hear this story brought out once again in yet another context.


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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I wrote a story about a roller coaster.

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So as of... like, now... I've got a new short story out. It's in 18th Wall's Sockhops & Seances, which is a collection of 1950s-era paranormal stories. Mine, "Son of the Wolf," kicks things off.

I've sent in a mini-interview for 18th Wall's blog concerning the story itself, the inspiration at large, etc. So I'm going to leave that to their site when it comes out. For now, I do want to spend a little more time talking about the real-world pair of coasters that inspired the general concept of the story, although in the modern day rather than in the 50s: the Big Bad Wolf and Verbolten.

Leaving as much as possible to the publisher interview (and, you know, the actual story), things kick off with a long-standing roller coaster being torn down and replaced with something new. In the story it's for the sake of getting the jump on the new trend of steel over wood; for the real-world counterparts, it was mostly decreased ridership and the need for something new.

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I can't remember how old I was when I first rode the Big Bad Wolf. It opened in 1984, when I was three years old, so it had existed since before I was tall enough to ride. I do know I went on it at a relatively young age, prior to developing a phobia of coasters (which I later got very much over). Honestly, it was pretty tame. Not wimpy, but one just about anyone could do. Rather than being on top of the track, the cars hung off it and were sort of boat-like. So you were securely in place on all sides. There were no loops, and its top speed was about 45 mph. Fun, but not necessarily the "speed of fright" it was advertised as when you stood in like.

The Big Bad Wolf operated for a good 25 years before it closed down in 2009. I went on it each time I went to the park to ride coasters, because I went on them all. And the line was short. And it was a good start-up or wind-down. It got a little bumpy over time because that happens; it got less fun towards the end, since my head would knock against the overhead harness and my ears hurt for the rest of the day. But all things considered, it was a favorite. Just, I guess, a favorite people liked to know was there rather than actually take advantage of.

I think there were petitions to save it in 2009 when it was announced to be closing. They did basically no good. Verbolten came next... and frankly, I'm not mad.

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No offense to lovers of the Big Bad Wolf, but Verbolten was worth it. It opened in 2012, right at the height of the "twisted fairy tale" trend that brought us Grimm and Once Upon a Time. And that was the theming. And I love theming.

The line to the ride runs you through what's ostensibly a motor tour agency in Germany. But as you get closer and closer to the ride itself, the forest begins to take it over. Whatever is in the forest, it's malevolent, and it probably wants to eat you and your car.

The car-shaped... uh... cars... are launched around the track, eventually taking you into a dark building where you'll discover that the horror within the forest is one of three things (randomly circulated through each ride). There's a lightning storm, an enchanting forest spirit who lures you into her grasp, and a wolf... the Big Bad Wolf, to be specific.

Once you drop out of the show building, Verbolten rockets you along the final part of the track, which traces the same path as the coaster's predecessor. Just. You know. A lot faster.

Here's a POV video for the curious, with the forest spirit storyline in the show building:



Those who read "Son of the Wolf" will probably see where a good portion of the inspiration came from with all this in mind. It was a fun story for a lot of reasons, but in particular I loved getting to pay tribute to a pair of rides I really enjoyed and to finally play with the idea their stories gave me.

You can pick up a copy from 18th Wall. I'd love to know what you think. There's stories by ten other great authors in there, too!


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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

DETROIT BECOME HUMAN: On Markus and the Bible (3/3)

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Coming into the home stretch on my three-part look at Detroit: Become Human. Last week I felt the need to break — between wanting the extra time to really dig into this and the KyoAni stuff being fresh, I felt it was the best move. But now we're finishing out with Markus.

Markus's story had the grandest scale of any in the game. True, things that Connor and Kara did had lasting effects on more than just themselves and their associates, but Markus's story is where players really put into action how they would address the social plight of the androids. (For the curious, I went full pacifist on my first playthrough and accidentally pulled a Macross right at the end. In the good way.)

Rather than go into the specifics of that — because let's face it, that's extremely and deliberately charged and not exactly my place to preach — I wanted to dip into the heavy Biblical imagery of the game, especially as revealed in Markus's story, is abundant. Some of it is not so subtle. I mentioned in my piece on Connor's story that Elijah Kamski's interest in his creations was largely to see if he ranked as high as God. Considering he's named for a highly-revered prophet through whom God worked miracles, we're already off to a fairly blatant start.

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Like Bladerunner 2049, Detroit actually has underpinnings of the Gentile side of early Christianity. (See my piece for Sartorial Geek on the nature of Galatians Syndrome.) This is understandable and a handy comparison to make. In the early days of the Christian Church, Gentiles — you know, the not Chosen Ones — got a lot of conflicting information when it came to whether it was okay for them to be Christian. Some believed they simply could not, while others were specifically told they could, provided they followed Jewish law. St. Paul rocked up to inform these early Gentile churches that, no, they were not obligated to be or pretend to be something they weren't to have value.

Makes sense in the context of a newly-created people finding their way and all, but where's the Detroit link? In short, it might be with Markus and another, Biblical Mark. (The rarer spelling caught my eye plenty, and if it's not deliberately referential, it sure is an interesting coincidence.)

The Gospel of Mark was written by... well, we don't know. His name was written in Greek as Μᾶρκον, or "Markon," and evidence points to him being... like... just this guy. He was largely underestimated by scholars for centuries, with more recent readings showing that he was not only extremely clever and artistic, his Gospel may have come before the others and been a primary source for the "more important" Matthew and Luke. He wrote in Greek, and he wrote for a Gentile audience. In other words, this was someone who was reaching out past God's Chosen People to an entirely new group.

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Our Markus goes from being essentially a nobody — a service android educated by his lonely owner — to the spark that ignites Jericho (we'll get to that one, don't worry) and sets his people's liberation in motion. He speaks across the divide, and he does so anonymously, at that. And as the game progresses, whatever words you had him speak become the primary sound bytes of the revolution.

Was this fully intentional? Even if it's not, it's a nice parallel, and one that mirrors other sci-fi imaginings of androids coming into their own as a society.

Then there's Jericho... and boy, that's a sticky one. First, let's enjoy that Markus begins his new life as leader of the rebellion by diving into water: universal symbol of baptism and rebirth.

Image result for detroit become human markus dives into jericho

But now let's talk about the original Jericho, as in the literal place. In the Book of Joshua, it's the first place the Israelites take when they are sent by God to conquer Canaan. You've probably heard the story at some point or reference to it: mainly that the Israelites blew their trumpets and the walls came down.

So, here are the specifics. According to the Old Testament, God promised Canaan to the Israelites. But they had to actually go and get it for themselves. (Which means war.) Jericho was a fortress city, and in order to get underway they had to bring down said city and its impenetrable walls. That's where the trumpets come in... though they marched around the city once a day for six days prior with the Ark of the Covenant and then ramped things up on the last day.

To address Jericho as a metaphor in fictional works, you kind of have to stop there. Because otherwise we get into the whole thing where the Israelites killed everyone and everything except the prostitute who helped them. The Jericho of Detroit is not a destructive... okay, actually, wait.

So the main metaphor we're meant to take away from Jericho in fictional works is "This is the first big roadblock, and once everyone works together and breaks through it, they can move toward their ultimate goal/personal Promised Land/etc." Usually the whole "kill everyone and destroy everything" segment of that act isn't carried along when it comes to more inspirational stories. But we have that option, don't we?

For those who haven't played or haven't played in a while: when playing as Markus leading protesters into the city, you have options: a peaceful protest or a violent one. And you don't just choose once. You choose what to do with every landmark, every window, every car. Me, I opted for harmless digital graffiti. But that's not your only choice. You can raise absolute hell if you choose.

So the primary similarity being drawn is making the first seemingly impossible push into a better future, bringing the barriers down with tenacity and noise. But you could absolutely take that metaphor to its extreme, couldn't you?

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None of this is to say Detroit: Become Human is an inherently religious piece; Biblical symbolism doesn't make a story inherently religious. Even the presence of rA9 — regarded to be a belief system, a deity, a savior, or something — is never fully explored (though there are some fantastic theories out there). But in any story where a person or group of people is trying to find meaning or validity, you're likely to find those symbols and references not far behind.

If for some reason you've read all of these posts without playing Detroit, I highly recommend you do so. The amount of freedom you're given in following routes means your story will be unique to you. There are hundreds of story variants to uncover, and the best way to start is by making the choices you would make in each of these characters' shoes. That's how the story hits you most: when it's related directly to how you feel and what you would do.


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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

On the Subject of KyoAni

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So today was going to be my third Detroit: Become Human piece, but it's not for a couple reasons. One, I'm going into the Biblical symbolism of the game, and that's taking me a minute to really bring together. That's an aspect of the game I really enjoyed, and an aspect of anything that I really enjoy, so I want to make sure I'm bringing something good and accurate to the table with that.

The other reason is I want to put the brakes on for a sec and really take a look at something that's gone down in the anime community over the past week. Even if you're not an anime fan, you've likely heard about the KyoAni arson attack on July 18. The death toll is (as of this writing) up to 34, with many more injured. Autopsies have been conducted, but no identities have been released publicly. A suspect has confessed to the crime, but is in hospital as police wait for him to be in a state where he can be questioned.

I'm not here to write about what KyoAni's work meant to me; anyone can do that. (And I don't mean that flippantly: you can do that right here!) And many have already said wonderful, thoughtful things about their contribution to the industry and just how senseless this attack was. The anime contingent of my readership knows all the nasty details.

For the rest of you — those coming in from other quarters, or who may not have followed the news quite as closely — I want to offer some context. There have been differing stories concerning the attack, what it means for KyoAni, and who the victims are. I'd like to give some clarification, at least for now.


KyoAni's Place within the Industry

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Anime fans know Kyoto Animation with the same amount of detail and fondness as viewers of Western animation know their own favorite studios and creators. Their works have an unmistakable look and tracking themes, even as the tones vary from comedic to dramatic to downright supernatural. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Free!, Lucky Star, Violet Evergarden, and Sound! Euphonium are just a handful of their titles that might be more recognizable to people who don't delve deeply into anime.

But KyoAni has had a hand in more than its own titles since its inception in the 1980s. Anime studios partner off a lot, and even if a company isn't a main studio in a show's production, it may take on in-between animation, backgrounds, or other jobs for a series. Over the decades, animators at KyoAni have also contributed to the production of shows like Macross, Inuyasha, Cowboy Bebop, Patlabor, and too many others to name.

The studio has also gone out of its way to offer new creators a route into the industry, thanks to a publishing imprint and an annual novel competition. Winners and honorable mentions are published by the imprint, and have a fairly high likelihood of receiving anime adaptations.

Is Everything Gone?

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From KyoAni the company as a whole? No; there are other studios in other areas around Japan that were unaffected by the attack. So there will be backups of some works.

However, the contents of the first studio are no more. In addition to the tragic loss of life, KyoAni's CEO reports that they've lost everything being stored there, from paper materials to hard drives. Anything that wasn't backed up (i.e., primarily older work) is gone.

That said, rumors concerning the cancellation of their 2020 film Free! Dive have been debunked. The misunderstanding arose from the mistranslation of a tweet announcing that the film's latest teaser, which was scheduled to be released on the day of the fire, would not be aired. The losses suffered will likely have a major impact on KyoAni as a business, but no major project cancellations have yet been announced. Which is a good thing: while the well-being of the studio and its employees comes first, it would be gratifying to know that arbiter of this senseless attack couldn't bring them down entirely.

What Do We Know So Far?

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Probably not as much as you've been told we do.

The suspect, who admitted to the crime upon apprehension, is (as mentioned earlier) currently hospitalized. His name has been released, and you can find it if you care to. I will not be giving it here.

Early rumors linked the attack to alleged claims made by the suspect that KyoAni "stole" from him, some saying he claimed he'd had a novel plagiarized, others linking the attack to an angry rant about appropriated slang on a messageboard. Neither has been confirmed.

Also as mentioned earlier, no victims have been officially identified to the press. A certain director is unaccounted for, and loved ones and fans fear the worst, but nothing has been confirmed at the time of this writing. There are a few tributes to deceased KyoAni staffers floating around Facebook; and while many of them may prove to be true simply by the numbers, others may be among the injured still recovering.

How Can We Help?

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In the wake of any major tragedy, a lot of attempts at charity are bound to spring up. Some will be valid, some will be well-meaning but ill-executed, and (sadly) others will exist to take advantage of people's generosity. As with any such situation, it's best to fully research anyone who claims to be raising funds for the studio.

Crunchyroll has shared a list of ways to help, with transparency on the reliability of each. At present, the most foolproof way to lend financial support appears to be via the KyoAni website, which sells digital goods for about $2 a pop. As they're delivered digitally, there's no strain put on the staff to fulfill orders; and you can be sure your money is going straight to them. The Crunchyroll link includes a guide for non-Japanese-speakers to navigate the site.

Even if you can't afford to donate, you can still help. Spread the word about fundraisers, especially the most direct routes. Avoid sharing misinformation wherever possible, and make sure anything you post is adequately sourced.

Kyoto Animation has brought us amazing work for decades, and hopefully as they rebuild they can continue to do so. It would be tragic, on top of the losses already experienced, for one man's anger to bring down an entire studio.

Thanks to everyone working hard to offer help, create fundraisers, and keep the world informed. It's heartbreaking that this is how so many people first learned about KyoAni's amazing work, but it's reassuring to see fans uniting in support.
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

DETROIT BECOME HUMAN: On the Family We Choose and the Family We Choose to Be (2/3)

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Kara was the first member of Detroit: Become Human's android trio we ever met. Initially introduced in the PS3 concept piece "Kara" a full six years before the game itself first came to be, she became something of the mascot for the game. Initially she was a fresh new android, bright and happy and self-aware within moments of being switched on—and fearful of a factory reset for sale.

By the time of Detroit, she's in a home (not a great one) and has a story of her own ahead of her. Her desire to live curled up one hell of a finger on the monkey's paw, because her move from sentience to freedom (you know, depending on how well you do) is more life in a few short days than many humans get in give-or-take a century. In particular, her story line focuses on family: gaining it, losing it, protecting it, and how being a part of one alters your values.

For Kara, "family" means Alice—the daughter of her former owner (though we of course learn it's a lot more complicated than that)—and eventually new deviant Luther. Kara quickly takes on a very maternal role, with action trees that run the entire gamut from light touch to full-on Mama Bear Mode. How she plays this role, of course, is up to you; but the results of her actions aren't necessarily what you might expect. And therein lies one of the hardest truths about holding together a family.

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To start, if it isn't obvious enough from this patchwork of a family, families are not required to be blood related to be valid. While there are absolutely genetic and evolutionary elements that encourage parent/child bonding, it is not the only way this can be achieved. In some case it may not even happen, or be overshadowed and outstripped by any number of factors.

The point is, D:BH strips us of the "genetic" aspect from the get-go, anyway. Kara's bonds to Alice, and later to Luther, don't spring from shared genetics or evolutionary traits; they develop, just as those traits can develop in us with the creation of foster families and close friend groups. Blood ties are not obligatory for these familial instincts and responses to grow in us—love is.

The miniseries Jekyll reframed the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a conflict between logic and instinct when it comes to love of family. "Love is a psychopath," the protagonist's mother says, as well as being "our oldest, deadliest impulse." Parents know that, when the needs and safety of their children are at stake, they would just about anything at the expense of just about anyone else. It's not a genetic trait: adoptive parents are just as staunch in this. It's what comes of that peculiar mix of fierce love and all-encompassing responsibility: the knowledge that, actually, you probably could straight up kill someone for this person who, at least for now, relies entirely upon you.

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Video games are funny, though. They give us these little screens with insight into the deeper aspects of what's going on. Some tell us exactly how many hits our character can take before death; others dole us out a map as we explore a dungeon, ensuring we never have to rely on our memory to navigate it. In the case of D:BH, we get a few extras to guide our experience. But a major one is each character's opinion meter: showing us in real time how what we just did altered how we appear in the eyes of our loved ones, our peers, and (in the case of Markus's story) the world at large.

For Kara, her most important meter is Alice. It's consistent across different actions and thus becomes relatively predictable, but it flies directly in the face of those fierce familial instincts. As you look for safe haven, you need to provide for Alice. You might (depending on how you play) be willing to do literally anything for her, from stealing bus tickets to pulling a gun on an unsuspecting shopkeeper. But no matter how much you know Alice needs things, her reaction to Kara stepping off the straight and narrow will always, always be a loss of respect.

This is understandable for a lot of reasons. Up front is Alice's own experience with abuse. Abusive people rarely start that way. They can seem fine at first, else we'd run. Abuse creeps in slowly, whether because the abusive person is changing slowly themselves or because they're learning what they can get away with. Watching Kara break more and more rules—a theft here, a threat there—would obviously trigger feelings of fear that the one person she has left in the world is going the same route as her father.

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For another thing, Alice has a very idealized view of Kara and the life they could have together. Combine that with her own very tried-and-true moral compass, and what may seem to you-as-Kara to be necessary evils and personal selflessness will register to her as disappointment and unnecessary cruelty to others.

As the player, the question becomes what's more important to you: Alice's love and trust, or her well-being? I will admit as a player I always did my best to look for Other Ways—as much as I wanted Alice to survive, I didn't like the idea of her living on with someone she'd grown to dislike or distrust in an already unpleasant world. Your mileage may vary... maybe Alice's approval is all that matters. Or maybe you're willing to be hated as long as she's looked after.

As with Connor's own journey in finding validity in himself and others, this isn't a purely fictional setup. We may be willing to sacrifice everything, from the happiness of others to our own reputation, to make sure the people we love are safe and happy. But it's important for us—parent, child, friend, caretaker, what have you—to remember that our loved one loves us back. Seeing us break a law can hurt just as much as an empty stomach. Seeing us willing to sacrifice a stranger's needs to provide for a loved one can be scarier than being attacked.

We think about how we could take, or shoot, a bullet for someone; we don't always step back and question whether that is what they would want from us. All those elements—what we could do, what we should do, what they want us to do, what's necessary regardless of what anyone wants—form a complicated matrix for which there's really no consistent right path. As I established last week, having emotions is kind of a bitch.

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Next week, I'll wrap things up with a look at Markus's storyline and a constant favorite thing of mine: So Much Biblical Symbolism.


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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

DETROIT BECOME HUMAN: On Basic Humanity and Self-Image (1 of 3)

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Not long ago, I finished one playthrough of Detroit: Become Human and then watched a few more people be better at it. I didn't particularly enjoy 2/3 of my outcome because I suck at quicktime events and I made some ridiculous choices early on, but overall I liked the experience. My regular readers know how into branched storytelling I am, so something like this — with something like 40-odd endings — intrigued me.

It honestly took me a while to get down to collecting my thoughts about it for the purposes of blogging. This is partly because there's frankly a lot to cover, and only some of it strikes me as within my wheelhouse. It's also partly because I'm well aware it's a divisive title. I've yet to meet someone who's lukewarm about it. Either they really enjoyed it, or they disliked it with every fiber of their being.

To that end, if you did not enjoy Detroit: Become Human, I'm afraid you might not get much enjoyment out of my next three pieces. I'm not writing these to convince people who didn't like it that they ought to, or that they need to. People are people, and they get to have their opinions without me telling them (beyond typical silliness among friends) that they're Just Wrong.

Hell, that's a good place to start.

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Connor (you know, the android sent by Cyberlife) is easily my favorite character in the game, and that's saying something in a game where there's a character with my name (spelled right) who'd probably shank a dude to protect a kid. Besides just being straight up delightful (and played by Bryan Dechart, but I repeat myself), he's got one of the most convoluted journeys in the game, with the most divergent possibilities. Out of all three protagonists, he's the only one who can choose not to consider himself a human. And that's kinda freaky.

Detroit: Become Human is not at all subtle about their metaphor, with androids stacked quietly in the backs of buses from the very first scenes. Their roles slide into this same metaphor: Kara the housekeeper, Markus who gets an education from his owner before going out into the wider world, and Connor whose only tiny scraps of respect come from the fact that he's there to bring down his own people. Connor in particular navigates through his scenes because, well, he doesn't respond to the insults. He's just there to do a job. The case is the thing, and of course he doesn't want to be treated like a human. He's not a human.

Meanwhile, he hunts down Kara, Markus, and others who think differently. It's up to you, the player, whether his work rubs off on him as he sees the truly human behaviors of Detroit's Deviants. If you're a real cold-hearted son of a bitch (or you've played before and are being a completist), you can carry Connor through all the way without him confronting his feelings of humanity. More than likely, though, you'll find him going the way of Markus and Kara when given the choice.

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The game asks us repeatedly to make choices, many of which will affect both the genetic humans and androids around us. Each storyline couches this question differently. I boiled it down like this recently:

Markus: Are these people as important as my cause?
Kara: Are these people as important as my loved ones?
Connor: Are these people?

And Connor's is where it all begins. In the world of D:BH, we're talking about civil rights for people different from ourselves; but as on-the-nose (occasionally awkwardly so, admittedly) as that metaphor is, just as important is the constant question of whether people in general deserve our respect. Because we make those choices every day, independent of (albeit sometimes guided by) the world around us. We make them about others, and we make them about ourselves.

Getting what we want — from things as mundane as the next job or the last PS4 on Black Friday to things as all-encompassing as equality — will usually come with some sort of baggage. On a good day, it's not much baggage: if we get the job, someone we've never met won't, but that's how it works. But in other cases, you have to ask who gets the backlash when the backlash comes. Are you willing to do what you're about to do regardless of what will happen to your opponents? What about the random people in the crossfire?

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Humans have empathy, and empathy's a bitch. And it's those more empathic decisions that make up a lot of how D:BH will go. As Kara, will you steal a family's bus tickets to get you and Alice to safety? They're not running for their lives, but context clues show that there are valid reasons why they need them. Is your need greater than theirs? As Markus, will your protest be peaceful or violent? Humans don't seem to mind kicking the shit out of androids so a few busted windows and overturned cars would still leave you in the black ethically, but is that what the protest is about?

As people with empathy, the idea of hurting other humans causes guilt. It's natural. There are ways to interface with that and things to take away from it. There's also the other, quicker option: deciding that these people aren't human. In this day and age it may not be quite as literal a move as in this fictional Detroit, but it is a tactic: convince yourself that the person in question is basically as good as inhuman, and suddenly you're a lot freer in your choices.

In Connor's story, android creator and Jared-Leto-faced-ass-looking-MFer Elijah Kamski doesn't even mince words. He puts that question out in front of Connor before anything can continue.

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Now, obviously Kamski isn't doing this for Connor's betterment. I'm not saying that. This whole thing is an interesting experiment to him. If he has any desire to see an android develop empathy for their own kind, it's so he can tell himself he's created a population of humans and feel all Godlike. It serves the purpose though: the Kamski Test (i.e. "will you shoot Chloe you absolute monster") answers two questions in one (possibly literal) shot. First, does Connor consider androids human? Secondly, if Connor doesn't consider androids human, what does that mean for him?

As much as we decide for ourselves in difficult situations whether someone is worthy of humane consideration, we do it for ourselves on a daily basis. We encounter people who ask us to put aside our thoughts, our ethics, and our self-worth for them. Maybe it's allegedly for the "greater good." Maybe it's because they've placed themselves above us in such a way that they can cast themselves as just knowing better. Maybe it's because, for a very long time, we've been made to believe that that's just how it is: that we're secondary to the needs of others.

Realizing that we're not — and that we can still work toward a greater good while still seeing ourselves as worthwhile and worthy of human respect — can be harder than it sounds, especially when we've been in an environment where we're fed the exact opposite line day after day. It can seem not right, or unfair, or like we're making a huge mistake. Not breaking out of it, though, leads to even bigger problems.

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Connor becoming a Deviant (or, more accurately, admitting that he is a sentient being worthy of respect) is multilayered. It isn't just about him, even though it's super about him. That one choice alters his entire worldview. By embracing his humanity, he is simultaneously embracing the humanity of every android. Admitting he is worthwhile and human cannot happen unless he's ready to admit that everyone else like him is also worthwhile and human.

Markus's and Kara's stories begin with epiphanies: they don't want to be treated this way. They want to be more. They are more. It's very individual, even though the implications become broad (especially for Markus). But Connor works from the outside in. His epiphany is all-encompassing from the moment it happens. I'm valid, and so are all of them.

And what if he doesn't? Because that's absolutely an option. You can stick to your guns, decide humans are humans and androids are androids, and throw yourself all the way into that cause. And, well, when you set standards for others, you're setting them for yourself. When you strip away the humanity of others, your own isn't all that far behind.

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Connor's story makes one other thing abundantly clear: being a human is terrifying sometimes. Things aren't always easy and logical. Reason and emotion are often at odds, and we have to be the one to make the ruling. No one is responsible for our actions save for ourselves, and if we get it wrong we have no one to blame but ourselves and our own judgment. Having feelings is really annoying sometimes. But that weird combination of freedom and empathy is strangely worth it.

Next time, Kara — the android with the best name in the game — and the family mentality.


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