I'm about to do something that has become a rather unpopular thing on the internet -- especially among liberal and progressive-minded people such as myself. I'm about to explain why I consider Rey to have been a "Mary Sue" in Star Wars: the Force Awakens.

I'm not doing this because I want to hate on the movies for the sake of hating them. I'm also not trying to hate on Daisy Ridley, and Daisy, if you read this, I want you to know that I think you did a fantastic job with the material that was given to you. I'm being critical because I want the movies to be better than they are. I have very high standards and expectations when it comes to Star Wars, and I feel that Disney's efforts so far have been sub-par. So much so that I often find myself using phrases like ... sigh ... "to the prequels' credit". I hate having to say that. It makes my skin crawl every time. I'm at a point, however, in which I find myself pointing out merits in the prequels as a point of contrast against flaws that I perceive in Disney's Star Wars films, as if one set isn't better or worse than the other; but rather, that they are just ... different.

I don't hate Rey. I am critical because I want these characters to be better.

So even though this is kind of old news that's been beaten to death for over two years, let's talk about Rey for a moment. And regardless of which side of this issue you fall on, I hope that you read the following with an open mind. And if you disagree, then that's fine. I'm not going to fight you over it.

"Mary Sue" is a subjective qualifier

Let's start with some background. The definition that I use for a Mary Sue is:

A fictional character (often appearing in fan fiction) who is primarily a vehicle for wish-fullfillment (usually being a self-insert stand-in for the author), and who is unjustifiably-competent in multiple fields -- if not everything.

Typically, these characters are good at everything they do. They get along with other established characters exceedingly well (sometimes even being romantically pursued by one or more of the canonical characters). They have few (if any) flaws. They are an idealized character who is essentially a "perfect" character within the fiction. They are also -- pretty much by definition -- characters who are added to a fictional setting long after its initial establishment.

The term "Mary Sue" is derived
from Star Trek fan fiction.

The term originated in Star Trek fan fiction, having been coined in 1973 after the publication of a parody story "A Trekkie's Tale" in the fan magazine Menagerie. This particular story (written by Paula Smith) was about a 15-year-old female character named Mary Sue, and it satirized the unrealistic nature of many characters in other fan fiction stories. Lieutenant Sue was the youngest Lieutenant in Starfleet and was an expert in virtually everything she did. She was "the best and the brightest" of Starfleet.

First off, I want to get one thing straight: whether or not a character is a "Mary Sue" is a subjective opinion. Whether or not any individual reader or viewer considers a given character as a "Mary Sue" is going to depend greatly upon where that individual draws the line between "justifiably-competent" and "unjustifiably-competent". That line will vary from person to person, and from fictional universe to fictional universe. I draw that line at a much different place for Star Wars than I do for Star Trek. In addition, this line is not always a hard or clear-cut line. It might be very fuzzy. The fuzziness of the line will also vary from person-to-person and from fictional-universe-to-fictional-universe. It's all on a continuum. Even within a single fictional universe, one character may be " more Mary Sue-ish" than another character.

Identifying a character as a Mary Sue also does not necessarily mean that the work of fiction (or even the character) is inherently bad.

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Netflix's extraordinary exclusive series Black Mirror recently released its fourth season, and it's premiere episode, "USS Callister", is already being praised around the internet for its spectacular deconstruction of toxic fandom and male-entitlement power fantasies. It deserves every bit of that praise. Jesse Plemons is also deservedly earning plenty of praise for his incredible performance as both a nerdy creeper and for his spot-on Shatner send-up. But Black Mirror, as a series, is so good, in part, because it works on many, many different levels. So I wanted to spend a bit of time praising the episode for some of its other concepts that are getting less attention in the mainstream.

Jesse Plemons puts on a masterful performance as a nerdy office creeper and a spot-on Shatner send-up.

Before I do that, I want to start by saying that I love Black Mirror as a series. It's a modern-day Twilight Zone with a specific focus on the social impacts of technology, and dire warnings about their dangers. Yes, it's pessimistic, but it's bloody brilliant! I haven't sat down to watch every episode yet, and have only seen a handful of episodes from the first three seasons and the season four premiere. That being said, the show's second episode "Fifteen Million Merits" is one of my favorite pieces of television ever. "The Entire History of You", "Be Right Back", and "San Junipero" are also some of my favorites so far.

These episodes (along with "USS Callister") work so well for me because they do such a fantastic job of world-building -- at least, when they are not unrealistically pretending that memories and personality can be replicated from DNA, which is a major (almost story-breaking) stumbling block for Callister. These deep, nuanced worlds create many levels of commentary to unpack. "Fifteen Million Merits" focused on reality TV and pervasive advertising, but it also has some scathing warnings about a culture of body-shaming, obsession over digital merits (read: XBox Live and Steam Achievements), and how corporate avarice could turn a post-scarcity economy into an absolute dystopia.

A friend of mine highly recommended "San Junipero" to me on the grounds that it's a more optimistic episode than many of the others -- even having a happy ending. But my takeaway was not a "happy ending" at all. The fairy tale ending hides a sinister metaphysical question that the text of the episode mostly sidesteps: the mind-body problem. Is the avatar of a deceased person living in San Junipero really that same person? Or merely a copy? Are they one power failure away from being snuffed out of existence? Are people committing suicide based on misinformation from a multi-billion dollar corporation promising that they can live forever in a simulated reality?

Black Mirror's exceptionally well-thought-out worlds always leave sinister nuances to unpack.

"USS Callister", on the surface, appears to be entirely about toxic fandom (along with male entitlement). It is absolutely about that, and it does a fantastic job of presenting it. As a Star Trek fan, I also enjoyed the deconstructive elements about Trek tropes and the unrealistic reverence that fans hold for the series and its established canon. As someone who blogs about Star Trek, Star Wars, video games, and other fanboy topics, I am certainly a target of at least some of this episode's criticism.

As someone who works in the software industry, I recognized the episode also taking swipes at the cult of personality attached to tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Gabe Newell, and others, and the idea that they may be taking credit and profiting on other people's work, and becoming filthy stinking rich at the expense of the consumers who mindlessly use and venerate their products, all with willful disregard for how those products may be misused. As someone who can't wait to put myself on the waiting list for a Tesla self-driving car, I'm also well within the cross-hairs of that line of commentary...

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The Orville

Discovery isn't the only Star Trek show on TV this fall -- at least, in spirit anyway. September saw the premiere of Seth McFarlane's Trek-clone The Orville. Orville stumbled out of the gates at first with a premiere episode that I really didn't like. But it's been slowly getting better -- or at least, less bad, with each of the first few episodes being substantially better (though still not entirely effective) than the premiere.

A lot of this has to do with a shift in the show's tone. The show was advertised and marketed as a comedy (basically, a televised version of Galaxy Quest), and I went into the first episode with a comedic mindset, and that premiere episode definitely went out of its way to try to tell jokes. That was a problem because the jokes (and by extension the show) just wasn't funny. The focus on comedy and gags also detracted from the serious drama, which was poorly-written, sloppily-executed, and which revolved around a dumb sci-fi MacGuffin. Further, much of the comedy involved stupid pop culture references which are going to quickly become dated; thus, hurting the show's lasting re-watchability if it ever becomes good enough to warrant rewatching.

If you think Star Trek needs more dick and fart jokes --
or more dogs licking their balls in the background, then The Orville is for you.

The problem is that MacFarlane just isn't that good at writing jokes. It pains me to say this because I was a huge fan of Family Guy when it first premiered, and I'll still defend the quality of those first two seasons. But MacFarlane seems to be completely arrogant in his own joke-writing ability, while simultaneously completely dismissive of the audience's ability to grasp the jokes that he seems to think are much more complex and clever than they actually are. Most of these jokes boil down to being fart or sex jokes, and very few work on more than the most juvenile and immature of levels. Perhaps the best example of this is a joke in which the Captain Mercer puts a distress call on the viewscreen. The distressed scientist has a dog in the background who spends the entire conversation licking his balls. It was mildly funny due to its relative subtlety. Yeah, I guess that probably happened occasionally to Captain Archer in Enterprise. Ha ha. But then as soon as the conversation was over, the viewscreen flicks off, and the navigator and helmsman say "Hey, did you see that dog licking his balls?" What little subtlety is gone; joke ruined!

It's like McFarlane thinks he has to remind the audience that there was a joke, and that you should have been laughing, even though the joke wasn't that funny to begin with. This is the same problem that I've always had with laugh tracks in sitcoms: all they do is remind me that the jokes aren't funny. Except McFarlane doesn't use a laugh track, he writes the "hey, there was a joke here. Did you get the joke?" into the script!

"Command Performance" had humor more appropriate for its sci-fi set-up and relationship drama.

The next two episodes, however, seemed to plant their feet more firmly in the territory of genuine sci-fi concepts and character drama, and the show was stronger for it. The execution, however, is kind of hit-or-miss...

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NCAA Football

I recently wrote about the ongoing lawsuit between Ed O'Bannon and the NCAA regarding player likenesses for college athletes (and compensation for college athletes in general). While it seems unlikely that any college football games will be made using the NCAA license while this lawsuit remains unresolved in appeal limbo, it does seem inevitable to me that EA will eventually start making these games again. Hopefully, it will come with the ability to include real player likenesses, but that is likely to depend on the outcome of any appeals and the willingness of the NCAA to include real player likenesses in games. Video game sales seems far too lucrative an exploit for the NCAA to pass up, so I highly doubt that they'd simply refuse to grant their license.

Operating under the assumption that EA will go back to making NCAA Football games within the next few years (hopefully as early as NCAA Football 18), I'd like to start talking about the kinds of things that I'd like to see in such games.

NCAA Football 14 -
It's been three years without a college football game. It doesn't look like we'll be getting one for 2016 either.
But hopefully a new entry in the series is only a year or two away...

Legacy features that must return!

I don't expect all the old features to return, and even the ones that do return might not be the same as in the older games. But here's the things that I think the game should absolutely have in some form or another (hopefully similar to previous games):

  • In-season recruiting in dynasty
  • Redshirt players
  • Export draft class to Madden
  • Conference re-alignments
  • EA Locker: Roster sharing & Team Builder
  • Custom stadium sounds
  • "Toughest places to play"

Roster-sharing might seem unnecessary if the result of the lawsuits means that EA can actually license the rights to player likenesses. But it's unclear how that would work. There is no college football labor union (equivalent of the NFL Players' Association) that I'm aware of, so either the NCAA would have the rights to license all of its players as a collective, or it would be the responsibility of the game-maker to individually license each and every player. Hopefully, it's the former. But if it's the latter, that leaves open the possibility of individual players refusing to grant rights to their likenesses, which means they won't be included in the game. Would EA simply remove them from the roster? Or replace them with some generic player? Or go back to using "QB #10" as that player's name? Worse yet, would the game-maker even bother to approach all the athletes, or would they just settle for the key players from elite schools?

In any case, college football rosters are often in flux right up to the start of the season, and many teams need a few games before they settle on a final depth chart. So the ability to share roster updates means that the user base can keep the rosters up to date if EA uses outdated rosters.

Hand-me-downs from Madden

Madden is now a few years ahead of NCAA Football, and the past few years have actually seen a decent improvement in the quality and depth of the game. Of course, I'd like to see a lot of features from recent Madden games also get imported into any future NCAA Football games:

  • Tackling / physics engine
  • Improved running, receiving, QB throw-placement, and defensive play
  • Player experience and confidence (needs to be much more volatile though)
  • Skills Trainer, augmented with college concepts such as the option
  • Stadium upgrades and renovation

Just please, for goodness sake, don't force another Ultimate Team gimmick down our throats!...

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Years ago, back when I was much more into playing Madden NFL games than I am now (read: back when I was too young and naive to realize how much they sucked), I had proposed on the EA Forums that they should add the ability to create female player and / or coach models. I'd post a link to the forum topic(s), but I don't remember my login info to look them up. It's something that I'd still like to see as an option in future games, and with the recent news that the NFL may be hiring its first full-time female official, I thought now might be the time to bring up the topic again.

Sarah Thomas to become full-time NFL official
Sarah Thomas has reportedly been hired as the NFL's first female full-time official.

Sports games like Madden should have options to create female characters and (especially) coaches. Women play these games, and women do have an interest in football and other sports. But when they play Madden, they can't create themselves as a player or as a coach because the game doesn't allow them to. And when creating an avatar of yourself to play these games is one of the main selling points of features like Franchise, Superstar, and so on, then it seems unfair to prevent a large chunk of your audience from being able to play that feature as intended.

Madden 13 - J Grade on the sideline
I get to create myself as a coach.

After all, EA has a Game Face feature that allows you to scan your own face into various games. I was able to use this feature to create myself as a coach for my past Madden franchises. But my girlfriend or sister can't use this feature because there aren't any character models for female coaches (or players) in most major sports games. Unless she wants her head on a man's body...

As far as I know, the NFL doesn't have any rules actually prohibiting women from playing or coaching in the league. Yeah, sure, that's "Air Bud logic", but women are people, not dogs. So the fact that games like Madden don't even allow female characters to be created is actually not even representative of the actual rules. And from a more socially-progressive standpoint, having such a feature could help to make the game more accessible to female players, and possibly even encourage women to pursue playing or coaching the sport and breaking that respective glass ceiling. After all, seeing a digital version of herself competing with the male players might inspire young girls to pursue careers in football outside of sideline correspondents, cheerleaders, athletic trainers, analysts, or the other "off-field" jobs that they are currently restricted to.

Lingerie Football League all-star game
Perhaps my difficulty taking the Lingerie Football League seriously is an example of prejudice on my part,
but it is a thing, women do play it, and they supposedly take it very seriously.

I've heard people say that there just aren't any women who are interested in playing football. While it definitely seems to be true that there haven't been any women who have been ambitious enough to seriously try, I don't think it's necessarily true or fair to say that there isn't interest. Women do play football! There are, in fact, entire professional football leagues for women. I'm not sure how serious the Lingerie Football League is (I'm sorry, "Legends of Football League"). I don't know much about the league, so my assumption that it's mostly just sexual exploitation may be an example of the very prejudice that I'm hoping to confront. But the LFL is a thing that actually exists, and women do play in it. And from what I've heard, they take it very seriously...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

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