Tuesday, October 4, 2011

City of Heroes Issue 21 Review Part 2 - The New Starting Experience

Note: I made this as spoiler free as possible, but there may be some things here you don't want to read if you absolutely hate spoilers of all kinds. 

One of the new features of Issue 21 is that new characters in City of Heroes have a new starting experience which includes a new tutorial for Primal Earth characters and all new content in Atlas Park (for heroes) and Mercy Island (for villains). 

The new tutorial centers around the destruction of Galaxy City by alien forces know as Shivans. The Shivans are pretty horrible creatures, and they used meteors to obliterate the neighborhood as older players knew it. It's a rather grim place to be. 
All Primal Earth characters start here now, making it possible to have any of the basic archetypes on either side. The new tutorial does a fantastic job of introducing players to the basics of the game through the use of voice overs. Instead of expecting new players to read a wall of text, you get a man's voice doing the role playing elements of the game and a woman's voice giving you the out-of-character mechanics.

I have to say, however, that the moral choice players make as to whether or not they are a hero or a villain is kind of ham-fisted from a role playing point of view. I'm sure most people know when they're creating a character whether or not they want it to be a hero or a villain, but how it fits into the story is awkward. You're asked to make a decision based on no information and no build up. Granted, it's just the tutorial, but it's a pretty big decision, and one you can't change until level 20. 

At the end of the tutorial, you're air lifted out of Galaxy but either Longbow (if you're a hero) or Arachnos (if you're a villain) and sent to your respective starting zone. Before you leave take the time to talk to everyone you can around the helicopters and enjoy seeing some of the sights (like Dr. Aeon beating the crap out of an Arachnos soldier for no reason; always makes me laugh). There are some NPCs in that area that you can talk to that you encounter later in the game. If you talk to them, they remember it and your interaction with them is a little different because of it. That's a cool new feature that was just added, and one I hope gets used more down the road. 

Heroes go on to continue their adventures in Atlas Park where their first contact is the awkwardly named Matthew Habashy. During Habashy's arc, players have the opportunity to change the world around them by the use of a new tech called phasing. For example, if you run a gang out of an area, they stay out of that area. The world as you see it is forever changed by your actions. This is also cool new tech that I hope continues. 

Once a player is done with Habashy they are given the choice to either help Sondra Costel or Officer Fields. Both of these contacts have interesting arcs, and each utilize the new phasing tech. Of the two Fields has the more interesting story (which is actually rather gruesome), but Costel's arc has a mission in it with a very new and interesting tech. It's like nothing else in the game. My suggestion? Make lots of alts and try them all! 

Costel or Fields then sends a player on to Aaron Thiery who is the last contact in the Atlas Park story arc. Theiry's arc ties in with your previous work with the other contacts and also utilizes phasing tech. You are also given a choice at the end of the arc that gives a new player the first indication that they can be a vigilante later.

Villains continue their dastardly deeds in Mercy Island where they are given Operative Kuzmin as a contact. Kuzmin's arc, and the rest of the arcs in Mercy (just like in Atlas), using phasing technology. Once a player is done with Kuzmin's arc they are given the choice between Fire Wire or Doctor Weber. Fire Wire's arc is amusing and introduces the player to the intricacies of villainy - making alliances, lying, cheating, and making your own way. Doctor Weber's arc has a macabre sense of whimsy and left me wondering if I wanted to laugh or shudder. I enjoyed both very much for very different reasons.

Both contacts hand you off to Lt. Harris to complete the new Mercy Island experience. To be honest, I hate this arc. It comes way too close to sympathizing with rape culture for my tastes, and worse yet you can't opt out of the decision that leads you there. There is no alternative ending to this arc and it makes me very uneasy to run it. Perhaps in the future I'll write more about it, but for now I just want to say that I hate it and I'll probably never run it again. 

In addition to these arcs there are extended tutorial arcs in Atlas and Mercy, three on each side. They are in the 5 - 10, 10 - 15, and 15 - 20 level ranges. Twinshot is the contact for the Atlas Park ones and Dr. Graves is the one in Mercy. 

Both arcs expose players to mission tech they will experience later in the game - finding objectives, navigating maps, what to do when you get to a dead end, using enhancements, forming a super group, using branching dialogue, working as a team, etc. I think they're both fantastic additions to the game and will be very helpful to new and returning players. 

Twinshot's arcs definitely have the better story of the two. I find Dr. Graves' arcs to be contrived and I do not like the limited choices for the branching dialogue. I found my character having to make a lot of decisions I felt were out of character with Dr. Graves, but I did not feel that way with Twinshot. That's not to say that the Graves arcs are not helpful. In terms of learning game play, they are just as helpful as Twinshot's. They're just not as well written. 

Over all I am pleased with the Atlas and Mercy make overs (with the exception of the Lt. Harris arc), and I hope that as future zones are redone this is what we can expect more of. 

In addition to the new stories, both zones got a cosmetic make over too. Go on and explore. Where you find yourself may surprise you. 

How Breast Cancer Awareness Exploits Women

Back when I was a teenager, and a young budding feminist, I remember articles in Seventeen magazine about breast cancer awareness month. Back then, there were ads and campaigns to remind women of all ages to do self breast checks, campaigns to get poor women mammograms if they couldn't afford them, and educational information about breast health. I particularly remember this comic from my early adulthood by artist and writer Alison Bechdel
It was because of this education that I began doing self breast exams, and at the age of 16 I found a lump. It turned out to be a swollen lymph node, the result of an allergic reaction to Teen Spirit antiperspirant. But my gyno was impressed that I was doing self breast exams, and encouraged me to keep doing it. And I was proud that women were talking to other women about breast cancer and educating each other about it. 

But then the pink ribbon came along and all that went to shit. 

These days, breast cancer awareness month is all about how many items can be slapped with a pink ribbon and sold to consumers who want to feel like they're doing something but don't know how. The pink ribbon campaign only serves to exploit women, and chances are good the money you spent on a pink product didn't go to help anyone but a corporation
As Aimee Picchi writes at AOL's Daily Finance, the breast cancer-specific packaging is more an indication of savvy marketing than corporate benevolence. In some cases, there's no guarantee at all that part of your purchase price will go to a charity; Procter and Gamble will only donate two cents of your pink Swiffer purchase if you have a specific coupon that appeared in newspapers a couple of weeks ago, for instance. In others, the fine print tells you there's a cap on donations — e.g., $15,000 for Herr's Whole Grain Pretzel Ribbons — so if you buy the product after the limit's been reached, your money goes exactly where it would go if you bought the normal package. And in still other cases, such as Hershey's Bliss chocolates, the donation is not only capped (at $300,000 there), but entirely separate from sales of the product, so there's no reason at all to buy the pink package unless you like your chocolate gendered.
So not only may your money not be going where you think it should go, but a deadly and serious disease that affects mostly women (yes men can get and can die from breast cancer too, but it's not nearly as common) is being used to sell crap you don't need. No one has ever been cured by awareness. No woman has ever been spared breast cancer because you bought a tacky magnet at Bed Bath and Beyond. 

And what is "awareness" anyway? Do you really think there is someone in the US that is unaware of breast cancer? It's become such a buzz word that people nod knowingly when they hear it and seldom take the time to think about what it really means. And what it really means is that people go apeshit over the pink ribbon because they're helping. They are helping, right? Well no.
Still, one might argue that some good is being done, and no obvious harm, so why fuss? Blogger Jeanne Sather calls bullshit: "Breast cancer is a disease. Not a marketing opportunity." (At her blog, The Assertive Cancer Patient, you can see Sather sporting a T-shirt that reads "Fuck awareness. Find a cure." The "u" in "Fuck" is a pink ribbon.) Exploiting a devastating disease in order to reap greater profits — while pretending it's all about funding research, at least until you're directly questioned about the fine print — may be legal and may even be "good business," but man, is it ever icky. How many consumers realize their pink purchase is probably not doing a damned thing — or that any donation the company does make to charity is likely to be far exceeded by the extra dough they pocket by essentially tricking customers into believing every pink ribbon equals a donation? Says Sather, simply, "This is wrong."
And women with breast cancer have no way to opt out. If you have breast cancer, hell if you just have breasts, then you participate in this circus of exploitation whether you want to or not. 

And what is to be made of the fact that most of these products are stereotypically associated with women?
The ultrafeminine theme of the breast-cancer "marketplace" -- the prominence, for example, of cosmetics and jewelry -- could be understood as a response to the treatments' disastrous effects on one's looks. But the infantilizing trope is a little harder to account for, and teddy bears are not its only manifestation. A tote bag distributed to breast cancer patients by the Libby Ross Foundation (through places such as the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center) contains, among other items, a tube of Estee Lauder Perfumed Body Crème, a hot-pink satin pillowcase, an audiotape "Meditation to Help You with Chemotherapy," a small tin of peppermint pastilles, a set of three small inexpensive rhinestone bracelets, a pink-striped "journal and sketch book," and -- somewhat jarringly -- a small box of crayons. Marla Willner, one of the founders of the Libby Ross Foundation, told me that the crayons "go with the journal -- for people to express different moods, different thoughts. . ." though she admitted she has never tried to write with crayons herself. Possibly the idea is that regression to a state of childlike dependency puts one in the best frame of mind with which to endure the prolonged and toxic treatments. Or it may be that, in some versions of the prevailing gender ideology, femininity is by its nature incompatible with full adulthood -- a state of arrested development. Certainly men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not receive gifts of Matchbox cars.
 On top of this, some truly despicable thinking has arisen from all of this, and that is the notion that breast cancer awareness is about saving breasts instead of women. One of the more disgusting campaigns I have seen is Save Second Base.  On their web site, they sell such gems as this:
Kelly - Fitted T-shirt
Gross, I know. I've also seen Save the Tatas, shirts that say I <3 Boobs, etc. All of these serve to distract from the fact that breast cancer can take a woman's life. 

So what can you do? For one, stop buying this crap. Donate directly to the American Cancer Society, earmarked for breast cancer if you wish. Educate yourself about prevention - don't smoke, get healthy and active, and stop eating bad food for a start. Advocate for cleaner, carcinogen free work and public spaces while making your home a carcinogen free environment. Do self breast exams and remind other women to do so too. Get mammograms. Become a champion of breastfeeding. Encourage other women to breastfeed, and if you have children, nurse them

Like rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violence done to women, I do wish for an end to breast cancer in my life time. I just hope we get better at going about it.