MJ: The Character That Defines Nikki

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

In the buildup to the final Normal Happenings post, I’m pleased to have my amazing wife Nikki here to say her final farewells. She has been so supportive of me and my blogging pursuits over the past two years, and I am eternally grateful. Nikki, you have the floor. It’s time for your sendoff to this wonderful blogging community.

Stay tuned. My piece is coming up next.


1P START

As a kid I loved reading comic books. I had many of the Spider-Man comics, and I read them until I was about 14 years old. I also loved the Spider-Man animated show that came on. I watched a lot of different ones throughout the years, so don’t ask me which ones. I also loved the Spider-Man movies.

I adored Peter Parker, and quite frankly I wanted to be him. I never considered that it was strange for me to want to be a superhero that wasn’t the same gender as me until years later when an old friend from elementary school commented on how different it was for me to want to be Spider-Man/Peter Parker. I simply told them that I liked how he acted with his strong moral convictions, his want to help everyone that he could, his battles with real tragedy, and how he never allowed it to beat him.

For me male superheroes were always who I preferred to admire because I saw unattainable goals in many female superheroes during this time in my life. Often they were drawn with amazing bodies, and I didn’t see very many that had the same depth as their male counterparts.

I know many of you probably know way more about this topic than myself, and I am probably leaving out some very good more obscure examples, but in my limited experience I had my favorite superheroes for very specific reasons. I just wanted to be Spider-Man as a weird and shy kid that was trying to find her way in the world.

However, times have certainly changed since I was a kid. There are many great female superheroes that have true depth, and their looks are not the only thing that young girls will notice nowadays. They will see females who are strong and intelligent. They will not be disrespected due to their gender.

The superhero that I want to focus on is a character that was never a proper superhero, but rather a love interest and highly intelligent woman. In the most recent PS4 game Marvel’s Spider-Man, Mary Jane (affectionately known as MJ) was an actual playable character, and unlike past versions of MJ she seems to be in quite a healthy place with who she is. She is smart, and she shows Peter that she can be there to help him in many ways.

In one of my favorite parts, she jumps off a building for Peter to catch her after she does some investigative reporting. He doesn’t expect it, but he catches her anyway. She helps Peter with a ton missions throughout the game, and she is not the damsel in distress that we have seen in past video games, movies, shows, and comic books.

If I would’ve had this version of MJ as a kid, I would have wanted to be her instead of Spider-Man, and that is why she is such an important character to me personally. Before this game Spider-Man was doing all the leg work, but now he has a partner in crime (or, perhaps more accurately, justice). However you view a masked vigilante taking crime management into their own hands, to me Spider-Man (and other superheroes) have proven that anyone can help others. Now MJ gets to go on that list of heroes.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this blog, and for supporting my partner’s writing ambitions. I am grateful that he could share some of his innermost thoughts with all of you, and that you all listened to some of mine as well. I wish you all the best in life, and know that I will always remember his passions for this blog. I am so glad that you all helped him foster his creativity. So please be kind to each other and never stop being creative.

With all my respect,

Nikki

Samantha Traynor: The Character That Defines AmbiGaming

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

We’d like to welcome one of the most creative, philosophical bloggers in the sphere! Today we’re honored to have AmbiGamer with us, and this is a blog you should always pay attention to whenever a new piece is released.

Despite being a newcomer to our collaborations, AmbiGaming has always been super supportive of Normal Happenings. We are grateful for their support over the years.

Without further delay, please share with us the character that defines you!


1P START

Being asked to define ourselves can be one of the most daunting questions to answer. As complex beings, we can describe ourselves by physical traits, beliefs, shared histories, culture, likes and dislikes, and many other classifications. When I heard that Normal Happenings was having a Characters That Define Us collaboration, I jumped at the idea, and immediately felt overwhelmed.

One character that encapsulates who I am? Let the existential crisis begin.

We were asked to give three options, and the one character that has, above all others, truly shone as a definition of me has been…

Samantha Traynor, Communication Specialist on the SSV Normandy SR-2, from Mass Effect 3.

Very briefly, the two other options I gave were Solid Snake of Metal Gear Solid series fame, and Leliana from Dragon Age games fame. Even until a few days before beginning to write, I wasn’t sure I had made the right decision with Samantha. After all, Solid Snake has been a gaming hero of mine for longer than Samantha, and anyone who has glanced even passingly at AmbiGaming knows how much I love Leliana.

But Samantha is different. Samantha was one of the few video game characters that I have ever met and felt an instant connection with. I realized that she was the character most like me… and most like the person I want to be.

Meeting Samantha

It was sort of interesting how my introduction to Samantha happened. It was my first playthrough of the Mass Effect series, and after playing the Shadow Broker DLC for Mass Effect 2 I was… rather unamused by Liara, whom my Shepard had been in a relationship with. Long story short, after Shepard falls out of a window, Liara runs past her without even stopping to ask if she was okay, so focused on her objective was she. It reminded me of a (minor) car accident I had been in and, after calling my then-girlfriend, was met with shuddering sobs and having to console her – and not once did she ever ask if I was okay, so wrapped up in her own distress was she.

But, my in-game Shepard stayed with her, because out-of-game Athena knew from her hours with Dragon Age and Leliana that Liara would probably do a lot of the story’s heavy-lifting, and so I didn’t want to miss out. And thus, on my first full playthrough my Shepard was dutifully loyal to the asari that I was so angry at.

But I’d be lying if I said that, as Mass Effect 3 progressed, I didn’t feel more naturally drawn to Samantha than I ever did Liara.

One aspect of Samantha that I found so refreshing was that, upon meeting Shepard, I got the feeling that Samantha was trying her best to make a good impression, but was also possibly very nervous and thus not always hitting the mark when it came to how she presented herself. But it was so nice – and again, I use the word “refreshing” – to see someone so… like me.

She was obviously someone not the most comfortable in social situations (and she admits this in the Citadel DLC) but never acts as if she is shy or retiring. She seems painfully self-aware, shaking her head at herself when she hears some of her poorly-timed jokes fall flat, but continuing on good-naturedly.

How nice to find a character that can make mistakes, doesn’t take herself too seriously, but navigates her world as effectively as any other, more archetypal, character.

Another characteristic that jumped out at me when I first met Samantha was that she was not willing to immediately tell Shepard every detail about herself. Sure, there were other characters who opened up more as Shepard got to know them, but one thing that I really liked about Samantha is that you really had to be nice to her in order for her to, you know, like you. And she’s a character that’s easy to overlook – Shepard actually needs to make the effort to talk to her.

I read an interview with the developer responsible for creating Samantha, and his original plan was to have her be a homosexual character whose big character arc was coming to terms with her sexual orientation while in a military setting. After running it by a few friends and relatives, this design was met with a resounding “NO.”

And I’m glad it was. While this is still a trait of Samantha’s, it isn’t her defining feature, and it sets the stage for her to be so much more than the glorified gay crewmember that Shepard can enter into a relationship with.

Breaking Barriers

I’ve talked before in other articles about what characteristics make a player identify with a character. While physical characteristics are important, what draws people to a character most strongly are actual personality traits that they identify with. Our ability to find commonalities between ourselves and other people who might, at first glance, seem very different than us is an important human trait and enables us to empathize with characters who might otherwise seem vastly different than us.

At a first glance, Samantha Traynor and I really don’t have much in common, besides hair color. Our ethnic backgrounds, choice of career, chess acumen, and ability to shower in someone else’s bathroom with the door open in order to attract them tend bar at parties are vastly different.

What struck me about Samantha was that she was… real. While I appreciated a canonically homosexual woman character, that’s not enough for me to identify along with someone. But Samantha’s sexual orientation was a non-issue. It had no bearing on the story, and wasn’t in there just so she could be ogled as a curiosity or sexual object. Her orientation was there but not expounded upon. That was refreshing. It was realistic. It was like me.

It was also so nice to see a character that, besides this somewhat (in my opinion) superficial detail, shared so many characteristics with me and yet was not overlooked. What I mean to say is that Samantha seems very introverted, even going so far as to claim that she is “allergic” to public speaking. She is incredibly hardworking, although much of her work is done behind the scenes, and doesn’t quite ask for recognition, but does expect to be taken seriously (as evidenced by her relationship with Shepard if he/she does vs. doesn’t follow up on her leads).

I remember my heart almost breaking when she seemed surprised while thanking Shepard for checking into a lead she had uncovered for Grissom Academy – it was a small, stealthily-time-sensitive quest that she brings up casually in a passing conversation that Shepard could easily ignore. It seems odd to say, but I could hear my voice sounding just as pleasantly surprised as hers, albeit in a different situation.

And it didn’t stop there. At every turn, Samantha demonstrated a duality of characteristics that I’ve had trouble finding in other female characters. She is brilliant and yet somehow a hypochondriac (and is aware of it, too), she can tend bar and play video games and yet wanted to save up money to go to the spa, she was gay and yet I always got the feeling that she never felt the need to lift heavy things for no reason, didn’t ever play softball, was probably useless if there was a big bug in the room, and could probably color-coordinate (this is a joke. Please, Internet, tell me you know it’s a joke).

She wasn’t ever a stereotype, either as a gay woman, a nerd, or a military analyst. She was a real person, and while she may not have automatically expected people she perceived as “better” than her to listen when she talked, she was always unapologetically who she was.

Finding Her Voice

Watching Samantha find her stride and become more comfortable as the events of Mass Effect 3 progressed was like watching a sped-up version of my college, early professional, and graduate school years. This may come as a surprise to you, but I was not always the witty, confident, and self-possessed Athena you see before you today. I am rather quiet, and have worked hard on how I present myself to the world, from studying body language to role-playing conversations with my parents and, when they were not available, out loud in front of a mirror so I could hear my voice and see how my face and body looked and moved when speaking.

But boy, did it take years to feel confident enough to put myself forward in an unassuming way and to feel confident in what I was saying – even if I objectively knew more about a topic than the person I was talking to, and even if I occasionally managed to fake it.

Samantha goes through a similar transition from the beginning of the game, when she is a somewhat-terrified communication specialist who thanks Shepard for taking her seriously, to the confident woman who – if in a relationship with Shepard – will give her a tough-love talk and standing strong for the hero at the end of the game.

What I especially love about this – and this relates back to Samantha being “real” – is that she doesn’t magically go through this transformation because the story demands it, or because she is somehow magically healed by Shepard’s presence. Her confidence seems to increase with each piece of data that is taken seriously, and when she falters, even EDI steps in to back her up, reminding her that, for lack of better words, she’s “got this.”

I appreciated that while Samantha doesn’t apologize for who she is, and doesn’t seem to have any “problems” with herself, her fellow crewmates (in this case, Shepard in particular) need to, you know, be supportive and nice to her in order for her to come out of her shell. She has a voice, and will use it when she has to, but it takes her feeling appreciated to use it most effectively.

That, and watching her going from the quiet, retiring comm specialist to admitting that she wants to physically rip a Reaper apart with her bare hands. I mean, everyone loves an unexpected badass, right?

Especially one that can save the galaxy with a toothbrush.

Learning About Relationships

When I was writing my notes for this, this section was summarized with the following sentence: Leliana showed me I could be loved, and Samantha showed me how to be loved (and how to love in return).

That sounds… incredibly sappy, but it’s true. Poor Leliana may have taken a piece of my heart when I played Dragon Age: Origins the first time, but when it came to Samantha, I saw the type of person not only that I wanted to be in a relationship, but also the type of person I was looking for.

Samantha is the only person in the entire series that Shepard can romance who does not have any kind of “personal quest” (not counting watching her Kepesh-Yakshi tournament in the Citadel DLC). She loves Shepard and, really, doesn’t ask for anything in return other than for Shepard to treat her nicely and take her seriously when she says things.

I mean, who could really ask for more?

As long-time readers of AmbiGaming know, my last relationship was not exactly healthy, and it left me shaken about the kind of person I was and, if I’m being honest, the kind of partner I could be in any hypothetical future relationship. Watching Samantha, I had an “a-ha!” moment, because there on the screen was what I wanted. She acted the way I wanted to be sure I acted in the future, and showed me that there could possibly be someone in the world who wouldn’t stomp all over me, even if I had a soft edge to me. Watching her and Shepard felt real in a way I can’t describe. I felt comforted, thinking that maybe the kind of even, give-and-take relationship I wanted could be real.

Defining Athena

I often resist talking about very personal details in my blog posts, as I am a pretty private person. The things I talk about are usually things that I am not bothered by sharing. They are things that are private enough that I can expose something personal, while simultaneously not being emotionally charged so I don’t feel too exposed out here on the wild Internet.

I could ramble on and on about each detail of Samantha that has ever resonated with me (even more than I’ve already done), but what it boils down to is that here is a woman who is three-dimensional, realistic, and full of contradictions. She was like a breath of fresh air, not only reflecting my own traits back at me, but also reflecting back traits that I aspire to have, or to develop further.

Samantha Traynor defines me by our similarities, but also by defining me as I want to be. She defines the thoughts I have never been able to put into words. She showed me a character that was like me in more ways than I’ve ever seen. There was no “Yes, but…” It’s easy to point at a character and pick out all the things that make you different from them.

The most profound description I can give is that, in a long lineup of characters that help me express the “no” (or “Yes, but…”) about who I am, Samantha was the only one who has ever wholly and completely been a “yes.”


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Coco Bandicoot: The Character That Defines Melody from Ficcaholic

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Another amazing newcomer joins the collab, this time Melody from Ficcaholic! Melody loves fanfiction, and writes blog posts ruminating on the art of crafting good stories. You should bookmark the blog, and follow Melody’s Twitter account as well.

After Dixie Kong yesterday, we’re excited for another entry highlighting a female protagonist who tends to play second fiddle to her male counterpart.

Melody, thank you for joining us and composing this fantastic piece. Take it away!


1P START

I met Coco Bandicoot in that funny era of gaming when everything was transitioning to blocky 3D and platforming games were king. Not that seven year old Ficcaholic knew that! She was in a huff because she thought the PlayStation her dad bought was for her brother and not for her and it was all very unfair. 

Coco1

She was wrong. I had to be coaxed into picking up the controller but I got there once I saw my mum playing. I was trusted with a very important mission: Coco Bandicoot’s laptop was going to run out of batteries unless I guided Crash to the end of the level and picked up a new one. Laptops were shiny things where you could make pictures and write messages for people. Coco had a laptop, therefore she was epically cool to my seven year old self. She instantly became my favourite character in anything ever. I was always disappointed that we never got that new battery for her! 

I played the games with a feverish desire to see when she would pop up next – it was never for long and she was never the focus of the story. But she was clever and unlike her dumber brother could talk in full sentences. In Crash Bandicoot 2, it’s her who discovers the villain’s true plan thanks to her Hollywood hacking skills. Girls in other stories were always princesses and fairies and never really did much apart from being pretty and good. I got attached to her because she was different. She was using her laptop to help her brother save the world from an evil genius! 

When I was working out the differences between boys and girls, Coco came along and proved that girls could be good with computers. She is the reason I always saw computing as a gender neutral hobby. This gave me a confidence with technology that other girls in my class didn’t have, though I didn’t realise it at the time. I insisted I was bad at computers, much to the confusion of my teachers. But as far as I was concerned, I was not on Coco’s level. 

Technology was my second passion behind writing, but it was likely to be a more profitable one. I studied the subject at university. There were only a handful of girls in the class. Maybe 1 in 5. My brother studied computer science and reported a smaller ratio. My partner works in STEM and is vastly outnumbered by men. The UK’s most recent Labour Force Survey show that women made up 14.4% of people working in STEM occupations in 2015

Think about the beginning of my story – I assumed that the Playstation was for my brother. Maybe because before Coco, I hadn’t seen other examples of girls in video games? And I had certainly never seen or heard of girls being any good with computers. So I assumed, like cars, it was a man thing. I was lucky to find Coco to show me the light! But she was and still is a fairly obscure character. There was nothing mainstream to show the other girls in my class what they were missing out on. If I mentioned playing video games to other girls it was regarded as a rather strange and boyish behaviour. I think this lack of relatable characters impacted girls’ interest in games which may in turn have had a negative impact on their interest in STEM subjects.

However, Coco’s role grew with each game. It seemed I wasn’t alone in demanding more Coco. But it always remained a point of frustration that I could never play the entire game as her. It was so unfair that Crash got to have all the fun while she stood in the Warp Room, waiting for her chance. At that point she became a tragic figure for me – what would happen to her if Crash didn’t come back? Would she be trapped? Wasn’t she bored?

I decided to write my own stories – fanfiction, before I knew what it was called. I wrote the stories I wanted to read. I’ve never really stopped!

Then, a few years ago, Tumblr and Twitter exploded. There were all these women writing the same thing I’d always felt. Where are our heroines? They’re right; we could use more. But like Coco, I bet there are a thousand other unsung heroines in gaming.

That early iteration of Coco still holds up well years later. She’s not shamelessly stripperific. She’s not kicked about any more or less than Crash is. She has a role to play in the plot and she is damn good at what she does. She flies planes. She rides a baby tiger through ancient China. She steers a scooter through a tsunami. She’s a demon in a go kart. She hacks into the villains’ doomsday devices and provides the brains to Crash’s (questionable) brawn. I’m pleased to report Coco got a happy ending. She is fully playable in the recent remaster of the original trilogy of Crash Bandicoot games. 

There are more female characters in games than ever before. Any of those could be someone else’s Coco. That stupid blocky Bandicoot helped make me a geek, a gamer and a writer and being those things makes me happy. 

Thank you, Coco. 


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Dixie Kong: The Character That Defines Max, The Wandering Mage

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

For today’s short and sweet Sunday post, we’re joined by the incredible Max, The Wandering Mage! Not only does she do fantastic work over on The Well-Red Mage, but she’s also quite the accomplished Twitch streamer. Go follow her on Twitter! We’re pleased to have her on board discussing one of the unsung female heroes in gaming, Dixie Kong!

Thank you, Max, for this fantastic piece. Without further delay, let’s get started.


1P START

Dixie KongMy first gaming console was the SNES, packaged with Donkey Kong Country. I was a latecomer to console gaming, but had been into computer games for years. From Kings Quest to Commander Keen and knock-off Sonic, everything I knew regarding video games were “boys are heroes, girls are rescued (or bad guys, in the case of the legendary Carmen Sandiego).” The only time I saw myself, a girl, as the hero of a story was when the hero was a personality-less avatar picked out of a batch of pre-designed characters. But if we’re being honest, it didn’t really bother me, because I didn’t know it could be any different. That was just how the world was: a boy’s world that I was just being allowed to play in.

The original Donkey Kong Country stuck to the old familiar: a lead and a sidekick, both boys.  I was fine with it. After all, I didn’t know what I was missing. And then I picked up DKC 2, and the world changed. Instead of the big ape I’d been running around with in the first game, here was a little girl monkey, with blond pigtails and pink clothes, and she wasn’t the one being saved. She was doing the saving. She was one of the heroes. I spent almost the entire run with her in the lead when possible. Why be Diddy Kong unless I had to be? I could finally be a girl, like me, and save the day.  I would love to shake the hand of the person who first looked at Donkey Kong Country 2 and said, “What about a girl?” That person changed my world.

And then, in the third installment, she wasn’t the sidekick, but the main hero. Player one. She introduced me to a world that broke what I thought were the rules. We did not have to be the damsels in distress. Peach could save Mario. Zelda could fight back against Ganon. I could save myself and others, should I ever need to. In time, Peach and Zelda would find their own heroism, but for the tiny preteen me, Dixie was the one who was there first.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Aloy: The Character That Defines The Gaming Diaries

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Time for the last of three The Characters That Define Us pieces featuring strong female protagonists! We’re here with The Gaming Diaries today, one of the kindest bloggers on the internet! They have a great blog, and a killer Twitch channel, so go subscribe! After reading this, please check out their piece on Crash Bandicoot for The Games That Define Us.

Aloy is one of my favorite characters in all of video games, so I’ve been excited to share this piece for quite some time. Please enjoy!


1P START

When I first properly started with console gaming I had a PlayStation. I had had Game Boys before that, however, the first attached to a TV console that was bought for me, and was mine, was a PS1 since I played Pong before either of those so make of that what you wish. I loved my PS1. However, I then drifted away from owning PlayStation consoles. Fast forward until 2018 and I returned to PlayStation with my PS4, having had various handhelds, Wii, Xbox 360 and Xbox One in between plus acquiring some retro consoles.

Throughout the years there have been many characters that I have grown to know and love. When Normal Happenings first announced The Characters That Define Us several ran through my head. However, Aloy, a much more recently met character, was my top choice. Closely followed by Kara from Detroit: Become Human and the true star of Animal Crossing, namely Isabelle. So, imagine if I was talking about them instead. However, we must return to the fabulous Aloy.

For those of you who don’t know who Aloy I’ll begin with a little introduction. Aloy is the main character in the 2017 action RPG Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy lives in a world where machines roam free and people are grouped by tribes. However, she does not belong to a tribe officially after being cast out at birth. Although she takes part in a competition to become a Nora Brave and therefore a member of the Nora Tribe when she is old enough, she wins against most expectations and so becomes a Brave and then ends up as Seeker. A Nora Seeker is a Nora Brave who is granted the ability to leave the sacred land and is sent to accomplish a great purpose or mission. This is necessary for the events of Horizon Zero Dawn and means Aloy returns to the outside world where she grew up and goes further into other territories in order to complete her journey. Aloys journey is two fold: one to find the truth about her past and where she came from and, of course, to establish why the machines become deranged and thus protect everyone.

Aloy, of the Nora or in spite of the Nora depending on who you ask is a phenomenal character. She is courageous and so inspiring (and not just because of her perfect hair that I wish I could do). Aloy faces any challenge that is thrown up against her whether it is the challenge of the Brave trials, fighting against the perceptions of the motherless in the Nora society as well as the perceptions of the Nora to other tribes. I find this so inspiring in a character. You can tell her feelings when she faces these but she always works to overcome whatever is thrown at her.

Having the courage, confidence and self belief to go out into the world, and into the sacred land, and do whatever needs done even if it is terrifying is inspiring. In the last few years there have been times where I have been scared to go out, scared to be in crowds, scared to put myself out there. However seeing a character who has to fight against traditional beliefs, the poor expectations of her and general difficulties as a person on her sort of journey helps me see that I too can do it. One step at a time for me and, let’s face it, more of one giant leap at a time for Aloy but I’ll stick with a step. Seeing a strong character take it all on with her own difficulties but still manage it meant I could try to put myself out there and meant I could see someone inspire me to take the next step. She gave me the confidence to work towards my small goals and my comparatively tiny trials which I was attempting to overcome.

No matter what she is facing, she somehow goes in and faces it. Whilst I’m sure there are doubts, she doesn’t let them overwhelm her. This is something I wish I could do. However, I do look up to her in this sense. One day I will be able to ignore my doubts and go forward with confidence.

She is also a character I look to when I consider how “tiny”, “unimportant” and “useless” that I feel I am. As a “motherless” child she was cast out and rather than protected by the tribe and raised to her potential as part of the Nora she was an outcast. Though one Matriarch, Teersa, believed she was a blessing and ensured Aloy would be in a loving home with Rost, another Nora outcast. This child, who grows into the strongest person in part due to her determination to prove everyone wrong and due to her upbringing as well as her innate strength, is shown to be an inspiring young woman and she inspires me. She gives me the belief that I can carry on and I can do this even if I don’t always realise it myself. She shows me someone that despite everything thrown at her (or running head first at her), she can do it and it isn’t always impossible.

Aloy is the person I that inspires me for the person I want to become. She has amazing qualities, and whilst she is overlooked by many she doesn’t let this stop her. One day I would like to become like that. She will always hold a special place in my heart for being the character I met at the start of my PS4 journey and for being an amazing role model at that.

If she can do it then maybe I can too. Especially since I don’t have to fight giant machines that have gone rogue.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Tifa Lockhart: The Character That Defines Mystic Nerd

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

For the second of three The Characters That Define Us pieces featuring strong female protagonists, we’re joined by Amanda May from Mystic Nerd! You may remember her from her old publication, Imaginating Life. Well, she’s moved and is better than ever at her new place, so be sure to check it out.

After reading this, you’ll also love her entries for Tracking Shells and The Characters That Define Us! We’re so thankful to have her return for this collab.

Let us begin!


1P START

Women in games are often misrepresented. Either they are sexualized, or are cast as the weak damsel in distress. If they are warrior class characters, or otherwise “strong” types, they often are hard-edge and cut-throat (yet scantily-clad — because of course they are) with no warmth. That’s not to say that some of those female characters aren’t amazing. There are such characters! Who can forget such badass female leads as Lara Croft or Chun Li, among others of their ilk.

However, few female game characters have ever been created, to my limited gaming knowledge, who were more than strong fighting machines with a fine set of *ahem* assets. One female character that comes to mind is none other than Tifa Lockhart from the Final Fantasy series. Oh yeah, she’s definitely a pure badass with some of the strongest attacks and power-ups in the game. But unlike other female fighters in games, she has a beautiful heart.

It’s this very same beautiful heart that changed how I viewed women in gaming, and gaming in general. It’s also the same character that helped define my own strength and heart. Let me take you back to the beginning…

When I first encountered Final Fantasy VII, watching my cousin play the game on his prized Playstation he had brought to our grandmother’s house one summer, I was completely in awe. The graphics of course were rich and beautiful – for the time – and the music was enchanting. Coming from a musical family, I recognized the very important role music has in not just gaming, but literally every piece of media. And certainly the legendary Nobuo Uematsu was, and still is a master at the art of compelling emotional responses.

But amid the intricate battles and engaging cutscenes, and indeed enhanced by the music itself, I took notice of one character in particular: Tifa Lockhart.

Convinced my cousin only liked her because of her huge …uh, “talents”… I smirked through all the “cool combos” talk. But still, I was secretly impressed to see that the game developers had created a strong, independent female character that was also badass in battle! In the back of my mind her character gave me a feeling that I too could be badass. I too could be that strong, independent, don’t-take-no-hits lead character in my own life. However, at this point I had still only thought of Tifa as a really well-crafted playable side character with a fully developed backstory I couldn’t help but empathize with. And while I did have that initial connection to her, I had yet to see the rest of her personally…

In 2008 I finally got the chance to watch the much hyped Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children for the first time. (I know, I know, it came out in 2005. I’m late to everything. *sigh*) Again, I was blown away by the graphics, the cinematography, and of course, the beautifully orchestrated music. I felt like I was finally getting to know these beloved characters like all my peers had back when the games were first released. Except this time I got to see what felt like a more behind-the-scenes look at those characters, and of course, one in particular. There was Tifa, in all her gloriously rendered, high-quality CGI presence, showing me another side of herself.

Love. Kindness. Family. An unshakable will.

Up until this point all I had ever seen of female lead characters in games and movies alike had been either weak damsels that needed saving, or heartless and cold women who, though tough, had zero compassion. I just never could connect with them. I had always felt like I had to be strong and stand up for myself due to the hardships I faced growing up, and into my adult years up until then, but I was never the type to be cold-hearted in order to do so. That just wasn’t me.

But Tifa was different. Here was a woman who did her best to take care of her friends and protect them as if they were her own family, and kept her team in good spirits. But she was also a woman who could kick ass should they be threatened! Her primary motive for fighting wasn’t to win or save the planet. It wasn’t for the honor of her nation. It was to protect those she loved and cared for. I too had always been the type to look after my friends and family, and to make people feel better when they were feeling down. I would be more than willing to go to bat for them, and I have. Finally, a female gaming character who I actually resonated with! Someone to look up to in the gaming world.

“Words aren’t the only way to tell someone how you feel.” This quote is really telling of her nature.

Tifa cared deeply for her friends and was a loyal teammate, though she kept her own feelings hidden except for when it truly mattered – also like myself. A fine example of this takes place in Advent Children, where Tifa tries to help Cloud out of his own mental torment and remember his purpose. In this scene she tells Cloud what’s really on her mind, but still expresses her desire to protect out of love. Even though she is basically scolding him, she does so in a caring way that lets him know she’s still on his side.

Another example can be found during the battle with the Bahamut SIN, as she is seen protecting Denzel from the beasts. Here again she is proving she cares genuinely for his safety and well being. And when all her old AVALANCHE teammates show up to help in battle you can see her face soften and glow with pride as she introduces them to Denzel, showing just how much they all meat to her. Her family.

That softer side of her is what, for me, sets her apart from virtually every other female fighter character I have encountered. Even through her hardships and emotional burdens, she still manages to be the kind and encouraging protector of her group, while displaying her masterful fighting prowess. Dynamite!

Tifa Lockhart showed me that a woman in today’s world can in fact be both the kind nurturer AND the brave and fearless soul who stands up for herself and her loved ones. That it’s okay to be softhearted and empathetic, AND be the strong, independent woman who doesn’t back down. She also showed me that no matter how tough your circumstances, no matter how much your heart has been hurt, there’s always a reason to keep going and smile.

As she says to Cloud in that epic battle scene in Advent Children, as she’s giving him that last boost he needs to finally beat the beast: “no giving up!”


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Lara Croft: The Character That Defines NekoJonez

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Over the next three days, you can look forward to Characters That Define Us pieces that will feature strong female protagonists. Today, newcomer and fantastic blogger NekoJonez features one of the great icons in action adventure gaming.

NekoJonez’s blog is well worth visiting and bookmarking, so go check it out!

This is a fantastic piece, so let’s get started!


1P START

When I was writing my retrospective collab about Tomb Raider, I got various comments that the earliest Tomb Raider games haven’t aged the best. While I can totally see where they are coming from, I honestly think that those games still have their own charm. The main charm of each game is simple, it’s the character of Lara Croft. Without Lara Croft, you can’t have a Tomb Raider game. And without Lara Croft, there wouldn’t be a NekoJonez today. Yes, you read that correctly, the Tomb Raider franchise has been quite important in my life. Let me tell you why.

The Infernal Machine

One of the biggest games from my childhood is Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. I have told this story many times before, but this game is one of the biggest reasons why I got into gaming and playing games on more than one platform. Before I was playing this game, I played Pokémon Blue on my Gameboy. I also played Pac-Man and a few other games. When my nephew introduced me to this game after I rented the Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, I was hooked.

Hooked to the point that I knew the game as the backside of my hand. To this day, I know huge parts of levels without having to play the game. In most cases, I can mostly tell you where to go and what to do when you are stuck without me seeing the actual game.

Now, when I saw a game collection of Tomb Raider 3 and 4 on the shelves of my local toy store and saw that the gameplay was similar to the Infernal Machine game, I didn’t hesitate one second. I bought the game and when I came home, I installed the game and I played it for hours. At first, I was frustrated beyond belief at the controls. I felt that the controls of the Indy game were just better made. But, then I got used to the controls and now I’m in love with these old games.

Since then, I fell in love with the Tomb Raider series. It reminded me of the amazing time I had with the first time I played the Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine game. When I learned that a new game was coming out called Tomb Raider Legend, I had to play it. Sadly enough, my computer wasn’t strong enough to play the game.

So, I begged my parents for a new and stronger computer. That year at Christmas, I got that computer. It was an HP Pavilion Slimline S7000. I have forgotten the exact model. I had to part ways with that computer last year. I tried to refurbish it to play old school Windows XP games on it, but while replacing the disc drive, I actually cut myself on the CPU fan. The wound made some blood drip on the motherboard and I was unable to fully clean it off and it created a short that made the computer unbootable.

With that sad tale told, I want to focus again on that computer. When my aunt and my parents gave me that box, I was actually crying tears of happiness. It was my first personal computer. A computer that was mine to play and mess around with. I learned so much about computer science while messing around with that computer.

The Legend

So, a few days later, I bought Tomb Raider Legend for the PC. And, I was unable to stop playing the game. I was 13 years old at the time and I just finished the newest adventure of Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. I found the whole game an amazing thrill ride from beginning to end.

The cliffhanger was an amazing way for me to follow the series even more closely than before. I wanted to know how the story continued. So, after that, I played through Tomb Raider Anniversary. When I learned that the game was a remake of the first game, I wanted to play the first game as well. Now, I have to admit that I actually pirated the first game in 2007. I’m not proud of that fact right now. Since, I’m in the camp that’s still enjoying the first game.

I admit that the first game has its flaws and is far from perfect. Especially the textures haven’t aged well and it’s difficult to see which platforms you can jump on and which you can’t jump on. Yet, I quickly got used to the game thanks to the remake and I finished both games.

Not too long after, I got my hands on some other old school Tomb Raider games and some of the Gameboy games. I have played almost every Tomb Raider game apart from the handful of old Java Applets for mobile phones. But, I’m planning to play those games in the near future because after researching them for the Writer’s Raid, I found them extremely interesting.

When my parents bought me my first laptop, a HP Pavilion dv6 1360EB, I was finally able to play Tomb Raider Underworld. A game that I was looking forward too for such a long time. The game didn’t disappoint me at all. You know when I got disappointed? When I was able to finish the game and when I saw the end credits roll.

 

Now, after that, the Tomb Raider series went a bit silent. We barely heard anything about the franchise. Right when the series is slipping my mind, the first images and leaks of Tomb Raider 2013 happened. My heart skipped a beat when I learned that a new Tomb Raider game was in development.

When the game came out in 2013, to my surprise, I was able to run on the game that old HP laptop of mine. I was unable to run to the game at the highest settings but still, I was quite happy that I was able to play the game. I loved playing the game so much, I finished the whole game in a few days. Not too long after, I wrote a review on the game and I restarted blogging.

When the sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider came out three years later, I wrote a review on that game to celebrate my 3rd year as an English blogger. Before that, I had a Dutch blog for 2-ish years, so it was my 5 year blogging anniversary.

Last year, the final game in the trilogy came out. Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It was my favorite game of 2018. It was an amazing conclusion to the series and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the next Tomb Raider games. It’s a real shame that there is no news on the future of the series. If you read a lot of other articles, the conclusion is that there is no sequel planned but that the series isn’t dead.

The Series

So far, I have been talking about how I grew up with the Tomb Raider series. While I haven’t talked about every game that I played, I have given a general overview of the series and events. The gist of it is that I gave the series a chance because it looked a lot like one of my childhood’s favorite games.

I’m glad that I gave the Tomb Raider series a chance since I have been enjoying the series quite a lot. Currently, I have almost every Tomb Raider game in my collection apart from two titles on the Game Boy. But, I’m hunting down those two games right after I have written this article.

The only game that I haven’t fully played is the Angel of Darkness. The 6th game that a lot of fans wish that doesn’t exist. Now, I have played the boardgame based upon that game, and I found it quite enjoyable. Did you know that there is a board game based upon Tomb Raider? I have one of them in my collection, I don’t have the board game based upon Legend.

I have also seen the Tomb Raider movies. I rented the two original movies and I saw the latest movie in theaters. The Cradle of Life I actually saw together with my mom. That was an amazing experience, since it’s a style of movie that my mom doesn’t enjoy.

Now, I might have a controversial opinion on the newest film. That film gets a ton of hate. If you read the reception portion on the linked Wikipedia article, you see that the audience found the movie quite mediocre. The issue is that it’s a sort of retelling of the first game while the second game was already out and the 3rd game was about to release.

Personally, I found the movie quite enjoyable. Yes, it’s not the best movie but still, I found a nice summer movie. It was also a film that used the whole Tomb Raider lore to its advantage and twisted the story of the game so much that it was somewhat thrilling to watch while having finished the game.

I could talk here for hours upon hours on my history with the series. But, I think that one thing is clear. The Tomb Raider series has quite a lot of amazing memories for me. From playing games to watching movies or playing the board game, the memories are quite nostalgic.

Since childhood I always loved series where people are searching for a treasure and having an amazing adventure. Series like Relic Hunter come to mind. Where the teacher Syndex Fox explored the world to find treasures. It was like a combination of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. A cross over of Indy and Lara is still one of my biggest dreams in the entertainment industry.

So yes, Lara Croft was a big influence in my life. But I think that’s quite clear if you read this article and/or read my other articles on the Tomb Raider series. But, before I keep rambling on, I think it’s high time that I close off this article.

Thank you so much for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article on my blog but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Jaina Proudmoore: The Character That Defines Heather from Just Geeking By

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Happy Saturday, everyone! It’s amazing to see just how much effort and dedication is being put into each and every piece for this collab. Today, we’re joined by Heather of the great Just Geeking By. Please be sure to check out her blog and the causes she represents. After an impressive The Games That Define Us piece, it looks like Heather just couldn’t get enough World of Warcraft.

At over 5,000 words, this piece is lengthy and epic, so if you plan to read/watch it in one sitting, you might want to grab a snack and drink!

Heather, thank you for contributing this amazing piece. Take it away!


1P START

When I first started playing World of Warcraft I wasn’t that interested in Jaina as a character. Lady Proudmoore, the leader of Theramore, seemed to be the complete opposite of me. I wasn’t someone who cried out of pride when their King did something nice; I was more like Sylvanas, bitter and crying for vengeance. What could I possibly have in common with the blue-eyed perfect blonde mage? As it turned out, quite a lot. My first clue should have been that I didn’t like her because you always notice traits in others that you have in yourself and judge them for it.

It wouldn’t be until two expansions after the events of Icecrown Citadel that I would begin to understand Jaina. During Mists of Pandaria, Garrosh Hellscream unleashed a mana bomb on Theramore Keep obliterating it and the people that lived there. The companion novel Tides of War by Christie Golden showed us an insight into the everyday lives of Jaina and her companions, her night elf bodyguard Pained and her apprentice the perky sharp-tongued gnome Kinndy Sparkshine. The people of Theramoore and Jaina herself became more than just NPCs in a game, and as we were taken through the heart-breaking events that we’d witnessed in-game I bonded with Jaina. All she had ever done was try to help people, working for peace and someone so full of hate had not just destroyed everything she had built but had taken the lives of the innocent in a catastrophe that would forever weigh upon her soul.

Theramore

“People?” Jaina echoed. “I can’t even call them that anymore. They’re not people. They’re monsters. And so are you! My father was right—it took an entire city of people slaughtered before I could see it. I was blind to what the orcs were, because of you. You tricked me into believing that there could be peace, that the orcs weren’t bloodthirsty animals. But you lied. This is war, Thrall, and war hurts. War is ugly. But you started it! Your Horde obliterated Theramore and is now blockading the Alliance cities in Kalimdor. Whole populations are being held hostage, are being attacked. Well, as we stand here, Varian is leading the fight to break that blockade. And when I’ve completed my task, I’ll help him. And then we’ll see who holds whom hostage! But first—I destroy the city named for Orgrim Doomhammer, in the land named for your father!”

Like Jaina I’m an empath, I feel the pain of others and wish that I could save them from it. Until the events of Theramore, there was one thing that set Jaina and me apart; she had not felt that all-consuming rage caused by pain. While she had certainly had her share of pain that had shaped her (I’ll get to that in a bit) it hadn’t broken her. Losing Theramore did. The loss of everything she held near and dear coupled with the guilt of failing to save her people led Jaina down a dark path of self-destruction. She had always been a powerful mage, showing an aptitude for magic from a young age which set her apart from the rest of her sea-faring Kul Tiran family. It never occurred to her to ever use that power for evil, only ever using it to destroy to protect and help the Alliance. Now though it was easy for that power to become something dark, to be turned against the creatures who had taken from her; the Horde.

The once compassionate voice for peace was gone, forever scarred by the horror of seeing the magic-wrecked corpse of her beloved apprentice Kinndy shatter to pieces beneath her fingers. Every argument and each muttered comment about the traitorous horde came rushing back including that fateful day with her father where she chose to protect the horde over him, resulting in his death. That guilt had weighed heavily on her ever since, and now Jaina found that her sacrifice had been for nothing. The emotions bubbled up and exploded in an expressive display of elemental magic that threatened to destroy the horde city of Orgrimmar, taking the lives of innocents. It was something that Jaina would never recover from, and it was only through the combined efforts of her lover Kalecgos, the blue dragon, and friend Thrall, former warchief of the horde, that she was saved from her own actions.

Similar to Jaina, I am familiar with self-destructive behaviour and have been pulled back from the brink by those who care for me. Fuelled by the rage of injustice, pain and guilt, I’ve tried to destroy what I thought was causing the pain. As Jaina would eventually find out it’s not that simple, and as I followed Jaina through her personal journey I began to work through my own.

Fury

“What if the Horde killed your friends? Your family? Destroyed everything you had. Could you maintain your convictions even then?”

Before the destruction of Theramore, the horde was attacking the city and the Alliance were trying to repel the attack with the aid of the Kirin Tor, a neutral faction of Mages made up of members of the Horde and Alliance. During the battle, a member of the Sunreavers, the horde representatives in Dalaran, was found to be sabotaging their efforts and working alongside the attackers. The destruction of Theramore had also claimed the life of the leader of the Kirin Tor, Rhonin, and Jaina was prophesied to become his successor. Upon finding out that more Sunreavers had been working with Garrosh to steal a powerful ancient mogu artifact by using Dalaran portals to access the Alliance city of Darnassus, Jaina was once again infuriated. With the help of the Alliance representatives, the Silver Covenant, the Kirin Tor purged the Horde from Dalaran.

This time Jaina constructively used her fury, guiding adventurers to Thunder Isle to seize control of it before the Horde could. While fighting their way through the stronghold of the Thunder King, the Alliance forces came face to face with the horde lead by the blood elf leader Lor’themar Theron. A standoff between Jaina and Lor’themar Theron nearly came to blows and would have it not for the intervention of the Alliance’s Pandaren ally Taran Zhu. Urging both leaders to break the cycle of hatred and retribution by walking away, his words managing to reach Jaina just as Thrall and Kalecgos had done previously. She left Lor’themar with a final reminder that no true peace would ever be possible as long as Garrosh led the horde, and was taken by surprise when he stated that was why they needed to conserve their strength for another day, suggesting that there were even people within the Horde who wanted to stop Garrosh.

Like Jaina I can see both sides of a story which makes me a good mediator for others, however, in personal situations I become just as blinded by anger. I become judgemental, tainting everyone with the same brush event when their actions show otherwise. The Horde would go on to rebel against their Warchief with Horde and Alliance laying Siege to Orgrimmar to stop Garrosh once and for all. Despite that Jaina urges King Varian, the same man she once wept over for showing compassion to an orc in Icecrown Citadel, to demand that he take the opportunity to take over Orgrimmar and finish the Horde once and for all. It’s a far cry from the young woman who openly welcomed Horde to Theramore to hold peace talks with the Alliance. When Varian ignores her, choosing peace instead of hate, Jaina burns with betrayal.

Betrayal

“You will not address me in this manner. I am a leader in my own right, not your lieutenant, and not your child,” Jaina said, her voice like ice. Thunder rumbled as if in response. She trembled with anger.

“You are a member of the Alliance,” Varian retorted, stepping closer to her.

“Do you know,” said Jaina, biting off the words, “the more I think about it, the more I think the former leaders of the Kirin Tor were right—that it’s better to be independent. Do not push me, Varian Wrynn. Because I will push back if I have to.”

It is not the first betrayal that Jaina has felt, nor the last, something else that we have both experienced. Love, family, friends, colleagues; every step of the way it feels as though both Jaina and I have had someone stabbing a knife in our back rather than being there when we really needed them. While no one expected Varian to conquer a city just to make Jaina feel better (as a good friend he knew it would not have helped in the long run anyway), there was more he could have done to help her get through that part of her life. As someone familiar with hate and anger, especially towards the Horde, Varian was in the perfect position to help Jaina. Instead of doing so he focused on her past sins, using her actions to justify his anger towards her. Those actions, helping the Tauren when they needed it, resulted in Jaina receiving an early warning about the Horde attack on Theramore and saved many innocent lives. Yet when Jaina points this out to Varian he turns it back on her again, saying that it is now her that is calling for vengeance against the horde.

She feels a similar feeling of betrayal when her lover Kalecgos tries to talk to her during Garrosh’s trial. Unlike Varian Kalec’s words are spoken with love rather than criticism when he talks about how consumed by bitterness she has become. For Jaina, it just feels like even more neverending criticism and she feels frustrated at having to list everything she’s been through, to justify her ongoing suffering. Life is hard, and when you’ve got depression it’s even harder. While people think they’re helping by pointing out how you’re feeling, by holding up a mirror to your negativity as if by magic you will suddenly realise the type of person you’ve become and just snap out of it, it never ever helps. Even if it is something that you need to hear all it does is add more guilt to the ever-growing pile. At that moment Kalec betrays Jaina by not knowing this, by falling into that trap and by not staying with her. He says he cares and yet he leaves.

Then I’ll get right to the point. For the Kirin Tor to fight at full strength, we need the mages of the Horde to join our ranks.”

NEVER! Do you hear me, Khadgar?”

Jaina, we know the pain you’ve endured. But this is about–”

They obliterated Theramore. They left us to die on the Broken Shore. Again and again, they’ve proven to be monsters… cowards!”

I’ve made my case. With respect, I move for a vote.”

Very well. But consider your choice carefully. If you let those vermin back into this city, I will not be counted among your ranks when you welcome them.”

The final nail in the coffin of betrayals for Jaina came after the death of King Varian at the Broken Shore, a death that Jaina was sure could have been avoided if the Horde had not chosen to retreat. With the monstrous Burning Legion once again returned to destroy Azeroth every faction is arming themselves for the hardest fight of their life. For the Kirin Tor, this means accepting Horde members back into their ranks a decision that Jaina, their leader, vehemently disagrees with. The rest of the Council of Six votes against her and as promised she leaves, giving up the leadership of the Kirin Tor and everything she has worked for to stand by her convictions. It’s something that she shouldn’t have to do but has to be done and I’ve felt the same way myself.

Darkness

“I’m sorry, Arthas. I can’t watch you do this.”

Before Kalec walked away from Jaina there was a much more harrowing tale of a relationship in Jaina’s life, and one that I cannot help but find a correlation between an event in my own life. As a young student, Jaina crossed paths with the Prince of Lordaeron, Arthas Menethil. It was not long before their friendship grew into love and at one point Arthas and Jaina were engaged to be married. Arthas began to doubt the decision and chose to abruptly end the engagement, however, the two of them later rekindled their relationship. But by then it was too late; the Scourge invasion had begun.

When Arthas discovered that the demon Mal’Ganis had infected the grain in Lordaeron causing it to turn people into the monstrous undead minions of the Scourge he went mad with rage. Horrified and demoralised he vowed to stop Mal’Ganis who was hiding in the city of Stratholme. Accompanied by Jaina and his mentor Uther, Arthas headed for Stratholme only to find that the citizens had already eaten the plague-tainted grain. Knowing that they would soon turn the undead Arthas proposed a cull of Stratholme’s citizens, slaughtering them before they turned. Uther refused, unable to condone the slaughter of innocents even when ordered to by his King. Feeling the same way Jaina followed Uther, walking away from the man she once loved and telling him that she couldn’t watch him do this.

That was the start of the long dark path that led to Arthas becoming merged with Ner’zhul, the Lich King, and Master and Lord of the Scourge. As the Lich King, he was responsible for atrocities far worse than the Culling of Stratholme, as that fateful day would later be known as. Fighting on the front lines of the Third War Jaina was forced to face the reality of what her former fiance had become, to see the pain and suffering he caused every day. She would relive it again many years later when Arthas emerged from the Frozen Throne again. Now fully merged with the Lich King he had banished the last of his humanity and Ner’zhul’s spirit to become the sole personality of the Lich King.

Despite everything, Jaina never gave up hope that humanity existed within him, and when Uther’s spirit confirmed that was the case she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to save him. Uther is quick to emphasis that it is a dwindling presence and tells her that the Lich King has to be destroyed. Jaina hesitates, at first unsure of how she can kill her Prince but then hardens and delivers Uther’s vital information to Varian and his men. After Arthas was defeated a hero returns an item to Jaina, an old locket that once belonged to her. It’s a sentimental gesture and as Jaina explains it speaks to the actions of someone who has not lost their humanity entirely.

While I did not have a former partner turn into the Lich King and go on a murderous rampage, I have known what it is like to be tormented by memories of a past relationship. To have someone begin as your Prince Charming and then later turn on you, growing darker and more dangerous. As Arthas turned on his companions before the Culling of Stratholme, I too have had someone turn on me and tell me it was my fault. That I didn’t do things right, that I didn’t put enough effort in, and so on. The term for this behaviour is gaslighting. My Lich King was not the Lord of the Scourge, but he was no less of a monster.

Lost

“Who better to rule a lost city… than someone who has lost her way? It seems every path I have taken has led me back here.”

After Jaina teleports away from the meeting of the Council of Six she’s not seen again throughout the battle with the Legion, striking out on her own to take down demons. She returns briefly to Dalaran after the Legion is defeated and speaks with Kalecgos, appearing more composed yet still troubled. Jaina confides in the blue dragon that she didn’t like who hate had turned her into, explaining that since the fall of Theramore all she had been doing was reacting. She had found herself stuck in a rut and she still did not know how to get out of it. Nothing makes her calm anymore, and she has no happy aspirations. She informs him that she’s leaving again, but not because the Horde has returned to the Kirin Tor; it’s because she needs to find out how to be true to her own nature. Kalec apologises for not being able to help her and she tells him that there’s nothing he can do; it’s something only she can do for herself.

What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like the very definition of depression. I’ve been suffering from depression since I was 13 and I as I read these words I related to every one of them. Now, as someone older and more experienced, I can also relate to Kalec as someone who has supported a loved one through depression. Like Jaina I’ve had to face my own battles, take my own journeys on my own and step into the unknown. Most of the time it was terrifying, sometimes it didn’t work and I would fall down and have to dust myself back up again. Other times it led to something so unbelievably worthwhile that I would never have believed it and never known if I’d not tried it. Just like Jaina.

Following her talk with Kalecgos Jaina wanders aimlessly, first to the ruins of Theramore and then to her birthplace in Kul Tiras. In the city of Boralus, she watches as her mother gives a memorial to her father who died during the Third War. The crowd interrupt her, shouting that they remember. They remember how he died; his daughter betrayed him to the Horde. Hidden amongst the crowd Jaina can only listen, her thoughts in turmoil as not for the first time she reflects that she was trying to do the right thing and failed. She follows her mother and advisors after the memorial, overhearing news of a missing noble family and an Admiral’s concern for the Kul Tiran’s safety now that tensions are rising between the Horde and Alliance again. His suggestion to reach out to the Alliance, and thus Jaina, are quickly quashed. Hurt by her mother’s vicious comments, Jaina’s resolve hardens and she vows that her people, the Kul Tirans, will not stand alone.

Guilt

I heard, I heard, across a moonlit sea,

The old voice warning me,

“Beware, beware the Daughter of the Sea”,

“Beware, beware…”

…of me.

I’ve spoken about Jaina’s guilt several times, and in the Battle for Azeroth expansion, we see Jaina actively engage and confront a lifetime of guilt. She failed to save her people at Theramore, and that was clearly on her mind when she heard that Kul Tiras faced the same fate. She returns to active duty as a member of the Alliance with a shocking appearance at the Battle for Lordaeron. Arriving in a floating Kul Tiran warship that she raised from the ocean floor, Jaina saves the Alliance’s forces from the deadly blight. She stays by King Anduin’s side as he fights his way to the new warchief Sylvanas and teleports everyone to safety when she destroys the city with blight rather than letting it fall into Alliance hands.

Upon learning that the Horde had allied itself with the island nation of Zandalar, and losing most of Stormwind’s fleet, Jaina suggests that she should return to her homeland of Kul Tiras to recruit their legendary fleet. She promises to return with the fleet or not at all. It is a bold statement, but Jaina knew that the fate of both the Alliance and her homeland were at stake. She either succeeded or the Horde won. Her return to Boralus was met with distrust and hate, the guards arresting her upon arrival and urged by an advisor her mother treated her as a traitor and threw her in jail.

Unbeknown to her mother, Katherine, it was the advisor that was the real traitor and their actions would eventually come to light thanks to a hero of the Alliance. Jaina was exiled to Fate’s End, an island where no one ever returns from and ended up in the clutches of the Gorak Tul, king of the ancient drust. Gorak Tul pulled Jaina into Thros, the Blighted Lands, a death realm filled with nightmares. There she remained trapped in her nightmares, filled with guilt and reliving the worst moments of her life over and over again.

Her suffering and torment continued until Katherine ventures into Thros with a hero to find Jaina and free her. There they witness Jaina as a child surrounded by visions of the past. Citizens from Theramore confront her accusing her of leaving them to die, and telling her she should have stopped Garrosh. Jaina says that she failed them all. Katherine tells Jaina that she is the power and the fury of Kul Tiras, but “even the strongest of us can’t save everyone”. The words penetrate through the vision and Jaina disappears, leaving them to find the next one.

This time it is Rhonin who accuses her of tainting the faction and telling her that he was a fool to think she could be their leader. Jaina stutters a reply about them lying to her, and Katherine counters this vision by telling her daughter that reason alone is not enough. Making a decision without any feelings leaves only empty darkness behind, Katherine explains.

As this vision disappear Katherine hears a familiar voice; her late husband. However, it’s not Daelin they find at the next vision but Varian Wrynn who yells at Jaina for not letting him seek justice in the Undercity. He names all the Horde leaders he could have stopped, including Garrosh and the current Warchief Sylvanas; all the lives he could have saved if she hadn’t stopped him. Demoralised, Jaina blames herself. After defeating the Deceiver, Katherine returns to her daughter, saying that seeking an end to bloodshed is a notable pursuit and one she wished Daelin had learned.

The final vision disperses leaving Katherine and the hero to find the real Jaina. They find her staring at her father, another minion of the nightmare, as he taunts her for siding with the Horde which inevitably ended with his death. Katherine demands that it shows it’s true form, and they defeat it, finally leaving them alone with Jaina. As Katherine reaches her she sees Jaina as a child sitting on the edge of a building crying, wringing her hands. She says she’s done everything wrong and Katherine begins to see Jaina’s memories unfold, all the nightmares and memories that Jaina has been reliving in Thros. Starting with the Culling of Stratholme, then to her confrontation with her father and his death, and culminating in Jaina accepting her mother’s judgement when she arrived in Boralus. The many people Jaina has lost appear in front of her including Varian, Kinndy, Rhonin, Daelin and Arthas. Katherine disperses her vision-self with a wave of a hand and lifts Jaina’s chin, bringing Jaina back to herself and reality. She asks her forgiveness, then tells her to forgive her father and herself. The spell of Thros broken she moves to help her daughter out of the realm of nightmares and back into the light. Their exit is interrupted by Gorak Tul himself, and Jaina defeats him before teleporting the three of them to safety.

Each of the nightmares Jaina experienced in Thros is those dark little voices that we hear in our mind. The ones that tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we can’t do anything. Just as Jaina said “I did everything wrong”, so too have I said that and so too have I had someone tell me to forgive myself. The Thros questline felt like a mirror of cognitive therapy behaviour (CBT) to me, and while therapy isn’t quite the same as going to a realm of nightmares, it certainly can feel just as dark and draining. It is holding a mirror up to yourself and recognising those ugly thoughts and countering them with positive assertions just as Katherine did to disperse them. Just as Jaina did we can find our way out of the darkness; we may need some help to do it but it is definitely possible.

Rebirth

“Change, Jaina thought. It brings pain; it brings joy; and it is completely inescapable. We are, all of us, our own phoenixes, if we choose to be. Out of the ashes, we can be reborn.”

Those were Jaina’s thoughts after the loss of Theramore when Thrall and Kaelecgos had pulled her back from the brink of complete self-destruction. Everything had changed for her, and she had risen from the ashes of Theramore into something new and terrifying. At that point, she had no idea what else was to come, what she would need to go through to be reborn.

Upon returning from Thros Katherine and Jaina are thrown straight into battle; the traitor, Lady Ashmane is attacking Boralus. They clear the city of enemies and Katherine hands Jaina a pendant that once belonged to Daelin. Using the pendant Jaina summons the missing Kul Tiran fleet home, releasing it from the magical storm it had been trapped in. Effectively blocked in Lady Ashmane is forced to surrender.

Katherine chooses to step down as Lord Admiral and names Jaina as her successor. After being arrested and branded a traitor Jaina certainly had no idea that her people would welcome her as a hero and accept her as their Lord Admiral. When talking with her younger brother Tandred she admits she always feared that the Kul Tiran people would never accept her back, especially as she had no way to prove herself to anyone. He replies by saying that without her the fleet would never have survived, nor would Boralus have survived the Ashmane attack. It was her, and only her as a mage, that could have done all that. If she felt any lingering doubt that Kul Tiras needed her, or any guilt for abandoning her homeland to pursue magic it is put to rest by the knowledge that she succeeded in what she set out to do.

Jaina also succeeded in helping the Alliance, bringing the Kul Tirans back into the Alliance as allies and presenting King Anduin with a Warship as a gift.

With every crisis and obstacle that Jaina has faced, especially the feeling of losing her way, the feeling of finding one’s purpose and succeeding in accomplishing one’s goals is the biggest confidence boost there is. The additional bonus of being reunited with family and friends, including those thought to have long departed from this world, only adds to that feeling. It makes it feel as though all that pain, all that change was worth it.

As Jaina’s been going through these changes and finding her path I’ve been doing the same. I was diagnosed with a debilitating illness called ME and it has completely changed my life. I’d just discovered my dream career of becoming a librarian as my symptoms showed, and just like that the dream was ripped away from me. Jaina may just be a video game character, but she is one that has gone through a level of trauma and difficult that I can relate to and been reborn into something magnificent. I’ve been going through my own changes, finding my own path and while I’m not going to be magically powering any warships or summoning a fleet of ships any time soon, I’ve been accomplishing things I never thought I could do.

Passion

“Knowledge is power!”

I’ve talked about quite a lot of dark subjects, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about the passionate side of Jaina. From a young age, she was fascinated with books, her favourite place being the library in Boralus Keep. When she left for Dalaran her passion for knowledge continued and she pestered the Archmage Antonidas to take her as an apprentice. It’s not a surprise that she grew up to be a formidable mage and future leader of the Kirin Tor.

Leaving home to study in a strange place miles away from your family and people is a scary thing for anyone let alone a child, yet Jaina knew what she wanted and pursued it with determination. It is an attitude that says anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it, and one that Jaina has displayed throughout her life. Just as Jaina went out into the wider world in seek of knowledge, so did I. I left home for University at 18, and I’ve continued to pursue my academic career despite my disabilities. Some people are content with living in the same place their entire lives, but like Jaina, I laid down my roots elsewhere. Just as Jaina found her new home in Theramore I found mine in Scotland.

Future

“What’s different this time?”

“We are.”

Jaina helps Thrall and Saurfang to save Baine from execution and is once again forced to face up to her past actions when the Sunreavers use it as a chance for vengeance. Although she can successfully teleport everyone to safety Jaina remains troubled by the past being stirred up again. Urged on by his companions Thrall approaches her and admits that he wishes he could undo it all because he did everything wrong. She tells him that they both have blood on their hands. As they gaze over the tranquil city of Thunder Bluff Thrall mourns for what is about to happen; the fury of Sylvanas and the destruction of another city – just like the world tree Teldrassil. Jaina reminds him that they had stood together on another slope looking at another world tree once before. That tree didn’t fall because the Alliance and The Horde worked together. Thrall shakes his head, saying that it’s a crossroad they’ve come to many times and it never works; what’s different this time? Her answer is simple; we are.

It is so easy to get bogged down with the past, with everything that has happened and to think that nothing good can ever happen again. Yet nothing stays the same. Our experiences change us whether for good or for bad, we never remain the same. We’re not the same people who made that choice 10 years ago, 2 years ago or even last week.

Just as the Horde and Alliance are involving into something new so are we.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Sylvanas Windrunner: The Character That Defines Ruubin from My Life as a Quest

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

In the first of two World of Warcraft inspired pieces, today we’re joined by Ruubin of My Life as a Quest! Ruubin is a fantastic writer who has been a part of both The Games That Define Us and Tracking Shells.

To be honest, we’ve been having trouble getting in touch with Ruubin since late last year. We hope she returns to write many more amazing blog posts.

In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful piece. Ruubin, take it away!


1P START

It’s 2009 and I just bought the World of Warcraft expansion pack for Wrath of the Lich King (WoLK). With the install complete, I started my World of Warcraft character, a spunky undead with dark purple hair. The undead storyline has always been one of my favorites, even 10 years later, after playing all the starting zones at least twice, I still think Tirisfal Glades is one of the best zones in the entire game (even five expansions later). For multiple reasons, Halloween vibes anyone? However, the main reason being the intriguing story of Lady Sylvanas Windrunner; the Banshee Queen.

[Art source]

Lady Sylvanas Windrunner is the most underrated character in the entire World of Warcraft, Azeroth specifically. And as intense as this “villain” might be, I’ve always found Lady Sylvanas Windrunner to be the video game character that defines me the most.

Who is Sylvanas?

Lady Sylvanas goes by many names:

  • The Dark Lady
  • The Banshee Queen
  • Former Warchief of the Horde
  • Former Supreme Ruler of the Forsaken
  • Former Ranger-General of Silvermoon

However, I like to think of Lady Sylvanas as the coolest villain in all of World of Warcraft. She attempted to defend Quel’Thalas (realm of the Blood Elves) against the Scourge (the undead) from an invasion lead by the death knight Arthas Menethil. However, luck was not on her side, and she fell during battle where her soul was ripped from her body by Arthas and transformed into a banshee to serve the Lich King.

However, the powerful warrior she was, Sylvanas broke away from the powerful grasp of the Lich King and round up her own army of renegade undead (eventually known as the Forsaken) to take on the Scourge and avenge her death. The Forsaken joined the Horde and was lead with force by Sylvanas, the Banshee Queen.

[Art source]

Even though the Banshee Queen’s primary purpose is to aid the Forsaken. Devoted to her people (the undead) she rose in the ranks of the Horde, causing her to also become mistrusted by many of her allies and other faction members. Some say they can never understand her true intentions. Yet, as the character that defines me, I feel that I understand the Banshee Queen’s true intentions clearly.

Realizing that she was destined to a life of darkness (afterlife that is), she formed an alliance with the Val’kyr (after the fall of the Lich King). With this alliance, the Banshee Queen was able to return to her living body as long as the Val’kyr survive. To this day, the Banshee Queen has overthrown many, including the Warchief Vol’jin in the battle for the Broken Shore. However, her mission is and has always been loyalty to her people.

So, if Sylvanas is thought (by many) to be a traitor, what’s so amazing about her? Sylvanas is loyal. In all the characters and expansions, she’s always been loyal to her cause and I have a lot of respect for people who are loyal.

[Art source]

Which characteristic is more important to you: loyalty or honesty?

It’s a hard question but I’ve always valued loyalty over honesty. To me, a friend who lies doesn’t usually plan on hurting you intentionally (we’ve all told little white lies) but a friend who breaks your trust has thought about how that broken trust will hurt you and still goes ahead with their original plan. Sylvanas is loyal. Sure, maybe she’s considered a traitor by her current allies but she’s ALWAYS been loyal to her people; the Forsaken.

Sylvanas is a warrior. Her strength and leadership is inspirational but also feared by many. For me, there is something mildly comforting about meeting a “villain” in a game and knowing they will remain faithful to their storyline. It’s like watching a TV show and realizing by Season 8 that not only has the plot changed but you have a completely new cast of characters. Sylvanas’ character will not disappoint. She will always be our loyal banshee queen.

My history with World of Warcraft has been very similar to that of Sylvanas’. I started playing in 2009, not specifically because I wanted to play the game but because that was how my at-the-time boyfriend (who was the guild leader for our guild) and I spent time together since our relationship was long distance. And, like the seasons of Azeroth, my alliances in life also changed. A year (or so) later, our three co-guild leaders accounts got hacked (I still believe it was an “inside job”) which left our guild very divided and my personal relationship in a constant zone of fight or flight.

[Art source]

It wasn’t until I realized that I was Sylvanas. I had to decide if I was going to be loyal to my cause (playing World of Warcraft the video game) or loyal to my relationship and friends (my allies). I’m sure it’s obvious which one I decided (I mean, if you know Sylvanas at all). It wasn’t a hard decision either. My at-the-time boyfriend was actually quite a jerk (something I didn’t realize until a year and half in our relationship) and his friends (our guild-mates) were mostly his friends, not necessarily mine. So, I ditched those guys and returned to my original cause; playing World of Warcraft.

Am I heartless? Ditching my “friends” to play a video game? Nah. If Salvanas has taught me anything it’s the true meaning of loyalty among friends.

I’ve spent years reflecting over this experience and I think it was for the best that I chose a video game over my friends. It saved me years of anxiety and grief. Similar to Salvanas, it’s made me stronger but has also made me wiser in selecting my friends. It’s also made me value loyalty above any other characteristic in a person. And in return, I can be the most loyal friend you could ask for.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*