Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saint Paul of Splendid and Tybir of the Red Cheek

Mich interessiert kein Gleichgewicht

Rammstein - Mann Gegen Mann

Spoilers: Torment: Tides of Numenera (Tybir) ... and I guess a minor one for Dead State if that even counts.

Back when the webcomic Something Positive still had some personality, its "heroes" set out to write a very special theater play, the very antithesis of modern sappy, politically correct tripe. You know, those fictional portrayals of, among other things, "gays as flawless superhumans who resemble a new incarnation of the noble savage more than real people."

I held off playing the zombie survival / base building / RPG / thingamajig Dead State on its release because of the bad press it received (standard release bugs mostly) and while I'll get into the game as a whole at some later date, I will say the patched-up and expanded Reanimated release (while still suffering from some minor bugs and strange design decisions) is quite stable, enjoyable and an interesting take on the old freedom / story trade-off in gaming. It resembles the first Baldur's Gate game in one respect, providing a wide array of possible companions without expanding much on their dialogue trees. Most of these companions play up the "ragged band of misfits" routine: a computer nerd with no social skills, a veterinary student trying to patch up humans as best she can, a couple of semi-competent cops, a trucker, a petty crook, etc. The females naturally tend to be portrayed as more sympathetic than the males.

And then there's Paul Rainier.
Paul is a former Army ranger turned engineer. His combat skills are among the best in the game, possibly the best all-around. He never panics. His jack-of-all-trades noncombat skills lend themselves to supporting any base improvement project. He's clean-cut, clean-shaven, clean-spoken, clean-conscienced. He never takes a day off. He's so stunningly smart and competent that he's always on both the logical and moral side of arguments. He's also, inexplicably, a sub-commander in place of the more fitting Bud. In fact the fucker's so gosh-dog-gonned angelic as to routinely reassure you that even when you contradict him he will gladly support your decisions.

He's also the only openly gay character and as per modern precepts, Paul is a gay martyr. A homo-martyr. A Homartyr. His heroic and benevolent military career was cut short by homophobia. Hell, for extra pathos, your first meeting with him occurs as he's piously burying his dead lover. Jesus fuck. Jesus fuck every apostle. Could you not just have slapped a rainbow-colored halo on this schmuck? Paul's actually so endlessly useful and so painfully personable that even I like him despite my distaste for military murderers and PC babble both. Dead State's basic concept follows the standard post-apocalyptic setting where other survivors are a bigger threat than the zombies themselves. Your would-be companions are usually useless or unlikeable or both... unless they're a nominal minority, and Paul is the... second most ludicrous of the bunch.

Dead State's developer, Double Bear Productions, was founded by Brian Mitsoda, who earned his fame by writing one of the true classic cRPGs, Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines. Though Dead State shows some of that depth, its shameful pandering to political correctness makes me wonder if Bloodlines wasn't a one-off. It also makes me curious about his exact work on Torment: Tides of Numenera, a project sharing a smaller amount of the same weakness for facetious niceness. I haven't played the patch including Mitsoda's personal creation, Oom, but TToN featured its own token ding-a-lingulator, Tybir, and Tybir is... rather less angelic.

He's still very sympathetic. He's a charmer, and even as his dark past is revealed, the player is encouraged to accept and nurture Tybir's mere contrition as character growth and appropriate penance. As I complained in my main commentary on the game, none of TToN's companions approach the edginess of Ignus or Vhailor from the original Torment, or even Dak'kon or Morte. Yet, Tybir's dishonest, self-serving and everything else we expect from a rogue and don't expect to see portrayed as part of the personality of a protected species, a champion of victimology poker. Compare the two gay love interests in Dragon Age: Origins, Leliana and Zevran (both of them rogues to boot) and you'll find nothing is ever their fault and their tales of personal tragedy are outright Dickensian.

Tybir, in contrast, owns his faults (at least eventually) and his entire life history seems as much a matter of his poor personal choices as the winds of fate. Overall a much more believable character than Saint Paul Rainier or most any other nominally homosexual character in modern media. And they still managed to ruin it by the finale.
Auvigne, Tybir's former boyfriend... hit him!
Le *gasp* !!!
Domestic violence! Oh noes! Oh the horror! Oh the humanity!
Oh, brother.
That's right, when he caught Tybir possibly ruining the reputation of the mercenary company they'd painstakingly built up by burning an entire village to the ground, betraying their employers, Auvigne popped him one. These are trained murderers we're talking about, mind you, backstabbing cut-throats. Yet this is the climax of Tybir's story, a smack, every bit as amateurish and whiny and anticlimactic as the same politically correct pandering idiocy I've been railing against in webcomics. That's the quality of writing we Kickstarted with a five million dollar boot.

Do yourselves a favor. If you're all excited about turning your product's plot or characters into an emblem of the latest hot-button issue... don't. If you know what attitude to take before you've even considered the problem, you're probably not capable of making it interesting. You may as well play the provocateur and write a deliberate parody of such cliches instead.
Make him kick a lot of puppies.

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