Artwork for podcast Pixel Therapy Pod
From God of War to Baten Kaitos: The Spectrum of Narrative Game Design with Sisi Jiang
Episode 98th December 2020 • Pixel Therapy Pod • Pixel Therapy Pod
00:00:00 01:23:47

Share Episode

Shownotes

This week we're joined by game engineer, narrative designer, and journalist Sisi Jiang (they/them)! Their work is known for covering themes of queerness and orientalism, and their critically-acclaimed game LIONKILLER got nominated for the Independent Game Festival's Excellence in Narrative award. We talk all about the importance of narrative design-- and tbh, how lots of folks have the wrong idea about narrative.

MEANWHILE, your co-hosts dissect the series that has become synonymous with Playstation: GOD OF WAR! From the history of the series, to the lessons it offers on everything from managing one's emotions to parenting as an adult survivor of abuse, there is quite a lot to unpack here. Also, Kratos can get it.

Find Sisi Jiang on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/six6jiang/

Learn more about AbleGamers: https://ablegamers.org/

About Pixel Therapy

New episodes drop every other Tuesday. Learn more at pixeltherapypod.com or follow us on social media @pixeltherapypod. If you like what you hear, please take a moment to rate us, leave us a review on Apple Podcasts (or your listening app of choice) & subscribe! Want more? Join our little community over on Patreon! https://www.patreon.com/pixeltherapypod

Transcripts

Sisi:

I think it's personally very annoying when we still

Sisi:

express shock, like, "Ooh, this game has good narrative." Like,

Sisi:

why did you expect it not to have good narrative? We should

Sisi:

just go in expecting every video game to have good narrative.

Sisi:

Like we shouldn't be surprised when it does, because that like,

Sisi:

that just brings our field lower. [music break]

Jamie:

Welcome to Pixel Therapy, the video game podcast where we

Jamie:

look at the games we play through the lens of the player,

Jamie:

where what you play is just as important as how you play it.

Jamie:

And where emotional intelligence is a critical stat. Every other

Jamie:

week, we bring on a guest who may or may not consider

Jamie:

themselves a gamer to discuss one of the games that made them

Jamie:

and changed them, and all the feelings they have about our

Jamie:

favorite pastime. I'm your co-host, Jamie pronouns she/her.

Spencer:

And I'm your co-host Spencer, pronouns they/them.

Jamie:

And this is Pixel Therapy. So pull up an armchair,

Jamie:

feel free to lie down on the couch. And let's talk about our

Jamie:

feelings. Spencer, we're gonna start with some housekeeping

Jamie:

again. Dusa with the feather duster. First, we want to start

Jamie:

with our monthly shout out for November Patreon support, which

Jamie:

goes to Adeyinka Araromi. Thank you.

Spencer:

Thanks, Yinka!

Jamie:

Thank you so much. You're a real one. We really appreciate

Jamie:

your support on Patreon. If you're listening to this and you

Jamie:

want to get your name in the credits, come check out

Jamie:

patreon.com/pixeltherapypod and join us at the $8 tier or above.

Jamie:

And we'll give you a special monthly shout out too.

Spencer:

But we should also mention that even if, you know,

Spencer:

$8 seems like more cups of coffee than you'd like to spend

Spencer:

in a month, which I totally get. We also have tiers as low as $2,

Spencer:

where we're putting monthly bonus Co-Op mode episodes, which

Spencer:

are just me and Jamie kind of like diving into different

Spencer:

gaming topics. We use these funds to help us sustain our

Spencer:

practice of compensating our guests and artists. And so if

Spencer:

you want to come check out our little baby community on

Spencer:

Patreon. That's a thing you can do.

Jamie:

Yeah, just two weeks old, just two weeks old. So come over

Jamie:

to Patreon. Check us out and maybe hit that subscribe button,

Jamie:

and you can get just more of me and Spencer. That's-if that's

Jamie:

something you're interested in.

Spencer:

Like Yinka. Be like Yinka.

Jamie:

Be like Yinka. Alright, but Yeah, seriously, though, you

Jamie:

know, we launched the Patreon two weeks ago. We have a few

Jamie:

Patreon supporters. Thank you to everyone who's supporting on

Jamie:

Patreon. Thank you even if you're not supporting on

Jamie:

Patreon. If you're just listening to the show,

Jamie:

commenting on social media, if you're taking a picture of

Jamie:

listening to the podcast and posting on social media, if

Jamie:

you're giving us reviews-we see all that and we appreciate it so

Jamie:

so much.

Spencer:

No matter how much you pay. We are still gay for you.

Jamie:

Yes, 100%. Now enough of that sappy shit, Spencer, what

Jamie:

are you playing?

Spencer:

Oh my god. Well, you said no more sappy ship, but I'm

Spencer:

sorry. I have to get right back into the sap.

Jamie:

No, I know. Really, like this, our, like the sappy shit

Jamie:

doesn't end on Pixel Therapy.

Spencer:

Oh, my God, it's right in the name. But okay. This

Spencer:

morning, I got up at five. Like I do. Thanks, anxiety. And I

Spencer:

thought that I would finish a game that I've been-it's been

Spencer:

kind of a saga. So I just finished God of War 2018. I

Spencer:

know, I know. I'm late to the party. I get it. But I mean,

Spencer:

it's timely because um, our friends at Sony just announced

Spencer:

that-and our best friends at Santa Monica studio-announced

Spencer:

that they, there would be a God of War sequel to the one that

Spencer:

came out in 2018 called to be God of War Ragnarok and so I'm

Spencer:

very excited for that in 2021 on my PS5. But anyway, I-we'll get

Spencer:

more into it. But essentially, if you've never played God of

Spencer:

War, it's a game I mean, Kratos and God of War, I feel like,

Spencer:

have largely been synonymous with PlayStation in the past

Spencer:

decade. Like it's, it's a really like defining series for the

Spencer:

platform. But essentially you play as Kratos and he is a

Spencer:

Spartan demigod and the way that he became a god was actually

Spencer:

that he was tricked by the God of War, Ares, into killing his

Spencer:

own family. And, obviously a very traumatic experience. But

Spencer:

really Kratos, the story is one of vengeance. I, so personally,

Spencer:

I never played the first three games, but-

Jamie:

There's more than three. There's like-there's three

Jamie:

numbered titles and then there's at least three or four other

Jamie:

like side stories. The God of War Games have an extensive

Jamie:

history on PlayStation. Yeah.

Spencer:

Yeah. And, like, I think that-Okay, so I again, I

Spencer:

didn't play the earlier titles but um, so early 2000s-I guess

Spencer:

I'm gonna betray myself a little bit here-but I was like in

Spencer:

elementary school, like a second grade. I was a little baby when

Spencer:

the first like God of War games were coming out. And like, I was

Spencer:

telling Jamie earlier like, I used to have nightmares about

Spencer:

Kratos, like, I think his size and the gruffness of his voice,

Spencer:

and especially the characterization of his rage.

Spencer:

Like it was something that pretty much personified all of

Spencer:

the things that like childhood me was dealing with, in a very

Spencer:

real way, with my, like, alcoholic stepfather and like my

Spencer:

abusive, like abusive interactions I was having with

Spencer:

my stepmother. And like, I just, I would have nightmares of his

Spencer:

big like white and red and angry-his face because he has

Spencer:

these big like red tattoos, Kratos does. Not my stepdad.

Spencer:

And, um, the games really glorified-like it was, I would

Spencer:

say, it's very John Wick esque in the fact that, you know, this

Spencer:

terrible, terrible thing has befallen Kratos at the very

Spencer:

beginning of this, of his adventure, and so it sort of is

Spencer:

used to justify his warpath of revenge. And, like, the games

Spencer:

were very hack 'n slash so, um, like, when I watched people

Spencer:

playing, like, what stood out to me the most was the blood and

Spencer:

the almost like gleefulness with which you would be like

Spencer:

literally bashing people's faces in. And it made me really

Spencer:

uncomfortable. And it made me-it just put me in that kind of

Spencer:

primal place that I would fall into when, for example, like I'd

Spencer:

hear my parents fighting, I knew that there was nothing I could

Spencer:

do about it. Like, I just didn't think that that was something I

Spencer:

would want to get from a game. And similarly, I saw Kratos as a

Spencer:

monster, which I think is really interesting, because of my

Spencer:

relationship to the 2018 installment of the game. But I

Spencer:

didn't want to give him the time of day, I didn't want to get to

Spencer:

know him as a person, because I felt like the way that the game

Spencer:

was marketed and the way that it was talked about, it was like

Spencer:

the things that were glorified about the game, where the

Spencer:

violence you were able to commit and the capacity of destruction

Spencer:

that you were able to do and the way that you were absolutely,

Spencer:

you know, just punishing people. And anyway, I want to pause

Spencer:

there because you actually played it Jamie, and I was

Spencer:

wondering if maybe you wanted to share some of your perspective

Spencer:

on the first few titles before we get into talking about God of

Spencer:

War 2018.

Jamie:

Yeah, sure. Yeah. So I was, I'd have to look at the

Jamie:

exact years but I think I was in like, Junior High, early High

Jamie:

School, when the God of War games started coming out. At the

Jamie:

very least, that's when I played the first one on my PlayStation

Jamie:

2. And yeah, so like, I've played-I couldn't, I couldn't

Jamie:

give you the list of all the games off the top of my head

Jamie:

because like I said, there's, there's several of them-but I

Jamie:

have played all of the God of War games over the years as they

Jamie:

came out. It's been one of my favorite franchises from

Jamie:

PlayStation during that time. I think everything you're saying

Jamie:

about it as being this like, like the glorifying of the

Jamie:

violence, I think it's absolutely there. Like I'm not

Jamie:

here to say like, "Oh, you totally misunderstood and

Jamie:

there's like this really heartfelt narrative at the

Jamie:

center of this game." Like, no. Kratos is a monster. He's

Jamie:

portrayed as a monster. When I first got into these games, one

Jamie:

of the things that drew me to them was the world building. You

Jamie:

know, I was really into-and still really like Greek

Jamie:

mythology-but was really into it at that age, Junior High going

Jamie:

into High School. Greek mythology just seemed so cool. I

Jamie:

remember there was like this series of books I got at the

Jamie:

library, and each one was about a different Greek monster,

Jamie:

Cerberus and the Gorgons and like, just devouring all that

Jamie:

stuff and being so into it, and here was a world that had those.

Jamie:

I mean, you fight Gorgons and you fight Cerberus dogs and you

Jamie:

chop their heads off. It's all-Yes, there's a ton of blood

Jamie:

and violence that's, that's really glorified, but having

Jamie:

played them I would say it all feels somewhat cartoonish. And

Jamie:

even Kratos is a bit of a cartoon, like, he literally just

Jamie:

yells, everything that he says and those entire games are just

Jamie:

a personification of rage. Like it's literally just-but to a

Jamie:

cartoonish level that it doesn't even feel real. It's just, he is

Jamie:

just a a force of nature. He goes through everything and he

Jamie:

destroys everything that he goes through. And it is a vengeance

Jamie:

quest. He was tricked, as you say, into killing his family,

Jamie:

although, as I've gotten older and kind of look back on the

Jamie:

narrative and something that I don't think the 2018 God of War,

Jamie:

like, does this explicitly, right. But in that game, he is

Jamie:

a, he's a much sadder figure. He's someone who feels regret

Jamie:

for the actions of his previous life. And I think, you know,

Jamie:

looking back at like the narrative that they told about

Jamie:

Kratos, and the way he placed blame for the death of his

Jamie:

family on Ares, the god of war. He-it was his fault. He was in a

Jamie:

bloodlust, and he was murdering innocent people in this town.

Jamie:

Yes, it was at the behest of Ares that he was sent to the

Jamie:

town. But he was there doing it, murdering innocent people,

Jamie:

busted into a church and murdered his own wife and

Jamie:

daughter, because he was in such a state that he didn't even

Jamie:

realize what he was doing. And he places that blame on Ares,

Jamie:

but it's on him. And to some extent, the third game God of

Jamie:

War III, wrestles with that a little bit. But they've-Yeah,

Jamie:

they've never been the deepest games. I think something that

Jamie:

drew me to them at that younger age is that I did have a bit of

Jamie:

an anger problem when I was younger. And I would say kind of

Jamie:

up through maybe early college. I kind of thought that being an

Jamie:

asshole, and like slamming doors, and yelling was a good

Jamie:

way to get my point across and like an appropriate way to deal

Jamie:

with my feelings. Some of that I think I got from my dad, that's

Jamie:

kind of how he has embodied anger. And, yeah, so when I felt

Jamie:

vulnerable or scared, that was how I would manifest that. If I

Jamie:

felt overwhelmed, that's how I would manifest that. And so

Jamie:

something about like Kratos being just this, like, sheer

Jamie:

driven force of rage, resonated. And similarly, like playing the

Jamie:

2018 game and seeing how he has like, managed that, and learned

Jamie:

not to just destroy everything in front of him as a way to deal

Jamie:

with his problems. Yeah, I don't know that resonated, that like

Jamie:

journey of growth resonated with me a lot. Because I definitely

Jamie:

saw that in myself at a younger age. And like, to a certain

Jamie:

point, I was glorifying that too. I was right, you know, it's

Jamie:

like, not that I ever like had the conscious thought of like,

Jamie:

"Well Kratos deals with his problems by just destroying

Jamie:

things. So I'm gonna deal with my problems by just destroying

Jamie:

things." But like, I thought that that was badass and cool.

Jamie:

And now I see that it's like childish, and doesn't really get

Jamie:

you anywhere. Um, so yeah, so it's kind of cool to see that,

Jamie:

have that growth mirrored a little bit. And I don't think

Jamie:

I'm alone in that journey. I think there's a lot of people

Jamie:

who probably played the earlier games and played 2018 God of War

Jamie:

and like, felt that growth. I think it's, if you listen to

Jamie:

Cory Barlog, the game director, talk, that's something that like

Jamie:

he wanted to bring to the story, something that he himself had

Jamie:

experienced a growth like that of being like immature and young

Jamie:

and thinking like that rage is a good way to deal with your

Jamie:

problems. And then kind of growing out of that, as you get

Jamie:

older.

Spencer:

When you burn through it, you're left picking up the

Spencer:

pieces, what's left of it anyway, of yourself, of your

Spencer:

relationships.

Jamie:

Well and you realize it's just a, it's literally just a

Jamie:

defense mechanism, right? It's just a wall to protect you from

Jamie:

trying to feel vulnerable. And when you understand that, like,

Jamie:

vulnerability is how you can make connections with people.

Spencer:

Mmm hmm.

Jamie:

Yeah, I don't know. Rage does, you know, it only

Jamie:

postpones any pain that you might be feeling it doesn't

Jamie:

actually-It's not actually a balm for it.

Spencer:

Mm hmm. Great point. Sorry, I just wanted to sit with

Spencer:

that for a moment. Also slight, slight correction. So the

Spencer:

original God of War came out in 2005. So I was in the fourth

Spencer:

grade, not the second grade again, but yeah, I was still

Spencer:

having nightmares, I guess. Judge me.

Jamie:

I still have nightmares to this day.

Spencer:

Yeah okay true.

Jamie:

Not about Kratos, but I don't think people grow out of

Jamie:

nightmares.

Spencer:

Yeah. Especially now.

Jamie:

Living a nightmare.

Spencer:

LOL. Life is the nightmare. But Oh, yeah. So just

Spencer:

for a little bit. So coming, coming up to the present, or

Spencer:

Yes, two years ago, God of War 2018. Just wanted to give a

Spencer:

little bit of context on on this game that I just played. And so

Spencer:

it's set some time after the events of God of War III where

Spencer:

Kratos actually at the end of God of War III, he stabs himself

Spencer:

with this giant magical sword. We don't really need to go into

Spencer:

the details there. And he leaves Greece and-Greece, right?

Jamie:

Yeah.

Spencer:

Sparta? And so, in the events of this game, he's

Spencer:

actually in the world of Norse mythology. He's in Midgard. And

Spencer:

he has a son named Atreus, who is absolutely amazing and

Spencer:

wonderful and charming.

Jamie:

And has a little Mohawk kind of a thing.

Spencer:

Yeah, he does. Yeah, it's a little redheaded Mohawk.

Spencer:

He's got arrows. He can basically like parkour off

Spencer:

anything, like he'll choke enemies with his, with his bow

Spencer:

for you. And he's always got your back. Just he's like a

Spencer:

little buddy. And then Kratos has developed this healthy

Spencer:

beard. Um, I don't know if he's aging or if he just looks older

Spencer:

because of the big beard, but he definitely seems a little bit-

Jamie:

They definitely aged him, I think.

Spencer:

Yeah. So he's been living in this area for an

Spencer:

undetermined amount of time. He had a partner, the mother of his

Spencer:

son, that she has since passed away, and the game opens with

Spencer:

the two of you, father and son, taking her ashes. You have this

Spencer:

mission to take her ashes to the tallest peak of this mountain.

Jamie:

Well, can I pause you one second because what the game

Jamie:

actually-the opening of this game, I will just go-I've

Jamie:

restarted this game so many times.

Spencer:

Oh, yeah. Okay.

Jamie:

Just to play the opening like 10 minutes over and over

Jamie:

again because I love it so much. First of all, I think it's so

Jamie:

fucking cool that you boot up the game and you're on the

Jamie:

opening screen. It has like continue game, start a new game,

Jamie:

load, whatever. And it's this image of Kratos with his hand on

Jamie:

a tree, on a white ash tree that has a gold handprint painted on

Jamie:

it. And when you click "new game", it literally goes right

Jamie:

from that screen into the game there's-

Spencer:

Oh yeah

Jamie:

-nothing. It just, the words on the screen drop away

Jamie:

and you realize you're watching Kratos stand there looking sadly

Jamie:

at this tree. Then he cuts the fucking tree down. Just carries

Jamie:

the tree, one handed, like over to the water you meet Atreus.

Jamie:

And they quietly row the tree back to their house. They're

Jamie:

like on a, on a river. They row it down the river back to their

Jamie:

home and add it to the pile of wood that they have there. And

Jamie:

Atreus runs into the house and the camera like follows him into

Jamie:

the house and you're in like a cinematic now, like a cutscene,

Jamie:

and he's saying this prayer over his mother's dead body that's

Jamie:

like wrapped up in cloth and like laying on the table and

Jamie:

that, that whole scene and then the way the music-He's saying

Jamie:

the prayer and he finishes the prayer and Kratos opens the door

Jamie:

behind him and the music is like "bom, bom". And they carry the

Jamie:

body out and put it on the pyre and watch it start burning

Jamie:

that-Yeah, all of that is like chills every fucking time I play

Jamie:

it. And I've probably, like done it, like 10 times. And it's just

Jamie:

like this little 10 minutes of like, introducing you to the

Jamie:

game letting you meet these two characters. And yeah.

Spencer:

Before Baldur shows up and completely fucks up your

Spencer:

shit.

Jamie:

Yeah, yep.

Spencer:

But yeah. Oh, my God. Yes. Thank you for taking us

Spencer:

there. Because it's been a few hundred hours since I last

Spencer:

experienced that opening. And yeah, I was struck immediately

Spencer:

because, I mean, Jamie basically talked about God of War to me

Spencer:

for two years. 2018 to 2020. Because every few months, I'm

Spencer:

like, "Oh, woe is me. I don't know what to play. I played

Spencer:

Persona 5 for the third time. Like, what can-What can I do?

Spencer:

There's nothing to do." And Jamie's like, "God of War. You

Spencer:

gotta try God of War."

Jamie:

Well, you had shared with me like kind of your history

Jamie:

with the series and why you wanted to kind of avoid it. And

Jamie:

so I didn't want to push too hard. But I knew that this game

Jamie:

was so dramatically different than the other ones so I'd just

Jamie:

be like, "Well, you know, if you're interested, if you think

Jamie:

maybe like you might give it a shot. You know, there's God of

Jamie:

War 2018. I don't know. It's just the best game-one of the

Jamie:

best games I've ever played. Like if you have a moment. I-you

Jamie:

know, no pressure. Check it out whenever."

Spencer:

You never tried to push me. You never, you never tried

Spencer:

to do it before I was ready, Jamie. You always are there for

Spencer:

me. But yeah, like it took me a long time. And then essentially,

Spencer:

I was playing the game earlier this year, and then I had to get

Spencer:

hand surgery. And the only game I could play one handed was The

Spencer:

Last of Us 2, so shout out Last of Us 2 accessibility features.

Spencer:

Yes, so the game opens and right away, I was sort of struck by

Spencer:

that-First of all, I mean, the game is just very cinematic in a

Spencer:

way that still feels really organic. Like, ike even games

Spencer:

like goes to Tsushima and-oh my god, I'm always gonna mention

Spencer:

that goddamn game. But like games that I-

Jamie:

Take a drink every time Spencer mentions Ghost of

Jamie:

Tsushima.

Spencer:

I know. I feel like I mention it at least once in like

Spencer:

every episode, but um, I just like the seamless-seamless-ness.

Spencer:

Is that a word? Seam-Yeah, the seamlessness of the transitions

Spencer:

and just the epic, the scale of the world around you and how you

Spencer:

simultaneously are this powerful god but you're also so small in

Spencer:

this world and how it's communicating the scale of

Spencer:

certain things and I mean, it's just a breathtaking game, but

Spencer:

more than that-I'm sorry, go ahead.

Jamie:

Oh, no, I was just gonna say-well, I had, I started it

Jamie:

again the other night because you've been talking about it and

Jamie:

I was just like, "I'm gonna play it again." And I was just-you

Jamie:

know this game's two years old, but I think graphically it still

Jamie:

really holds up.

Spencer:

Yeah

Jamie:

Like the attention to detail in the game especially on

Jamie:

the character models like the fur on Atreus's, like tunic, the

Jamie:

leather of Kratos's, like, shoulder band. All of that stuff

Jamie:

is so carefully detailed. Even like the back of Kratos's head,

Jamie:

his like bald head, and you can see all the lines of his muscles

Jamie:

and his skin? But the sound design I feel like really gives

Jamie:

a weight to the characters. That's what I was noticing, you

Jamie:

know, like you pick up that tree and the way it sounds as you

Jamie:

pick it up you can feel the weight of the tree.

Spencer:

Yeah.

Jamie:

When Kratos moves you can feel that he's this like kind of

Jamie:

heavy lumbering character in the world because of the way they

Jamie:

give the sounds of his feet on the ground.

Spencer:

Yeah.

Jamie:

When he walks into the cabin, the way the cabin floor

Jamie:

echoes under his steps. It's all like really subtle. But you were

Jamie:

saying how seamless all the transitions are. And I wonder if

Jamie:

you knew this-the the game got a lot of credit for being done,

Jamie:

it's like all in one shot, is what they said. There's no,

Jamie:

there's-everything is-everything is seamless, as you said. So

Jamie:

literally, it goes into cinematics without cuts. There's

Jamie:

no cuts in the game throughout the entire game, which was like

Jamie:

a huge achievement when they did it, and such a small thing that

Jamie:

they put a ton of work into, but I feel like makes, it really

Jamie:

makes a difference. You feel like you're playing a movie.

Spencer:

Mm hmm.

Jamie:

And I don't want to like say like, this is the only way

Jamie:

to make a game like obviously we've talked about a ton of

Jamie:

different types of, types of games. They're all really valid.

Jamie:

But getting a game like that, like there's just something

Jamie:

really special about what they were able to do with this game

Jamie:

and that level of craft.

Spencer:

You feel the love.

Jamie:

Yeah, yeah.

Spencer:

It feels like love. Like it feels like redemption.

Spencer:

So when you were just talking about how you can see the-for

Spencer:

the back of Kratos's head, like all the lines of his musculature

Spencer:

and his skin and stuff. I have to admit, I got a little turned

Spencer:

on. Kratos could get it.

Jamie:

He's pretty hot.

Spencer:

Oh, yeah. And so the sound design like the the weight

Spencer:

of the chain, like the sound of all the chains around his wrist

Spencer:

and the clanking of his weapons clacking together. And when you

Spencer:

talked about him lumbering, like yeah, you can really feel the

Spencer:

weight of his body. And it-I've never really been that aware of

Spencer:

my presence in a game before. And that really subtle sound

Spencer:

design just really made him feel that much more real to me. I

Spencer:

think too, like, I just I've never felt so, like I felt

Spencer:

emotionally invested. But I think, I think in previous games

Spencer:

too, like you're used to thinking of Kratos as an

Spencer:

unstoppable force, but I was so afraid for him throughout the

Spencer:

entire game. Like I don't know why, maybe because of Atreus and

Spencer:

his concern for Kratos. Like how he's there with you in fights

Spencer:

and he's always yelling like "Father, look out!" like

Spencer:

"Someone's about to attack you" or like, if you get killed in a

Spencer:

fight, Atreus is able to resurrect you and it's a very

Spencer:

like, intense moment where Kratos falls and Atreus falls on

Spencer:

top of you and is frantically drawing a rune on your chest and

Spencer:

then he slams the-

Jamie:

Like the health stone, right?

Spencer:

Yeah, the resurrection stone into your chest and you

Spencer:

like, like come back to life in this kind of like a-almost like

Spencer:

when someone does the electric pads when someone has a heart

Spencer:

attack.

Jamie:

Yeah, defibrillator or like an adrenaline shot.

Spencer:

Yeah, yeah. It's just, it's very visceral. It's very

Spencer:

much a story about, you know, these epic battles and

Spencer:

overcoming these odds to get to your goal. But really, the focus

Spencer:

of the story is the relationship between Atreus and Kratos. And I

Spencer:

think at the beginning, I was still very much informed by my

Spencer:

previous, let's say, predisposition for disliking

Spencer:

Kratos. I very much did not trust him. I was very defensive

Spencer:

of Atreus from the, from the start. I felt this kinship with

Spencer:

him and I was very distrusting of Kratos, even though I was

Spencer:

him. And in the beginning, like you haven't seen anything about

Spencer:

the relationship between these two up until this point, but you

Spencer:

get the sense very early on that Kratos has not been a big part

Spencer:

of Atreus's life up until this point. There's these comments

Spencer:

about how he'd always be off hunting, he'd never really be

Spencer:

around. He doesn't even call Atreus by his name, he just

Spencer:

calls him "boy." "Boy, read this. Boy, like defend yourself.

Spencer:

Boy, get ready." And he's very much just barking orders at his

Spencer:

son throughout the first portion of the game. And very slowly

Spencer:

over the course of the game, like you do get closer and, and

Spencer:

you get to a point where, you know, Kratos has to come to

Spencer:

terms with the fact that if he doesn't want, if truly he hates

Spencer:

all gods and in turn himself and he doesn't want his son to be

Spencer:

anything like him, treating him the way that he's doing now

Spencer:

continuously pushing him away, disregarding him, not allowing

Spencer:

him to help you, to talk to you, like being unemotional like

Spencer:

this, like it's just going to create, it's gonna kind of

Spencer:

perpetuate that cycle of violence and that cycle of

Spencer:

alienation that Kratos felt from his own father, Zeus, NBD.

Jamie:

Who he killed.

Spencer:

Who he killed, yes.

Jamie:

Yeah. Which which is a narrative point in the game-of

Jamie:

the fact that like, you know, I think it's important to mention

Jamie:

that Kratos really like hid who he is from Atreus. It's, it's

Jamie:

suggested that the mother knew. Faye right? That she knew who

Jamie:

Kratos was in his previous life, she knew but Atreus, at the, in

Jamie:

the first portion of the game, doesn't even know Kratos is a

Jamie:

god. Kratos has such a huge amount of shame and like self

Jamie:

loathing for what he's done and who he is that he does not

Jamie:

bring, like he has not shared any of that with Atreus and he

Jamie:

hides it from from everyone. And so this is very much a game of

Jamie:

like, learning to-I see a few different things in it, right?

Jamie:

It's like It's like Kratos, learning to accept himself and

Jamie:

understanding that only in accepting himself, can he

Jamie:

actually be a father figure for Atreus, right? Like he's got to

Jamie:

reckon with his own mistakes. He can't continue to hate himself

Jamie:

the way he does, and actually be able to be compassionate and

Jamie:

like, be a father to his son if he doesn't reconcile with his

Jamie:

own past first. And so that's like, that's a big aspect of the

Jamie:

game that I think really resonated with me, of like,

Jamie:

yeah, learning to accept who you are, flaws and all, accept that

Jamie:

you've changed and then try to, like, lean into that change and

Jamie:

continue to be a better person.

Spencer:

Yeah, and the fact that we can continue to grow better.

Spencer:

There's this refrain throughout, about how, you know, once Kratos

Spencer:

does come clean to Atreus about his past, he says, you know,

Spencer:

Atreus says, you know, "Is this what it means to be a god? Is

Spencer:

this all there is? Violence, you know, sons, killing fathers?

Spencer:

Sons, killing their mothers, brothers, killing siblings? Like

Spencer:

destruction, pain?" And Kratos says, you know, no, like, No, we

Spencer:

have to do better. You have to be better than me, about you

Spencer:

know, being better gods better fathers, better sons, better

Spencer:

people. I think that, like we talked about earlier, this game

Spencer:

definitely takes a departure in terms of recognizing that,

Spencer:

beyond violence, what, what happens when the violence is

Spencer:

over, like when the hero's journey is done? What's left and

Spencer:

I think Kratos is definitely up until this point, maybe he lived

Spencer:

a life where he wasn't thinking about the future. He was just

Spencer:

thinking about getting to the end. And now that he has a

Spencer:

legacy, it's like it's just, it was beautiful. I felt like this

Spencer:

game was sort of, it was the perfect time for me to play it.

Spencer:

And I think knowing what I knew about God of War previously and

Spencer:

how I felt about Kratos, like just as much as he was proving

Spencer:

himself to Atreus, I also felt like he was changing his

Spencer:

relationship with me. Like, I am a Kratos stan now. I love this

Spencer:

man. I think, like, late in the game, as you were talk-as you

Spencer:

were alluding to earlier, there's a scene where the two of

Spencer:

you are cast down into the pits of Helheim, which is basically

Spencer:

like the Norse Hell. It's like really cold and icy and there

Spencer:

are these visions that come to you in the winds, of memories

Spencer:

that you've had in your life, or regrets, or things that you lost

Spencer:

and that's how the souls of Helheim are tortured. And so, in

Spencer:

earlier games, Kratos actually killed his father Zeus. And as

Spencer:

he and Atreus are escaping Helheim, these ghostly specters

Spencer:

come in the form of Zeus and Kratos. And in front of the two

Spencer:

of them, Atreus sees his father killing Zeus, and Kratos sees it

Spencer:

too and the-and I mean, I think this speaks to just the the

Spencer:

quality of the acting and everything about this game, but

Spencer:

the brokenness in his voice, when he, when he, he just turns

Spencer:

to Atreus and says, like, "You saw", but the way that he says

Spencer:

"you saw" was full of so much pain and fear, but I've never

Spencer:

heard Kratos afraid. But in that moment, I really felt like just

Spencer:

his fear that his son might reject him, or maybe just the

Spencer:

idea that his son might think of him as a monster, too, or just

Spencer:

having that laid bare. It was devastating to him. And I saw, I

Spencer:

started to really understand him better in that moment. I think,

Spencer:

like, I think up until that point, I was comfortable saying

Spencer:

like, "Oh, he's so gruff and keeps Atreus at arm's length

Spencer:

because he thinks Atreus is weak." And it's like, no, he

Spencer:

thinks he himself is weak. He thinks that he himself does not

Spencer:

deserve to be here. And so I don't know. I was just, really

Spencer:

moved.

Jamie:

And I think, like, I feel like that right there is like

Jamie:

the nut of what had probably always drawn me to Kratos,

Jamie:

right? Like all of that rage that I exhibited at a younger

Jamie:

age, like all that, like it's really just masking a like deep

Jamie:

self loathing, and like fear of putting myself out there and

Jamie:

getting hurt. Putting myself out there and having anyone see, see

Jamie:

the real me, who I think is shit. And having anyone else

Jamie:

realize that. So if you put on that tough exterior, and that

Jamie:

shell, then you can protect yourself from that, right? Like,

Jamie:

I mean, not really, but that's the mindset.

Spencer:

And after that, it's like he starts to finally-Oh,

Spencer:

sorry, go ahead. Are you gonna say something more? So I was

Spencer:

just gonna mention that after that scene, you start to notice

Spencer:

that Kratos starts actually touching Atreus. Like he'll put

Spencer:

his hand on his shoulder. There-he chuckles for the first

Spencer:

time, like he actually smiles in response to something Atreus has

Spencer:

said. He starts to do things like-it's always, like I like

Spencer:

the scenes where, like, Kratos will just single handedly, like

Spencer:

pick up a giant fallen wall or boulder or something in the way.

Spencer:

But he says, like, "Come on Atreus, like help me," and, and

Spencer:

you feel like, that's a total parent. That's a total dad

Spencer:

moment. Because you know that Atreus is a little, he's like a

Spencer:

little 10 year old boy. His little spaghetti arms aren't

Spencer:

lifting shit. But just he's being a father, like he's-

Jamie:

And he's, he's trying. He's like making an like, I

Jamie:

don't know, maybe that's such a low bar to say like, Oh, he's

Jamie:

making an effort. But as someone who has like struggled so hard

Jamie:

to like, demonstrate any vulnerability like that, like, I

Jamie:

know that those little gestures from someone who's been in like,

Jamie:

that mindset are so fucking hard because every time he does that,

Jamie:

like he could, he could ask Atreus to come help. And Atreus

Jamie:

could say like, no, that's dumb. You don't need my help. And then

Jamie:

like, there's real fear of that. If you're someone who has that

Jamie:

kind of mindset. So like, those gestures might seem small, but

Jamie:

they're tough. When you have so much like loathing of yourself

Jamie:

and think so little of yourself.

Spencer:

Mm hmm. I think too from that same concept from like

Spencer:

another perspective of like, as a parent, like I think children,

Spencer:

adult children of parents who maybe have strained

Spencer:

relationships with their parents, like you can, you can

Spencer:

try again and again to communicate to your parent, you

Spencer:

know, how what they've done has hurt you, why what they've done

Spencer:

has hurt you, how they could change their behavior to treat

Spencer:

you better. Just try to establish boundaries with

Spencer:

parents and have that all be ignored. And so for a child to

Spencer:

give feedback to a parent and for that parent to actually

Spencer:

internalize that feedback and change. I think that that's a

Spencer:

really important thing to model in this game. Like, like, no,

Spencer:

parents aren't infallible, they're not always right. They

Spencer:

don't deserve respect, just because they're older than you.

Spencer:

Um, you know, like, there's a lot of lessons here too, for-I

Spencer:

mean, obviously, this game is for parents. It's not for the

Spencer:

kids. It's not for the Atreus's of the world, but I think it's

Spencer:

beautiful and important.

Jamie:

Yeah, I agree. I think the voice acting in this is

Jamie:

huge, too. I think like this game, so much of this game. What

Jamie:

makes this game special is a sum of its parts. It's got I think,

Jamie:

really well written dialogue between the characters. It's

Jamie:

that subtle sound design, the level of detail, the

Jamie:

seamlessness-ness-seamlessness-ness-Yeah, maybe it's not a word. I don't

Jamie:

know. You just you just say seamless and then you keep going

Jamie:

ssss until you stop talking.

Spencer:

Yeah, 'cause there's no seams.

Jamie:

There's no seam. But the voice acting I think is huge

Jamie:

too. You were kind of talking about like how that "you saw"

Jamie:

line is delivered and in the bit that I was playing earlier this

Jamie:

week when I restarted it. There's a, you know, a-near the

Jamie:

beginning of the game Baldur comes to the house looking

Jamie:

for-well you think that he's looking for Kratos, you

Jamie:

eventually learn that it's, a little bit of this game is like

Jamie:

a mistaken identity thing. But Baldur shows up and him and

Jamie:

Kratos fight. While they're fighting, Kratos has Atreus hide

Jamie:

under the floorboards of the house. Kratos wins the fight. He

Jamie:

goes and gets Atreus and they set off towards the mountain to

Jamie:

scatter Faye's ashes. And Atreus sees all the destruction that

Jamie:

was left behind from the fight and he says to you, he's like

Jamie:

asking Kratos all these questions and Kratos is like

Jamie:

being gruff and like giving him one word answers. And then

Jamie:

Atreus is like, "Never leave me alone again, okay?" And Kratos

Jamie:

says, "Okay." But the way that he says it, you can hear like

Jamie:

this little smile in his voice of like, recognizing that his

Jamie:

son was like, scared for him. And like all the other answers

Jamie:

were so like, "Yes. No. Okay, boy." And then it's like,

Jamie:

"Okay."

Spencer:

Oh my god, I missed that. That's-

Jamie:

It's literally one word. And it's just-Christopher Judge,

Jamie:

who plays Kratos just gives an amazing performance in this

Jamie:

game. He does so much with like, so little. You hear so much

Jamie:

emotion in these like, very brief answers.

Spencer:

You really do.

Jamie:

Yeah, I don't know. I love the game I like, I only

Jamie:

wish it was a bit shorter. So I could play through it more

Jamie:

often. Because I really, I've never completed a second

Jamie:

playthrough I usually run out of steam somewhere around the

Jamie:

midpoint. But I-it's the kind of game that I almost want to

Jamie:

experience like a movie that you watch annually. Like I want to

Jamie:

come back to it and revisit it. And that's kind of the only,

Jamie:

like, downside to games is that for the most part, they're too

Jamie:

long to really do that with.

Spencer:

Yeah, it's healing. And yeah, and that ending scene

Spencer:

like, so you find out, just to kind of tie the bow, but you

Spencer:

find out that Atreus's real name, or the name that his

Spencer:

mother wanted to give him, was Loki. And he is, I mean, he's a

Spencer:

trickster god we all know and love, but he's also kind of like

Spencer:

the harbinger of Ragnarok, which is like the end of days. And,

Spencer:

you know, Kratos kind of chuckles and is like, "Oh, Loki,

Spencer:

like that's the name your mother wanted to give you. I was the

Spencer:

one who wanted to name you Atreus." And throughout the

Spencer:

game, you know, you're learning all about the Norse mythology,

Spencer:

you're learning all about the panth-like the gods and the

Spencer:

history of the land and the whole time, you know, Kratos,

Spencer:

because he hates gods, just kind of like, "I don't care about

Spencer:

this like, whatever." He doesn't give a fuck. At the end, you

Spencer:

know, Atreus asks him like, "Well, why did you give me that

Spencer:

name?" And Kratos tells a story of, what, back when he was a

Spencer:

Spartan, Atreus was the name of a fellow warrior. Someone who no

Spencer:

matter how dire things were like, he was always smiling. He

Spencer:

always was happy he, he lifted the spirits of others. And when

Spencer:

he died, he ended up saving a ton of other people in the

Spencer:

process. And so he was someone that Kratos said that he still

Spencer:

like, some of his fondest memories or when he's, when he

Spencer:

needs comfort. He thinks about Atreus. And so like, you know, I

Spencer:

think that right there, that little reveal at the end just

Spencer:

goes to show you that even at the beginning of the game, when

Spencer:

we didn't know more about what was going on inside Kratos's

Spencer:

head, it's like he's always loved his son. And wanted

Spencer:

something better for him.

Jamie:

Yeah.

Spencer:

And blessed him with a name like that.

Jamie:

100% Well, we've been talking about a game with a

Jamie:

great narrative.

Spencer:

Listen, I can talk for another hour about God of War.

Jamie:

Yeah, no, me too. But I think we should transition now

Jamie:

into our guest.

Spencer:

I guess. If we have to. [both laughing]

Jamie:

I promise we actually want to do a podcast with guest

Jamie:

interviews. Every week, every episode, we're like, I guess we

Jamie:

should transition now. But we just love talking about video

Jamie:

games. But our guest this week is Sisi Jiang, a narrative

Jamie:

designer and video game writer. They've also written articles

Jamie:

featured on sites like Kotaku, Polygon, Vice Games, Bullet

Jamie:

Points Monthly. And they single handedly created the game

Jamie:

LIONKILLER, which got nominated for the “Excellence in

Jamie:

Narrative” Award at the 2020 Independent Games Festival.

Spencer:

Kind of a big deal.

Jamie:

Yeah, kind of a big deal. I think you wanted to say a bit

Jamie:

more about LIONKILLER?

Spencer:

Yeah, so we talked a bit about LIONKILLER in the

Spencer:

interview with Sisi. So we just wanted to give you a little bit

Spencer:

more context about it. So LIONKILLER is a choose your own

Spencer:

adventure game. It's totally text-based, where you play as a

Spencer:

young lesbian who's conscripted into the first Opium War against

Spencer:

the British Empire. You get to do everything from run a flower

Spencer:

shop, to kiss a girl, to uncover a full ass military conspiracy.

Spencer:

Interestingly, you know, I mean, I think indicative of the kind

Spencer:

of general effed-upness of the gaming industry, perhaps, this

Spencer:

game was pretty much overlooked when it was first launched. But

Spencer:

in July 2019, Sisi actually tweeted about how folks who were

Spencer:

unhappy about the current, at that time, Disney live action

Spencer:

Mulan movie could choose to support a nonbinary Chinese

Spencer:

developer instead. And that tweet, timely as it was, went a

Spencer:

little bit viral and brought a bunch of well deserved attention

Spencer:

to the game. So you can find more about this game, you can

Spencer:

just google like "LIONKILLER game". "LIONKILLER" is one word.

Spencer:

You can also find the game and download it on itch.io, it's

Spencer:

i-t-c-h-dot-i-o. It's like a game for-a website for indie

Spencer:

games. And but essentially, you know, this is a really cool

Spencer:

text-based game. Sisi is a really thoughtful, talented

Spencer:

writer, and designer, you should definitely check it out. We'll

Spencer:

talk a little bit more about it. But we really just really

Spencer:

enjoyed having the opportunity to you know-we're always talking

Spencer:

about video game narratives and stories and our emotional

Spencer:

reactions to them in this podcast. But it was cool to

Spencer:

actually be able to hear the perspective of someone who

Spencer:

actually designs those narratives themself about what

Spencer:

makes a good narrative and their experiences kind of navigating

Spencer:

the industry.

Jamie:

Yeah, yeah. And, quite unfortunately, we did have some

Jamie:

tech issues with this interview. So it's a little short, but

Jamie:

we'll catch you on the flip side of the interview, and we'll fill

Jamie:

you in with some more info we get on the other side of it. So

Jamie:

without further ado, here's our interview with Sisi Jiang.

Jamie:

[music break]

Spencer:

Hi, Sisi, thank you so much for joining us in the Pixel

Spencer:

Therapy studio. We are so happy to be sharing space with you

Spencer:

today. For folks who may not be familiar with your work, could

Spencer:

you maybe take a minute to introduce yourself, your

Spencer:

pronouns, and say a little bit about what you-what you're up

Spencer:

to, how you spend your time?

Sisi:

Okay, cool. I'm Sisi, pronouns they/them. And I am a

Sisi:

writer and narrative designer on a lot of things. Like I'm the

Sisi:

sole developer behind LIONKILLER, which was nominated

Sisi:

for the Independent Games Festival Excellence in Narrative

Sisi:

Award. And I was one of the writers on Signs of the

Sisi:

Sojourner which was just nominated for a Golden Joystick

Sisi:

Award for storytelling. And I'm currently working on a another

Sisi:

personal game that is kind of being delayed because there are

Sisi:

too many good games coming out right now. And so, like, I do

Sisi:

play a lot of games for research and unfortunately, it really is

Sisi:

for research because it is very hard to enjoy things fully when

Sisi:

you're doing it for work reasons and constantly analyzing games

Sisi:

when you're playing them. But um, yeah. So that's kind of

Sisi:

what's been happening. And it's just a really exciting time to

Sisi:

be playing narrative games right now. Because, like, there's just

Sisi:

so much good stuff going on in this, like field.

Spencer:

Sorry, wait, so are you saying that you're putting your

Spencer:

personal project on hold because there are too many good games to

Spencer:

play? [laughs]

Sisi:

Honestly, part of it's also just like, I am having some

Sisi:

engine struggles, and it's just easier to like, not go jump

Sisi:

immediately back on it when I'm, like, stuck on some technical

Sisi:

issue. And I'm just like, yeah, I mean, I'm definitely going

Sisi:

back to it. But it's just that like, right now. So like, my

Sisi:

work is constantly being influenced by what I'm playing,

Sisi:

like, to some degree. I mean, like, I mean, the design is

Sisi:

still pretty locked in because I'm, like, pretty, like, deep

Sisi:

into the production process. But it's like, it's, but it's kind

Sisi:

of like, it's kind of like, I can justify it with like, you

Sisi:

know what actually, like, there's actually some like, I'm

Sisi:

trying to, like, trying to like, see what else is going on in the

Sisi:

narrative game space. So it's all good.

Spencer:

Yeah, yeah. Cool. Yeah. So let's talk a little bit

Spencer:

about, you know, your work as a narrative designer working in

Spencer:

this narrative game space. Can you speak a little bit about

Spencer:

what this art form means to you? Like, what separates narrative

Spencer:

design from other forms?

Sisi:

Um, I mean, it's a lot of things. Some people think it's

Sisi:

writing some people think it's like, voiceover stuff, and

Sisi:

personally, I disagree. I think that's entirely different. Well,

Sisi:

I mean, well, it's contentious basically, it's contentious.

Sisi:

It's, um, it's a lot of different things. I'm really

Sisi:

hoping that narrative can really become more specialized, because

Sisi:

we cannot get narrative designers doing like 50 things

Sisi:

at once. I can't be the writer, the level designer, the UI

Sisi:

designer, the voiceover person. I mean, I think it's important

Sisi:

getting narrative on voiceover, but it's just that like, there's

Sisi:

like five different narrative jobs bundled to one. I just want

Sisi:

there to be a role that's like, that's like, I'm voiceover

Sisi:

narrative designer, you know, like, that's what I mean by when

Sisi:

I say that. It bothers me that like voiceover is narrative

Sisi:

design because I think, like, we should have way more specialized

Sisi:

roles for all these sorts of things. Because you think about

Sisi:

it, if you think about art, right? Like, there's 2D artists,

Sisi:

there's 3D artists, there's UI artists, there's VFX artists,

Sisi:

there's lighting artists. I mean, they have an artist, just

Sisi:

for the lighting, or like the technical artist. I'm just like,

Sisi:

there are like 10 different kinds of artists. But like, even

Sisi:

like in so many like big studios, we have like one person

Sisi:

doing all of it. And I just think that like I'm kind of

Sisi:

encouraged when I see a role like, Technical Narrative

Sisi:

Designer, because it shows me that they're, they've put some

Sisi:

thought into, like, you actually need people with different

Sisi:

specialties. And to like, do this kind of work. But right

Sisi:

now, I'm still like, well, I guess it's good that they have

Sisi:

figured out that Writer is a separate job from Narrative

Sisi:

Design in some studios, but it's still kind of like, we're just

Sisi:

still kind of like, the, we're still kind of in the kind of

Sisi:

like, in like new space in terms of like, what the heck is going

Sisi:

on? And like, do we need more people for this? So we're still

Sisi:

figuring it out. Um, and so it's kind of like, it's tricky, like,

Sisi:

Don't ever start, the conversation with like, like,

Sisi:

"What's the difference between narrative designer and writer?"

Sisi:

Because then you will get like, a whole lot of like,

Sisi:

contradictions, contradictory and contentious debate.

Spencer:

Right, right. Like, when we hear the word narrative,

Spencer:

I think, immediately it connotes, you know, this

Spencer:

relationship with text and, like a story, a novel, like the very

Spencer:

base of, you know, creative storytelling that we use our

Spencer:

imagination as the main way of interacting with it. What do you

Spencer:

think like when we apply narrative design to something

Spencer:

like a video game, which is inherently interactive, and sort

Spencer:

of, kind of pushes the boundaries of what a narrative

Spencer:

can be, like, what do you think this interactivity changes about

Spencer:

the way that we engage with narratives? Like, like, what

Spencer:

does this add to-

Sisi:

I mean, it doesn't have to be text, right? Because if you

Sisi:

turn off the subtitles in any video game, like, that doesn't

Sisi:

automatically mean there's no narrative design in it, like,

Sisi:

um, but I do think that in terms of like, in like queer spaces,

Sisi:

there's a tendency to think of visual novel, because, like, I

Sisi:

think that queer people have a tendency to, like, not really

Sisi:

shun the visual novel as a format. Um, so I think that's

Sisi:

why there's more credibility given to like text and text

Sisi:

boxes. Whereas in like, I guess the more prestige video game

Sisi:

space, it's more like, I think there's a lot of pressure on

Sisi:

narrative designers to prove our worth by not doing that "low

Sisi:

brow" work with visual novels. And by doing the kind of

Sisi:

narrative work that's more like voice acting dependent, more

Sisi:

like systems dependent. And I'm not a huge fan of that way of

Sisi:

thinking. Because the, because like, I think the way that like

Sisi:

voice acting gatekeepes a little bit is that voice acting costs

Sisi:

money. It costs a lot of money. And if you get trained union

Sisi:

actors or like the actors with like, big name recognition,

Sisi:

that's going to take a lot of money. So I think prestige in

Sisi:

narrative is influenced by how much money you can throw around,

Sisi:

as much as like any other kind of like game design thing, which

Sisi:

is like, like, I mean, if you spend like, like a million few

Sisi:

million dollars on graphics, then it's prestigious, like so.

Sisi:

It's like, it's definitely like a lot of this stuff I personally

Sisi:

think is influenced by money. Whereas like, it's less

Sisi:

impressive to put out a visual novel thing, because people are

Sisi:

like, "Oh, you didn't spend so much money on it." And it's

Sisi:

like, Do you know how much how much money it costs to put like,

Sisi:

a hundred thousand words of text into a thing? Um, yeah, so it's

Sisi:

a lot. And honestly, I'm not even the popular voice on this.

Sisi:

Actually, you know what? I'm on a queer podcast. I guess it's

Sisi:

just assumed that I'm not the popular voice on this. [music

Sisi:

break]

Spencer:

So what's something that you've noticed in your work

Spencer:

as a narrative designer that you wish more people knew about?

Sisi:

Um, yeah, I guess, I guess it's about like, tolerance for

Sisi:

reading between the lines, right? Because like, when

Sisi:

people, like when people from AAA, like American AAA, or like

Spencer:

Right.

Spencer:

European AAA or Canadian AAA, tell you about writing for video

Spencer:

games is that you have to be as blunt as possible because no one

Spencer:

pays attention to the text or the narrative. Nobody-you know,

Spencer:

when you're shooting things, you don't want to hear about the

Spencer:

story. I'm just like, looking at Japan very awkwardly, like,

Spencer:

seriously? People debate these gray areas, like people

Spencer:

literally will start like putting together interviews, and

Spencer:

like, start like debating over these nitty gritty, tiny details

Sisi:

So I think that's how we treat narrative and it's really

Sisi:

about chronology and about like, things that characters were

Sisi:

saying, like, on the surface versus what they weren't saying,

Sisi:

because of insecurity or something. And it's like, and

Sisi:

it's like, I think we're projecting American culture onto

Sisi:

like, video games, because I don't think gamers inherently do

Sisi:

not want to read. I think it's that like for the English

Sisi:

language audience, the industry has trained them not to read,

Sisi:

has trained them to not think about these things. Because

Sisi:

like, I mean, like, I just like, because when you look at like a

Sisi:

lot of Japanese games that have text, a lot of VN (visual novel)

Sisi:

elements, it's like, Can you just imagine someone who is

Sisi:

like, just clicking through all the text, trying to get to the

Sisi:

next bit of gameplay? Like that, just like for those kinds of

Sisi:

games where there's an audience that's kind of established,

Sisi:

like, reading as, like part of the game. They don't think of it

Sisi:

like that. Like, honestly, when I first was like, exhibiting

Sisi:

LIONKILLER at like, like game design programs at universities.

Sisi:

I literally saw people like clicking through the text. I was

Sisi:

like, what are you doing? I was like, there's nothing-there's

Sisi:

just text there's nothing-there's only text. Like,

Sisi:

it was so distressing, cuz I was just like, I get that, like,

Sisi:

capital G gamers are going to spend like thousands of dollars

Sisi:

getting a game design degree, but I was kinda like, okay,

Sisi:

like, what's going on? Um, yeah, that would not have-that does

Sisi:

not happen with some friends I've given my game to who are

Sisi:

more used to playing Japanese games. Sorry, I know, my

Sisi:

eyebrows are like doing a lot of heavy lifting in terms of like,

Sisi:

yeah. Weird. Um, I think it's really about acclimating people

Sisi:

to like expecting good narrative. Like, I think it's

Sisi:

personally very annoying when we still express shock, like, "Ooh,

Sisi:

this videogame has good narrative." I'm like, "Um, why

Sisi:

did you expect it not to have good narrative?" It's kind of

Sisi:

like-It's kind of like listening to the music in a video game and

Sisi:

being like, "Whoa, the music is actually good." It's like, were

Sisi:

you expecting the music to be bad?

Sisi:

annoying, and we should just go in expecting every video game to

Sisi:

have good narrative. Like, we shouldn't be surprised when it

Sisi:

does, because that's like, that just brings our field lower. And

Sisi:

I think that it's like weird that we're like, "Ooh, like

Sisi:

spicy. It has a good plot and the characters are like, great,"

Sisi:

and I'm just like, Okay, um-

Spencer:

What did you come here for?

Sisi:

I mean, I am definitely guilty of this sometimes because

Sisi:

I'm like, "Whoa, this game doesn't use any tropes." And

Sisi:

I'm, I'm just very guilty of this as well. But I think we

Sisi:

need to at least like, try to have some expectations in terms

Sisi:

of like, "Hmm, this story is not great, probably because they

Sisi:

haven't hired a writer." Um, because like, yeah, cuz like, a

Sisi:

lot of the times it is game designers get to do that and I'm

Sisi:

just like [sigh]

Spencer:

The writing's always the afterthought.

Sisi:

Um, I mean, we're still in that, we're in that place where

Sisi:

people are starting to realize that that's not the way to go.

Sisi:

But it's still very much like, we are definitely still treated

Sisi:

as like something the Game Designer can do, which I'm like,

Sisi:

if a game designer could write good narratives then why do we

Sisi:

have all these games, English language games that have not

Sisi:

great narrative? Um, so yeah, that's kind of my thing. Um, I'm

Sisi:

just bringing a lot of salty feelings to the forefront right

Sisi:

now.

Spencer:

Mm hmm. Yeah.

Sisi:

I mean, it's just like, and I think that so much of this

Sisi:

is because Americans, especially those in the tech spaces, who

Sisi:

like, who, um, no, just like-There's a lot of like

Sisi:

disdain for visual novels. Like you can't pitch-like if you want

Sisi:

to, like get funding from an investment from like a venture

Sisi:

capitalist to fund your game, because games like an indie game

Sisi:

can cost like a million dollars to make. And that's on like the

Sisi:

middle-low end, that's not like-there are indie games that

Sisi:

cost a whole lot more. And, um, when you're trying to get that

Sisi:

kind of money from someone who is richer and like, from a very

Sisi:

different background than you, you say visual novel, they're

Sisi:

gon