Sometimes you need more than just LGBTQ+ characters to make a game resonate with your audience.
I've harped a lot about representation in my last couple of articles. Representation is an important part of all media. The lack of representation in media, video games in particular are notorious for a serious lack of representation. This week, I decided to take a step back and talk about a more niche element of the LGBTQ+ community: The "abstract family". It sounds dramatic - and it is. It's a real and tragic part of being someone who isn't straight and cisgendered. Even today, it's still something that I struggle with.
How does that apply to Undertale?
As a gay person, I learned early on that I had to make my own family. This isn't to say that I don't love the family I have, because I do. The issue lies in the lack of understanding - they will never be able to understand me and what I'm going through. So, I have to flock to people that do. And through those people, I create what I call my "abstract family." They love and support me, and above all else, they understand me.
Undertale shows that. It's a story about a child going around and building a family through understanding and supporting them. It's half the reason we feel so connected to these characters by the end, because you see their problems and you help them confront them head on. You take their tragedies and you make them your tragedies. In the end, they become an important part of your life.
The main character, Frisk - whose name you don't learn until the end of the game - is mysterious. We don't know their background or their gender. You do know that Frisk is a child, and that Frisk's head is wanted by the "evil" king of this strange underground world of monsters they've fallen in. You get to decide who Frisk is, and how they interact. Are they good or are they evil?
Where Frisk fell... source (origin)
I decided to go with the good-ending route. In Undertale terms it's referred to as the Pacifist Route. That means you go through the entire game and don't kill anything. You spare them, and you don't collect any EXP or gain any LVs. It sounds crazy, but that's the game.
When I did my first play-through, I thought it was a work of genius. Its system took of lot of inspiration from older RPGs (like Earthbound, which I wrote about earlier this week) and even games in the bullet-hell genre. The meta story felt intense, and depended on player choice. Killing someone had consequences - killing everyone had very bad consequences. The story felt deeply personal to me for reasons I couldn't describe.
I'm an emotional guy, but in video games the connection just isn't there. I'm usually playing a character that's very different from myself - or whose story is very different from my own. Connection happens, but on a superficial level. Like, when I played The Witcher 3 and Horizon Zero Dawn, I was drawn by the characters' stories. They were interesting and the gameplay was phenomenal, but that's it.
One of the many incredibly fun battles! source (origin)
After I recovered emotionally from Undertale's astounding ending, I saved my local files in a separate hard drive (trust me, do this before you replay), and started a brand new game. I did not focus a lot on the extra stuff, and there's plenty of that, instead I focused on the story. I read every bit of dialogue intently, and even on the second play-through, I felt such a primal connection from the very beginning.
For example, Toriel's entire first section really broke my heart. In the game, you find out that Toriel, the goat mom from the beginning, was the former queen of this underground monster haven. She lost her child and, due to reasons I won't reveal, left her husband. She's lived alone deep inside of the ruins of this mysterious place. When you decide to move on - it's heartbreaking. She's terrified for you to go out into the world, and she gives you warning after warning, but you have to keep going.
I couldn't help but remember the first time I came out to my parents. It was warning after warning - they told me that I would go through all of this pain and suffering. But in the end, it was just a journey that I'd have to take. Admittedly, Frisk's journey to survive is very different from mine. The parallel still hit me hard, and opened up the rest of the game for me. I looked at this game through the queer lens for the first time.
Frisk and a friend. source (origin)
It didn't always work. This game isn't about being queer - and a lot of the connections I made were through a more personal context. That's how art works though! And this game is art.
On a macro level, this game builds an abstract family. We don't know what happened to Frisk's real family. We do see that Frisk falls down a hole, and when they come out, they don't go back to anyone. They stay with this odd, new family they've built themselves. And if that's not gay culture, I don't know what is! Realizing you're gay or trans or queer is like falling down a hole. You realize your life is going to change, and it's hard. Sometimes it consumes you and terrifies you - and you don't know what you're going through.
But you don't have to go through it alone - and that's a huge part of Undertale's ending. When you think everything is falling apart, the people you love come and they protect you and they tell you that they're always going to be there for you. If I didn't have people in my real life tell me that same thing - I don't where I'd be right now.
That's the abstract family. They are people I flock to, who love and support me no matter what. They aren't bound to me by blood or by any real form obligation. They just love me. So, finally, I understood. On a primal level, Undertale is unintentionally much more queer that it originally set out to be. I'm not saying it's only a queer story, nor am I saying that this is the game's original intent, but goddamn it, it really hit me hard.
The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.
Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."
This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.
Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality
Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.
But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?
Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?
When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.
After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.
Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.
Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.
Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.
For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.
We're glad they're on our side.
The world is up against a seemingly insurmountable threat, but luckily, we've got a crack team of heroes on the case.
Sure, there's already the girl with super strength, the guy who can fly, and the anthropomorphic, trash-talking animal tailor-made for merchandise. But this is a threat of intergalactic proportions, and we're going to need all the help we can get if we want to survive.
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