Why Representation (Still) Matters

Why Representation (Still) Matters

A couple of weeks ago, a member of my DnD group made comments about video game characters. I’m paraphrasing to cut the cussing, but he basically said that he doesn’t care and it doesn’t matter what sexuality characters are or gender identity. He just wants solid, fun characters to play with and play against. I’m not going to explain any more of the situation, but I will leave the thoughts that his comment stirred up for me, because I feel like they are important thoughts for our future audience to know about our mindset for creating this game.

We all want solid, fun characters to play as and play off of in our game. No arguments there. The problem is, anyone who is part of the LGBTQA+ community, or even someone who isn’t but is a girl, has to fight for equal representation. Not just representation–because then you can argue that we are there. There’s female options in Overwatch, in World of Warcraft, in Pokemon. The problem is, they aren’t equal to the male characters. It’s why arguments that we don’t still need to push representation drives me nuts. Yes, it’s better–I can play as a girl when I make a Pokemon run. No, I’m still not satisfied because where is my Zelda equivalent of Link? Why are there still more than 75% of the fleshed out characters being male and most of the remaining females don’t have as much dialogue or action?

Most women don’t pass what I call the 50/66 rule. What’s the 50/66 rule? It means that 50% of the dialogue and actions in the game–not bios, not in guides, but in the actual game–belong to a female character. The 66 part of the rule is 66% of the character’s skin has to be covered, minimum, and they have to still be dressed practical for what they are. For example, I don’t expect bards to be dressed from head to toe in armor, but I don’t want them to be naked or effectively dressed in underwear and scarves (if that) either. I do expect my knight to wear real armor, not chain mail bikini’s by any other name or literal breast plates. True fact, there isn’t a single GOOD dollmaker out there that lets you create a female knight that doesn’t ruin the armor to do it. NOT ONE. (I’ve looked. If you have one, feel free to share!!!) And those are simple flash dollmakers, much less a more serious game.

Aside from a few exceptions, LGBTQA+ content is over fetishized or just not there. If it is there, it’s mentioned in a character bio and that’s about it. A lot of the reason why the Dragon Age games and the new Fire Emblem game are being cheered as hard as they are is because they reach to so many normally ignored demographics, and while other games are picking up on this trend, it’s an uphill battle. (I will say that this is getting better faster than the issue with female characters, but again, we still have a long way to go, so I don’t want either to stop or get more focus than the others.)

The only thing this person didn’t bring up is race, but even there, I wish there was more variety to the characters. I don’t want to see American interpretations of Eastern cultures, I want to see people authentic to those cultures create those characters, to actually show us what they see. I want the ratios to be closer to what they actually are in the world. I want exposure to the real culture, the real way things are done, not the way that is portrayed in cartoons or the occasional art film.

So how is Mystic Riders any different? We do try to include a wide variety of countries for background, with a heavier focus on Europe only because that is the country we start with. Why? Because that’s where Ginny and I have the background. Will we stay there? Ohhh no. We have plans. But we want the people to have joined us who have the real, in-depth knowledge we can never have before we carry out those plans. Do we make representation the center most core of the game? No, because then it does what I was rallying against earlier–it makes it done just for representation’s sake, meaning it’s superficial and frequently not as enriching and engaging as I want.

But what I really want people to take away from this post is representation still matters. We still need to fight for those good, solid characters who are female, who are gay, who are trans, who are from another culture than American, and every combination in between. Trying to deride a game for working on that as well as bolstering the strong story hooks isn’t being an activist, it’s you actually trying to erase the small steps have been taken, when we need to be working on taking bigger ones.

So, Boarding Schools Are a Thing Here…

So, Boarding Schools Are a Thing Here…

(In our defense, boarding schools is at least one of my favorite tropes, I am endlessly amused by them if they are done right.)

One of the goals of the core game from the player standpoint is getting a scholarship to attend the Royal Riding Academy of Astranar. It is considered one of the most elite riding schools in the world, and for good reason! Besides giving its students a quality education, it always turns out quality riders. (And you know, witches technically, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) So what’s up with this world-famous school?

Besides the collection of winners from the different districts and from the group competition at the end of the summer who win scholarships, other students are also able to attend, provided they can pass the entrance exam. Besides high-level academics, equestrian skills, and active recreational activities, the board also looks for what many think is an X factor for who will be allowed entry into the school. While you don’t have to have all three of the other requirements, you definitely have to have the mysterious factor that they look for. Some of the girls from camp make it in anyway, despite not winning the scholarship, and some locals also attend. It’s a bit of a hodge-podge of people, but that’s part of what makes the environment so much fun.

And for another thing, well, it takes place in a palace. Literally. The Old Palace, as it’s called, makes up a large portion of the campus, with sections being converted to classrooms, practice rooms, lounges, and dorms rather than the spaces they were previously, and the grounds being converted in some cases to courses and the stables deeply expanded. But some passages remain nearly inaccessible…except if the right person goes looking. Dating back to the same time period as medieval Europe, the palace was closed for a few decades after the new palace completed construction, which has not helped stop the rumors of ghosts at all.

(Don’t tell those stories to Lottie, though. She’ll go running to Ves, and that’s not someone you want on your tail.)

There is a uniform that you’ll see some of the characters modeling as we start to gather artwork, but the school does allow some personalization in the forms of accessories and hairstyles. Where the school gets a little quirky is for riding competitions–it’s easy to spot who the scholarship students and who are the normal students, because they get given specific colors to wear. Rather than the small clubs of friends you experience in the summer, the school has “official” clubs that are mandatory participation in at least one because they signify your equestrian training. They have dressage, show jumping, cross country, racing, endurance, agility, and all-around, with one member each being representation on the council that serves as the leadership for the competitions. At the end of last spring semester, Jim Westhorn and Lottie Mistwaltz were made President and Vice President, respectively, so you may see them away from their districts and around the school grounds trying to work out what they want to do this upcoming school year!

Your mentors from the light side and the shadow side of the divide both attend the Royal Academy, and are happy to show you around when the new school year starts. Some other noted teachers include Mademoiselle Whistlesteel, the Russian ballet teacher who has a private dance studio in the city as well, Adelaide Gemstring, the French violinist who teaches all the music classes, and several industry specialist from the fashion world tend to poke their noses into the classes.

If you make it to the Academy though, don’t think you won’t have rivals outside the school. There’s a second boarding school, and their requirements are much more simple. They seek to excel at competition–test scores, media industries, but especially horsemanship. Sponsored by the Astranar Equestrian Federation, AEFPS (Astranar Equestrian Federation Preparatory School) is a school meant for those who want to succeed. The follow the rules to a t, just to prove that when they win, it’s because they are the best. (Now if only they would stop driving their horses into the ground to do it…)

Much like the Royal Academy, they have a uniform that is much more universally applied. To them, it doesn’t matter if you are there on scholarship or not. You are there to compete, not to work together as a team. Because of their federation ties, there is no magic in the curriculum here, so they don’t know what you are talking about in that regard (even if some of the members do have magic, they just have their heads too deep in the sand to see it). For them, it is all about placing at competition, and in fact they’ll even sabotage each other if it helps them. As a result, how well the school actually does in competition versus what they brag… Well, we’ll let you be the judge.

Some notables who attend AEFPS? Well, Rose Neptuna can sometimes be seen walking around the Diamond district in their uniform, but actually confirming her attendance is nearly impossible, the same for her best friend, Loki Tenderlily. We can confirm that Hi-Fidelity is a recent graduate, and there are conversations about perhaps world violinist Renart Mistwaltz will come to teach a special class. And you may have interest in knowing that the secret leader of the shadow rider mentors also attends…

Funny story, we were trying to decide if AEFPS was an all-girl school, and then realized two characters needed separated or there would be a dead body, so there are boys in both schools! We have a small collection of boys, but they make there presence known. Sometimes, loudly… Hopefully you’ll enjoy getting to poke around the schools and meeting the different people. (We promise not to make you attend any classes, lol.)

What Do You Want to Be?

What Do You Want to Be?

We all heard that question growing up. What are you going to do when you grow up and go to college? And it’s asked from ages 8 to 20. Since it is such a heavy part of the preteen and teenage experience, we decided to modify a common MMORPG element to suit. (Or is it old Final Fantasy? This was a Ginny thing, my knowledge of the source is vague.) That’s right, we’ve got professions.

The player has eight professions to pick from to start with, and the way I look at them is sort of like base Dungeons and Dragons sub-classes. While you can use stats and gear to identify as your main class, a.k.a. what kind of rider you are and where you put your skill focuses like a fighter picking strength and fighter feats and a rogue focusing on dexterity and ways to be sneaky, a profession lets you add an additional level of flavor (and lets you do something with all those reputation points you are hopefully earning), like being a specific type of rogue like a shadow walker or being a teamwork oriented fighter.

So what professions do we offer? Well, let’s do a short little breakdown…

Jockey

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Now, jockey is a bit of a catch-all term here. What this is really meant is someone who wants to compete with horses professionally. This could be dressage, show jumping, endurance, barrel racing, or pole bending. All that matters is a competitive spirit and a horse is involved. If you take this profession, you will always be on the look out for the best gear, the best horses, and the next race. The mentor you’ll want to seek out is Lottie in Morganite, since…she’s pretty much the only one with experience in both English and Western disciplines for more than a year except Var, and unless you share Var’s culture, that’s a no go (and Lottie has a surprising competitive streak if you can bring it out).

Entertainer

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Again, this one is a catch-all term, but the idea is this profession is for anyone who is interested in the entertainment/performance arts. From dancers and singers to actors and instrumentalists, it covers all the bases. There are opportunities to hone your dancing, singing, and other skills throughout Astranar, as long as you seek them out. As seems obvious, the Diamond Media Complex and all of its various agents and principals are the folks to seek reputation with, but there are smaller theaters and venues too, and your own mentors (whether Light or Shadow) have a camp idol group that you can help. For all of this, the person you’ll want to seek out is Viva in Citrine, who knows all about the hard work to break into the business and will be ready to offer that advice, plus she might have some cool tricks to work into dance routines from her rhythmic gymnastic days.

Farmer

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Whether its working with plants or animals (or both!), the farmers are interested in taking care of the land. Their customizable farm and stable is their dream come true to help collect different farm animals and types of crops. The local farmers are more than happy to offer tips and tricks to find rare plants or animals, and there are grannies, bakers, craftsmen (and women) and smiths with recipes or skills to help market your goods depending on your fancy. There are even rare plants and animals to be found in the Mirror World, giving you a wild new world to explore! Regardless of your focus, Len is the girl to seek out in Emerald if this floats your fancy. She’s always interested in a cause for the environment, and she even has a bonsai tree that she’ll show you if you promise to be careful.

Spa Owner

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With avatars this customizable, you know someone is going to want to be a makeover queen. Well, do we have the profession for you. Spa owners take the hair, nails, and other physical customizing to a whole new level. If you love playing with hair and make-up, you’re going to be on the hunt of Fashion Week for what is the new cutting edge. Besides playing around with every hair and character base in the game, the spa owner is going to want to get the favor of certain members of the Style Secret Service who deal with hair and make-up, such as Eden in the employ of Rose Neptuna or his brother Cain. Your mentor is (oddly) also going to be Len for this profession, she is really big on green and vegan products being used in spas, but she knows her stuff about what’s good for different skins and bodies.

Interior Designer

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If you prefer your decorating to the rooms, whelp, we have you covered there too. This profession is for the collectors of every type of wallpaper and rug we come up with, trying every combination to see what works, regardless of personal preference or style. (And there’s a lot to go around.) There are various shop owners, artists, craftspeople, and others to find, not to mention you could always learn how to make your custom furniture yourself and dye the rug the specific shade of blue to go with the tin ceiling. There are also public decorating events that could definitely use your careful eye! The mentor for this careful work is Izzy in Amethyst, whose level of matching and theme thrills the Style Secret Service and while she’s odd about her personal colors, she is always sure that her designs match people’s personalities.

Fashionista

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While spa owners may have dibs on hair and make-up, the fashionista is all about the clothes and the gear. From mixing and matching patterns and colors to perfectly working with people’s skin tones, they are all about the whole look. It doesn’t matter if they want to wear the clothes, make the clothes, or take pictures of people in the clothes, they are interested in some element of it. They also work closely with the Style Secret Service, with many designers keeping Astranar’s Fashion Week afloat–and you can imagine that Fashion Week is this profession’s Christmas! Some noted designers and stylists to meet up with are Arabella Threadsnip, Capucine, and even hip-hop artist Hi-Fidelity (supposedly). Head over to Ruby and ask for Ves if you want her advice on fashion, whether its her own punk or any of the others in Astranar–after being dorm mates with Lottie, she can handle anything.

Archaeologist

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This is definitely the hardest of the professions, and for those who are really invested in the lore and world building, so be warned! Archaeologists go everywhere and anywhere to help solve the mysteries of the world. While the player is always going to find the answers they seek to Astranar’s current problems, archaeologists are interested in the past ones and what they did to shape the current Astranar. (A.k.a. this is where Ginny and I get to hide all the Easter eggs, mwuahahah.) There are several explorers throughout Astranar who share this passion for history and exploration, including Trader Trouble who keeps getting himself stuck into odd problems, though at least when he gets really stuck, he pays well for help getting out of it! Sharing this love of history and exploring is Minnie in Sapphire. While you may have to deal with everything ending up on her vlog, she’s full of great places to start your adventures.

Chef

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Last but certainly not least is those who are drawn to the culinary arts. From cooks to fine dining to patisseries to bakers, the world needs more people who are willing to cook! Astranar has cuisines from all over the world and secret recipes in both the normal and Mirror World for some seriously good treats. Whatever you want to specialize in, there’s bound to be someone who can offer you advice. Some of Astranar’s top chefs include Edith Yeast, a slightly-mad food scientist, and Helen Highfoam, who helps everyone learn how to cook. The mentor of cooking is Kitty, because unlike some people *cough*Lottie*cough*Len*cough*Izzy*cough* she remembers to pack her lunch, and she knows all about nutrition and the industry from her grandparents who run a traditional inn back in Japan.

These professions just scratch the surface of the things someone can do (and we have plans for that, but remember, these are the core sub-classes, we can go into prestige classes later), but we hope can help girls realize some of their potential. Some of these professions in reality, like fashion and entertainers and chefs, are very male oriented and its hard to make it in those businesses. But by introducing some of the basic concepts of those professions, the groundwork that goes into following them, we hope we can prepare girls to succeed no matter what direction or obstacles might happen.