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[personal profile] damselfish

I finished Transistor a while ago, a game I picked up solely on the strength of its trailer. I've never played Bastion, and while the buzz has been (deservedly) good I am not really on the gaming bandwagon anymore. But that trailer hit all the right buttons.

...Well, and the shipping on Tumblr between the protagonist and the talking sword. Which is another right button. I don't think it's a spoiler to say this because right out the box they are shippy as hell and it is about 95% of my satisfaction with the game. Apparently I really love stories where shippiness can be had with people and their talking [inanimate object] (thank you, Tales of Destiny, for starting that one).

Other people can talk about the mechanics of this little action RPG/pseudo-RTS better than I can, and the trailers can tell you that it's beautiful in ways no words can.

What makes or breaks the game, to me, was the emotional core of Transistor: the relationship between the MC, Red, and the transistor/talking sword guy/B. I'm gonna call him B because Tumblr named him Boxer and a friend calls him Blue. B is the chattiest NPC companion I've seen in a long time, and the game is essentially his running monologue interspersed with battles. The game rides on his performance, and given that I had to stop and squeal to my friend every now and again:

me: "seems like you're safe. I take full credit." The inflection when he's drunk! That was so... little boy smug
Crysi: He's so adorable
me:(I admit, I'm weak to guys who take that tone it is SO CUTE)
he is! I can't stand it

Yeah, he nailed it. There's a lot of subtlety and emotion in there, enough that I don't think I was projecting when I found his edgy chatter to be nervously filling up the unaccustomed silence left by Red's muteness.

Most game bloggers aren't talking about this, but I'm not a game blogger, and frankly I don't play games like I used to--and I've always been in games for story ahead of gameplay.

Then again, I'm not your general gaming audience, something I felt keenly both in Transistor and during my playthrough of another indie darling: Child of Light. CoL is a fairy tale/storybook RPG with gorgeous watercolor graphics and its strengths don't lie in characterization but in its beauty and the hypnotically soothing gameplay. I had to stop and marvel that this game had been made at all, watching the little princess protagonist in her nightgown run across my screen. This was a game tailor made for my sensibilities and hit a lot of points that made me happy that usually don't meet up with my gamer side (and haven't met up since Okami and Okamiden).

Both, also, have female protagonists. Hmm, two critically beloved games with female leads... I thought men wouldn't play those?

One of them is a little girl even. I'd say this was an aesthetic that reached right into my childhood, but my childhood was full of Hot Wheels, battle dinosaurs, and Littlest Pet Shop. It still made me nostalgic, like it reached into the platonic ideal of childhood. It's an aesthetic that is decidedly unabashed about sticking to its storybook premise.

Anyway, back to Transistor.

I find the choice interesting to have a mute female player-character and a talkative male NPC companion, because sometimes I thought this would make the game more palatable to guys who don't like to play women. Instead, the relationship between Red and B means that toward the end B starts saying "I love you," which I can't imagine sits well with guys so insecure they can't even play a female character. Sure, he's talking to Red, but in some ways he's also talking to you, the player. Not only are you playing Red, but her muteness means you're alone when he speaks to you--it's intimately framed in a way that puts the player into Red's shoes more than if she'd been a speaking character.

But she's not, really, a mute hero in the classic sense of the term. She's no avatar, no every woman. She has a story, she has motivations, and they are not, necessarily, my motivations.

I've seen complaints floating around about how she has no agency, she just does what B tells her to, which I find baffling. She leaves comments on news reports bursting with personality: she writes down something angry and then deletes it, replacing it with something milder. At first I thought this was an interesting bit of self-censorship, something we've all experienced posting on the internet.

Then it dawned on me: she's writing those comments to B. They have an actual conversation where she types and he speaks, and the realization was a punch in the heart. It made me want to replay the game just to see what those old comments were, if they were also for B instead of a possible internet audience (also I love that conceit). Between that and B drunkenly admitting "you know I love you, right?", the understanding of their relationship turned the entire game upside down for me. There was obvious affection the entire time, but I figured he was her bodyguard (personally I like the idea of a bodyguard turned boyfriend). I didn't realize they were actually lovers.

So you're playing a game where your boyfriend is the helpless companion NPC (and his helplessness is noted repeatedly, making the argument that Red does what he says... weird). I don't think I've ever played that before. Especially not the way the relationship unfolded and their obvious concern for each other: his focus is on returning her voice, Red ignores his suggestion that they skip town to get his body back. He's constantly saying that he's worried about her, she's so much worse off than he is.

He's in a sword and she's just mute but he's worried about her!

I've also seen the argument that Red has all the agency because she disregards what he says. That B is some guy trying to tell her what to do and she does what she wants....

Did we play the same game?

B is flinching and apologetic about being dead weight--Red is literally hauling him around--and overcompensates by chattering relentlessly and trying to talk through scenarios/be helpful. This means he'll give his opinion on everything. What kind of pizza to order? "That one's the best." You pick another "ooooor that!" He is the chillest of sword boyfriends, and trying to distill the partnership between B and Red into "she's a cipher who does what he tells her to" or "she ignores the man nagging in her ear" overlooks a well-written, nuanced, and loving relationship. Why would you do that? Do you know how rare that is in video games?

Also, he gives great advice a lot of the time. Other times he is really late with the great advice: "hey don't touch that" "AAAAAH 6 YOUNG LADIES AAAAAH" I could almost hear him go NO SHIT.

Talking is all he can do, and you're better off listening. And, frankly, I was right there with him going "no, no, no!" when Red makes her decision in the end. Which is begging for another essay on who the viewpoint character really is, because I imagine most people responded to that scene in the same way. Which is pretty thematic for a game about a woman who's been silenced and in the end, her voice is the only one that matters. And it's her decision, her voice, to do or disregard what's expected, what B asks, or what the player wants.

JEEZE YOU GUYS. THIS GAVE ME SUCH FEELS.

Never mind a lot of the other little moments not related to Red/B that hit me like a blow. Like the other transistor crying out: "no one came for me!" and wondering, holy hell, who is that in there? Someone random? Someone close to Royce? Also ow and /shudder.

























Sure, the game is beautiful. Sure, it's an interesting format. That's not what made it for me. It's more like this game wondered, "what would Sam's demographic want out of a game? Let's make that."

I've been recommending this game to everybody I can. Too bad all my cool friends are on Macs. It's for PC and PS4! It'll come to Mac, eventually. Play it. PLAY IT.

Also: I was pretty surprised by how queer the game was. There's a genderqueer person, a gay couple, and we're pretty sure there was a woman with a crush on Red. That makes something like 4 out of 6 characters LGBT. I know this matters to lots of you, so go on and check it out!

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damselfish

September 2015

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