Covert Cupid ’17 Fanfic: Mindy

Note: This entry is part of this year’s Covert Cupid challenge, in which each host drew three characters from a hat and used them to write a romantic fanfiction short. You can hear them all read aloud in Episode 80 of the podcast.

It had to be a Christmas movie. Of course it had to be a Christmas movie. I strongly suspected foul play, but, when I watched the video of the Heat Miser’s song… it was actually pretty cute.
This was certainly a tough one for me — I wasn’t too familiar with any of the characters, and at first, they seemed to have absolutely nothing whatsoever in common.

Ultimately, though, I couldn’t resist the idea of matching up two sort-of-supervillains who each had a kind of creepy crack team of minions, however bizarre the pairing seemed to be. And as for Leela, well, who better to pop randomly and inexplicably into a story than a Doctor Who companion?

And, um… I love fondue. Don’t you?

I hope you enjoy the story! -Mindy

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Covert Cupid Challenge: Mindy

by Mindy

This was, as I say on the podcast, my First Fic Evar!!!  I was so proud of myself for finally finishing something!  It was really intimidating to try to write 1) a character from a show I’d never seen (Boyle); and 2) an enigmatic, hard-to-pin-down character from a show I love (Rose Quartz), but I had a really really fun time once I got going.  After googling around for information about Boyle, I found myself wondering whether Karen’s Boyle/Rose pairing was inspired by the whole Boyle/Rosa situation.  A thinkpiece at the Onion AV Club definitely influenced the ending.  I can’t wait to write my next fic!  (I *might* have some ideas about inappropriate situations for Mulder and Scully to get themselves into.)

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“Not everything is about you, Mulder:” A Small Wish for the New Series

-by Mindy

I literally cannot express to you how excited I am to see the X-Files return to television this January on Fox.  Cannot. Express.  I can’t wait to see all my old friends, and frankly, I’m anxious to see just how the heck they will accomplish the setup and the dismount alone, let alone the promised mix of monster-of-the-week and mytharc in the middle.  But of course if you ask me the bit I’m the most excited about, it’s hands down, no contest: seeing more Scully.  Where is she now?  Has she changed?  What is her life like?  What kind of adventures has she had while we weren’t watching?

I’m not alone in saying that Scully was and is a very influential character for me personally.  She’s one of the few characters I’ve really both identified with and aspired to be like — an uber-competent badass professional woman, wry but not goofy, who knows her shit, and who wore kind of terrible suits for a couple seasons there (let’s never speak about my first couple years out of grad school, guys).

She’s not completely un-problematic, though.  Despite all her awesomeness, and all that she has done for women in science, the X-Files’s treatment of my favorite agent can whip back and forth from feminist to backwards in the blink of an eye.  On that note, I have a short wishlist for you:

A Desk for Scully

MulderScullyDesk

In the excellent fourth season episode Never Again, Scully finally asks Mulder (after four years of sometimes creative fan complaints), “Why don’t I have a desk?” Mulder responds that he thought she had an “area.”

In fact, the iconic X-Files office has one desk, with one Fox Mulder nameplate on it.  Despite Scully’s single episode of getting riled up over the situation, it didn’t change.

By the time of the eighth season episode Patience, when Mulder has been abducted by aliens, and Agent John Doggett is Scully’s new partner, Scully says (after staring mournfully at Mulder’s nameplate), “I never had a desk in here, Agent Doggett, but I’ll see that you get one.”

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I don’t hold out much hope for poor Scully getting a nameplate, but I feel strongly about this: she deserves it.  These two are (or should be) equal partners, and she’s an experienced doctor and government agent.  By now in 2015 — very experienced.  After all she’s been through and all she’s done, she deserves more than a little respect.  And I don’t care how hard it is, set designers and scriptwriters, that means more than just an imaginary “area.”

It took four seasons to even mention the problem, and by now, it’s way past time to fix it.  Treat Scully like a professional and give her a damn desk.

I Choose You!: Some Musings on Modern Player Agency

by Mindy

As I alluded to in my last post, I am totally fascinated by the interactivity-quotient (IQ?) of story-based games: what makes choices meaningful, and what makes them feel pointless?

Shallow, half-hearted player agency in games can be ineffective to the point of self-parody: witness the famed “press X to pay respects” bit in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (see this gallery for a host of examples of this phenomenon). Such moments (when not intentionally played for laughs) pour ice water over a player’s suspension of disbelief, and remind them: “This is just a game.”

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At times, I worry that RPG gaming has tilted a bit too far into giving players the feeling of agency at the cost of other qualities. It is easy to come to the mistaken belief that player agency and player investment go hand in hand. Sandbox games, for example, can feel anarchic and pointless at times – at least in me, they tend to inspire the ennui of “I can do anything!…. So what?” It’s worth remembering that impactful player choices come at a cost – they spread the resources of the writers and devs necessarily thinner. And we sometimes forget in modern gaming that branching narratives are neither necessary nor sufficient to create a game that is deeply compelling and engaging on a character and story level. Hundreds of games (Portal 2 and Final Fantasy 7 spring to mind as examples) tell stellar stories that are what they are: static.

One brilliant twist on player choice that I’m particularly excited about right now and would like to highlight is found in investigative-style indie games like Gone Home, The Sailor’s Dream, or Her Story. These games offer cunningly constructed player choice that leaves the outcome of the game utterly unaffected. Instead, player choice is essentially limited to choosing the order of information uncovered, and the extent of it.

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Her Story is particularly genius in how different a playthrough can be from player to player, notwithstanding that the same information is available to the player at all times, and the ending will never change. Upon opening Her Story, the player is confronted with a 90’s-style computer desktop. She shortly discovers that a police database is open, and that it contains solely short clips of a variety of police interviews with one woman. The database is searchable, but can only pull up the first five videos which contain the search term. The first term in the box is “Murder.” The player must pick up on hints and visual cues in the videos and at times engage in a bit of creative guesswork and free association in order to successfully brainstorm search terms. The player experiences the plot of the game as a sort of detective thriller, ramping up as more clues are revealed. Which secrets are revealed in which order has no effect on the game’s conclusion, but utterly defines the player’s experience of the story. The path the player takes through the game is defined by her own mind: What jumps out at her? What is she curious about? What shots in the dark does she decide to try in the search bar?

I am so excited about the ways in which modern games like Her Story are pushing at the boundaries of the form, and finding new ways to give players unique and personal gameplay experiences. In my own self- interest, I’m both hopeful that cutting edge games will keep playing with creative definitions of narrative choice, and that they won’t forget that a good yarn is a good yarn, even if the player doesn’t get to decide what happens in the end.

“So Happy Together:” RPG’s a deux

by Mindy

These days, RPG’s are all about player choice. Players want to feel like they can affect the outcome of a game’s story – like the actions they take have stakes. In more and more games, and in more and more ways, players themselves create story and affect the game world rather than traveling a purely linear path to a single story destination. Leaving aside for a future post the benefits and drawbacks of increased player choice, I want to talk a little about what happens when “the player” is actually two.

In my household, Bioware games (and some other such games) are games my fiancé and I play together. We are both the Warden, the Inquisitor, and Commander Shepard. Collectively. By committee. This trend started just a few months into our relationship, and infused a little domesticity into our nascent romance. Long before we shared a bedroom and a bank account, we were making life and death decisions together (Sorry, Ashley) and committing to dog ownership (“Mighty King,” the Mabari Warhound). Together we decided who to sleep with, who to get serious with (Sorry, Alaistair), and who really ought to be ruling the kingdom. These have been fun and exciting decisions (because they have been in the context of awesome games), but they have also sometimes been very hard decisions. This is not only because that’s how they were designed to be, but because on a meta level, they involved some complicated choices about gaming values. Yes, I said it: values.

It's a dating sim with combat! (Credit: gamesradar.com)

It’s a dating sim with combat! (Credit: gamesradar.com)

As our character shifted her weight uncomfortably from foot to foot, and a dialogue menu stared at us unyielding, the boy and I had conversations about how we should be making decisions about and for characters and a world we care for. Did we want to see the most entertaining result? Have the most in-game “success?” Make choices consistent with who we’d decided our character was? Did it matter what the consequences of the choice would be, and if so, (most controversially), should we look up the consequences of a choice on the internet? Would we reload the save? How likely were we to replay this thing anyways?

Grown-up decisions. (Credit: pc.gamespy.com)

Grown-up decisions. (Credit: pc.gamespy.com)

We proved to each other during these games that we could compromise, that we could be kind in disagreement and that when a decision one of us took the lead on turned out bad – we’d mock, but we wouldn’t be mean. We learned together that creating simple character concepts helped us to ease the challenge of choice and make satisfying decisions. In the second two Mass Effect games, for example, Commander Shepard’s unspoken tagline in our house – almost like “in bed” appended to fortune cookie fortunes — was “There’s a war on!” It ranged from comic to grim to tragic to flirty at each turn of the plot. Games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age created running gags for us, gave us a passel of mutual friends we still love to gossip about, and offered us a world to explore and dream and speculate about and create together.

So though when I think of traditional social gaming I rarely think of RPG’s, there’s a special kind of gift RPGs offer up when played together: playing house while saving the world.