Nothing New with Josie Rizal

First of all, my Pinoy gamer siblings, CALM YOSELVES!

Ever since Namco Bandai first announced the addition of a playable character in Tekken 7 whose backstory includes hailing from the Philippines, Pinoys everywhere couldn’t help but create buzz around it. Some were happy, some excited, others opened a can of “Pinoy pride” while others met it with cynicism.

Josie Rizal, an obvious homage to Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, is a morena skinned lady wearing what seem to be a modified baro’t saya with a ribbon on her head. She fights with a combination of Arnis (a Filipino martial art) and kick boxing. Her short hair, long sandals and overall appearance don’t really scream “Pinoy” but that’s what the creative heads at Namco Bandai are giving us, so… Yay?

But before we go bonkers over being recognized as a race fit to be portrayed in an international video game franchise, remember that this isn’t the first time a video game character has hailed from the Philippines. Fans were quick to point out that Namco Bandai’s other fighting game franchise, Soul Calibur has already been sporting a Filipina since the second installment of the franchise which started in 1998 (We’re at Soul Calibur 5 now). GMA News was also quick to point out other video game characters with Filipino origins written into their backstory.

What many point out, however, is the way that Josie’s final product looks. There are no tell-tale signs to say she is Filipina save for some icons like the sun necklace and the red, blue and yellow of her costume.¬†Even THIS isn’t new when it comes to Japanese character design.

Take Dhalsim from StreetFighter. He’s one of those characters introduced in the second StreetFighter game in order to give it an “Around the World” feel. Dhalsim’s back story is that he’s from India. No, Indians don’t look like that at all, but CAPCOM went with it anyway and not much was thought of it. T. Hawk also from StreetFighter is easily identified as Native American. Unlike with Dhalsom, CAPCOM, employed the use of easy signals to show the ethnicity of T. Hawk, face paint, tassles, a feather on his cap all scream about his character. Heck, even the name is a reference to his ethnicity. And then there’s Guile. CAPCOM just said, “Hey, let’s make an American character.” and so they made Guile. You fight him in the USA, he’s wearing an army fatigue and has a tattoo of the stars and stripes on his arm, so you know he’s American. But… why blonde and the huge hair?

Extra Credits did a video on character design and how not all uses of stereotypes are bad. What it boils down to is a respect for the culture being portrayed. While Josie’s character design is careful not to tread into insensitive stereotypes, the fear of offending a nation of people with easily hurt feelz has resulted in, well, a pretty generic character. But even then, this trend of designing bland Filipinos is not new to gaming.

In the movies, the Green Hornet’s sidekick was Filipino, a change made during WWII which had America and Japan declare war against one another and the Philippines was one of America’s allies. Nothing about him was Filipino except that declaration. Talim from Soul Calibur hails from somewhere in the Visayas. Pre-colonial Visayas is rich in icons and unique character, yet the result is… well… she’s a babaylan, so I guess the more fantasy-eque design can be forgiven. Other than the description, she doesn’t appear to be Filipina. The same cycle and treatment was simply given to Josie. Is it a problem? I wouldn’t think so. Is it an indication of a bigger problem? Definitely yes.

When we look through the slew of characters who hail from Japan, USA, Korea, Jamaica, Brazil or even Russia, by simply looking at them or watching how they fight, people easily see their ethnic origins. That’s because the game designers are familiar enough with these cultures and know how to where to place emphasis on them. A sumo, samurai, ninja, karateka or judo fighter immediately screams “Japan” the same way a G.I., blonde or boxer is for USA. Adding distinct fighting styles like Capoeira is a great allusion Brazilian origins the same way Wushu is to the Chinese. Then there are the stereotypes of flamboyant Spanish or European fencers and pirates that are a reflection of an image they have through literature. These distinct hints of culture and understanding thereof is missing with Filipinos. Game devs do not know what makes a Filipino a Filipino and have no plans to learn.

Right now, the most famous Filipino to the Japanese is a short playboy polyglot who so happened to be a doctor and our national hero. Trying to fit the image of Rizal into a fighting game seems ridiculous and it should, the man was better known for his pen than his sword. As Filipinos we know who are better models for fighting game characters, (Andres Bonifacio with his pistol and bolo, General Antonio Luna with his mighty mustache and saber, General Aguinaldo with his face on five peso coins) but the problem lies in getting others to know it. Game devs, like anyone who creates characters of foreign origins can only input what they know about that country and its culture. Maybe, just maybe, if we let Namco Bandai know what quirks can help Josie Rizal become more Filipina, they might reference the Philippines a lot more, opening up our colorful culture for the world to see (and play with).

7 Reasons to get your Kids a Handheld Console instead of Mobile Devices

They are everywhere. Kids holding iPhones, Android phones, non-Android phones, iPads and tablets while strolling around the mall. Generally I don’t object to phone or tablet gaming because I believe they are great new gaming frontiers to be explored. I don’t mind kids using them either, especially since there are many apps that help with their cognitive development.

But when you’re shopping this holiday for a nifty gadget to give your inaanaks, if the entirety of the reason to get your 8-year old nephew or niece an iPad is so he can play with it, please take a moment to consider why you should be getting them a games console instead.

Note: I am presuming you want to get it for the kid with gaming in mind.

1. Price point

A phone/tablet can cost you astronomic figures ranging to Php90,000 at its peak while the cheapest decent tablet can eat up at least Php8,000. That’s without any assurance that the tablet will run smoothly and function as expected or run the games the kid would want to play. You’d also have to go through catalogues and check specification options, optimizations and a whole lot of stuff, or just settle for Php40,000 iPads.

A handheld console can range to as much as Php13,000 for a Nintendo 3DSxl limited edition The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds edition up to as little as Php 5000 for the Nintendo 2DS. Oh, the Playstation Vita is around Php 9000 and that’s considering the latest releases of handhelds. Playstation Portables (PSP) can go for as little as Php 3,500 and the same goes for Nintendo DSi. After determining which brand and model you want to get, there is little to worry about specs, compatibility and software as consoles are the easiest to plug-and-play. Very seldom will you need to worry about games running the way they should on your consoles or hardware specs not performing. The price range is narrower and you don’t lose much by getting a lower priced one since the 2DS is a pretty strong console itself.

2. Quality of games

Most parents or people who opt for mobile devices for their kids always reason out that the platform is more suited to kids because you can simply download games. I agree, you can download games for tablets and phones, but what they fail to consider is the quality of those games.

The best games on mobile are re-hashes of popular console games, one of the most popular being Minecraft which has been on PC for a long time already. At their best, mobile games are swipe-by-the-number games, well-made Skinner-boxes and limited by the medium they are played in. I’m all for exploration of the new platform, but right now, you just have to admit that the mobile gaming scene is narrow and limited in its ability.

Handheld consoles carry titles that have been on brew for generations. The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Sword Art Online, Super Mario just to name a few titles that are best played with physical buttons and on their proper platforms cannot be played on mobile devices without giving up a huge chunk of the experience. With the 3DS and Vita both having touch screen abilities, mobile games are more easily ported to them with little draw back so playing Angry Birds on either of them is not a problem at all. The same cannot be said when attempting to play Super Mario Bros. even on the best of mobile emulators.

3. Socialization

One of the biggest aspects of mobile gaming is the social gaming experience. Many if not all mobile games require you to connect with a friend or at least reward you for connecting with friends one way or another. Unfortunately despite what it might seem like, the social connectivity is rather limited. All you really do is hook it up to your Facebook account and it automatically connects with Facebook friends with the same games or starts annoying those who don’t. With poorly coded games, Facebook friends end up as player numbers and people aren’t really sure who are doing what.

The interaction is also limited. On Candy Crush, you’re connected to your friends to ask and give power-ups, tickets and extra lives. On Clash of Clans you raid your friends’ bases, which they’re oblivious to and can’t really prevent in real time. These don’t really promote social skills, these just promote having lots of Facebook friends who might accidentally gift you something on one of these games.

The closest they get to actual social interactivity are the ported games. Streetfighter for mobile, Heartstone for mobile, Pokemon Trading Card Game for mobile all have “real-time” competitive aspects, unfortunately the fighting games don’t give a full engagement as controls often have to be streamlined to accommodate for the fact that touchscreens don’t allow you to touch multiple buttons at once, something that’s kinda vital to fighting games. The trading card games work well, but that’s about it.

Nintendo’s Streetpass feature encourages gamers to get out there and move around (Internet photo)

Handheld consoles on the other hand have a different kind of social interactivity. The Nintendo 3DS alone has a feature called StreetPass wherein the unit detects nearby 3DS units and tags them with a simple greeting. Many games use this function and it encourages gamers to go out and seek out other gamers, creating new social circles and interacting with people they can actually see and recognize. The games on their own also encourage social interaction, Pokemon being one of the most obvious games. It forces people to trade with others, gives incentives for connecting with players across borders and even allows you to compete with one another in real time. In Fantasy Life you are questing in cooperation with other players. You are literally joining your friends on quests that you would normally not be able to accomplish on your own. One of the favorite meetup games is Monster Hunter where teams join one another to hunt gigantic monsters and forge great bonds. These are the social interactions that stay with you long after the game. It’s not a mere tag on Facebook pestering him/her to click a button.

4. Control

How do you control or monitor what games your kids play on a mobile device? Quite frankly, if your kid is resourceful enough (which is a good thing) you really can’t. Once you give the device to the kid, the kid owns it and will download games ad infinitum until the memory capacity runs out… or you take away the internet.

With a handheld, games are a treasure. First off you can lock online purchases on the 3DS so they’ll only get to download games if you let them. Physical cartridges can become treats for the kids too. I remember playing the Super Nintendo with my siblings and every now and then my dad would treat us to a new game. We enjoyed every one of those games he bought. It’ll be easier to say, “We’ll get you Pokemon Omega Ruby on your birthday,” or “Bravely Default comes with good grades,” than, “Pass your subjects or no more tablet.”

5. Discernment

Kids don’t have the best utility distinction faculties. My brother once told me of a baby who cried after being given a magazine. The baby was trying to swipe the pages in an attempt to trigger something. When the print wouldn’t move, he got frustrated and began to cry. This is because kids aren’t the best at understanding the purpose of gadgets. To kids, mobile devices become toys. Letting them play with these devices simply reinforce this idea. When it comes time to do some actual work with them they become confused and start resenting the idea that their toys are now being used to do work.

You won’t have that problem with a handheld console. These things are for gaming and anything else are bonuses. When they hold their handheld, they know it’s time to relax and play, when they get their tablets with their homework on it, they know to engage into study mode. It also avoids incidents where a parent tries to take away the tablet to stop the kid from gaming but it turns out all the homework is there too.

Work and play in equal parts, but make them distinct for more happiness.

6. Safety

Internet Photo

The internet is not a safe place for kids. Without your guidance they are prone to encounter bad content and bad people. Unless you are willing to spend hours teaching them the ropes and monitoring their online activities, giving a kid a mobile device is a bad idea. At 11, my kid cousin is already making sales transactions with complete strangers through Facebook. First of all, Facebook requires users to be at least 13 years old. It goes without saying that if your less-than-13-year-old has a Facebook account, monitor it well, monitor it often.

They run the risk of chatting with complete strangers that might trick them into things that could be avoidable with parental consent, for example online sellers telling them to meetup outside their school or give them credit card numbers. Big no-no’s that can be easily avoided. Either orient them or guide them, but always take this aspect with caution.

On a 3DS or Vita, online interaction is restricted to in-game match sessions. Verbal communication is limited and players tend to focus on the game rather than the chit-chat. These games already expect their audience to be around the age of 10 so their social environments are designed to focus more on the game and less on deviant social interactions.

No need to constantly look over their shoulders because browsing and other social functions are already limited so there’s a smaller tendency for them to meet online strangers that might talk them into stuff.

7. Value

Value is not the same as price. Yes, paid apps on Google play and on the App store are as low as $10 or Php 500. There are thousands of free apps on both stores. A kid could access any of the thousands of apps at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, like a jailbroken game unit, the value of those games are lessened. Mincraft, even if you’ve paid $8.99 to purchase, becomes just one of many app icons in a see of freemium and pay-to-win.

With cartridges, they might have a higher price, normally around $30 or Php 1500, but each will bear more value. The reduced frequency and higher price point naturally teaches kids to value what they have. Games will have more meaning and each new one you get them will be greeted with wider smiles than the last one. Console games aren’t something you can just delete when you get bored, people often have difficulty selling them even when in dire need. The bond between gamer and game grows especially with games like Pokemon when your entire adventure is saved right on the cartridge itself.

This is not meant to demean those that have already given their kids tablets and phones. It’s my hope that with this, people looking to give kids a play-thing gadget for the holidays or whatever occasion will think twice. If you know what you’re doing giving your kid an iPad, go for it, good on you. If you don’t, here’s my advice.

Don’t agree with my thoughts on mobile devices? Did I miss any points? Let me know in the comments.

Happy holidays!