Monday, March 12, 2018

4chan Does It Better: Katawa Shoujo

So as I stated in the last segment of my most recent podcast, I've been getting into the whole "visual novel" thing. Up till recently I've only played Sakura Dungeon, which was fun because it had girls with animal ears (with copious amounts of lewds because let's be real here that's what those Sakura games are for) as well as a dungeon crawl and battle mechanic that kept the fun going beyond what mere breasteses could provide. I'd heard people talking up Doki Doki Literature Club, and I played that and was severely disappointed. 

Then a friend introduced this game to me. 

[Sidenote: I don't consider visual novels video games because they have only the most basic of gameplay mechanics, and are far more accurately described as slightly interactive, choose-your-own-adventure comic books. In the case of the ones that are specifically romantically focused they're choose-your-own-waifu adventure comics. I'm just going to refer to them as "games" because it's a useful shorthand rather than having to type all that bullcrap out every time.]

And this game changed my opinion on the whole visual novel thing. I won't say it was an earth shattering revelation, or a game that completely revolutionized how I think about visual novels (VN's for short from here on out), or that it was even a really fantastic game in its own right. Because at base it isn't anything particularly special. The music is decent, the art is okay, the animation (what little there is) is on the good side of amateur hour, and the writing isn't anything to write home about in and of itself. However, it's the overall effect that brings this game home as something that is obviously a labor of love, and is more than anybody currently bitching about representation has ever done in their lives to further representation of people with disabilities in video games. 

Did I mention that? That all these characters are disabled in some fashion? 

Because I should've. Maybe I need to back up a step and explain what the game is actually about, here. 

So Katawa Shoujo (literal translation: Cripple Girls, colloquial translation: Disabled Girls) is a visual novel about a last-year high school student who has a heart attack and discovers he has arrhythmia. He is placed in a boarding school for students with disabilities, and over the course of his first few days meets several girls that are all in some fashion disabled. Shizune is a deaf-mute, Hanako has burn scars and severe psychological issues because of this, Lily is blind, Emi had her legs amputated just below the knee, and Rin has a birth defect that stopped her arms from growing and as a result has stumps just below the shoulder. Over the course of the game you as the player pick which girl you'd prefer to romance and attempt to follow their arc to the "good" ending. "Good" is in scare quotes here because it doesn't always end on the happiest note. 

So far as the first act goes (wherein you pick which girl you're going to go after) it's fairly well written, and your choices in dialogue do have an effect on how this game ends up, which is more than you can say for Mass Effect 3. But you get introduced to all the girls, and via these dialogue choices you choose which you're going to get involved with. I actually had to look up a flow chart to figure out how to get the entire story from this game, but thankfully they had the foresight to put in a "skip" mechanic so you can fast forward through stuff you've seen already.

Personally I've only completed two arcs and am working on a third, eventually planning to make my way through the entire game. However I noticed some things while playing this game. The rest of this ramble is basically going to be some thoughts that I have about it and how it relates to the incredible disconnect between an internet culture like 4chan and an internet culture like Tumblr, so if you want my verdict I'll go ahead and give it here before I get into a shit ton of pointless bloviating. 

The game is good, and in my opinion you should play it. It's free, available via direct download from the website or via torrent. The writing is a bit simplistic, and as I said the music (while good) isn't going to be starting any revolutions anytime soon. However it's absolutely worth a play, and to be honest they should probably be charging for this given how well it's done considering where it came from and how emotionally impactful it's capable of being. If you're into VN's, or romance in general, or just want to experience 4chan kicking the absolute shit out of Tumblr in terms of representation done well, then I'd recommend it. But if you're anything like me, just remember this is more of a comic book than an actual video game and you'll be good to go.

So that done, let's talk a little about the development process with this game. Because frankly I can't talk too much about the story without spoiling things, and if you're going to go play it I don't want to ruin things for you.

This game came about because of a sketch from a doujin artist that 4chan just would not shut the fuck up about for years. So eventually, a bunch of anons got together and made a game studio specifically to produce this game. They called themselves 4 Leaf Studios (based on the 4 leaf clover 4chan logo) and got to work. It took a while, but eventually KS came to be and has since been translated into god only knows how many languages. Now as far as I know, and I'm open to being corrected on this, the first act was written by one guy, and then each girl's individual arc was written by different people who were invested in telling that girl's particular story.

Apparently Shizune, the deaf-mute girl, was subject to several re-writes, and looking at the flow chart I can believe it. Every other girl has plenty of decision moments, and Rin's is just completely fucked up, but then you bird's-eye Shizune compared to the rest and it's a straight line with one branching decision that leads to either the good or bad ending. So if you decided to go after the deaf-mute girl, your mileage may vary. This is the one I'm currently playing through, and I haven't gotten far enough to say one way or another. Just be aware this apparently isn't the best written of the arcs. 

However, the complete autist writing and rewriting Shizune's arc aside, each arc for this game was essentially written by somebody who thought that particular character was best girl. Therefore all the arcs (exempting Shizune of course) are written with a kind of loving care that has the quality you'd expect from an image board like 4chan, but the passion shines through beyond clumsy turns of phrase or echoed words. It's quite obvious that the people writing these different arcs cared about telling a decent story within what they were given to tell, and this leads to some legitimately heart-wrenching moments depending on what girl you've decided to romance for this playthrough. 

So here's the part where I devolve into random social science bullshit because to be honest this is the thing that really astounds me.

4chan is an anonymous imageboard. It has a well deserved reputation for being one of the worst places on the entire internet, and before Tumblr turned into the absolute fucking dumpster fire it is now, that was true. However, there's a distinct disconnect between the approach towards representation in media taken by 4chan, and that taken by Tumblr. I should be clear here, I spend a fair amount of time on Tumblr, and comparatively far less on 4chan. So while I've heard of 4chan's excesses and depredations, I've actively seen Tumblr's in real time. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Tumblr is the worse of the two. 

4chan is akin to the internet's red light district. You walk in there knowing what you're about to get, because of the reputation. And because of the way deindividuation works (basically anonymity), you're likely to be metaphorically stabbed because you simply look like (or sound like, given the medium of text people interact with each other through on that site) you haven't been stabbed yet. It's a kind of initiation ritual and fact of that website that if you appear to not have been stabbed yet, someone will eventually try to stab you. 

Contrast this to Tumblr, wherein you have actual screen names (a feature actively and vehemently discouraged on 4chan, despite the ability to engage in it), as well as an email address tied to your account, and shit gets far nastier than a metaphorical stabbing. People have been SWATted, reported to the police for false crimes, had their pets taken away and euthanized, driven to suicide, and all manner of other nasty shit. There are decent parts of Tumblr, but eventually that part (which is most of the site's userbase) is going to find you and decide that you are problematic in some fashion, and as such not human and not deserving of human decency, mercy, or opportunity for redemption.

And what really sets this in sharp focus in regards to Katawa Shoujo is that 4chan bitches a lot, but they don't bitch about representation. Just stroll into any thread on /v/ and you'll be subject to a deluge of autists screaming about a video game that got them all upset. But very rarely do you see 4chan wanting [x] people group to be represented more often in video games. There are occasional threads, but those are obviously troll threads and get the treatment they deserve. Overall, /v/ really seems to just want decent games. Apart from the people who are there to just interminably bitch about literally everything, of course. 

Now Tumblr? 

These people bitch on the fucking daily about how we need more representation of [x] demographic in video games. Very rarely does a day go by when I'm scrolling Tumblr and I don't see someone bitching about this very thing. They constantly whinge about this kind of stuff, and the most stunning thing about it is they never do a god damned thing about it other than bitch, despite the fact that tools like RPG Maker exist that would give them the opportunity to do exactly what they want. Game development is hard, yes, but it's not impossible. It's a learnable skill, and any one of these people shouting into the void on Tumblr could learn it and be the change they want to see.

And yet they don't. Because bitching is easy. Actually doing something about it is hard work. 

So when it comes to a game like Katawa Shoujo, I'm standing absolutely gobsmacked by the fact that 4chan indeed did this thing. Granted, a VN isn't exactly the most difficult game to produce. However they actually got off their duffs and did the thing rather than constantly bitching and hoping that someone would do it for them. And so far as I know, this wasn't done out of any kind of call for representation of cripples in video games.

It was done because these particular anons wanted to tell these particular stories involving these particular characters, and so they went out and did it. They made it happen, and that's why I say 4chan does it better. Because to do something better than someone else, you actually have to do more than complain. You have to lace up your boots and get to work. These anons have done more for the representation of cripples in video games than anyone currently pissing and moaning on their Tumblr blog about how terrible it is that there aren't more crippled people in vidya. 

These random anons approached this subject matter with a respect and tenderness that outshines the best AAA company you can think of on their best day, and they did it all for no recognition and no money. I think this was a bad move, because they had all the makings of a talented development studio, but I wasn't involved and their decision to do it for free is their own. This actually gives me a bit of respect for the anons of 4 Leaf, because putting the game out for free proves this was a labor of love rather than a cash grab.

Which, I can guarantee that any game coming from Tumblr in a similar vein would absolutely be a cash grab.

These anons cared about these characters and these stories, and as such they made a product that even the best of what Tumblr has to offer from the people who seem to be very opinionated on these matters wouldn't be able to match in a thousand years. And to be perfectly honest, when the infamous internet hate machine is giving you exactly what you ask for and doing it far better than you could ever hope to do, it might be time to hang up your spurs, cowpoke. So at bottom this post here comes down to a challenge.

4chan has already outdone Tumblr by leaps and bounds just by putting this game out. If you're really so concerned with representation of demographics in vidya, then step up, learn to make a video game, and be the change you want to see.

Because if 4chan is being the change you want to see in the world, and doing it better than you could simply by virtue of having done it in the first place, maybe you don't actually want to see this change happen. Maybe you just want to bitch. Maybe, like the cartoon says, you don't want a solution. You want to be mad.

But so far as Katawa Shoujo goes, as I said, it's a VN. You should have a basic understanding of what you're getting into, but go play it. It's worth the time it'll take you to download and play the game. Find your cripple waifu, dear reader. Because this is probably the only game that'll give you the chance. 

I realize as I'm finishing this up that I should absolutely mention the problem with Emi, and the h-scenes. Because those are things that should be addressed. 

So the issue with Emi is that she's the main storyline, and the one that (apparently) most people fall into on their first playthrough. I felt like this was railroading, and it kind of is. There's one dialogue choice that flags you for heading towards Emi's arc, and you have to do some ridiculous bullshit backflips to get out of it. This is a design flaw in my opinion, but if you just make the proper choice at the proper time (depending on whether you're planning to romance Emi or literally anyone else) it can be easily avoided. It just seems a bit bullshit to me to make her that important that it's basically one or two dialogue choices that decide whether you get shunted into her arc, or whether you get to go for another girl.

That being said, Emi's arc was very well told and enjoyable. 

She just isn't best girl.

Because apparently I have a taste for bacon. 

Now to the h-scenes. 

Being a romance VN, this game eventually rewards you with "porn" of the character you've decided to romance if you make the right choices. There is an option to turn this off, and from what I've read doing my research because I'm absolutely that much of an autist, it doesn't effect the game or the character development all that much. From what I've seen (because y'all already know what time it is if you're reading this) the h-scenes are tastefully done for porn and actually do have an effect on the relationships between the characters themselves. 

This isn't the kind of game where sex is just an, "Oh, I love you so I'm going to have teh sessy teims wit u" kind of thing. Shit has real consequences, and even gets into the personal psychology of the characters and how they react to the main character showing interest in them and actively pursuing them as a romantic prospect. This was really interesting in a few instances because, as I said, it had an effect on how the game progressed and how these characters reacted to you. 

Ostensibly, if you got the h-scenes of the character, you got the "good" ending, but this isn't always the case. There are ways you can severely fuck this up between that and the end of [x] arc. To the point of that character hating you and never wanting to talk to you again. Which is an interesting dynamic I haven't seen in my (admittedly small) experiences with games like this before. 

In my opinion this just proves that this game wasn't meant to be a vehicle for amputee porn. If they'd wanted to do that they could've just come up with the basic character designs, posted them in a thread, and let the drawfags have a fucking field day making lewds of them all day. That didn't happen.

Well, it might've happened, but I haven't seen it, and what Katawa Shoujo threads I've actually seen on 4chan nowadays have not included the lewds that may or may not exist of these characters. 

This game is meant, in my opinion, to be a heartfelt story of a young man finding out he has a disability, meeting various girls, and coming to love them not because they're disabled, but for who they are beyond the disabilities. The h-scenes are, I think, them not flinching away from difficulties and realities of getting romantically involved with a disabled person. Much like (and I know this is a stretch but bear with me) Henry Miller didn't shy away from his sexual liaisons in his various novels. It's an unflinching look at what engaging in a romantic relationship with a disabled person might be like, and given the writing I can't tell if the particular anons who wrote this game have experience in this area or if they're just extrapolating based on what they think would happen in individual situations. It gets right down to the nitty gritty, and it would've been very easy for them to shy away from this and not include it, despite the fact this is a romance game. 

They didn't, and I think that takes balls, to be honest.

But overall, Katawa Shoujo is a good VN, and moreover it shows what a bunch of autists on an imageboard can do when they put their minds to it. As I said, they've officially done more for the representation of cripples in vidya than anyone on Tumblr has ever even thought of doing.

So go give it a play.

It's free, and there are worse ways to kill an afternoon.  

Here's the link to the website for the interested.

2 comments :

  1. Thanks on your marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you’re a great author.Please visit here:

    Charlie Hunnam Pacific Rim 2

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do you like watch fear the walking dead putlocker on weeekend? Click 132 movies watch free now. It wouldn't bother me if AMC killed this show. All it's doing is usurping the zombie thrills from "The Walking Dead". I really tried to give this show a chance, but its the ACTORS - they leave me feeling void. Allison is the only character I care about; the rest can be tossed. I could NOT get into "Madison" and "Travis", they just didn't have the chemistry for a husband and wife. The "Travis" and "Chris" dysfunctional father/son relationship just didn't seem realistic. And the drug addict "Nick", OMG - he's awful and annoying. He is the biggest turn off for me with his GREASY hair and stupid behavior (leaving his family to hang out with zombies!)... so unbelievably DUMB. There are no real villains you can look forward to watching because they get killed off in 2 episodes so the story never builds up to anything. And now the overkill on subtitles. I find myself forgetting to tune in to watch this show anymore. See more ghostbusters 2016 putlockers very good!

    ReplyDelete