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Child of Light
When I decide to play Child of Light, I expect a good well written story with interesting characters, decent mechanics, and gorgeous visuals. Child of Light was a mix bag for me as I felt like the designers were really pushing to find that middle ground that resulted from the division of video games into boy games and girl games, and trying to incorporate ideas that are traditionally traits for games that were designed towards girls. However, Ubisoft Montreal fell into a pit of generalization with the development of some of the less-technical aspects.
I’m usually not one for mechanics as I can suffer through a terrible mechanics for a story. The mechanics are based on what is the standard of Japanese Role Playing Games like the Final Fantasy series pre-Playstation 2. It’s been uncommon to see these types of mechanics where there are a battle timeline to wait for a turn and everything pauses for the player to decide what action to take. There is no auto battle feature like the Shin Megami Tensei games, and no artificial intelligences for having your party members to act on their own like in the Dragon Age series. So the way to fight in the game appears to be super basic until you realizing you can do two things: use your cursor and knock the enemy back on the timer bar.
And these two mechanics aren’t rare in the game world, you can stun and prevent an enemy from taking turn like in most MMORPGS and you can use your cursor to help you in games such as Super Mario Galaxy where shoot star sprites to hinder the enemy. However, I found that Child of Light melding both concepts together made the game play much more invigorating as a player. The cursor is a ‘firefly’ which is his own character, his name is Igniculus and he is used on the map to grab treasure that is inaccessible to the main character, Aurora, despite her ability to fly. He is also used to power up objects with his own power meter, to stop spike traps, open chest, and to be used in solving puzzles. In battle, he can heal a party member or slow one enemy by placing him on the model of the character and in my case; I ended up using Igniculus in a lot of longer boss fights where I wanted to attack before the enemy attacks.
The other minor mechanics in the game are a grid system vaguely akin to Final Fantasy X and Dragon Age 2 where you can trade points to get permanent boosts to statistics of your characters and upgrade/learn spells unique to them. There is also the Oculi creation system, which utilizes items picked up during game play to either use or synthesize into new items to augment your character’s abilities. So while Child of Light’s initial battle set up is basic, it adds a complexity to the battle system by including these gimmicks to add a more unique approach to the classic RPG battle set up.
As I was playing, I only had one character died, Robert, a Bolmus archer. During one of the bosses, he received a critical hit and with a squeak he died and had to be replaced with Rubella, a healing jester. Despite my lack of death with the one exception, the game was moderately difficult for me throughout the game play to succeed. I noticed right off that one of Gee’s Learning Principles was always in play in the game: the incremental principle (210). The incremental principle is where the learning is set up in a way as steps from easy to hard. The game first has Aurora walking and pushing blocks with pop up to note what to press and in some cases what it does. Eventually, you’ll get a tutorial battle showing how to slow and interrupt enemies. At first the enemies don’t have counter attacks to expect, but about toward the end of the game’s story you are facing enemies and bosses where in that by interrupting enemies while casting may cause actions such as counter attacks, the enemy giving itself a buff, or even a paralysis status effect on the character that interrupted. This is also showing another of Gee’s Learning Principles, the bottom-up basic skills principle, where the learning is taken in steps as a basic step towards more refined skills and is never taken out of context: you learn to fight when you get a sword and you learn to jump when you get to a ledge.
With the Oculi crafting system, I’ll also notice the incremental principle in play as you craft items pass emeralds, sapphires, and rubies. The best Oculi gem for me was the spinals and have the gems placed in slot that resulted in having the party start a percentage forward on the battle timeline so that they were able to take actions faster. These were created from making diamonds from emeralds, sapphires, and rubies with onyxes from tourmaline, citrine, and amethyst. These were the best items from me since I got to hit most of the time first and made it easier for me to interrupt or heal a character.
There was also Gee’s concentrated sample principle going on in the game (210). As I noted before there were pop up text boxes in the middle of the game to help aid the player in learning the core mechanics of the battle system. After progressing in the chapters, the pop ups vanish with exception of “E” or a mouse indicating was button to push/hold to open a chest. Pop up text boxes to tell me to defend to prevent getting interrupted while casting, healing the character with Igniculus or use Igniculus to slow down an enemy disappeared.
Of course, it isn’t until the end when you get a certain party member that breaks the game. In the second to last chapter, you get Gen, a Piscean gnome, who in one branch of her grid has a spell to paralyze all and when upgraded, the final boss never attacked my party after I successful had Gen cast the spell. I used Aurora for her light spells to spam the enemy who was vulnerable to light while I alternate having Gen cast paralyze all and drinking an mp potion. Gen made the last boss battles ridiculously easy and it’s logical that she was acquired towards the end of the game.
Moving on, the visuals of the game are pretty much for me was the sale-factor. The visuals are styled in the way of watercolor. The backgrounds remind me a mix of Jan Bauer and Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of fairy tales, which is not a surprise given that the game has a theme of a fairy tale. However, I do notice that that Child of Light has some qualities of one of my favorite games: Legend of Mana, in that Ubisoft Montreal decided that the sprites were decided to look apart of the environment. There is an exception to this in that here is five main women in the game have 3D models that don’t exactly fit into the environment. While this may be a decision on Ubisoft Montreal to make so the lead characters stand out, it can sometimes look strange with the watercolor lighting.
There are a few criticisms I have in regards to the visuals. A minor one is that the hit detection on some of the areas doesn’t match up to the visuals in the out of battle over world. In one area in particular is a forest area full of thorns and I couldn’t visually tell where it was safe for Aurora to fly and how to position her to safely navigate narrows passages. The spirals of thorns often made it look like I was position to fly safely though until I move forward and collide with the thorns causing massive damage to Aurora.
There isn’t rampant sexualization of the woman characters in the game: tertiary woman sexual features weren’t exaggerated or accented, clothes worn looked more functional than eyecatching, and each of the women characters acted and sounded as having their own goals and agencies that weren’t dependent on a man. Ubisoft Montreal did well in that there aren’t big breasts or any of the scanty clothes quoted by Lee McEnany Caraher in Cassell’s Genderizing HCI (9). There are some of the softer tones of genderization that are in the game, majorly in the design of the main characters pertaining to gender and races in Child of Light’s Lemuria.
This softer tone of genderization tells us that yes, there are powerful women and they are all different, women share the same traits passed their biological make up and/or pronoun choice. Child of Light generalizes what a woman looks like. This is an issue because if you do not fit into visual style of what gender you are, you are consider less than or a deviant. This can create pressure to conform to these social rules of how a woman must present herself.
Looking at the visual designs for the races of Lemuria can tell us about this generalization that Child of Light had about what a woman looks like. The Capilli, are dwarf-like people with angler-fish like antenna on their head. The Capilli men have long beards and tend to look like old men even if they are teenagers such as the playable Finn. The game gives the exposition that Finn’s race ages quickly, but when interacting with Capilli women, they lacked the typical traits of an older woman. They had relatively smooth pointed faces with a small nose contrasting to the rounded faces of the men, and lacked jowls and wrinkles.
The Bolmus, which are anthromorphic mice, are met shortly after the Capilli and live on the back of a walking mountain and work on trading, merchandizing, and other forms of commercializing. Since the Bolmus race are bipedal mice, there isn’t much of a way to show case gender and it could have been a great counterpoint to the Capilli in that there is a race that isn’t designed towards having women having traditional feminine features. However, Bolmus has women dressed in traditional feminine outfits such as lacy dresses in feminine colors such as purple and pink to denote that they are women. They also included long human hair just for the visual clue that these are women.
The Piscean Gnomes and the Aerostati only have two members of their race show up in the game. Gen, a woman Piscean Gnome, have something in common with the Capilli women compared to their man counterparts, they both have pointed and non-wizen faces with small pointed noses. Rubella and Tristis are both Aerostati, but instead of Rubella being the only one with a pointed face, they both have it. Though this could account on them being siblings, but none the less Rubella has a small pointed nose.
So there is a common theme of pointed faces with small noses that extend to the five main principal characters of the game: Aurora, the Queen of Light, Norah, Cordelia, and Umbra. These characters also get 3D models which further delve into the problem Ubisoft Montreal haves with designing women. These models don’t have diversity when looking at them in silhouettes. They all share similar small waist abdomen and three have a flowing dress and hair: older Aurora, the Queen of Light and Norah.
So despite Ubisoft Montreal’s decision to have their games focus on woman characters, it’s rather limited in visualization of what a woman character is. There are few exceptions to the traditional femininity that is placed on the women characters in Child of Light that is mostly Rubella and Magna, a walking land mass that holds a Bolmus city on her shoulders.
While Ubisoft Montreal does do with Child of Light is that the woman characters are powerful, especially the five principle characters. However, they lock themselves in that visually, all of the five principle characters are very feminine women.
For a girl who isn’t naturally feminine or doesn’t prefer to be feminine, they’ll receive the message that power and control is inaccessible to them and that they have to be feminine to have that power and control. There is that social message of to be a powerful woman; you must have long hair, have pointed features, smooth skin, and wear a flowing dress. Even as one of those blue eye blond haired girl who wore pink dresses and revel in traditional femininity, it hit me hard that if it wasn’t for Sailor Jupiter from Sailor Moon, I would have internalized that notion that I had to be feminine to powerful and in control and that any traits of my personality or habits that were masculine meant that I was less than a girl and weak.
In addition, all of the human looking characters have fair skin tones. This could lead players to feel less relatable to some of the more human looking characters in the game in addition to the women characters being very feminine to less feminine women players.
As I played through the story, I originally was disgruntled by the notion of the traditional evil step-mother trope of the fairy tale and I still feel off about it. It added some of the contention, conflict of morals, to me as the main morale I received was that family isn’t family if they’re not bound by blood. Especially when the betrayal by Aurora’s step-sister Norah happened in the game, it felt off putting in that knowing that there are people who have good relationships with their step-family and personally for me who doesn’t have a strong bond between blood relatives.
To me it felt like Ubisoft Montreal, with deciding to go for a fairy tale aspect, did do some research on making Child of Light appeal to girls or at least have a general understanding of what girls want. Disney’s ‘Princess’ movies are basic retellings of fairy tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and now The Snow Queen are huge with girls and women. Once Upon A Time, a primetime television show, even introduced Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Disney’s retell of The Snow Queen, due to popularity for their target audience. So it would be understandable that Ubisoft Montreal would want to use that market trend if they wanted to appeal to women.
In addition, they understood that the old notion of a girl game where the mechanics are focused on social and cultural aspects such as friendship and fashion is unfair and sexist to many girls who do not fit into those categories. Compared to where boy games typically feature goals as having adventures, battling foes, and solving large scale social problems such as corruption and war.
So it’s great that they decided to adapt to make it a RPG with a battle style. However some of the story nuances and visuals do tend to fit into the general market idea of what girls want. We have princesses with dresses, a story told in the way of a fairy tale, and we are told about our bond with our family. However, Ubisoft Montreal’s possible oversight is the inherit issues when using these motifs. It’s very common in fairy tales that if the story is about a girl, her antagonist is usually the step mother and if included step-sisters. Usually this is over fighting for a father’s love and is problematic because the father doesn’t have much agency in these stories and it’s pitting against two women against each other.
Cinderella, Snow White, Vasilisa the Beautiful, and Frau Holle, all these stories have this common theme that you can’t have a positive relationship with step-family. Usually the story goes that the mother dies, the father remarries, and the rest is focused on the main girl and her antagonistic relationship with her step-family as the father is usually not even mentioned until the end of the story.
I am upset about this because of the beauty of the game itself is tarnished by fact that it felt they didn’t play around with the fairy tale aspect more and kept to the possibly the most used fairy tale stereotype. I enjoyed the interactions Aurora had with the non-player characters in the game and doing the requests given, however the overarching story dynamic between Aurora and her step-family should have been better designed and gone into deeper detail. The richness and detail of the world made the story seem to be rushed.
As all of these elements interconnect, I remember a conversation I had with an acquaintance, asking if they believed Child of Light was a “girl game”, using the market definition and offering examples of things such as Style Savvy and Barbie games. They commented that they couldn’t really place Child of Light as a “boy game” or a “girl game”. It was a good game with a strong woman character.
I asked this question to my boyfriend and he said that responded with the question of does it matter if a game is a girl game or not.
It was something to think about and in the end, I couldn’t really answer it other than it depends on what the game designers were trying to appeal too. So while I do assume that Ubisoft Montreal did brainstorm on how to appeal to a woman audience, Child of Light exists in a murky area. It has qualities of a boy game with ever increasing battles and the aspect of fighting, but its story and characters feature women as the center. It tried to hit a middle ground on its appeal. Child of Light does succeed in its middle ground placement, but that doesn’t mean there are no issues. Women are more diverse than what our first few concepts of what woman looks likes are.
As for the community response, there are positive thoughts. As mention, in my conversation using Twitter, the respond thought it was a good game and reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. There is cosplay, people dressing up in costume, from Child of Light on the internet from players, and fanfiction written (Stirling; “Child of Light (Video Game) – Works”).
With the success of Child of Light, the creators behind it are now the core team at Ubisoft Montreal and discuss about how personal projects should exist at large publishers (Robinson). It’ll be fascinating to see what will come out of Ubisoft Montreal is the new few years due and see if the lessons they learn and criticism received from Child of Light’s will affect the games they produce.
Bogost, I. “Videogames and Ideological Frames.” Popular Communication 4.3 (2006): 165-83. Web.
Cassell, J. “Genderizing HCI.” The Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction. Ed. J. Jacko and A. Sears. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 402-411. Print.
“Child of Light (Video Game) – Works.” Archive of Our Own. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://archiveofourown.org/tags/Child%20of%20Light%20%28Video%20Game%29/works>.
Gee, J.P. “The 36 Learning Principles.” WHAT VIDEO GAMES HAVE TO TEACH US ABOUT LEARNING AND LITERACY. Macmillan, 2003. 207-212. Print.
Robinson, Andy. “Child of Light creators become core team at Ubisoft Montreal – CVG US.” ComputerAndVideoGamescom Multiformat RSS. N.p., 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2014. <http://www.computerandvideogames.com/477483/child-of-light-creators-become-core-team-at-ubisoft-montreal/>.
Stirling, Lindsey. “Timeline Photos – Lindsey Stirling.” Facebook. 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2014. <https://www.facebook.com/lindseystirlingmusic/photos/a.227761060589422.61772.132255980139931/740403745991815/>.