NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS!!! We don’t reveal everything but we discuss major plot elements for some of the games. If you were wondering if you should play any of the games on our list maybe this feature will help to sway you.
“Do you celebrate Kwanzaa or Christmas?”
You’ve probably either asked or have been asked this question at least once during the holiday season. No? What the hell is Kwanzaa anyway? We’ve ALL asked that question at one point in our lives. We here at TSP have got the answer!
Kwanzaa is one of the only uniquely American holidays. The seven day festival stretches from December 26th through January 1st. It is traditionally celebrated by black Americans, each day highlighted by a singular Swahili worded principle meant to empower and unite. The principles are collectively called the Nguzu Saba and each day you greet your fellow celebrant with the phrase “Hbari Gani?”, Swahili for “What’s the news?”. Do you wanna know something? These principles are not exclusive to black Americans. They’re for all of us, including gamers. So without further ado, we present to you…
The first principle of Kwanzaa is about unity – unity within your family & community. No matter how much we deny it, all people are connected. The more aware of the world you become, the more this truth becomes self-evident. This is a very sophisticated and nuanced revelation that I’m happy to say was well represented within the narrative of games during 2013. The Umoja game of 2013:
Set in the fictional floating city of Columbia, 1912, Bioshock Infinite tells the stories of Booker Dewitt & a young woman named Elizabeth. The relationship begins manipulatively, but soon they both find themselves taking on the role of a parent, making decisions in the best interests of the other even to the detriment of themselves. Throughout the game you begin to discover that the seemingly random task of abducting Elizabeth initially given to Booker was more an inescapable eventuality of fate, that their lives, while very much their own, were inexplicably linked. For the entirety of your Bioshock Infinite experience, you find that many of the citizens of Columbia, and the world around them, are completely connected to time, space and each other.
Perserverence. Stubbornness. Never say die. Whatever you call it, self-determination is a trait to which we should all aspire. Having a goal is great, but having the intestinal fortitude to follow it through to its completion is something else entirely. Today’s principle is all about making us focus on the follow through. In the gaming space, there was one clear game that best exemplified this attribute. The Kujichagulia game of 2013:
Lara Croft has been an iconic, empowering, and controversial character in gaming since her introduction in 1996. When we were initially introduced to her in the aptly titled Tomb Raider, she was essentially “bad ass sexy British Indiana Jones, the woman”. In the current title, also called Tomb Raider, we find Lara on her very first adventure. In search of a legendary treasure on an island off the shore of Japan, Lara and her expeditionary crew’s misfortune begins as a storm leaves them shipwrecked on said island. This is the most benign thing that happens during the game’s campaign. Those who have played the game can attest to the sadistic manner in which developer Crystal Dynamics has decided to kill Lara should you miss a jump or a branch. Beyond the deaths, the story often leaves the inexperienced Ms. Croft in the most dire of straits, killing off confidants and destroying burgeoning friendships with reckless abandon. Throughout it all, however, Lara never gives up. In fact, it seems as every obstacle only strengthens her resolve. Every ally lost makes her more determined to save the ones that are left. By the time we end our first adventure with the British bombshell, we’re completely convinced that she can take down a T-Rex.
Each one teach one, and it takes a village… These are two proverbs that I heard as a child that best encapsulate today’s principle. The understanding that a group working towards a similar, singular goal can accomplish a magnitude more than an individual working alone. Additionally, we all must make ourselves aware that working together is an imperative to success. The Ujima game of 2013:
Assassin’s Creed IV finds us in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century, following the exploits of Edward Kenway, a pirate and ancestor to the two protagonists of AC III. While some would call Edward and his ilk criminals, I believe you could argue that many pirates were just trying to provide a measure of success for themselves that otherwise wouldn’t be afforded them working through the “proper” channels. As Edward makes his way through the beautiful waters of the Atlantic, he fights his way through the Templars, aristocracy, and other pirates. Along the way, he continually adds to his crew and armada. His crew loves him. They cheer his arrival upon the ship every time he returns, but not because just he’s their leader. You gain the sense that they feel that he’s fighting for them and their success as well as his own. Captain Kenway was instrumental in the formation of a pirate government in an attempt to become self-sufficient, and although ultimately unsuccessful, it definitely galvanized the people of the Caribbean. The fulfillment of the dream of rising to prominence is seen in the Freedom Cry DLC, which sees Adéwalé, Edward’s former first-mate, in command of his own ship purchased with the spoils from his time on the Jackdaw.
There are times when you have to blaze a trail for others instead of walking the established path. There are times when the idea you have is one you believe in but one you are having trouble getting others to believe in enough to support financially. Do you give up when that happens? NO! You make it happen anyway. Now you’re not confined by constraints of anyone else but you. I’m sure the myriad independent game developers within the gaming space can relate to these obstacles and triumphs. As gamers, we’re better off because of them. The Ujamaa game of 2013:
The Playstation 4 exclusive, Resogun, is from developer Housemarque, developer of Super Stardust HD and Super Stardust Delta. Like the Super Stardust series, it’s a twin-stick shooter that keeps you confined to a certain world though this time it’s more a cylinder than a globe. You choose your ship, each with different attributes, to fight off waves of invading alien ships while trying to save the galaxy’s last surviving humans. Think of this as if the arcade classic Defender and the aforementioned Super Stardust were mashed together into a beautiful masterpiece, something gorgeous, challenging, and fun. This is a game that should not be missed!
“What do you do?” It’s one of the first question we ask someone we’re meeting for the first time. What we’re really asking is, “How are you supporting yourself?”. What ARE we doing? Once we hit a certain age, our purpose in life is a question we invariably ask ourselves. What if the world as we know it has come to an end? What would your purpose for life be then? Would you cherish all other life that you find, or would you selfishly destroy everything to preserve yourself? The Nia game of 2013:
Regarded by many as an evolutionary step in storytelling and visual fidelity, Sony owned studio Naughty Dog’s Playstation 3 exclusive The Last of Us begins by introducing us to our male protagonist, Joel, on the day after his birthday. A bacterial fungus has turned most of civilization into infected, violent “not humans” (I refuse to call them the “Z” word). The Infected force Joel and his daughter from their home. Racked with fear, guards shoot and kill Joel’s daughter as they seek refuge in one of the quarantine zones. Fast forward 20 years – Joel has become a smuggler and, through a series of unfortunate events, finds himself tasked with bringing 14 year-old Ellie to the renegade group The Fireflies. It’s believed that she’s one of very few people immune to the bacterial infection that has ravaged the world. Their year-long journey takes them from Boston to Salt Lake City, making and losing friends and enemies as they travel. The superb acting succeeds in immersing us into this very believable world as Joel and Ellie come face to face with the ugly truth that the surviving humans, and not the infected, are the true monsters. The lengths that both of our heroes go through to not only survive but to complete their task is very telling. It becomes clear that, in Ellie, Joel sees the daughter that he lost, which gives him some semblance of the life he once had. His love for this surrogate daughter makes life worth living and ultimately changes his perspective on what’s most important in this new world.
Taking what’s in our heads and turning it into reality, creativity is one of the defining attributes of humanity. Our capacity to turn the seemingly ordinary into extraordinary knows no bounds. Games like last year’s console release of Minecraft have continued to allow our imaginations to roam free. We waited 5 years but the Kuumba game of 2013:
Also on most people’s game of the year shortlist, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is the sandbox game to end all sandbox games. It’s a story of redemption, loss, and friendships, both old and new. The main campaign’s narrative tells the story of three lifelong criminals, two of whom are just trying to making their way in the world. Then there’s Trevor Philips. Trevor’s a psychopath and degenerate, but ultimately, he just wants to be loved. The game follows many GTA mission tropes but culminates in multi-staged heists; with each one being summer cinema blockbuster worthy. While these things make the game great, what keeps us coming back is the flexibility GTA gives gamers. Yes, the story is there, but there is no sense of urgency to complete it immediately. I’ve spent many a session not completing a single mission but just seeing what I can do. Skydiving from a chopper into one of the Los Santos resident’s pools? Do it! Body surfing a dirigible? It can be done. An entire work day can be spent on YouTube watching GTA V stunt videos without seeing duplicates. The possibilities are truly endless.
“It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” That was Obi-Wan Kenobi talking specifically about the Force, but he could have easily been talking about faith in general. Belief in something, or someone, even in deference to logic, is what faith is all about. We find strength in our beliefs. Our favorite sports teams and our most altruistic superheroes are part of the foundation of our moral compasses. What would happen if your heroes turned to villains? Would your faith be stirred? The Imani game of 2013:
Developer NetherRealm Studio set out to create a fighting game that takes place in the DC comics universe. They were successful in their task but then went the extra mile by creating a story that justifies why it’s okay for The Flash to fight Aquaman. Like any good bizarro story, Injustice Gods Among Us is set in an alternate universe where the Joker has convinced Superman that using a nuclear bomb on Metropolis was the right thing to do, killing Lois Lane and their unborn child in the process. Instead of showing contrition and being remorseful for his foolhardiness, Kal-El murders the Joker and decides that it’s time for a new world order, a Regime. In shock and out-manned, Batman’s Insurgency discovers a portal to an alternate universe finding the Justice League and beseeches them for aid. The Justice Leaguers are given the opportunity to peer through the looking glass to see the ‘goateed’ versions of themselves. They’re given a view of just how corruptible the power they wield truly is. It helps to galvanize their belief in one another and to the cause of being a positive example for which humanity can draw.
So there you have it. 7 days for 7 principles using 7 games. What did you think? Did it make sense to you? Do you agree with our list? Do you think we’re full of crap? Let us know in the comments below. Come say Habari Gani or any colorful phrase of your choosing.