I am disappointed that being an American means that I have to take responsibility for the bad and good that is associated with all Americans. I am a bad example of a good representation. I am not the ideal version of anything, which means there are limits to what I can speak about with authority.
“God created war, so that Americans would learn geography.”
― Mark Twain.
I answered that we were Americans. And he pointed out my hesitation. I acknowledged that the actions America takes on the world stage left itself open to judgment. Then he asked where we were from, and Tracy replied California. At this, the man and his wife said, “Ah.”
We talked about the difference between most Americans and California. He said that California was a different country. A nagging statistic that I can recall with ease is that the Golden State has the eighth largest economy in the world. It is in the news often for progressive action that reflects its independence. There is even an initiative to secede California from the United States, and another to break the state into smaller states.
We talked about Europe and then Germany. He compared the aggression of Adolf Hitler and the actions of Donald Trump’s “America First” and “Make America Great Again” policies.
“America did a great thing and I was grateful when they liberated Germany,” he said. “But, since then they do not act with the same commitment.”
I don’t believe I had the right to say something on behalf of America, or even anyone else but myself. But, I did feel like this man deserved my opnion. He had risked vulnerability by speaking to me in English, and it was not his strength. He was not aggressive. His intentions were honest and his questions direct.
“I believe America is more comfortable taking action,” I said, “than it is taking responsibility for its actions. But it is still responsible.”
By now, his wife was restless. Their meal was done, the bill paid, but her husband was still talking. He left us with a final thought. He raised both hands like a referee signaling a touchdown.
“Trump will be elected again.”
I nodded in agreement. It was hard to see any change in the current climate that would prevent a second term.
The woman had enough. She grabbed his arm, smiled, and thanked us before they got up and left.
More food arrived. Then an appetizer of grilled asparagus. Next, were two beautiful bowls of pasta.By the time we finished and walked home, I could barely keep my eyes open. I could not stop thinking about what the man had said. Despite the Watergate investigation, Nixon was reelected. The same was possible for Trump even during an investigation.
The night was beautiful.
I still had a little work to do.
I knew I wanted to call Jabari to see how the meeting I missed had gone.
But I wanted my head to be clear. So I set a timer for 10 minutes.
Then I stretched out on the bed and thought about the difference in time.
I’m sure the timer went off and then that I turned it off, but I just don’t remember.
What I do remember is waking up about 3 1/2 to 4 hours later. I was exhausted and I only awoke because the noise of a mosquito was buzzing near my ears.
I woke up to multiple bites. Big ones.
I got up and made a pot of coffee.
Then a second pot.
Finally, I felt ready to call Jabari and talk about the game.
We walked me through the plot points that he and Fen had worked out and then we plotted a schedule of expected goals and timelines for the next few weeks.
Tracy fell asleep while I was on the call and when I was done. I couldn’t resist the chance to crawl back into bed and sleep again.
I was still full and tired of talking.
It was time to sleep and dream.
When I woke up later, I would still be in Florence, Italy. It would be no more than midday. All the possibility in the world.
But first, I wanted to dream and watch the lights become a steady hum of glow.
According to my mother, I was five when I whispered the words: “That’s cus she’s light skin.” That whisper at age five was followed by many years of silence. Then at age 26, I started blogging. In a very public way, I confronted all my fears of speaking about colorism. Reactions ranged from admiration to curiosity, to rage (even from people I identified as friends). I believe having to face that initial anger over my decision to openly discuss colorism gave me determination and confidence going forward. What began as a few posts on another blog eventually grew into ColorismHealing.org.
I’m currently a Ph.D. student in English at Louisiana State University with interests in literacy, digital media, race, and gender. I have previously taught college composition and high school English managed online content for local news and TV stations and done freelance writing and editing for blogs, small businesses, and local magazines. I’ve also spent significant time as a youth mentor and coach for writers and performers. A number of my own poems, stories, and essays have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies, and in 2013, I won the “Free Angela” blogging contest for my post about Angela Davis. I’ve most recently started blogging for Teaching Tolerance, and I continue to speak and offer workshops about colorism.
Colorism is bias, prejudice, discrimination, or inequality based on the relative skin tone, hair texture, and facial features among persons of the same race. Some people affected by colorism may even develop a dislike for their own skin and features. One of the most common myths about colorism is that it’s just a problem for dark-skinned people. The reality is that colorism affects all of us, regardless of race or skin tone.
Fen Smyth is a Writer, Game Designer, and Musician from the Bay Area. When not doing any of the aforementioned, he can often be found embarking on zany adventures or playing whimsical instrumental music deep in the forest.His musical work can be found at www.fenyang.me
Let’s start with the idea that we entered into this love story with innocent intentions…which is to say that we ended up in a love story because we started writing and talking about writing a love story for a video game.
That’s right. I said it. You might want to take a breath.
A love story for a video game.
Let that sink in because while many games are about love, and contain beautiful love stories, they are not marketed or sold as love stories.
Explaining who “we” are
We are the writing team for Planet Rise. Together, we represent a collection of dreamers and writers and musicians and storytellers and lovers of great stories. We work together each day, each week, in each meeting to combine our talents to craft a story that you will cherish.
We also believe that the story we are telling reaches for the stars.
In literature, there is a canon of novels that represent milestones in writing. These books are singular and irreplaceable. These guideposts measure achievements in mapping new landscapes of human understanding through narrative.
Video Games Have a Canon
Video games also have a canon. They have many canons, with many lists, and in this way, video games are like books, movies, and other artistic mediums.
They are subjective, which makes them inclusive and exclusive based on the whims of the list creator. You can check the catalog of games in the Library of Congress, it’s probably biased too.
But any substantiated compendium of iconic games will include historic works like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and Legend of Zelda.
The story of Mario rescuing his love is the premise for both Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong.
Legend of Zelda featured the lost hero Link, searching for his one true love in a strange land.
What made these games great?
Original gameplay, graphics, puzzles, and options all created unique environments. But, more importantly, each game had an objective to pursue.
The tagline for Legend of Zelda, “The Adventure of a Lifetime.”
Donkey Kong had three taglines.
My favorite is “Everyone’s going ape over Donkey Kong!” You can click here to see the other two.
The Super Marios Bros tagline is the closest to a love story, “Do you have what it takes to save the Mushroom Princess?”
Each game a love story, even when that was not the main pitch for selling the game. The love story was unspoken.
Fast forward to the present and any modern list will include the love story of Yuna and Tidus from Final Fantasy.
The promotional tagline?
“The world lies on the brink of destruction. Only a select few may be able to save it.”
Not a single mention of love.
So, why the love?
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Within and without our video game, exist multiple love stories.
The greatness of our love story is that it follows the footsteps of the games that came before it. Like Mario, Link, Yuna, and Tidus, our characters all have unspoken loves.
First, there is the story of our main character Nia and her sister Imani. Any story about sisters is fraught with love, and more. Nia is the older sister fulfilling a family legacy. Imani independently pursues a path that suits her strengths.
Then, there are the relationships with their parents. Separate reasons that reveal the unique loss that their actions will bring to relationships and the definition of their family.
Imani and Nia love their home planet Viridisia, but for different reasons. Exploring those reasons will reveal conflicting desires and beliefs. Many of them will remain unspoken.
Finally, the extended cast of characters have loves of their own. Their ambitions will drive their actions and conflict with the sisters, and the supporting cast they engage.
Directly and indirectly, sides will be drawn, and alliances will be chosen, if only in pursuit of personal or temporary goals.
Love is Patient, Love is Kind, Love is Complex
Love is complex.
The Greeks have four, six, seven, or eight words for love depending on whether you are referring to the list in the Bible, the one in Plato’s Symposium or a popular article published in Psychology Today.
Even the singular English word love changes context with its usage. Adjectives define categories like family love, brotherly love, unrequited love, and internet love.
The more our team began discussing it, the more the passion began to build. One writer agreed that our love story needs the same emotional impact as the ending to Final Fantasy. Then he implored us to watch YouTube and find the clip of that ending.
“I swear,” he said. “Even if you never saw the game, or played it before, the emotion is powerful. And if you have played it, the emotional impact is just so much more than a video game. It’s a movie and a love story.”
Another writer referenced the game “The Last of Us” and the emotional weight it creates at the beginning. In the game, you begin playing the first-person role of a father with a family, and then your character dies protecting his family during the first arc.
The gameplay continues by placing you in the role of playing as a different character in the family. The emotional weight of that experience embeds the player with a sensation of loss that lingers after the game’s conclusion.
Embrace the love story
I got so excited that I felt the need to bring up what I felt were the elements of a love story that the people working on this game were living.
The case can be made that all great stories are love stories. Whether it is stories about characters who are in pursuit of love, defending love, demonstrating love, or yearning for an unrequited love that remains unattainable.
We are in the middle of a love story.
Three of the writers live in California. Two northern and one southern. Another writer lives in Washington D.C.
Somehow we all find a way to sit down for a conference call at 10 a.m. Pacific/ 1 p.m. Eastern.
It isn’t easy. They can be 30-45 minutes long. Sometimes they go 3 hours.
Eventually, people have to leave early for work or miss a call because they have to do something that pays the bills or maintains a balance.
I’m fairly certain that I spoke for more than two minutes and probably closer to five.
Then someone, who shall remain nameless for the time being, said, “I f—in’ love you, Seth.”
It felt pretty cool.
Then it got a little quiet, and I felt self-conscious, so I broke out a Family Guy reference that I hoped would do the job.
“Like the evil monkey in Family Guy. I just listened to what everyone said, I said.”
There is a time-delay on web-calls.
Jabari laughed first, then like dominoes I heard chuckles and laughs from others. It was a funny way to talk about the truth.
But, for every time that we are able, each of us finds a way to be on that call because we believe in the value of our discussions.
All of the writers began working on this project before I joined. One has known Jabari since college. The other two met him through collaborations and messaging.
I know him because we used to work together.
Our reasons for coming together on this game were varied as our relationship to the guy we were willing to work with and for, but our commitment was based on a shared foundation.
What kept us coming back was the opportunity to tell a great story. The kind of story that feels as familiar and ancient as a children’s fable, but as rare and special as the dreams of the writers telling it.
This story will always be a love story without needing to call itself a love story.
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