Friday, December 29, 2017

Excerpt - StarCraft Roleplay: "Incident at the Museum"

Here's another roleplay excerpt from Kaze and I. This one comes from the world of StarCraft, the work of game giant Blizzard.

This time I played psychic-power-wielding Mercer, a spec op troop with one heck of a chip on his shoulder. Kaze played everyone else.

Hope you enjoy, and remember to have a safe and Happy New Year!

Warning: This one has swears and references to fictional narcotics.

[As one of the Dominion’s elite Spectre units, Flanaghan Mercer has done his share of dirty work for the emperor. But shooting Hierarch Artanis and blaming another country for it, all to start a war, isn’t going to be one of them.

Disgusted with the emperor’s lies, Mercer defects and contacts a rebel group known as the Liberty Corps. Surprised and understandably cautious, the Liberty Corps has Mercer meet their recruiter, Andrew York, at the Jim Raynor Museum.

Mercer checks out, and York tells him the new rendezvous point so they can get Mercer off-planet. But just as York leaves the museum, disaster strikes...]

Suddenly, the lights went out. There was a loud bang, as if a door was being forced open, followed by the telltale signs of footsteps caused by powered suits. Dominion Marines were here.

"Squad, fan out! Target is extremely dangerous! Shoot on sight! I repeat, shoot on sight!" a Marine said.

It was pitch black. They had shut off the emergency lights as well. The only lights Mercer could see were from the headlights of the Marines. There were five of them in total, roughly thirty meters away, blocking the exit.

Mercer crouched behind a bench, concealed for now. But the lights were coming closer.

It wasn't as if he hadn't been in this close call dozens of time already, but his mind felt sluggish. He hadn't expected them to get here so soon.

He reached out and tried to tap into one of the Marines' minds with his psionic abilities.

"What the hell was that?!" a Marine yelled. "My head... The target's definitely in here! Keep searching!"

Huh. It hadn't worked. Maybe they were a new type of Marine. Mentally-fortified.

Well, time for the less-fun Plan B... Mercer tried to activate his stealth--his very first ability besides the psychic-powered wrist-blade he'd been given at the academy.

Only... stealth wasn't quick in coming either. Had he hit his head this morning and forgotten about it?

Mercer remained crouched behind the bench, still remaining calm as he breathed slowly and deeply. Time in the field made calm second-nature. But he was running out of time.

Meanwhile, the Marines kept searching. Their lights were getting much closer.

Mercer focused. Concentrated. But he wasn't turning invisible any more than the bench was. A'right, so it's an off day. Time for the very un-fun Plan C.

Mercer vaulted over the bench like a swimmer going for a graceful dive. He hit the ground running, barreling toward the exit.

"There he is! Open fire! Do not take the target alive!"

Mercer's plasma blade ignited to life from his wristguard. At least something was working for him today.

"Fire! Fire!" the squad leader yelled.

But all the shots missed. "Not single fire, you idiots! Full Auto!"

"Sir, the musue-"

"Who gives a damn!?"

Mercer slowed his pace, strutting another three meters toward them. His face broke into a psychotic grin. "Ohhhh, hope you said goodbye to the girls back home. I'm sending you back to 'em in pieces." He stretched his mind, trying to touch the intricacies of the universe.

But apparently the universe was having a headache today.

The Marines all opened fire, full auto, but missed their shots.

So Mercer came charging at them like a whirlwind. He hated Plan C. It was actually reserved for--well, never, because it was never necessary. Except for today, of all days.

His Marine target sidestepped, and Mercer's swing went wide.

Another Marine went in for a rifle strike but also missed the deft Spectre. The other four scattered, trying to get out of the melee. Only Mercer's original target remained within stabbing distance.

That was when something finally kicked into gear. Mercer could feel it as if someone had physically clocked the back of his head with a brick.

Flashes of his opponents' movements flickered in his mind, little after-images that gave him just enough time to angle a strike at the one Marine frozen with fear--or maybe he just had enough balls to stand still and take it like a man. Mercer sliced the Marine in half, as if the man's armor was made of paper.

"Holy crap!" one Marine shrieked.

"Shut up and kill the freak!"

They peppered the air with bullets, but every shot still missed.

Home free. Mercer spun around and shot off a salute. "Thanks for the warm-up, boys." Then he leapt over the body and sprinted out the door.

But he didn't get far before he felt the telltale tug of an outside psionic force on his body. With a suddenly pull, someone flung Mercer back into the Museum with such force that he sailed past the Marines, slamming right through a glass display case and tumbling into the suit of power armor within. The armor buried Mercer in an avalanche of metal.

"Agent X89115F," a voice said. Suddenly, a Ghost materialized in front of Mercer. "Hold your fire, Marines," the Ghost commanded. Then, he turned to Mercer, still trapped beneath the power armor. "Sloppy work, X89115F. Your dependence on Terrazine has obviously affected your combat skills. Suffering from withdrawal effects?"

"Maybe. Don't suppose you've got some handy?" Mercer quipped.

Terrazine. Maybe that was why his psionics were suffering. He'd noticed the shakes, the cravings... but so far it hadn't affected his powers. Not this much. Apparently seven days without was the threshold.

Mercer struggled to get out from under the heavy metal armor plates. These things have got to be hydraulic-powered. Nobody could stand in this stuff.

The Ghost scoffed, then tossed something on the ground. It sparked to life, revealing itself to be a holographic projector. Emperor Octavius appeared before you.

"Mercer. I'm really disappointed in you," scolded Octavius. "I had such high hopes. You could have been the next star, you know. Like Agent Nova. Hell, you had the potential to become as strong as Agent Kerrigan. All you had to do was continue to fight for your fellow Man."

"Wow. I get the personal line of the emperor himself," Mercer replied. "To what do I owe the honor? I didn't know paying homage to the James-the-Legend-Raynor was a criminal offense now. What, jealous? You just want a museum of your own. I hear peace treaties are great for getting your name in the history books."

"You Spectres are all so volatile. The unfortunate side effect of Terrazine is that no matter how many mind-wipes or reconditionings I put you through, you'll remember it all again sooner or later." Octavius said. "I'm trying to make you see reason, Mercer. I don't want to have to kill you.

"I value the Daelaam's strengths, but they are stuck in their backwards ways. If they want to act like arrogant dogs, then I will use them as such, for the Dominion! That is what will get my name in the history books! Maybe then people will realize that Raynor was no hero. The Dominion was built by the Mengsk Dynasty, not Raynor!"

Mercer was barely paying attention to Octavius anymore. Now he was trying to worm his way into the Ghost's mind. Plant a little horror here, play off a childhood nightmare there...

But still nothing.

Man, I need a hit.

Mercer rolled his eyes. "You're not exactly glittering with heroes’ laurels yourself, your Imperial High-Horse. Sorry, Highness. Slip of the tongue. I hope you didn't interrupt your regular propaganda broadcast for lil' ol' me."

The Ghost shook his head. "With due respect, your Majesty, Agent X89115F will not see reason. And, it is quite obvious that he is willing to kill anyone that gets in his way." The Ghost pointed to the now-dead Marine.

"I see that now," Octavius said. "Men: kill him and be done with it. Then, dismantle this wretched Museum. I can already see the headlines: 'Liberty Corps strikes out against the legacy of famed Dominion hero Jim Raynor." The Hologram shut off.

"Nothing personal, X89115F. If it's any consolation, I thought you were an excellent operative. I plan on trying to get into the Spectre Program too," the Ghost said.

Mercer sighed. "Nothing personal, but you wouldn't make it a day and a half in the program, Agent... whoever you are."

His comebacks were off-point today too.

If I could just lift this armor... Now was the time. He was going to use his psychic ability to pump his muscles full of extra oxygen, come crashing out from under the mountain of armor like a Zerg bursting from the ground, roaring to the sky--over-the-top, sure, but shut up; it was his fantasy--

And it was just a fantasy, because the armor wasn't budging.

This... No, this can't be the way it ends. Come on. I didn't just slog through that many days to get riddled with lead while trapped under Jim Raynor's platemail...

Mercer stared down the barrel of the Ghost's gun.

At least let them stop Mengsk.

"Marines, execute the rogue Spectre." The Ghost commanded. Suddenly, the Ghost was impaled by a red psy-blade and was torn apart in an instant. The Marines were set upon by a lone assailant, two red blades now slashing and dismembering, cutting through the powered suits as if they were not there. And just like that, they were all dead.

"Pathetic," said a female voice. Her red blade illuminated the room enough to reveal Mercer's rescuer as she uncloaked: an alien, a Protoss dressed in the latest Terran attire. "Absolutely pathetic. And here I came, hoping to see the skills of the famed Terran Spectres, and this is what I see?" She psychically lifted the armor off of Mercer and pushed it against the wall. "I think York's faith in you has been misplaced."

It took a second for Mercer's mind to switch from embracing the grave, but his legs remembered how to work just fine. He was immediately hopping up onto the balls of his feet and checking his wrist-blade for damage before he could stop and realize that someone had come out of literally nowhere to save his life.

"You unfortunately are seeing a famed Terran Spectre after seven very long days and only sixteen collective hours of sleep," Mercer said. "But we can saunter and slander." He, again, made his way for the museum door.

Hopefully this time there weren't four Ghosts ready to pounce on him.

Museum Way, Stanford, United States by Caitlyn Chau on Unsplash.

Adapted from writing by Kaze and me (Jeannette Jonic). Used with permission.

StarCraft and all related names and terms property of Blizzard Entertainment. And I am not affiliated with them in any way.

From Him, To Him

Friday, December 22, 2017

Excerpt - Star Wars Roleplay: "A New Master"

I've been on a Star Wars kick thanks to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and I figure I'm not the only one. So I dug out this snippet of roleplay I did with a friend of mine based on the Old Republic timeline.

In this particular roleplay, I played Cailen Ukiir, a sarcastic and self-conscious Jedi-in-Training (But you've already heard of him, haven't you?). My friend Kaze created and wrote the rest of the cast, including Cailen's master, Teek, a Force-sensitive Jawa--yes, a Jawa, those little beady-eyed traders in the brown cloaks!

As you're about to see, Cailen and Teek make quite the interesting pair...


"Hello," comes a voice from behind as you gaze over the edge of a landing platform. Looking away from the lush landscapes of the planet Tython, you turn to the voice.

There's a smiling face there to greet you. "It is a pleasure to meet you, young one. I know you are still confused. The confusion will fade with time. I am Master Edrasi. From this day forth, I will be your friend, your teacher, your ally, and your partner. We Jedi live with the Force, nurturing it and keeping it in balance."

Suddenly, half of the sky above the Jedi Temple darkens. Bolts of lightning and claps of thunder boom, and this half of the Temple crumbles as if it had been subjected to heavy bombardment and age.

A dark figure appears next to Master Edrasi. "I feel your hatred, young one. The raw emotion... the fear... the anger... A future of freedom and power await you. I am Darth Nox. From this day forth, I will be your master and, most importantly, your enemy. Such is the way of the Sith. The Sith are the true rulers of the galaxy, Cailen; and one day, you will join our ranks as a fully-fledged Lord."

"I expect great things from you, Cailen," say both Masters in unison. "I will observe your growth and guide it and you will see that you have chosen the right path."

The dream ends.


Cailen heard a hoarse, pathetic shriek of panic as he floated back into the conscious world--

Oh. That was himself.

His body covered in cold sweat. He was breathing heavily, and he felt a large weight on his chest. But perhaps that was due to the Jawa sitting criss-crossed on his chest.

The Jawa stared down at Cailen with beady yellow eyes.

With a grunt, Cailen tried to shove himself up onto his elbows. "M-Master Edrasi..." he whispered, his voice still hoarse. He sniffled. Then he scolded himself. "There is no Emotion... There is no Emotion..." Cailen mumbled to himself.

As if remembering him for the first time, Cailen turned his attention back to the Jawa sitting on his chest. "...Oh. Master Teek." It felt like he'd been asleep for... years. "H-how long was I...?" Cailen trailed off.

It was starting to all come back to him, but slowly. Hazily. Like it had all been a bad dream.

Like his nightmare. Cailen began to shiver violently.

"I sense you had a bad dream. Or a good one, if sweating is a good sign for your species," the little Jawa said in his native language.

Cailen curled into the fetal position--at least, as well as he could, given the tiny Jedi master still perched on his sternum. "N-n-no. It's n-not," Cailen replied in Basic. He glanced around, trying to reach out with his natural Force Sight, but he was still a little disoriented. "W-where are w-w-we?"

"We're on a ship towards Tatooine, remember?" Teek said, getting off of Cailen and hopping down onto the metal floor. "It's been about a week since we escaped the Sith. Master Edrasi trained you very well. We're going to complete your final task and make you a Jedi Knight! Whoo!"

Cailen coughed as Teek trotted off his gut. He rubbed his hand through his black hair; it was soaked with sweat. "R-r-right. Tat-t-t--"

Cailen clamped his jaw tight to still his chattering teeth. Then he pulled his legs up, hugging his knees to his chest. At least Tatooine will be warm... he thought ruefully.

At the mention of Master Edrasi's name, however, Cailen felt warm tears slip down his face. He was grateful for his simple cloth blindfold, which he pulled tighter against his face to mop up the tears, hopefully before Master Teek or anyone else who might be nearby could see.

Master Teek! That was right. Master Teek would be his new master now. They were going to complete Cailen's training. He'd finally get a lightsaber. And he'd be a Knight, and...

Everything was happening so fast. Cailen flipped the hood of his robes up to hide his head and face. He began to softly mutter the Code to himself. His mantra. "There is no Emotion, there is Peace..."

He felt small hands pat his head, like he was some kind of small household pet. "Take a deep breath," Master Teek urged. "Muttering the Jedi Code means nothing if your mind and body are not in harmony."

Cailen's face wrinkled with a mix of displeasure and confusion. "Wh-what?" He sullenly rubbed his own head, not taking kindly to being petted.

"Take a deep breath! Like this!" Master Teek said, taking a massive, obviously over-exaggerated breath.

"N-no, I know how to breathe. How is breathing deeply going to keep my mind and body in harmony?"

How could anything keep his mind and body in harmony right now? Darth Nox--w-well, my vision--was right. I do feel angry. And afraid. And sad. And about a billion other emotions he couldn't describe. Definitely not peaceful. How was he supposed to suppress all of this?

"Do not ask how, simply do," the Jawa said, abandoning his childlike behavior for the moment and adopting his Master persona. It was something Cailen had seen a few times during his week-long training with Master Teek. On the surface, Teek was childish, whimsical, and often prone to pranking or being annoying. Yet he was a Jedi Master for a reason. In times of seriousness, Teek was a true paragon among Jedi.

Teek sat crisscrossed in front of Cailen. "Assume a meditative posture. And breathe."

Cailen sighed, frustrated--at the situation and himself. Of course he was supposed to be obeying his Master, not questioning.

So he mirrored Master Teek's posture, resting his hands on his knees. Inhaaaaled... and exhaled. He focused on keeping his breaths as slow, even, and deep as he could manage with his current lung capacity. It wasn't long until he was lost in the breathing--measuring; feeling the rhythm; sensing the movement, humidity, and temperature of the air.

"There is no Chaos, there is Harmony. You are stressed, Cailen. Will you let me see what is troubling you?" He said.

It was still hard to take that sound of the Jawa speaking his language seriously. Cailen had to struggle to resist cracking a smile.

It was definitely going to take more than a few weeks to get used to this. "Yes, Master," Cailen replied meekly, bowing his head.

Then he felt the Force enter his mind, like a dam that opened slightly to allow a stream of water into. It was nothing compared to the forced, brutal mind-probing Cailen had experienced at Darth Nox's hand.

"You dreamt of meeting Master Edrasi for the first time," Master Teek said. "The beautiful planet of Tython, with its single sun and green, crunchy, awful-tasting sand. The Jedi Temple in all of its glory. You remember hearing what he said to you during that time. The purpose of the Jedi. The Light Side of the Force. The Jedi Code. And then you dreamt of Nox... I see."

Then Cailen felt Teek exit his mind; the master didn't dare go further to see what Nox had said in the dream.

"You experienced something that few Jedi should ever face. You should not dwell on the past. There is no Chaos, there is Harmony. If this event is causing you stress, it is throwing your mind into chaos. Your thoughts will be clouded. Your emotions will not be kept in check. You may act recklessly. These are the first steps to the Dark Side." Master Teek nodded, like he was proud of himself for remembering all of that and speaking like a good master should.

Cailen nodded too, but he clutched his knees a little tighter. He felt something wrench within him. Another emotion? Cailen took another deep breath.

Yes. It was another emotion. Guilt.

But I did act recklessly. I gave into my anger. I... I did fall to the Dark Side, didn't I?

A flash of Nox's face, goading him into action. An image of Master Edrasi, impaled on Nox's lightsaber.

Cailen gripped his knees tightly.

But he... the Master says to let go of the past. So... So I should just...?

Cailen took another deep breath, but the image of Nox wasn't so quickly fleeting. He shuddered again. "Master, what should I focus my mind on instead?" Cailen asked quickly, his words spurting out before he could think to check them. "All I can think about is the past! Master Edrasi and... and our mission and being captured and Darth Nox and..."

"For now, focus on maintaining peace in your mind. The past is important, but it should not dominate your life. You learn from it, but do not dwell on it. You remember, but do not obsess. What has happened cannot be undone. You must accept that. Did you do something that you cannot accept you had done?

"Do not blame yourself for the death of Master Edrasi. There is no Death, there is the Force. He is in a better place. He is with you. He is with me. He is the Force. The Force surrounds us; penetrates us; binds us." Teek nodded to himself again. He really liked congratulating himself.

"B-but he's... Master Edrasi, he's..." Tears again pooled in Cailen's eyelids. "He's not with me any more. Darth Nox... He swallowed Master Edrasi whole! And I... I couldn't help him. I couldn't do anything!" Cailen shouted. "I attacked Darth Nox in anger. He tried to take me as his apprentice. And... and I..."

Cailen dropped his head into his hands. Good job letting go of that past.

Again Master Teek patted Cailen's head. "You gave into your anger," the Jawa said, though it didn't sound accusatory or belittling. It pretty much sounded like Jawa talk all the same. "That is nothing to be ashamed of. You are young. You are in training. You haven't had the time to practice. Even then, sometimes it isn't enough. Even Masters have done something like this... Along the way to our destination, we will take a detour. There is a place I must show you," Teek said, removing his hand. "But, for now, take a deep breath.

It was somewhat hard to take a breath now that his nose was congested and dribbling, but Cailen tried. A long, shaky breath.

But... he did feel a little better.

He supposed.

For now.

Hope you enjoyed. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas this year! May the love of God be more present, near, and dear to you this holiday as we remember his Son's birth in a small stable in Bethlehem.


Photos (in order of appearance):
Adapted from writing by Kaze and me (Jeannette Jonic). Used with permission.

Star Wars and all related names and terms property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney Studios. And, unfortunately, I am not affiliated with them in any way, shape, or form.

From Him, To Him

Friday, December 15, 2017

In Defense of “Evil for Evil’s Sake” Villains

Writer's Note (10-10-18): Corrected some typos I noticed too embarrassingly late. My apologies. In the words of Spec Fic writer Janine Ippolito, they really do breed.

“Don’t make any ‘Mwahaha I’m so evil’ bad guys,” any so-called writing expert will tell you.

Okay, rule #1: don’t tell me “never” to do something.

But I get it. I understand what people are trying to say when they claim relatable villains are “more complex” and “memorable,” how it’s more interesting to watch a very human character clashing with the protagonist than it is seeing a top hat-wearing megalomaniac tying a damsel to railroad tracks.

But I think a lot of people are confused about this issue. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with an evil for evil’s sake villain.

Think I’m wrong? Let’s hash this out.

Because I’m out to defend the honor of the really, really bad baddies out there. MWAHAHAHAHA!

“The Villain Problem”

In his video “RWBY: The Villain Problem,” critic and video essayist Blizzic criticizes the villains in Rooster Teeth’s original animated series RWBY, arguing that the villains’ penchant for evil deeds, wicked laughter, and snatching hope from the hearts of the main characters makes them inferior to villains with a more soft, squishy, human side.

“There’s no denying that some of the villains are actually pretty great as long as we’re looking at sheer entertainment value… But, specifically, some of the villains that you’re supposed to be impressed by are really lacking in the narrative department,” Blizzic begins.1

So what makes RWBY’s villains so harshly “lacking”? Well, according to Blizzic…
RWBY, Rooster Teeth 2015
[I]t’s very uncommon for a sane human being to view their own actions as evil. Meanwhile, Cinderella’s evil twin is over here calmly and methodically laying out her evil plan and then grinning menacingly… At this point in the narrative, the writers have completely failed at establishing her as a real human being. She’s incredibly one-dimensional; she’s evil for the sake of being evil…2
Blizzic goes on to assert that, by contrast, truly great villains “[aren’t] interesting because they’re villainous; they’re interesting because they’re human.”3

And I agree—to an extent. Humanizing a villain certainly does make them more complex; and I can enjoy a complex villain. But I take issue with people when they insist that humanizing villains is the only way to make, in Blizzic’s words, “truly great” villains.

Is that the only way to make good villains? Let’s take a look.

A Villain’s Purpose

As award-winning screenplay writer Robert McKee reminds us in his book Story, “the protagonist creates the rest of the cast.”4 The protagonist is the center of the story; the villain is just another character built around who the protagonist is and what the protagonist wants.

Good, memorable, effective villains are ones who cause direct problems for the hero. They’re antagonists, standing directly opposed to whatever the hero is trying to accomplish. As Vanessa Martinez Wilson puts it: “The hero must have problems [and] then… overcome them. That’s where the villain comes in.”5

That’s a villain’s purpose. If they’re not opposing the hero’s goals, they’re not doing their job. This is the number one aspect to analyze when determining whether a villain is “good” or not.

The Right Villain Type for the Right Story

To that end, sometimes relatable villains just ain’t gonna work for the story you’re trying to tell.

Take the Joker, for instance. No matter how many times he clashes with his beloved Bats, the Clown Prince doesn’t really care whether he’s the hero or the villain. In fact, I don’t think he gives it a second thought. He does what he does because he believes the world is a living nightmare of despondence, and he’s here to have fun with it. “It’d be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. Oh, what the heck, I’ll laugh anyway!”6 In fact, according to Eric Radomski, producer and director for Batman: The Animated Series, Joker knows he’s the villain.7 Which makes sense. What else could inspire those cackles of wicked glee?8

Now imagine how boring the Joker would be if he were a preachy villain who just wanted everyone to believe he was the real good guy. How boring is a pitiable soul trying to reason with Batman compared to a madman laugh-gassing anybody within ten feet who wasn’t already his lackey or shuffleboard buddy?

Admittedly, The Killing Joke toys with humanizing the Joker, but only to highlight how far he’s fallen—how psychotic and delightedly evil he’s become.

So if the Joker relishes his evil actions, does that make him any less of a great villain? No, of course not! Part of the Joker’s charm is his glee while carrying out horrific atrocities; the story wouldn’t be the same without him.

And what about The Lord of the Rings? It has its share of relatable villains with Smeagol and (arguably) Wormtongue, but what if Sauron were a humanized villain? Can you imagine how much longer the Council of Elrond would have dragged on for? “Well, what if Sauron’s actually right? What if we’re dooming the world by not using the Ring’s power?” Reluctance and uncertainty would get in the way of the plot!

No, we WANT Sauron to be really, really evil. We WANT him to be a very, very obvious bad guy.

Sauron is evil for evil’s sake; he wants to rule the world. And it works. Why? Because fantasy often goes hand-in-hand with moral clarity. Many fantasy stories make it very clear what is evil, what is good, and who’s on which side. That’s because morality isn’t the kind of story most of the fantasy genre tales (with exceptions like Game of Thrones) are trying to tell.

The irony is that Blizzic knows there’s a place for evil for evil’s sake villains. In his video, he confesses that some villains really do just enjoy watching the world burn (mentioning the Joker specifically).9

And this is where the argument for all villains being human and relatable begins to fall apart. These critics don’t realize that it doesn’t matter whether a villain thinks what they’re doing is right; it doesn’t matter if they enjoy rubbing their palms together, laughing wickedly over their evil schemes. What really matters is how the villain opposes the hero’s desires.

So Why the Hate?

I think people believe this villain type is inherently “bad” for a few common reasons:

#1: Oversaturation

People got tired of an over-used villain type. Let’s face it: we saw a lot of evil for evil’s sake baddies in the 80’s and 90’s. And 60’s. And maybe even the 70’s.

#2: Culture Shift

The evil for evil's sake villain was a fad that outlived its lifespan. Just like how shining paragon superheroes went out the window in favor of angst-riddled antiheroes, people felt like they’d “outgrown” evil for evil’s sake villains and decided they needed new ones to be relevant—new ones that were “relatable” and “human.”

The storytelling community powerfully relies on these kinds of fads. Which is stupid! We need to be careful not to label something as “bad” just because it’s not currently considered culturally relevant, like Matt Colville highlights in his video Explaining vs. Engaging.”10

Types of villains are tools. As Colville says, use the proper tool for the proper job. Be wary of saying there is only one way to do something; that’s how we get into media ruts.11

#3: “Unrealistic”

People often argue against evil for evil’s sake villains by saying they’re inherently unrealistic (as if realism is the end-all, be-all goal for all stories). They say that “real people” only see themselves as the hero; thus, all villains should too.

But in real life, there’s plenty of people who know what they’re doing wrong and still choose to act that way.

Or heck, maybe they go a step further: maybe they enjoy doing terrible things.

#4: Misdirected Hate

Most people think they hate evil for evil’s sake villains, but I don’t it’s the “evil for evil’s sake” aspect that’s really got most people’s undies in a bunch. After all, some people adored Wander over Yonder's Lord Dominator,12 and she THRIVED on being evil for evil's sake!13

Mustache twirlers, we can all agree, are annoying. But the issue isn’t that mustache-twirlers are evil for evil’s sake; it’s that they lack any real motivation or personality. Why is Lord Dominator so popular as a villain? She’s got personality oozing out of every curvy line: she’s bad, she knows it, and she revels in it because to her, it’s fun. She has personality and a motivation, even if that motivation seems as simple as “doing evil things because I get a kick out of kicking puppies.”

Evil for evil’s sake villains might have a motivation or they might not. But the ones who enjoy watching the world burn for laughs because they’re insane (like the Joker) or who want to take over the world (like Sauron) or who harm others to further their own desires (like any number of Disney villains) aren’t inherently bad villains just because they enjoy doing bad things.

No, the truly lousy evil for evil’s sake villains are the ones who don’t have any motivation. They’re the ones who have no personality besides “Really, really evil; trust us.”

RWBY, Rooster Teeth 2017
And I think this is how Blizzic and other critics can complain about RWBY’s villains… and then proceed to acknowledge that some of their villains are entertaining, or that villains without relatable traits (like the Joker) are still perfectly acceptable. RWBY’s sadistic Cinder Fall doesn’t seem to have enough personality to keep Blizzic interested. And because we still don't know why Cinder’s doing what she’s doing, she seems to lack motivation, as well.

Still, I think it’s unfair to condemn an entire villain group as a narrative “failure” just because Rooster Teeth hadn’t gotten around to revealing a character’s backstory yet.


So the next time you find yourself hating a villain, don’t just throw your hands up in the air and proclaim, “This is what happens when you have a villain who’s evil for evil’s sake!” Look a little deeper and find out what’s really bothering you about that character.

You may be surprised what you’ll find.

Notes and References:
  1. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem,” YouTube video, 9:16, June 3, 2017.
  2. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem.” (1:05)
  3. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem.” (1:50)
  4. Robert McKee, Story (New York, NY: Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., 1997), 179.
  5. Vanessa Martinez Wilson, “The Top 10 Worst Disney Villains,” ReelRundown (blog), October 25, 2016, accessed December 12, 2017.
  6. “Batman Beyond: Return of The [sic] Joker - Part 6,” YouTube video, 14:55, posted by “Beyond the Lot,” April 22, 2013. Originally from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, directed by Curt Geda, (2000; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video), DVD.
  7. “The Joker: Mark Hamill,” YouTube video, 5:26, posted by “thejokerlady,” August 31, 2008. Originally from Batman: The Animated Series - Volume 4, directed by Kevin Altieri, Kent Butterworth, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Eric Radomski, Dan Riba, Dick Sebast, and Bruce Timm, (1992; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2009), DVD.
  8. “The Joker: Mark Hamill,” posted by “thejokerlady.”
  9. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem.” (2:05)
  10. Matt Colville, “Explaining vs. Engaging,” YouTube video, 11:18, January 30, 2017.
  11. Matt Colville, “Explaining vs. Engaging.” (7:19)
  12. Saberspark, “Top 10 BEST [sic] Cartoon Villains,” YouTube video, 16:57, November 3, 2017.
  13. “I'm the Bad Guy | Wander Over Yonder | Disney XD,” YouTube video, 2:18, posted by “Disney XD,” April 8, 2016. Originally from Wander Over Yonder, episode 66, “My Fair Hatey,” directed by Dave Thomas, Eddie Trigueros, and Justin Nichols, (2016; Burbank, CA: Disney-ABC Domestic Television), Television.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

If anybody knows the exact creator who made any of the .gifs (especially the Benedict Cumberbatch one), please let me know!

Cinder Fall, RWBY, and all related terms are the property of Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC; The Joker, Batman, and all related terms property of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; The Lord of the Rings and all related names and terms property of Middle Earth Enterprises. Wander Over Yonder, Lord Dominator, and all related names and terms property of Walt Disney Studios. And, unfortunately, I am not affiliated with any of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, December 8, 2017

In Defense of Kingdom Hearts: A Series’ Maturity

Editor's Note: Upon replaying Kingdom Hearts 2, I realized the romance between Sora and Kairi is more prominent than I initially recalled. Minor sections of this post have been revised to reflect this.

I hate the unbridled scorn for Kingdom Hearts.

“I never even looked into this title because I assumed it was a kids [sic] game. I mean, it has cartoon characters, right?”1

“I just don't like the whole Disney idea. So, how corny is it?”2

“I always felt like it was more of a cash grab than anything else.”3

Comments like these run amok in the gaming community. Even fans harshly criticize the series!

“[T]he story has gotten so ridiculous…”4

“[Y]ou have a convoluted, conjecture happy [sic] plot,”5 which is “…needlessly disorienting…”6

“They kinda kept adding random details with so many side games that at this point, the story just really isn't all that good anymore.”7

I hate that people look down on Kingdom Hearts. I hate how it’s become trendy to poke fun at the series. But you know what I hate the most?

I hate that so many people are missing out on how special this series is.

I have a confession. I’m a huge Kingdom Hearts fan.

It seems like just admitting that takes courage these days.8 We Kingdom Hearts fans constantly brace for the inevitable:

“You actually like Kingdom Hearts? It’s just a stupid kids’ game!”

But it’s not. I truly think it’s a work of art.

Oh, but I can hear the comments now: “You seriously think something with that many plot holes, repetitive story lines, and incomprehensible dialogue is a work of art?”

Yes, I do. I won’t argue it’s perfect (and I plan on discussing its shortcomings another day). But the series really isn’t as bad as everyone thinks it is. The problem is that most of Kingdom Hearts’ critics haven’t truly experienced the series and all it has to offer.

Kingdom Hearts is woven with threads far deeper and more meaningful than most other games I’ve played. It’s made me laugh. It’s made me cry. It’s given me life lessons I treasure.

These games aren’t just for kids; they provide so much depth that I can’t stop talking about it.

Let me give you glimpse at the tapestry Tetsuya Nomura has woven.

Philosophical and Ethical Maturity

Philosophy is at the heart of Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts asks hard questions—and lots of them. Sure, it sounds weird, but the same series with all those Disney characters also tackles questions such as “What is the nature of mankind?”9 and “What is the nature of good and evil?” In fact, that latter question is the focus of the entire Kindom Hearts franchise, as the series examines whether light can prevail over darkness or if light can even exist without darkness.10

Kingdom Hearts also addresses complex ethical questions like what constitutes a human being and how they should be treated: topics that are central to important discussions such as AI ethics11 and the abortion debate.

But Kingdom Hearts doesn’t just tackle mature concepts such as philosophy and ethics. It’s also a relationally mature series.

What do I mean by that? Well…

Relational Maturity

American culture has totally lost all sense of phileo (friendship) love—both what it is and how important it is. All we can focus on is eros (romantic) love. Romantic love is everywhere: romantic comedies, romantic films, romantic (and often downright erotic) content in games and literature and all over the internet. We take it for granted. We’re inundated with it.

But haven’t we seen the “boy meets girl” story enough? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to enjoy something different, something besides romantic love and all the drama that can go with it?

Enter Kingdom Hearts.

There is only one canonical romantic relationship in Kingdom Hearts, and it’s hardly a major focus of the series. The closest this series gets to a drama-riddled love-triangle is in the very first game, which is a mostly good-natured competition between two boys for their mutual friend’s affections. (A plot that has not returned to the series in the fifteen years since.)

I believe this lack of romance is intentional, allowing the series to do what it does best: highlight how important a friend’s love really is.

Kingdom Hearts is, at its core, a story about friendship. Almost every game focuses on a triad of friends and the trials they must overcome. Terrible circumstances and differences in opinions challenge these friendships or even tear them apart. Each character is left to sort through the rubble of choices and their dire consequences.

In the original Kingdom Hearts, the series protagonist Sora finds himself in a strange world, separated from his two best friends and hounded by the terrifying beasts that destroyed his home. His relentless search for his friends is rewarded when he reunites with one of his best friends, Riku.

Although Sora’s delighted to find Riku unharmed, Riku has been poisoned by Maleficent’s lies: Riku believes that Sora has been wasting his time with new friends and no longer cares about him or their mutual friend, Kairi. The rift widens when Riku discovers Kairi has fallen into a death-like slumber, while Sora hops from one world to the next with his “new friends.” Determined to prove his own devotion by rescuing Kairi at all costs, Riku pushes further and further away from Sora,12 forcing them to clash repeatedly. Riku slips into darkness, while Sora tries to follow the path of light, both of them desperate to wake Kairi. As the end of the game looms ever closer, their friendship seems lost for good.

And that’s just the first game. The rest of the series doesn’t let up on the feels, either.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is even more tragic, following the tale of three young apprentices: Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, each of whom makes incredible sacrifices trying to protect the others.

This next section will contain spoilers.

You have been warned.

When their master is manipulated into attacking Ventus, Terra steps in to defend Ven. Their master refuses to stand down, and Terra is forced to kill the man he considers his own father. With guilt still haunting him, Terra hunts down the man responsible, Xehanort, to ensure the man can do no more harm to Terra’s loved ones. Although Terra falls to Xehanort’s schemes, he fights to protect his friends until the very end.

Knowing he is key to Xehanort’s plans, Ventus eagerly chooses to sacrifice himself rather than put Terra and Aqua in danger.

In the final battle against Xehanort, Aqua attempts to rescue her friends only to have Ventus and Terra stripped from her arms. In a final effort to save Terra, she finds herself banished to the shadowy Realm of Darkness, doomed to walk alone until she perishes or her memories fade completely.

The third friend trio feature in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. This game chronicles the friendship of Roxas, Axel, and Xion, three members of a mysterious group called Organization XIII. While Axel is secretly manipulating events to keep his younger—and more naive—friends alive, it’s not enough to save them.

Roxas and Xion find themselves entangled in the Organization’s nefarious plans to try to take over Xion’s mind and use her as a puppet for their own designs. Xion eventually chooses to sacrifice herself rather than succumb to that fate and hurt anyone in the future—at the cost of her very existence. All memory of her disappears, even from her friends’ minds. Adding insult to injury, later in the series, Roxas sacrifices himself under similar circumstances, leaving Axel—who had been so desperate to save them both—all alone.

These characters’ bonds are palpable. Their friendships are their treasures, their motivations, their core. These characters know they wouldn’t be who they are without their friends. And it’s these friendships that make them strong and that make the world a better place.

“It’s always about your friends, isn’t it?” one of the villains taunts Ventus during their clash.

Yes. It is. Because, as Ventus proclaims, “My friends are my power!”13

And that is the crux of Kingdom Hearts.

Even though the series’ protagonist, Sora, is relatively weak and completely ignorant of the overall plot—he knows virtually nothing about the deep lore of the Kingdom Hearts universe nor the antagonist’s grand and terrible schemes—his priorities are clear. His focus is always on his friends.

If they need help, Sora will be there for them.

If they’re in danger, Sora will do everything he can to save them.

Even when he’s at his lowest point, Sora understands that it’s no legendary keyblade that gives his life meaning; it’s the love he shares with his friends. “I don’t need a weapon. My friends are my power!” he says, echoing Ventus’s proclamation.14

Emotional Maturity

Kingdom Hearts is almost obsessed with expressing the value—and weight—of memory. Two entire games (four, if you count remakes) center on how vital memories are: how they make you who you are, how they’re our only real connection with our friends. Once our memories are gone… who are we? Did our friendships really mean anything at all?15

But Kingdom Hearts doesn’t just use memories as plot points. Kingdom Hearts discusses what we should do with those memories… even the most painful ones.

Ironically, one of the most emotionally mature moments in Kingdom Hearts occurs in one of the (arguably) most shallow games, Re:coded [sic]. In the final cutscene, a girl named Namine confronts Sora about some particularly painful memories that have been locked away in his subconscious. It's imperative that Sora explore these memories, she says, but doing so will be difficult… and possibly more than he can bear. Namine’s words reveal just how emotionally mature this series can be:

“At times, the pain can be wiped away, but there’s also pain that always stays with you. There’s only one way to deal with that: you face it head-on, and then you accept it. And if it happens that the hurt is too great for you to bear it alone, well, then you turn to a friend close to your heart.”16

Kingdom Hearts doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but it does have advice for how to move on from the most painful of memories: confront them, don't ignore them; and walk through the healing process with a friend.

But maybe none of that means anything.

After all… it’s just a kids’ game.

Or so they think.

Notes and References:
  1. spazzz2k [sic], “Is this a kids’ game?” [sic], January 15, 2008, on, message board, accessed December 6, 2017.
  2. Akax, “So, how corny is it?” [sic], May 26, 2008, on IGN Boards, message board, accessed December 6, 2017.
  3. Gameclouds, “Why is the Kingdom Hearts series so incredibly popular and successful?” [sic, February 7, 2016, on, message board, accessed December 6, 2017.
  4. Wes- [sic], “KH3 Director: ‘Must have played all other games to appreciate story’” [sic], July 26, 2016, on IGN Boards, message board, accessed December 6, 2017.
  5. Traeyze, “Why is the Kingdom Hearts series so incredibly popular and successful?” [sic], February 8, 2016, on, message board, accessed December 6, 2017.
  6. Patrick Lee, “Unchained X might be free-to-play, but it’s Kingdom Hearts in every way” [sic], AV Club (blog), May 6, 2016 (12:00 a.m.), accessed December 6, 2017.
  7. splitmindsthinkalike [sic], “The ‘Convoluted’ Story of Kingdom Hearts,” June 23, 2015,, message board, accessed December 6, 2017.
  8. TheGamersJoint, “Kingdom Hearts Fans in a Nutshell!,” Video, directed/performed by TheGamersJoint, (2017;, Web.
  9. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, PlayStation 3, Square Enix, 2013. Video provided by Gamer’s Little Playground, “Kingdom Hearts Game Movie (All Cutscenes) HD 1.5 Remix 1080p,” Video, (2017,, Web.
  10. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, PlayStation Portable, Square Enix, 2010. Video provided by ATRILEY [sic], “Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep ‘The Movie,’” Video, (2012,, Web.
  11. Glenn Cohen, “AI Are People, Too — It's Time We Recognize Their Human Rights,” Video, directed/performed by Glenn Cohen (big think [sic]), Web.
  12. Kingdom Hearts, PlayStation 2, Square Enix, 2002. Video provided by ATRILEY [sic], “Kingdom Hearts:‘The Movie,’” Video, (2012,, Web.
  13. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, PlayStation Portable, Square Enix, 2010. Video provided by ATRILEY [sic], “Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep ‘The Movie,’” Video, (2012,, Web.
  14. Kingdom Hearts, PlayStation 2, Square Enix, 2002. Video provided by ATRILEY [sic], “Kingdom Hearts: ‘The Movie,’” Video, (2012,, Web.
  15. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded [sic], Nintendo DS, Square Enix, 2010. Video provided by Kingdomdragon, “Kingdom Hearts Re: coded [sic] Sora VS Roxas,” Video, (2015,, Web.
  16. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded [sic], Nintendo DS, Square Enix, 2010. Video provided by ATRILEY, “Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded [sic] ‘The Movie’ +Secret Ending,” Video, (2014,, Web.
All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws.

Kingdom Hearts and all related names and terms are the property of Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd., which I am not affiliated with in any way, shape, or form.

From Him, To Him

Friday, December 1, 2017

How I Name Characters, Part 2: Word Associations Are My Friend


—claims the internet, and I can already feel my heart rate rising.

“[The name] has to suit the character’s personality, makes [sic] sense for the era and, most important, be super awesome...” Oh, and by the way, “[y]ou need a name that ‘fits’ your character too” (Klems).

I’m already feeling overwhelmed. Anything else I need to consider? Oh, I know. How about rising anxiety, crippling uncertainty, and heck—throw in the kitchen sink. Or maybe the towel.

You’d think names make or break a narrative with this kind of advice.

Sure, finding the right name for a character can be hard, even without the crippling insecurity and perfectionism. I used to get stuck writing stories because I was too busy agonizing over how hard it was to come up with good names.

But I don’t suck at it as much as I used to. That’s because I’ve learned more than just one trick on how to generate cool and clever names. Yes, methods besides over-analyzing the character’s first initial.

Trick #1: Check for Meaning

Sometimes I’ll be lazy and search by name meaning on my trusted companion, Behind the Name, to find a meaning that relates to the character. This is bread-and-butter advice for writers; it’s a quick and easy way to express who the character is.

For instance, I once named a character Cailen—an embarrassing misspelling of what was supposed to be Cailean (Memory problems. What ya gonna do?). Cailean is a Celtic name that means “whelp” (Campbell, “Cailean”), another word for a young puppy. Since “whelp” is often used as an insult (implying an inexperienced child), it fit the young, naive, inexperienced Cailen perfectly.

He’s also the kind of character who makes you go, “Awww”

I like this trick because it works whether a reader knows the meaning of a name or not (Writer’s Relief Staff). Consider the following names, which sound as strong as they mean: Berk (“solid, firm, strong”), Jarek (from yaru: “fierce, strong”), or Magni (from magn: “mighty, strong”) (Campbell, “Names with ‘Strong’ in Meaning”).

And for those few times readers do know the meaning or even take the time to look it up, it’s pretty satisfying for them. I always feel like the author just shared a little secret with me. And who doesn’t like that?

Best part about this trick? Using it ironically. Remember my antihero criminal Cassius? His full name is Cassius Naevius Flavius: a fancy-sounding name that roughly translates to “vain man with a mole on his body” (Campbell, “Cassius”; Campbell, “Nevio”). Obvious jokes aside, the name highlights Cassius's tragic irony: he vainly struggles to rise above society’s labels and laws, while that same society keeps him in his place by refusing to see who he truly is or could become. In other words, they take him at “face” value.

*Cough* Moving on…

Trick #2: Play with Words

If I want to imply a name’s meaning rather than stating it, I might modify a preexisting word and use that as a name.

Long before I had exposed myself to Harry Potter and good old Remus, I had a character with a wolfish disposition whose name was also Lupin—the word lupine (“pertaining to or resembling the wolf”) without that pesky final e (“Lupine,”

I’ve also had fun with portmanteaus, combining two or more real words to form a name. For instance, if I wanted a character to evoke the image of both a bear and a wolf, I might make the character’s name Beolf.

Maybe that’s why I always imagined Beowulf as a huge, muscly, shaggy-haired guy…


Trick #3: Get Inspired

Sometimes I’ll straight-up steal from people.

...For inspiration, of course. What did you think I meant?

I’ll start with a preexisting base word (or name) that captures the essence of what I’d like the new name to sound like. This method is pretty similar to the previous one, only this time, I pay more attention to how the base word sounds and less on what it means. This usually gives the name an even more subtle flavor.

I used this trick while coming up with a villain name recently. I started by assembling a pallet of words I liked: requiem, nocturne, and nocturnal. I wasn’t planning to directly reference these words’ definitions; I just liked how they sounded, so I used them as a base to begin my brainstorming...

...And my imagination took it from there.

Put It All Together

Regardless of the method I’m using, I’ll start by opening a new document and type out any inspiring words. As you can see with Nocture's brainstorming session up there, I’ll experiment by taking out syllables and adding new ones in. Sometimes I’ll toy with alternate spellings too. If I like the direction a certain name is going, I may tinker with it a bit longer, exchanging some syllables for more new ones.

In the end, I’ll have a long string of names and one winner, which I’ll use for the character I’m currently working on.

What about the other dozen or so names I’ve just created? I’ll save them for the future, either to use as-is or to serve as inspiration for a new brainstorm.

For instance, after I’d finished Nocture, I needed a second name. I liked the mystique Nocture’s name evoked, and I particularly liked one of the names I’d made during the Nocture brainstorm, “Nocten.” That name also brought to mind Prince Noctis from Final Fantasy XV, which was an appropriate connection, since my character was also a noble.

So I had “Nocten” and “Noctis,” but I knew it needed a little more. The final piece came in the form of a friend’s character, Nicht. I loved the sound of that hard “-cht” and knew it’d be the perfect addition to my new character’s name. In the end, I added the “-cht” to Nocten, making his name Nochten; “Nocht” for short. (After all, “Noct” is already taken. :P)

Regardless of what trick I use, creating names can be a long and arduous process. Still… I kind of have fun coming up with new names.

Which is a good thing, ‘cause I’ve got at least seven characters in TVB who need new names right now. And that’s not counting all the characters who remain nameless.

Hoo boy. Best of luck to all us namers out there.

Works Cited:

Photos (in order of appearance):

From Him, To Him