Pony Island

Well, the game was a mess and not in a way it wanted to be.

The basic premise is that you’re in hell or purgatory playing an oldschool arcade game about a pony jumping over gates. The game is designed by the devil with the intent to trap you forever. However, it is designed poorly, so it’s possible to hack and unlock various hidden options allowing you to proceed past the boundaries of the narrative cage and eventually beat the game, setting your soul free.

So, first, the good stuff. Gameplay is generally well done. It consist of two distinct parts. The first is action sequences where your goal is to survive a ride to the finish. To do that, you click left mouse to jump over gates and right mouse to shoot enemies before they can reach you. Sometimes enemies appear in a circle around you, sometimes they form a wall before you or a ceiling. The controls, as you can see, are very simple, but timing is essential. You need to divide your attention between two tasks and quickly evaluate the best course of action.

The second part of the gameplay is puzzles where you typically need to navigate game functions to fix some issue or unlock some option. Sometimes it’s just a point-and-click deal where you poke around in search of something that would work, other times you deal with the code where you need to switch commands around so the program would run in a correct order, avoiding junk code and giving you the needed results.

I found the puzzles challenging without being too difficult, so, not bad.

Overall, gameplay is simple and nothing particularly special, but it works well enough.

The plot, on the other hand…

OK, you know those games that start with a cheerful bright facade and slowly reveal some ugly dystopian world underneath? Well, not this game. It starts with an obviously buggy game (you have to fix the Start Game button to begin) arcade in dark unsettling tones. After one action sequence you proceed to have a conversation with the devil, and it’s very quickly revealed you’re trapped in the game and need to break out.

You proceed to plot and scheme with another trapped soul and make progress with the escape plan. Then and only then the game traps you inside a cheerful pony game with butterflies and shit, and, well, what’s even the point at that stage? I know the nature of the game, the devil knows that I know, so why are we even bother with the charade? It’s not even a psychological thing where you’re forced to play along in-universe since the narrative doesn’t do much to emphasize the point, and the sequence gets off the rails soon enough anyway with more bugs.

Speaking of psychological stuff, the game can’t into immersion. It tries to do the Undertale stuff with acknowledging the game as a game and you as the player with that other trapped soul commenting at one point that doing a supposedly bad thing is the only way to advance the plot and at the end begging you to delete the game since it’s trapped inside, but that doesn’t work as well as in Undertale.

Alright, I think by now Undertale has reached a point of supersaturation (huh, that’s a word) when it comes to discussing meta stuff, so let’s talk Oneshot. Oneshot is a cute little RPGMaker game where you play as yourself, the player, and guide a cat person of uncertain gender across a surreal dying world to either return them home or save said dying world. The game uses the medium pretty well: you’re thought of as a god because you may as well be, looking at everything from above and giving commands to your faithful. The game pulls your name from your PC data (which was unfortunate in my case as it was simply named HOME, so that’s how I was called), at certain point you get into the contact with an entity that created the world of Oneshot. Said entity alters some files on your computer to give you clues. Near the end it communicates with you via Windows messages. And so on. In other words, it completely erased the fourth wall, making you and your PC a part of the game without breaking the illusion of the game world being real and in fact probably adding to it since now stuff like menus are not merely game abstractions but your means of communication with the world.

In any case, the key component of this is that Oneshot acknowledged itself as a PC game installed on your computer with you sitting before it and interacting with the game the way you normally interact with games.

Pony Island doesn’t do it. You’re supposedly standing before a demonic arcade machine in hell, at some points you actually step away from it, and we see some glimpses of arcade hall. More, the game actually gives your avatar an identity. From time to time you can ask the devil questions about your past, and he gives rather definite answers. You’re a man, you had a mother but your father is dead, you were killed, etc.

As such, when it asks me to treat itself as real, it falls flat. The game obviously takes place in another reality, the protagonist isn’t me, my PC is not possessed by the devil, so it makes no sense for it to be infested by damned souls. The comment about the only way to progress the plot is especially irritating because there isn’t supposed to be a plot, the whole thing is presented as a competition with the devil where I cleverly break the game to escape, not follow preordained steps. The latter could have worked, mind, especially in a hell game that’s supposed to trap me, but the narrative does nothing to convince me in it.

Finally, the game has a weird tone. I think it tries to be humorous and quirky with the devil endlessly trying and failing to create a game that would hold your attention while you half-fix half-break it, but the characters are too flat to be funny, and other times the game tries to be dramatic and even scary, which just clashes with the main tone, confusing both.

Overall, Pony Island is a mess in which good ideas are buried. It has an interesting premise, the gameplay is good enough to be engaging without being overwhelming, but it utterly botches the narrative part of the equation with weird plot structure, flat characters and irritating meta elements that don’t have enough of a support structure to work. The game has a formidable potential to be good, but the devs didn’t have the skills to pull it off.

So, the moral here is go play Oneshot. It’s free and much better put together.

115 Comments

  1. Doortothe says:
    “So, the moral here is go play Oneshot.”

    Or maybe the moral here is maybe you should review Undertale already

    1. illhousen says:
      Farla has dibs, and I’m pretty sure she’s managed to survive Undyne by now.

      Besides, there isn’t really much I can say beyond “don’t read anything about Undertale and go play it.”

      1. Roarke says:
        I’ll second this. Undertale is not a game to read the review of, or even watch a Let’s Play of.

        edit: Also what do you mean, “managed to survive Undyne?” Is she doing a No Mercy run?

        1. illhousen says:
          She’s doing the world’s slowest run and trying all the ACT options, all of them.
          1. Roarke says:
            I can see how that would slow someone down that much, alright.
            So I’m about done with the Torment beta. One area is straight-up unplayable right now (black screen of doom), but the rest of the stuff is awesome.
            It’s got basically exactly the kind of interactivity I like, and the worldbuilding is awesome. The Changing God is 100% The Practical Incarnation, right down to being very superficially charming in addition to being ruthlessly self-centered. There are a bunch of interesting little puzzles and mysteries to poke at. I straight-up failed one quest because it was on a time limit. The quest progresses every time you sleep (a new murder victim), so after four days I failed because I wasn’t trying to focus on any one thing, whoops.
            The whole “gaining skills from past lives’ memories” thing that I loved in PST is back in full force. The game is just generally good shit, but the combat needs some tuning. Luckily there isn’t actually a lot of it. I prefer wRPG’s that are light on combat anyway, since it’s almost never stellar.
            1. illhousen says:
              Yeah, so, I’ve decided to try Torment again and see if I can make it work, but it seems I’m unable to enter your account for some reason. It doesn’t exist as far as my Steam is aware.

              Fortunately, I’ve discovered there is a legit way to share games via Family Sharing option. To do that, you first need to add me to friends (account’s the same, illhousen), and I’ll tweak things on my part from there.

              Reply
              1. Roarke says:
                You got it. In 6 hours, when I get out of work.
      2. Doortothe says:
        While I 100% agree with that recommendation, I think the world is big enough, and Undertale is worthy, of two over-analytical reviews/interpretations of the game. In fact, there quite frankly isn’t enough of them.

        Farla already made her post saying to just go play Undertale already, so the in-depth review can be written assuming the audience has already played the game. Your post can cover the parts where your opinions differ/have alternate interpretations/theories.

        1. illhousen says:
          Well, the problem here is that I don’t have many deep thoughts about Undertale.

          I like pretty much every aspect of the game and even managed to get into the bullet hell fights, which are typically not my thing, and it’s hard to analyze something you like.

          I guess I could talk briefly about the framing of the main conflict being not about whether you will succeed in escaping Underground (since as long as you stay determined you literally can’t lose) but whether you will be able to do so as a good person and not kill anyone out of frustration or curiosity.

          I can also talk about Chara, their role in the story and how soft!Chara theory along with the whole “they were corrupted by the player” thing makes zero narrative sense fuck you fandom.

          Beyond that, however, it just would be gushing.

          1. Mini-Farla says:
            I can also talk about Chara, their role in the story and how soft!Chara theory along with the whole “they were corrupted by the player” thing makes zero narrative sense fuck you fandom.

            I, for one, would greatly appreciate this. Talk about narrachara too! You could frame it as a case study in fandom behavior.

            1. illhousen says:
              That would require engaging with the fandom, though, and I prefer to keep a safe distance from it.

              Anyway, my reasoning isn’t very long. Basically, it’s important to remember that at the end of both Pacifist and Genocide routes the player is divorced from Frisk/Chara. Chara takes control away from you while Frisk you leave with monsters/on his way to the next mountain to drop into.

              The latter is done because the game heavily engages with the fourth wall and pretends that its world is really real. As such, the distance between you and Frisk is necessary so you could close the game and not feel bad for leaving everyone behind and never seeing them again unless you reset (which is shown to be a bad thing in the context).

              A consequence of it is that soft!Chara becomes redundant. The narrative of an innocent child being corrupted by the player could be done with Frisk alone, and it would be stronger for it since we would see them becoming the Littlest Messiah or a demon based on our choices. The tainted pacifist ending could still be kept, showing that Frisk has embraced the dark power of munchkiny.

              In this narrative Chara just confuses everything since it’s much easier to interpret them as being a monster from the start (almost like it was intended or something).

              Basically, the whole soft!Chara thing is a classic example of people over-analyzing the story to validate their pet theory without analyzing the actual intended narrative.

              Reply
              1. Gust says:
                Obviously, the real misunderstood character is Woshua. He just wants to clean.

                I guess some of it comes from how even on the Pacifist routes, Frisk appears to somehow have some of Chara’s memories. Joking with Woshua and the flashback from falling off of the bridge when Undyne. And how strange it would be for a game like Undertale to have an actual straight-up evil villain. (hopefully that came out right.)

                I do have to agree that blaming the player for corrupting Chara is an annoying habit among the fanbase. It really gets my goat. Most Chara fans also seem like they’re really over-projecting onto them.

              2. illhousen says:
                “Obviously, the real misunderstood character is Woshua. He just wants to clean.”

                Ah, but don’t you see? He cleaned out crime that one time, yet there were no similar news about him cleaning, say, the Royal Guard, despite their armor requiring it. Clearly, that hints at a deep internal complex, a subconscious desire to clean some dark spot on his own conscience.

                Unless, of course, it was just a quick joke.

                “I guess some of it comes from how even on the Pacifist routes, Frisk appears to somehow have some of Chara’s memories.”

                Well, there was certainly some bleedthrough between the two, what with the power of determination originating on Chara’s side, though I don’t really see how that prevents them from being a monster.

                “And how strange it would be for a game like Undertale to have an actual straight-up evil villain.”

                I get what you mean, but I have to disagree here. In this case, Chara being a straightforward villain makes narrative sense due to the key difference between Pacifist/Neutral routes and Genocide one.

                In Neutral/Pacifist routes you engage the game as a narrative. You guide Frisk through this strange new world and face moral choices. It doesn’t prevent you from killing, of course. In fact, you can kill everyone in your way and still not go full Genocide because you’re likely to miss at least a few random encounters. Because, well, killing is still a legitimate choice even if it just locks you to one of the neutral endings, it’s still something you can imagine a frightened human would do faced with monsters who, knowingly or not, try to kill them.

                On the other hand, to even unlock the Genocide route you must approach the game as a game. You need to actively go out of your way to kill every single random encounter along with bosses. At that point you can no longer pretend to treat game characters as people, you just do things for the sake of obtaining greater numbers and seeing what would happen.

                And the result is the emergence of Chara because they are the one you become when you abandon the illusion of reality of your avatar and act according to what makes sense by game logic rather than the logic of the world. Kill everyone to grow numbers. Combine MICROWAVE with CAT, that kind of things.

                In that regard, Chara is actually a classic deconstruction tool: the dev took a common genre trope (genocide for the sake of power) and created a character who would actually do it in-universe, with the barrier of game abstractions no longer separating their actions from the story. And, well, turns out they’re not a nice person.

                In other words, yes, the world of Undertale doesn’t contain straight up evil villains. But in order to summon Chara you need to abandon that world and turn Frisk from a supposedly real person into a doll following your malicious commands. And, well, it’s no wonder that a demon filled the emptiness that used to be Frisk’s soul.

                Now, I understand why some people want there to be a deeper and perhaps more sympathetic motivation. What I was talking about works great in game context where Chara serves as a reflection of very common type of behavior among gamers, but outside of this context you are indeed left with a rather flat if creepy villain, so for fanfics that don’t go full meta you may indeed wish to expand on Chara’s… ah… character.

                As such, I actually don’t mind alternative interpretations of Chara that much. I’m just peeved at people insisting it’s tots canon and also going way too far in making Chara an innocent little woobie who did nothing wrong.

                (Honestly, what I’d like to see in that regard is Frisk and Chara settling into a fucked up Shiki/SHIKI dynamic, always one step away from killing spree and stopped only by their connections to more stable people.)

              3. Mini-Farla says:
                I actually think Toby Fox deserves some of the blame here, because Chara does have actual character revealed in the True Lab tapes and backstory, it’s just incompatible with who they are on the omnicide route. You can’t have someone be both an abstract meta-allegory and a coherent in-universe character. That’s trying to have your cake and eat it too. How you view Chara I think comes down to which version you think is real — the one who’s willing to murder everything just ’cause, or the one who was willing to kill themselves instead of just shanking Asgore despite that being the obviously better solution.
              4. illhousen says:
                Hm, that’s a valid point and probably a source of a lot of confusion in the fandom. I think the two can be reconciled, though. Chara is the kind of person who would gleefully murder everyone, just not necessary for the same reasons as the player (boredom and curiosity), though constructing a coherent character out of lab tapes and backstory is a bit difficult.
              5. Mini-Farla says:
                Chara is the kind of person who would gleefully murder everyone, just not necessary for the same reasons as the player (boredom and curiosity)

                But then they’re no longer an allegory for player callousness, and in that case what’s the point of their existence? (This also still doesn’t explain why they didn’t just shank the goat family.) I think you could do something interesting by making them a parallel to Frisk — it’s implied that both of them had dark pasts and were trying to commit suicide on the mountain, but Frisk coped with their trauma in a healthy way while Chara continued the cycle of abuse with Asriel and then decided the world deserved to burn for hurting them. But, again, you then lose the allegory (it’s white douchebros who are callous kill-everything players, not underprivileged trauma survivors), which I think is a much more important role for them to fulfill.

                I really don’t see why the game couldn’t have just cut Chara out entirely and made the corruption thing canon — make Frisk a true blank slate, such that they become the demon and break free of your control on omnicide. Saying actually it’s a war for control with a separate character in their head who’s the abstract representation of your player character in all games but also their own person in this narrative is just… what?

              6. illhousen says:
                Hm, I see your point. I think the intention here was to take the common player behavior (kill, steal, pillage) and attach an actual personality to it so you could see just what kind of person would realistically do it. But yeah, the different parts of the narrative confuse it.

                “I really don’t see why the game couldn’t have just cut Chara out
                entirely and made the corruption thing canon — make Frisk a true blank
                slate, such that they become the demon and break free of your control on
                omnicide.”

                That would certainly have worked.

              7. Roarke says:
                It would have been pretty crazy good, in fact. Instead of Frisk losing their soul to a demon, they just keep the same personality through the True Reset through Determination. Then as soon as they’re free from your control again at the end of the Pacifist Route, they go all murdery.
              8. illhousen says:
                Yep. Hm, not sure if for such a run they should switch from -_- to :) (or whatever Chara’s smiley is).
              9. Roarke says:
                Well, yeah, that’s one of the areas where the idea runs into problems. Part of the assumption of the Genocide route is that you don’t even really enjoy the random encounters all that much. You’re just going through the motions so you can get to the bosses, and you’d skip them if you could.
                Only Chara is actually getting enjoyment out of every single murder (I hope), which is a point in favor of having them be their own character apart from the player.
              10. Socordya says:
                (or whatever Chara’s smiley is).

                This reddit thread (https://www.reddit.com/r/Undertale/comments/3t319l/give_me_your_best_undertale_emoticons/ ) proposes those :

                (o l ‿ l o)
                or
                ( | ‿ | )

              11. illhousen says:
                And to derail a derail, I blame you for finding it: http://raggedjackscarlet.tumblr.com/post/135533951313/a-remake-without-an-original

                (Since I’ve found it by following your link to the blog that archived HPMOR readthrough, read some stuff there because I’m a sucker for Internet drama and stumbled upon it.)

              12. Socordya says:
                Since I’ve found it by following your link to the blog that archived HPMOR readthrough

                Wasn’t me!

                http://raggedjackscarlet.tumbl

                My favorite part is how they think Captain America: Civil War made sense morally.

              13. illhousen says:
                Oh. Yeah, indeed it wasn’t. Sorry, my bad, should have checked before posting.
              14. Socordya says:
                And to derail a derail, I blame you for finding it: http://raggedjackscarlet.tumbl

                Kind of interesting, thought because I think the author is on to something when they say a lot of character feel fanfic-y in their wackiness, but the post quickly devolves into basically complaining the story isn’t throwing ALL THE CLICHES.

              15. illhousen says:
                Yeah, that’s what I find funny about it: the author almost gets the point of Undertale… and then just flies over it, never to see again.

                I mean, yeah, Undertale is mostly structured like a typical jRPG, and most boss monsters are pretty archetypical. Because, well, it’s a commentary of typical RPG tropes and common gamer behavior, of course it’s going to be recognizable.

                In other words, Undertale Prime is basically nearly any RPG you care to name.

              16. Farla says:
                That’s what annoys me most! It’s a really good observation and then it’s like their brain short-circuits over how WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG all fangirls are we hates them we does, instead of that maybe RPGs with designated heroes who can literally never die verses already marginalized creatures have some issues.
              17. illhousen says:
                But Farla! They attacked Frisk first (or, well, cried at them or tried to give them hugz even though they’re allergic, same thing)! That is unforgivable! Clearly, they all deserve to be wiped out without remorse.

                Their motives for doing what they do don’t matter. Their situation doesn’t matter. The history of war they tell is a lie. Breaking the cycle of violence and improving things for everyone is a trap.

                They harmed your avatar (even though you’ve erased all harm right afterwards), and they don’t like humans. That’s what matters here.

                You know what you have to do. After all, you’ve had a lot of training in other worlds. =)

              18. Roarke says:
                My favorite part is where the world “preemptively changes itself” to make the morality of the Pacifist Route objectively the right choice. Like, no shit.
              19. illhousen says:
                Ah, but you see, if you go Genocide route, monsters would behave all scared/heroic and shit, getting into last stands and what not as if they were resisting an attack of a violent murderer or something. Thus, the game denies you the satisfaction of righteous slaughter.

                Clearly, the moral is forced down our throats.

              20. Roarke says:
                I’d bet the author hasn’t played the Genocide route at all, because there is no misinterpreting the message at that point.
                I could see someone who hadn’t played anything but Neutral/Pacifist not understanding what Undertale is trying to say. But Genocide clearly tells you what a little shit you are for doing it.
              21. illhousen says:
                Don’t worry, Internet has an answer for you! (Though, to be fair, by a different poster)

                “Though even then, the monsters have already put genocide on the table. If the game didn’t force you to commit to that route before you’d have in-game knowledge of their plans, more players might pick it as just the most sensible thing to do given the stakes.”

              22. Roarke says:
                This is why “faith in humanity” is a waste of brainspace.
              23. Roarke says:
                Yeah, I actually have to say I’m impressed with their original observation. As someone who keeps all fanfiction at a healthy restraining-order-radius at all times, I’d never have made the connection in reinterpretation/characterization of classic RPG villains.
              24. illhousen says:
                Fun fact: I actually thought Papyrus was going to be Shinji of Undertale when I first meet him: an arrogant jerk too hungry for glory to notice how badly he’s outclassed. I was pleasantly surprised when the game went in a different direction (though in retrospect I should have expected it).

                Boss monsters really are pretty archetypic. Which, of course, is done on purpose: you’re going to remember Undertale next time you come across similar characters in other, less pacifist games.

                (Hm… does that make Sans Sakura? Gaster would be Zook then.)

              25. Roarke says:
                Hm… does that make Sans Sakura?
                I’m hard-pressed to think of characters with less in common.
              26. illhousen says:
                I see you don’t read much fanfiction.
              27. Roarke says:
                Don’t really have a reason to. What, does Undertale fanfic make Sans similar to Sakura (eugh), or does F/SN fanfic make Sakura similar to Sans (only way to go is up)?
                Speaking of making girls similar to other people, I finished the Torment beta as thoroughly as I could without doing multiple playthroughs. Honestly, if this 10-15 hour beta was all the game was, it’d still sit as one of the best games I’ve played all year, next to Undertale.
              28. illhousen says:
                The former. According to the fanfiction, Sans wears his cheerful facade as a mask to conceal the snarl of one set of neuroses or another, depending on the author (mostly clinical depression. I’m rather ambivalent towards that idea). His father (Gaster) also heavily experimented on him as a kid (or outright created him in accordance with his designs), giving him the blue eye in the process. I’ve also seen a fic where Sans was supposed to be a cornerstone of a doomsday machine, but in that one Gaster wasn’t his father.
              29. Roarke says:
                Gross. He’s multilayered and complex under the cheerful laziness, sure, and he does have enough reason just from being aware of the time-loops to despair, but I felt he was strongly characterized away from the typical “this character is a depressed woobie who can only be cured by Shirou’s penis the protagonist.”
              30. illhousen says:
                Mercifully, Sans/Frisk appear to be rare. It exists, but not in abundance.
              31. Roarke says:
                I do not want to hear anything about Undertale shipping.
              32. Ember says:
                “Sans wears his cheerful facade as a mask to conceal the snarl of one set of neuroses or another”

                That’s canon, though? It’s not entirely a facade – he genuinely loves horrid puns and other dumb jokes. But his dialogue throughout his battle is all about how he has trouble motivating himself to sincerely care about anything knowing what he does about how little any of his actions will matter in the end, and he also implies that his jovial behavior when hanging out with the protagonist was in part a calculated attempt to help them laugh off whatever negative feelings were making them lash out at the world by repeatedly resetting everything. His whole speech reads to me a LOT like the ramblings of someone suffering from depression, down to the self-deprecating uncertainty about whether it might all just be an excuse for laziness after all.

              33. illhousen says:
                Honestly, I don’t have strong opinions on it. I didn’t enjoy Sans as a character much, so I didn’t really analyze his behavior in detail. As such, for me he remained a joker who occasionally slipped into Serious Mode throughout the game.

                I can see the logic in what you’re saying, so, sure, I don’t have objections to it.

              34. Roarke says:
                That I can see being valid more than Sans being some weird construct made by Gaster or experimented on. Even then, some of the Neutral endings, such as the one where Papyrus becomes king, suggest that Sans isn’t in so deep he can’t rouse himself for anything but the best or worst endings. He’s also fairly proactive in-game despite the supposed depression (unless you kill Papyrus).
              35. Ember says:
                “People sure say stupid things when they insist on devaluing fanfiction writers as a subculture at all costs, don’t they?”

                “You are so right! And before I say anything else, let me just reiterate for the thousandth time that I am WAY TOO COOL FOR FANFICTION, YOU GUYS!”

                Why do I even continue to comment or read the comments on this site anymore? Maybe if I just burn the bridge instead of continuing to try to play nice I can break the habit once and for all!

                Tell you what, next time you or anyone else sees me commenting here, why don’t you all just immediately comment to remind me that hysterical~ girly opinions no longer have any place on this blog started by a woman about as deep into fanfic culture as it’s possible to get?

              36. Roarke says:
                Okay, no, you’re right and I owe you an apology. I am sorry and it was rude and conceited of me to act that way. That’s a bad habit I picked up in who-knows-which online community, but it doesn’t excuse my behavior. Won’t happen again.
              37. actonthat says:
                Can I ask what’d you’d like to see in comment moderation?

                We’ve always had a hands-off policy, but it was more effective when Farla and I weren’t as busy and were able to be more involved in the comments and deal with people one-on-one who were being jerks. I very much don’t want this to become like Escher Girls where you can only comment agreeing or das_sporking and its batshit Cult of Nice, but I also have been disconcerted lately not just with some of the things being said, but with the indignant reactions people give to getting called out, and I haven’t had the time or emotional energy to deal with it that I used to.

                (eta: I also think in media criticism it’s important to let the big antifeminist talking points play out so that there’s a record of what they say and how we explain their wrongness. The reactions media crit engenders are a massive part of its current climate. But… that goes back again to being something that worked better when Farla and I were dealing with it more regularly and patiently.)

                I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’m not sure what the solution is. I want a space where people can make mistakes and say ‘wrong’ things without being shouted down, but not where they feel free to stomp all over others. I think we’ve tilted too far in the wrong direction lately.

                (This isn’t directed at you Roarke, fyi. She called you out, you apologized, that’s exactly the tenor I think the interactions have been missing lately.)

                (Also also, @ember (or anyone), if you’d rather email me your response feel free.)

              38. SpoonyViking says:
                Sorry to intrude, but would you mind if I put in my two cents, Act? It can be in private, if you’d prefer.
              39. actonthat says:
                Honestly, it’s not your interests I’m worried aren’t being protected here.
              40. SpoonyViking says:
                Oh. I just assumed, with the “(or anyone)”… But never mind, fair enough. :-)
              41. Roarke says:
                Mm. Yeah, again, my bad. I didn’t see what my comments had to do everything she said (no mention of hysteria/girliness, though maybe fanfiction is female-dominant so it was taken as a gendered thing), but it was pretty clear she’d felt harm from what I said and that’s typically all it takes to get an apology from me.
                It’s really awkward to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, though. It’s really bothered me the past few days and I appreciate your reassurance.
              42. actonthat says:
                Fanfic is indeed perceived as being a “girly” thing. Whether or not that’s true across the board I’m not sure, but it definitely has been in my experience. Basically everyone I met in fanfic was a woman, and ‘fandom’ as it exists in the blogosphere (tumblr in particular) is heavily, heavily non-cis-male.

                Here’s an interesting article about it: http://entertainment.time.com/2012/09/12/introducing-the-new-face-of-fandom-women/

                I’ve seen some interesting theories as to why, but the one that made the most sense to me was that, essentially, women and other marginalized groups have historically *had* to create their own stories to have a voice, so when you found a fandom you liked, the natural inclination for fanboys was gatekeeping (ie, this represents me and is perfect how it is, so no changing it ever), but for fangirls creation. Which explains a lot of the weirdness and vitriol you get in nerd communities. Fandom-culture dynamics are fascinating.

              43. Roarke says:
                Hm, yeah, that is interesting. It kind of paints dudes in a weird light if our main contribution to fandom is just sitting there and appreciating the original work while everyone else tries adding to it. I mean, my main kick is just analyzing and arguing over the original, I don’t look for more than that. The complacency is real.
              44. Farla says:
                Hm. It probably comes down to copyright/legitimacy. At the beginning of last century, you see plenty of male writers playing with each other’s stuff.

                As things codify, guys have a better chance of getting into the existing structure – you can write Batman comics or Star Wars books. But, you have to agree to follow the established rules (or the gatekeepers will make sure you never get a job), so guy fandom ends up being all about collecting and knowing all as much of existing fandom as possible (and trying to absorb the very outlook of those in charge to increase your changes) in the hopes of being a pure enough fan to make the jump.

                I wonder if the fact brony fandom produced so many decidedly unfitting products has anything to do with the fact that they’re unlikely to get in by official channels so their outlook is closer to the unwanted female fandoms of other media.

              45. Roarke says:
                Yeah, I could see that being a factor for a decent part of the population, but I don’t feel like it explains all of it. There are too many guys who have no interest in the creation process and just want the result. It’s their entertainment and they’re just viciously hostile to anyone who looks like it’s going to ‘ruin’ it.
              46. actonthat says:
                The other side of it is that when women attempt to catalogue and discuss fandom like men, they get chased out. Think Anita Sarkeesian, or even the more low-key hate someone like Olivia Munn gets. The dual threat thats a) someone Not Like Us is trying to participate and b) that they’ll inevitably bring up the sexist/racist elephants all over the room mean they have to be pushed out.

                I enjoyed the fanfic scene but found rather quickly that meta discussions was what I liked better. I obviously love gushing about original works and am a big canon stickler myself, but to do it on a bigger medium than this blog would mean a kind of harassment I am not emotionally equipped to deal with.

              47. Roarke says:
                I obviously love gushing about original works and am a big canon stickler myself, but to do it on a bigger medium than this blog would mean a kind of harassment I am not emotionally equipped to deal with.

                Yeah, likewise. There’s a reason I’m here instead of on the larger Type-Moon/gaming forums, or on a social media site, or wherever.

              48. actonthat says:
                Also… (another general comment): It wasn’t so much that you broke the camel’s back so much as I’ve had my eye on this for a while but Ember saying she’s felt so disenfranchised made me want to acknowledge that yes, things aren’t great.

                I’m also aware that I am part of the reason things aren’t great — my inability to thoughtfully respond to good comments while taking out frustration on bad ones has been making me really unhappy with my own behavior over the past several months, and I’ve been hopeful that in two weeks when I start a new job and basically cut my hours in half, I’ll go back to the kind of community-runner I was a year or two ago, when I could actually talk to people like a rational human. My job right now is terrible and has basically consumed my life, relationships and all of my hobbies. I miss being part of this place as “pleasant person who says book things” instead of “irritable mod who never follows up on what she says she’ll do.” I also miss actually having time to read books and play games and walk my dogs and a million other things I’ve lost to working 55 hours a week and being bitter.

                Back when I could be thoughtfully involved the free-for-all system worked, but until I can be totally sure I can once again be in that Happy Place something else clearly needs to be done. What that is… idk.

              49. Ember says:
                Sure, but now Asriel’s whole backstory and motivation have been gutted. Unless you leave the first human there as an ENTIRELY posthumous character, and in that case, by taking away their status as the player’s true access point to the world, you’d lose a lot of the emotional resonance from the mistaken identity plot point.
              50. Roarke says:
                Yes, you’re right. Chara should not be cut fully. I should have read miniFarla/illhousen’s comments completely before agreeing.

                I think the emotional resonance from the mistaken identity is still there if Chara is posthumous. The important part isn’t that Chara lingers, it’s that Asriel still misses Chara, whether or not they still exist.

                Chara should just be an entirely posthumous character.

              51. Ember says:
                Mm, I think I didn’t communicate what I meant about emotional resonance very well. There’s something really interesting and poetic in a way that I am currently having trouble putting words to about the PLAYER’S misunderstanding about who exactly it is we’re playing, and the way that interacts with Asriel’s projection.
              52. Mini-Farla says:
                But you sort of lose that in retrospect when you go “Wait, if the name is supposed to represent me/my RPG character, why is it appearing before Chara becomes that?” It’s a clever idea but the pieces don’t all fit right unless Chara was always the demon, and we’ve just established that they weren’t.

                This is also undermined by the fact that the Frisk-as-established-character-and-Chara-as-PC dynamic doesn’t actually work the way the game says it does. Looking at how they actually act, Chara is the established character with their own stake in the world (due to their role in the backstory), while Frisk is the player avatar with no clear connection to the world itself who makes decisions that only make sense from a player perspective (leaving the ruins and then choosing to stay with Toriel anyway — sure you could leave, but I think it’s pretty clear that Frisk does not, in fact, have places to go). In order for that to wok, I think Frisk would need to wrest control from the player and have lines of their own just like Chara does, but we’re allowed to control them right up until the end.

              53. Ember says:
                Shanking Goatdad wouldn’t work because Chara didn’t just want to leave the Underground, they wanted more firepower. No one knows what a human absorbing a boss monster soul does, but a monster absorbing a human soul = WMD. They are just as callous toward their own body as they are toward everyone around them in their pursuit of Winning, so why not just scrap it altogether and trade up for something more powerful?
              54. Roarke says:
                Yeah, that is true, though that does still leave questions open. For instance, how could Chara have known that they would have some measure of control over Asriel once he took in their soul? They had to know that Asriel is like the sweetest little kid (literally a kid, dohoho) so it’s not like he’s going to suddenly go all lolmurder.
              55. Ember says:
                It’s been done before, so they might have found an account of how it worked somewhere. They must have genuinely liked and trusted Asriel to some extent to feel comfortable going through with it, but they were also clearly trying to condition him to never disagree with them about anything and to see his own compassion as weakness. Those tapes are really revealing about the nature of their friendship when you rewatch them with a beter idea of what’s going on in them and no questions about “wtf that’s my name am I a ghost?” to distract you.
              56. Roarke says:
                The way Asriel talked about the gestalt body, it came as a complete surprise to him that Chara had any control at all, so if they did manage to find records, they wisely kept that knowledge from their friend.
                It’s kind of funny, because you’d think Flowey would know beforehand that taking in 6 souls, hell, taking any souls at all, would be a mug’s game, since they typically end up just rebelling against you. It’s not a plot hole, I think, just something he forgot about or dismissed in the face of the temptation for ultimate power.
              57. Ember says:
                Well, Asriel won out in the end that first time! But yeah, it probably should have occurred to him that multiple souls united by a common cause of “screw this guy in particular ” might be more difficult to wrangle. Dumb little goatflower isn’t exactly known for making good decisions, though.
              58. Roarke says:
                Poor dumb goatflower.
              59. Ember says:
                I love him so much. This canon already as a murderous child villain who is secretly a sad fluffy marshmallow deep down! There’s no need to twist Chara into one!
              60. illhousen says:
                “pursuit of Winning”

                So… what you’re saying is that Chara is Ender.

              61. Ember says:
                I never read those. By the time they got on my radar, OSC’s extreme crazy was common knowledge.
              62. illhousen says:
                Understandable. I would recommend reading this readthrough then: http://somethingshortandsnappy.blogspot.com/search/label/Ender%27s%20Game

                This way, you can gain knowledge of all the batshittery in Ender’s Game without paying money or engaging with the text directly.

              63. Socordya says:
                For the extremely abriged version, there’s:

                http://the-toast.net/2015/08/13/enders-game/

              64. illhousen says:
                Heh, that is a faithful version.

                Somehow I’ve managed to forget about political blogging as a way to take over the world.

              65. SpoonyViking says:
                Wait, “buggers”? Seriously?
                Here I thought Card had only gone crazy in his later years…
              66. illhousen says:
                Oh, no, he was always crazy, people were just less inclined to notice stuff like that back in… 80s? I think?

                Ender’s Game has an… interesting relationship with homophobia and homoeroticism, to put it mildly. I would again direct you to the readthrough which does a nice job of analyzing it, but for now it’s sufficient to say that Bonzo’s death involves him and Ender wrestling naked in a shower, and it is not an isolated incident.

              67. SpoonyViking says:
                Finished the readthrough. A very interesting analysis! I’ve also lost all interest in reading the book for myself. :-P
              68. illhousen says:
                Speaker for the Dead readthrough (on the same blog) is worth checking out too. You know, normally problems in a given series can be traced to a few core issues, which makes critiquing sequels difficult since there are only so many ways to say something is wrong.

                This is not the case here.

                Highlights include (but are in no way limited to):

                – more prominent female characters, which means misogyny is also more prominent ad varied;

                – Ender dates the Internet. No, not dates on the Internet, you read right the first time;

                – abusive husband is the true victim here because the wive he was beating was asking for it. No, seriously;

                – Everything to do with the new aliens. Just… so many awful tropes;

                – the purpose of women is procreation. If they can’t breed, they may as well die because saving them “would upset the balance of alien society.” Giving aliens fuckton of new technology allowing the friendly tribe to conquer every other tribe does not upset the balance, by contrast.

              69. SpoonyViking says:
                Oh, my. Ok, interest definitely piqued!
              70. Roarke says:
                You aren’t missing much even if he wasn’t batshit.
              71. illhousen says:
                Now, now, don’t say it. Ember’s missing on Ender killing a six year old boy in the first chapter and being validated by the narrative for it. That must be seen (well, read) to be believed.
              72. Roarke says:
                I did say “you aren’t missing much“.
              73. SpoonyViking says:
                …Huh. I’ve heard “Ender’s Game” was actually a critique of that sort of thing due to [plot twist at the end].
              74. illhousen says:
                Well, technically it is, but the narrative is a mess and the final message doesn’t come across strongly enough.

                Card’s beliefs don’t help matters. I’m not talking here about his homophobia and other reactionary beliefs, to be precise, I’m talking about his argument on the matter of intent.

                Basically, Card is really, really big on intent trumping any and all actions when it comes to moral judgment, and Ender’s Game is constructed to illustrate and validate this viewpoint. Card’s goal was to create a scenario where an innocent person would commit the most heinous crime (genocide) but remain innocent afterwards, hence the whole thing about tricking Ender into killing the aliens under the guise of a game.

                Deaths of two kids by Ender’s hand serve the same purpose: he didn’t mean for them to die, so he couldn’t be blamed for it.

                Other issues with the message aside (intent is not fucking magic, etc.), that means that the narrative has by necessity to gloss over little details like Ender totally intending to brutally beat those kids to the inch of their life (and, OK, with Bonzo he can legitimately claim self-defense, but the other kid was, again, six year old and his greatest crime was to push Ender around on a playground).

                What’s especially funny about all of this is that Ender’s greatest strength is supposed to be super-empathy. No, seriously.

              75. Roarke says:
                Well, his power isn’t supposed to be super-empathy. The reason he was picked over his sociopath brother and bleeding heart sister (edit: hey look, sexism!) was because he occupied that precarious middle ground. He has just enough empathy to understand people and thereby figure out the best way to hurt/beat/kill them, but not enough to refrain from actually doing it.

                It’s a bit of a cheap out one way or the other, though, because it’s painted as a childlike naivete where he understands that hitting people in vital regions is a good way to put them down, but not that hitting people in vital regions is also a good way to put them down for good.

              76. illhousen says:
                Well, what you say about the reason why he was picked instead of his siblings* is true, but the idea of empathy being vitally important to his victory is pushed hard and from the start. It’s pretty often mentioned by the Faceless Preamble Voices, we have scenes of Ender wondering about what it is to be an alien and trying to imagine such life and think like them, and in the end the aliens could only communicate with him due to his brain being wired right for it. There are passages like “Ender would know the enemy as the enemy knows themselves, love them as they love themselves, and that’s what would allow him to destroy them.” (Not a direct quote, but pretty close.)

                It’s just… he doesn’t really do it with humans.

                *And yes, very much gender essentialism here. Female = kindness and the lack of aggression, and it’s an objective fact there are way less girls in the Battle School than boys because they apparently don’t cut it. One may argue in-universe sexism, but I don’t think it holds up, given the narrative seems to support that view.

              77. SpoonyViking says:
                Hm, I see. Well, I didn’t read the book, but it does seem like he shouldn’t be held guilty of the first one (although he is very guilty of the second one).
                One question, though: does Ender at least feel guilty about what he’s unwittingly done?
              78. illhousen says:
                It’s hidden from him, and I’m not sure he actually finds out in the novel. He does feel guilty for genocide at least (though one may argue that it’s presented as more of a fake flaw: “Ender’s so pure, he cares even about something he shouldn’t feel guilty for”), but then there is Hive Queen’s reaction on this, which is basically assuring him that everything’s fine, they deserved what they’ve got and are very grateful for the second chance.

                Really, go read the readthrough I’ve linked. It’s fun and a lot more detailed and coherent than my ramblings here.

              79. SpoonyViking says:
                Well, my curiosity is at its maximum. I’ll check the readthrough!
              80. Socordya says:
                I actually think Toby Fox deserves some of the blame here, because Chara does have actual character revealed in the True Lab tapes and backstory, it’s just incompatible with who they are on the omnicide route. You can’t have someone be both an abstract meta-allegory and a coherent in-universe character. That’s trying to have your cake and eat it too. How you view Chara I think comes down to which version you think is real — the one who’s willing to murder everything just ’cause, or the one who was willing to kill themselves instead of just shanking Asgore despite that being the obviously better solution.

                I don’t see why her character can’t evolve over time. Having your grand plan fall apart and then actually dying is the kind of thing that can change someone’s worldview. She herself basically say she had an epiphany when resurrecting. Before her death her main motivation seemed to have been hate of humankind while after it was more thirst for power.

              81. Ember says:
                Agreed. Asriel’s “betrayal” might also have been a motivator for switching over from “kill all humans” to “kill all everyone and gain enough power to never have to rely on anyone.” They’re not a she, though.
              82. Socordya says:
                They’re not a she, though.
                Fixed
              83. Ember says:
                Thank you!
              84. illhousen says:
                Yep, that works pretty well.

                On a semi-related note, I’m reminded of the Unknown Armies demons.

                Demons there are dead people who’ve managed to avoid moving onto the afterlife by virtue of having strongwill focused entirely on a single obsessive goal that keeps them close to the world of the living and allows them to communicate with people through some channels and possess them.

                The process also strips them from any and all moral boundaries, leaving only the desire to fulfill their obsession. There is, for example, a canon demon who, it seems, was a kindly grandmother in life. She lied to a group of teens playing with magic, took control over one of them, killed a man in revenge and in the process destroyed the body of her host because she didn’t care to maintain it (that is, drink, eat, sleep, not get wounded, etc.).

              85. Mini-Farla says:
                The transition from the person Asriel & his family knew to someone who can be a metaphor for rpg players seems relatively natural in the context of the story, is what I mean.

                Yeah, you can wrangle something semi-coherent out of it, but it’s still unnecessarily convoluted. And I would still insist that an actual character cannot properly serve as a symbolic allegory, even if their personality logically leads to a superficial imitation of it.

                I was talking with Farla about this, and she says the most logical explanation relies on soullessness. I mean, if Asriel got that messed up by soullessness, it’s logical to conclude that Chara might have been a bit better before dying and becoming a soulless ghost. It is very possible that, just as Asriel had a ridiculous power fantasy OC, perhaps The Demon That Comes When You Call Its Name is who alive!Chara wanted to be, but couldn’t due to squishy human emotions getting in the way. Perhaps the real reason Chara wanted to fuse with Asriel was fear — they were too afraid to confront the village as a human, but as a superpowerful monster surely no one would be able to hurt them! Then the combination of the “betrayal” and the loss of their soul turned Chara into their own unrealistic power fantasy: the callous murderer who can kill everyone without caring. This might even fit the metaphor — the douchebros who embody the demon aren’t actually like that, they’re poseurs using video games to pretend they’re more above it all than they actually are. Chara is therefore someone who has achieved that apotheosis and become the callous RPG protagonist full-time.

                …But I still think that’s unnecessarily convoluted and way too much work for what should be a straightforward shocking reveal.

              86. Ember says:
                Maybe Chara just had to be someone from Asriel’s past because that’s needed for HIS character coherence. I think there’s an elegance to their influence on him driving the conflict in the good route and their direct intervention driving the conflict in the evil route that makes up for any convolutedness from trying to reconcile their characterization in life with their existence as a ghost.

                “And I would still insist that an actual character cannot properly serve as a symbolic allegory”

                I take it you’re not a fan of Revolutionary Girl Utena, then. :P

              87. Mini-Farla says:
                Hm, perhaps that was too general. I think an actual character cannot properly serve as a symbolic allegory when the allegory is so incredibly meta — the player thing basically shifts mediums entirely. Making someone an allegory for fairy tale roles (or… whatever Utena was trying to do, honestly I had no idea what was going on there by the end) can work, making someone an allegory for something on a completely different plane from the story doesn’t, I don’t think.

                Chara can work both as the allegory and as the awful person who ruins Asriel’s life, but not both at the same time, I don’t think.

              88. illhousen says:
                “honestly I had no idea what was going on there by the end”

                Cars are hot, the end is nigh, school sucks, the Glorious Bolshevick Revolution is upon us, but all of it doesn’t matter since you’re going to leave all that drama behind once you graduate.

                Simple, really.

              89. Ember says:
                “I had no idea what was going on there by the end”

                Gender and blame. The narrative (in the form of both actual fictional stories, e.g., fairy tales, and the subtler stories we tell about The Way the World Works), and the impossibility of living up to the narrative, and the consequences of that impossibility, and the way those consequences affect everyone but are inevitably redirected in such a way that girls take the brunt of them.

              90. Gust says:
                I haven’t played Tsukihime, so that reference goes right over my head. I did load it onto my phone though, but the controls are kinda a shit.

                My determination to not play the genocide route or sit through a LPer doing it fails me again. I mean, I have the broad strokes down, but not the little details. I think I see your point now. As mini-Farla said below, I was looking at Chara’s in-story character and not the metaphor for gaming behavior. Hmm.

                On a complete change of subject, would you ever write about Seeking Mr. Eaten’s Name from Fallen London? It sounds right up your alley.

              91. illhousen says:
                I was actually talking about Kara no Kyoukai, though the confusion is understandable. I would suggest reading/watching it at the earliest opportunity because it’s awesome.

                Anyway, the gist of it is that the main character has a split personality, as is common in her family of demon hunters. The way it’s supposed to work, one of her personas would act as an everyday mask and handle mundane affairs, while another would come out only during the fight to murderize everyone.

                It… didn’t work out all that well for her.

                “On a complete change of subject, would you ever write about Seeking Mr.
                Eaten’s Name from Fallen London? It sounds right up your alley.”

                I’ve lost interest in Fallen London some time back. Too much grinding to worry about, too few concrete goals.

              92. Roarke says:
                It didn’t turn out well in the story, but it still does appear to be a pretty apt metaphor for the ruthless gamer mind behind the RPG protagonist. One personality does the quests and conversations where you try to get the best results, then the switch gets flipped for combat and Priority One is to kill everything that moves.

                It’s kind of ironic because Undertale’s Genocide Run makes me wish other RPG’s had fully-realized evil playthroughs. Typically in a wRPG, the evil path plays out exactly the same as the good path on a macro level, i.e. you kill the same end boss and accomplish the same end goal. The only difference is that you’re more of a dick along the way and you get fewer rewards from quests and such.

                Undertale’s Genocide run kind of underlines this hypocrisy not only on the part of the gamers but on the developers, too. They’re the ones who created those choices and broadened the limits of the game to allow atrocities, but they put in a pretty hollow, half-assed effort into it. I have to give Toby Fox credit for putting serious thought and effort into bringing an evil playthrough to its logical conclusion.

          2. Farla says:
            I can’t imagine what you mean about softnarracharaperfectcinnamonbun, that theory is holds up so incredibly well.
            1. illhousen says:
              Oh God… Oh God…

              I have horrible flashbacks to other fandoms now.

              That’s how bashing starts, people: someone devises a headcanon, something doesn’t fit into it, instead of revisiting the original theory and conclude it’s wrong people use it to proclaim characters idiots/monsters depending on how it doesn’t fit.

              So… should be expect Gendo!Toriel anytime soon?

              Reply
              1. Farla says:
                Nah, most popular softcharaer is more into bashing Asriel as being the worst person.

                SU fandom is actually worse about that – I swear there isn’t even that honeymoon period, it’s straight up “Which character can I bash as an abusive *ist by saying someone else is trans?”

              2. illhousen says:
                …Wait, Asriel? At first misread it as Asgore, who would make sense as a bashing target given his plan. But… Asriel? As in, the kid whose greatest flaw was to stand up against his friend too late?

                What, do such stories portray the village Asriel and Chara came across as complete monsters who were all engaging in Chara’s abuse so their death is totally justified or something?

              3. Farla says:
                See, Asriel was too much of a doormat, which wasn’t exactly what Chara needed, he should’ve been a doormat in a slightly different manner that would’ve been better for Chara.

                Check out Uncommon Time for more on how giving up everything trying to make the other person happy still isn’t good enough you abusive piece of shit grovel harder!!!

              4. Ember says:
                “What, do such stories portray the village Asriel and Chara came across
                as complete monsters who were all engaging in Chara’s abuse so their
                death is totally justified or something?”

                It’s irrelevant whether every last one of them was actively abusing Chara, because they all let it happen, and therefore Chara is justified in passing whatever judgement on them they choose. The plan was only bad because Chara got hurt selflessly throwing their own life away to save monsterkind, and Asriel should have never let them do that, but also he should have been careful not to step on their autonomy while stopping them from doing that, because an abused kid’s autonomy is the single most important thing ever and should never be interfered with no matter how many people die as a result. (Again: see Uncommon Time.)

              5. Ember says:
                The linked post was a troll (check the timestamp) but it seems to have been reblogged by people who thought it made perfect sense.
              6. illhousen says:
                Hm, not sure if it’s better or not. Well, at least people don’t actively search for reasons to bash Toriel, just repeat stuff they came across. That’s something?
          3. Ember says:
            ON THE TOPIC OF RECS, if anyone wants to understand where Softchara came from, I highly recommend playing or watching the YouTube LP of a free indie RPG called Uncommon Time. It was created by an Undertale BNF before Undertale was a thing, and it explains an awful lot.
            1. illhousen says:
              Is it a genuine rec or “if you want to see the root of batshittery” kind of deal? Judging by synopsis, the game could go either pretty well or horribly, horribly wrong.
              Reply
              1. Ember says:
                It’s definitely a “down the rabbit hole” kind of deal. It’s certainly an ambitious story, and there are some good and genuinely interesting ideas in there, but… Well. I brought it up specifically in the context of softchara for a reason.

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