Tag Archives: video games

What The “Mass Effect” Trilogy Revealed About Paragons, Morality, And Human Nature

I genuinely believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. I know that’s not a popular opinion, these days. I’ve even tried to remind people of it a few times. You need only look at the news, history books, or headlines from Florida to undermine your faith in human nature. I don’t deny that there’s plenty of bad, but there’s also a great deal of good. Sometimes, you find it in unexpected places.

In this case, the place is the epic space opera that is “Mass Effect.” It’s not just one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, which I often go out of my way to reference. It’s a game that dares to give players a choice in how moral or immoral they want to be. There are plenty of games out there that let you play virtuous heroes and deplorable anti-heroes. This game lets the player decide which path they want to follow.

In the original trilogy, it’s called the Paragon/Renegade system. Throughout all three games, you’re given choices on what to say or what to do in various situations. Some are inherently selfless and heroic, such as saving the Rachni from extinction. Others are just pure dick moves, like punching a reporter or shooting Mordin.

The path you choose doesn’t prevent you from completing the game, but it does affect the story. It also effects the endings of certain games and the plots of others. You can basically play the same three games and forge a very different story. You can be a pillar of virtue and nobility or you can be a total dick who still gets the job done. It’s entirely up to you.

I’ve played this game so many times that I’ve done both, but I prefer the path of the paragon. It just feels more rewarding at the end, even though it doing so does come at a price throughout the game. Recently, in an article by Forbes that featured one of BioWare’s developers, I found out that I’m not the only one who shares that sentiment. In fact, that sentiment is revealing in ways that go beyond the game.

Forbes: You’ll Be Surprised What Percent Of ‘Mass Effect’ Players Chose Paragon

The information comes from BioWare’s John Ebenger, who was retweeting a meme on Twitter about how devs give players choices to be evil villains in games, yet people always pick the nice options anyway. And it turns out that’s even more true than the meme suggests, as Ebenger laments that with all the work they put into the Renegade content in Mass Effect, that something close to a whopping 92% of players chose Paragon in any given moment.

Those bold parts are my doing. Regardless of your math skills, 92% is not a slim margin. That’s an overwhelming majority of players. Given the many stereotypes of gamers, it’s somewhat refreshing. When given the choice to be a hero or be a dick, they choose to be a hero.

That’s a profound notion because this is a video game. There are no real stakes outside beating the game. Players have no real incentive to be good or evil, but they still choose good. Even when making the renegade choices comes with legitimate advantages, players still go with the way of the paragon. I think that says more about people in general than it does about those who play games like Mass Effect.”

Say what you will about the genuinely evil people in this world. They exist. They make the news. They’re the kind of people we can’t overlook, but therein lies the critical context. We’re aware of such evil because it’s so rare. When most of the people are simply making paragon choices, it’s not noteworthy. It’s considered normal.

As someone who has faith in humanity and loves all things “Mass Effect,” I find that genuinely uplifting. It proves to me that most people are inclined to be good and decent. Even if you put them in a galaxy-spanning adventure against rampaging Reapers, they’ll still do the right things for the right reasons.

In a sense, Commander Shepard gave us insight into the nature of humanity and showed us that most of us have the heart of a true paragon. That’s something worth celebrating and cherishing.

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Filed under human nature, Mass Effect, psychology, video games

Five Video Games To Help Combat Boredom During A Health Crisis

I’ve been trying to avoid the increasingly bleak news surrounding the ongoing health crisis involving the Coronovirus/COVID-19. I tried offering a more optimistic outlook a while back, but that post has since aged like spoiled milk and rotting cheese.

Make no mistake. This is a crisis. Not even Tom Hanks is immune to it. As I write this, several areas near where I live have confirmed new cases. There’s talk of schools closing and major events being cancelled. After the NBA suspended its season, anything is possible at this point.

We may soon face the possibility of being stuck at home, frantically washing our hands and trying to wait out this crisis. After the disease, the biggest threat is the boredom that inevitably comes with being cooped up inside for too long. Having endured many blizzards in my life that kept me stuck at home for days on end, I can confirm that this is a real possibility.

Thankfully, I learned from an early age that video games are a great way to alleviate boredom. There’s only so much TV I can watch and so many shows I can binge. With TV and movies, you’re not always engaged. It’s too passive. It’s easy to get anxious and tense. With video games, you have to stay engaged in order to play. It’s a good distraction, as well as a good way to pass the time.

It also helps that games have come a long way since the days of Super Mario and Donkey Kong. The games I played as a kid got me through blizzards. For an extended quarantine, the might not have sufficed. However, games these days are bigger and more complex than ever. Some are so big that they become a massive time-suck. You could lose days on end playing these games and never know the snow outside had melted.

Since this crisis will likely take longer to pass than a blizzard, I’d like to offer a list of video games that should help pass the time and combat boredom. Please note that none of these games are MMOs or games that require a constant internet connection. That’s to accommodate those who don’t live in places with good internet. Some of these games are only available on PC, but most are available on consoles in some form.

We’re in uncharted territory with this crisis, but crippling boredom is sure to make it worse. While you’re waiting out the worst of this crisis, please consider using these games to tide you over in the meantime.


1. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

The world of the Elder Scolls franchise is a vast, magical place and Skyrim is by far the most extensive. If you’re a fan of fantasy games, or the fantasy genre in general, you will lose yourself in this game for all the right reasons. It’s not just a game about slaying dragons and fighting monsters. That is part of the story, but there’s so much more to do.

There are side-quests galore. There are unexplored lands. There are magical items to gather, refine, and improve. There are personal connections to foster and develop. You never run out of things to do in Skyrim. It’s less a game and more a customizable fantasy world that you get to explore through a character you create. Such an immerse experience ensures you’ll have hours of fun. Just be careful with mods and cheats.


2. Mass Effect Trilogy

For fans of sci-fi, the world of Mass Effect is every bit as rich as Elder Scrolls. Specifically, I’m referring to the Mass Effect Trilogy, as a whole. I’d even throw in Mass Effect Andromeda if you want to expand it even more. Just make sure you get the version that patches the glitchy graphics.

I’ve mentioned Mass Effect before when talking about artificial intelligence. I’ve even cited it as having one of the best romantic sub-plots of any game I’ve ever played. Those are all great reasons to play this game, but there’s so much more to this world. I could spend days on end just writing about it and far longer playing it.

Mass Effect isn’t as much of an open world as Skyrim, but it’s so rich in scope and lore that you rarely run out of things to do. It’s also a game that isn’t linear in its story. There are many paths you can take, many choices you can make, and many passions to pursue. It’s a game with a great deal of replay value and given how long it takes to get through it just once, you’ll rarely be bored.

Also, it has Mordin singing. That’ll make any depressing day feel better.


3. Civilization Series (For PC Gamers)

This is a game for fans of real-time strategy, history, and fictional politics. It’s also one of those games that you don’t realize is such a time suck until you see how much you’ve played it. I know this because I spent an entire summer playing Civilizations III and it felt like the quickest summer vacation of my life.

Instead of shooting and adventure, Civilizations is all about strategy. You found a civilization. You build and grow that civilization from ancient times to the modern world. In the process, you try to dominate over other competing civilizations, whether through war or diplomacy. It’s a little complex at times, but it’s easy to get into. Before you know it, several hours have passed you by.

There are many entries of this franchise, but I would suggest going with Civilizations IV and V, depending on how good your PC is. Even without online play, these games offer a rich, rewarding experience that you’ll get lost in for all the right reasons.

Just be sure to keep track of time. Trust me, you’ll forget to eat or sleep if you don’t.


4. Sim City Series

This game has some personal weight for me. The Sim City franchise has always been near and dear to my heart. Since the days of Super Nintendo, this has been one of those games that offers something different. The goal isn’t to destroy or dominate. The goal is to build a city and make it the best damn city you can. It sounds dull, but Sim City makes it both fun and rewarding.

I remember spending hours on end, testing layouts and designs for cities. There are so many ways you can build your own city. Most versions of the games also have scenarios you can take on that test your ability to manage a city through a crisis. Given the recent news, it gives you a certain appreciation for what mayors and governors must endure.

Sim City might not appeal to everyone, but it’s a different kind of gaming experience that gets you engaged in a unique way. If you can get into it, you have something that you can enjoy for days at a time.


5. Grand Theft Auto 5

I know parents, politicians, religious officials, and people who just don’t like fun will hate this. However, when you’re stuck at home and fighting off boredom, there’s no getting around it. The Grand Theft Auto games are full of violence and sex, but they’re rarely boring. Grand Theft Auto V is, by far, the most comprehensive entry into the franchise and the game that will keep you in a permanent state of road rage for days on end.

There’s a rich story, but there’s also a vast world full of things to do. Many of those things involve sex, murder, drugs, and stealing, but that’s exactly why you play a game like this. It’s a dark fantasy world built on a foundation of heavy satire. When you need to blow off steam, there’s always a worthy target in the world of Grand Theft Auto.

It also has Trevor Phillips. If you can’t find entertainment value in playing Trevor Phillips, then you’re just being difficult.


I hope this helps anyone out there who is caught up in the worst of this crisis. Being cooped up inside for reasons you can’t control can be frustrating. No matter who you are, it gets to you after a while. There are many ways to cope, but if you have a computer or a video game console, you have options that should help tide you over. These are just some of them.

Stay safe. Stay calm. Above all, wash your damn hands.

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The Golden Age Of TV Just Got More Golden: HBO’s “Last Of Us” Announcement

In this age of fake news, baseless rumors, and 4chan leaks, it’s easy to be cynical. Even when you see news or rumors that seem genuinely good, it’s hard to believe it’s real. Sometimes, you feel like you live in a world where no news or rumors could possibly be that good. Therefore, it must be wrong or fake.

Then, every once in a while, something comes along that reminds you that genuine good can still happen in this crazy world. Even if it seems rare, that doesn’t make it any less awesome. That’s how I felt when news broke yesterday that HBO, fresh off the heels of turning “Watchmen” into an incredible TV series, announced that it was making a show based on the video game, “The Last of Us.”

CNN: HBO is turning “The Last of Us” video game into a TV series

To those who haven’t played this game or aren’t familiar with the story, it’s hard to appreciate why this news is so incredible. I’ve written about this game and its two titular characters, Ellie and Joel, before. However, the impact of this game goes beyond that. This is one of those rare games that isn’t just a game. It’s a narrative experience that hits you in ways you don’t expect.

On the surface, the primary experience is that of a post-apocalyptic survival horror game that just happens to be one of the most critically acclaimed games of the past 20 years. What makes it so special is how it evokes so many emotions along the way. I knew when I bought the game that it was heavy on drama. I braced myself, thinking I could handle it, especially after seeing “Logan.” It still wasn’t enough.

I’m not the only one who had that experience either. Many others have shared their experience with this game. It really is an emotional roller coaster in all the right ways. The idea that HBO is going to take that experience and build a show around it is just too amazing for words.

At the moment, there aren’t many details, other than the fact that Craig Mazin, who produced “Chernobyl,” is working with the game’s creator, Neil Druckmann. However, given how hard HBO has been working to fill the void left by “Game of Thrones,” I’m encouraged that they have that much more incentive make this show as incredible as the game.

I’ll definitely be following news about this announcement closely, moving forward. In the meantime, for those who don’t play video games and need proof that this game will make an awesome show, I offer you this.

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Filed under television, video games

How I Learned A Powerful Life Lesson From “Goldeneye” (The Video Game)

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I grew up during a strange time. I know every adult could make that claim with the benefit of hindsight, but I think I have some substance to back it up. It was a time when the internet barely existed, Saturday morning cartoons were still a thing, video games were still mostly toys, and MTV was the ultimate evil in the eyes of parents, priests, and teachers.

There were a lot of transitions that were just starting to happen. As a kid, I didn’t understand them. I barely even noticed them until years later. I still feel their influence and have learned many lessons as a result. Some lessons were more critical than others. I still remember the day I got my first email address and I made the password so easy that my little brother guessed it. That was a small, but critical lesson I had to learn.

Another one took place a few years before that and it involved a video game that is still near and dear to the hearts of many. That game is “Goldeneye” on the Nintendo 64. For some, just mentioning that game should bring back fond memories of countless hours spent in the basement, yelling at anyone who dared to pick Oddjob in multiplayer. Those were good times.

During that same time, I went to school in an era where things like the self-esteem movement and DARE were still a thing. It seems so archaic now, given how well-documented the failures of both initiatives have become in recent year, but it was a serious issue when I was a kid.

I remember seeing all sorts of platitudes and motivational messages on TV, in movies, and at school-sponsored events. They all conveyed the same sentiment.

You’re all special.

You’re all equally good at everything.

You can achieve anything if you’re determined and work hard enough.

It all sounds so nice, but there’s just one huge problem and it’s one my awesome, wonderful parents went out of their way to teach me. It’s not entirely true.

Yes, we’re all unique, which is not the same as being special.

Yes, we all have equal worth, but we’re not equally skilled.

Yes, you can achieve a lot with hard work, but you can’t achieve anything.

These all seem like rational, reasonable lessons to teach a kid. I’m certainly glad my parents made an effort to give me that perspective because it was hard to ignore the whole “you can achieve anything!” mantra that kept playing out every day. I admit I got caught up in it at certain times. I also got upset when I felt like I didn’t achieve something that I felt I’d worked hard enough for.

At some point, I had to learn that all this idealized encouragement was flawed. My parents did their part, but it took a particularly memorable experience to really hammer that point home. This is where “Goldeneye” comes in.

There was one summer in which this game basically dominated our entire day. I would wake up, meet up with my friends, and we’d start playing the game for hours at a time, much to the chagrin of our parents. These were good times. That, I cannot overstate. However, there was one issue that often came up over the course of that summer.

One of my friends, who I’ll call Shawn, was just too damn good at the game.

By that, I don’t just mean he won more multiplayer matches than most. I mean he always beat me. It didn’t matter which character I used. It didn’t matter which maps we played in. Aside from a few lucky shots, he pretty much kicked my ass every time I played him. Some of my other friends did challenge him, but he was still the best. That much, we all knew.

I thought he was good because he played more often than me. I thought I could eventually get to his level if I practiced enough. For a good two weeks in July, I essentially trained myself with match after match in “Goldeneye.” I tried to memorize every map. I tried to get a good feel for every character and weapon. I tried to hone my aim so that I made every shot count.

While I did improve, especially compared to some of my friends, it didn’t change the outcome. Shawn still beat me almost every time. It wasn’t that he played or practiced more. Shawn just had a natural talent for gaming. His reflexes were a lot quicker than most. He had a visual acuity that most couldn’t match. He could also concentrate in a way that was downright Zen-like.

To his credit, Shawn was humble about his skill. He didn’t brag or rub it in my face, although he certainly could have. He didn’t have to in order to get the point across. In certain activities, be they sports, video games, or underwater basket weaving, there are just people who are inherently more talented. It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how much you train. You just aren’t going to reach their level.

I eventually came to accept that. It was the first time it really sank in. Hard work and dedication won’t help you achieve everything. It can help, but there are going to be people who just have more talent and you can’t always work around that. It was a hard truth that I’d tried to avoid up to that point, but after that summer, I came to accept it.

Coincidentally, this is around the same time when I stopped taking those self-esteem messages at school seriously. As I got older, my perspective became a bit more realistic. In the long run, that probably served me better than just blindly believing I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I genuinely worry how much I would’ve crushed my spirit if I had to learn that lesson the hard way later in life.

Again, I got lucky. On top of having two great parents who kept me anchored, I had a friend who was just naturally talented at kicking my ass in “Goldeneye.” While all those losses were annoying, they taught me a valuable lesson and one that still helps me to this day.

To Shawn, who I hope reads this one day, I sincerely thank you for that.

Also, I apologize for all those times I threw my controller at you.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology, video games

Celebrating The Love Of Shepard And Garrus On N7 Day

Shep

Greetings and to all the fellow fans of “Mass Effect” out there, Happy N7 Day! To those who don’t follow video games or space operas, N7 Day is the annual celebration that fans of this incredible franchise and story use to celebrate this amazing world that we love.

This series will always be near and dear to my heart in many ways. It didn’t just tell an incredible story that spanned the galaxy. It crafted wonderful, compelling characters that included beautiful, endearing romances. While the game gives you many romantic options to pursue, the one that will always resonate with me is Garrus and female Shepard. Their love helps make the galaxy worth saving.

In celebration of this year’s N7 Day, I’d like to commemorate it by highlighting my favorite romance between Earth’s greatest defender and her badass Turian sharpshooter. If you need convincing that their love is special, please see check out this video complication. I hope it convinces you as much as it did for me. Enjoy!

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How Ellie From “The Last Of Us” Does LGBT Characters Right

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In the current state of popular culture, one of the most emotionally-charged words is “diversity.” It gets thrown around like a nuclear hot potato. Anyone who holds it too long gets burned and anyone who doesn’t hold it long enough gets attacked. Whether it’s the handling of female characters or representation of minorities, diversity is one of those buzzwords that creates the wrong kind of buzz.

That’s not to say that it’s always mishandled. From a pure business standpoint, it makes sense for media companies to pursue diversity because the world is becoming an increasingly diverse place. New markets and consumer bases are emerging as people gain greater access to media, thanks largely to global connectivity. Any competent business would want to appeal to the most customers possible.

Economics aside, injecting diversity into a movie, TV, comic book, or video game is fraught with challenges and potential backlash. Movies have felt it. Comic books have felt it. Video games have especially felt it, thanks to scandals that seem to get more frustrating with each passing year.

The number of failed attempts to promote diversity is vast and tends to bring out the worst in many people. The successes, though, often fly under the radar and generate way too little attention. Other than the success ofBlack Panther” and the occasional Supergirl comic, the cases of diversity done right are few and far between.

That’s why I think it’s fitting that one of the best cases of diversity comes from the world of video games, an industry that finds itself in a new controversy every other week. It’s even more fitting that it comes courtesy of “The Last of Us,” a franchise I’ve praised before in how it portrays masculinity in a refreshingly positive way.

Beyond just being an excellent game with amazing characters, it also provides a case study in how diversity can be done effectively. It doesn’t have to be forced. It doesn’t have to be preachy. It doesn’t even have to have a larger agenda. It can just be a bonus on top of a well-made product.

The character in question this time is Ellie, the co-protagonist to Joel in the first game and the main protagonist in the upcoming sequel. Her story is every bit as rich and compelling as Joel’s. Her history, her personality, and even the way she complements the gameplay helps make her distinct. She’s a major reason why this game is so enjoyable and why it sold so well.

She achieved all this as both a female and an LGBT character. It sounds like one of those combinations that has to be forced, but that’s not the case with Ellie. In fact, anyone who plays the entire story of the first game wouldn’t even know about Ellie’s sexuality because it was only revealed through a DLC , or downloadable content.

Even within that content, though, Ellie’s sexual orientation was not a big part of the story it told. It effectively filled in a time gap within the main game while also exploring more of Ellie’s backstory, but at no point did it make her sexuality a bigger issue than it needed to be. You could’ve removed that detail entirely and the story would still work, but it wouldn’t be quite as memorable.

More recently, during a preview of “The Last of Us Part II” at E3 2018, Ellie’s status as a homosexual woman was reaffirmed. Again, it wasn’t critical to making the moment work. The fact she’s attracted to other women doesn’t take anything away from the emotional weight of the scene. It does help enhance it, though.

Therein lies the key. What makes Ellie a great character has nothing to do with her sexuality. It’s not a defining aspect of her persona, nor should it be. It defines her no more than Joel’s heterosexuality defines him. It doesn’t have to be thrown in someone’s face as this huge, all-encompassing feature. It’s just a small part of a much greater whole that is Ellie.

There’s no effort to make her this LGBT icon, which has a tendency obscure a character when forced. Her status as LGBT isn’t belabored, either. She’s not important to the overall narrative in “The Last of Us” because she’s female and gay. She’s important because of factors independent of those traits.

That importance grows throughout the story, but not because of her gender or her sexuality. It’s what she does that helps establish her as an important character and a compelling one, at that. Her story complements Joel’s and the various other characters she encounters.

In the process, she also demonstrates a unique personality. She’s tough and stubborn, but she’s also impulsive and temperamental. Many of those qualities are entirely gender-neutral. Some stand out more because she’s a woman and that’s okay because a girl acting girly isn’t a big deal, which tends to get lost with other female characters.

It may seem so obvious, but the fact that diversity in media is such an issue shows just how difficult it is to pursue. Ellie succeeds because the diversity she represents is never primary to her character. It’s not even secondary, either. That’s not to say her gender and her sexuality are ignored, but it’s never elevated beyond a certain point.

Before any of those diversity-related issues come up, “The Last of Us” works to establish who Ellie is and why she’s important. That process of establishing a good, compelling character without her gender or sexuality being the focal point does a lot to get you to care about her story. It’s a process that can’t be rushed and the game does a masterful job in that respect.

The person Ellie is when you first encounter her early in the game is not the same person by the end. She’s someone who undergoes a lot of growth, encountering more than a few setbacks along the way. There are times she’s easy to root for. There are times when she comes off as an arrogant brat. Before you ever find out about her sexuality, you learn about her as a person.

By the time her sexuality finally comes up, Ellie is already so much more than the gender she’s attracted to. She’s a survivor, a fighter, and someone who has seen everyone she’s ever cared about die or leave her until Joel comes along. She also has a vital part to play in the ongoing apocalypse the world around her faces. All of this, once again, is not dependent on her gender or her sexuality.

I know I keep belaboring that, but it’s worth belaboring because that aspect of character development keeps getting glossed over. Other efforts at diverse characters often rush to the diversity without establishing why anyone should care about them. It’s why all-female remakes rarely resonate. It also leads to characters whose diversity is so blatant that it’s hard to take them seriously.

That’s not to say Ellie is a perfect example of diversity done right. She has her flaws, as does Joel. There are times when she’s too tough for her own good. She has a tendency to push peoples’ buttons for the wrong reasons. She also has questionable tastes in jokes. Even proponents of diversity can find flaws in her.

Despite those flaws, there are many lessons that characters like Ellie and games like “The Last of Us” can teach when it comes to doing diversity and LGBT representation right. The most important can be boiled down to four basic components:

  • Don’t try and force diversity just to fill a quota
  • Develop the character before developing the diversity
  • Don’t make their status as a woman or LGBT their most defining trait
  • Have the character complement their supporting cast, regardless of their diversity status

There are probably many more lessons that I’m not qualified to teach, but I think characters like Ellie do plenty by just being memorable and endearing. She’s a great character within a great story. That wouldn’t change if she were straight, but her being a lesbian does help her stand out, albeit for all the right reasons.

It’s also worth noting that Ellie’s story is still ongoing. “The Last of Us Part II” is set to come out in 2019 and the next part of her story promises to get pretty dark. Whether she maintains the complexity and appeal of her current character remains to be seen, but she has a strong foundation to build on, which is key for any character, regardless of their sexual preferences.

Whether we like it or not, there’s a lot of animosity between both sides, there more diversity in future media because the world is a diverse place. It’s just a matter of going about it in a meaningful, compelling way. Ellie is an example of how an LGBT character can work and when done right, it works pretty damn well.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, video games

Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Joel From “The Last Of Us”

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For the past few years, it has become a popular pasttime to label certain elements of popular culture as toxic or “problematic.” Take any character, song, plot, role, or trope from any brand of media. Apply an excessive amount of scrutiny, distorting it as much as necessary along the way. In the end, some people will find a way to make it offensive.

It’s through that process that shows like “Seinfeld” can be called racist. Movies like “Crocodile Dundee” can be called culturally insensitive. Movies like “Big” can be called creepy. Even classic video games like “Mario” and “Zelda” can be considered sexist. Scrutinize it enough and everything becomes racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and culturally insensitive.

I find that whole process to be an exercise in trolling that does more to spark outrage than it does meaningful discussion. It’s the same process that created the idea of “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve gone out of my way to deconstruct on more than one occasion.

I don’t want to bemoan all the flaws and frustrations that occur when regressive attitudes mix with regressive agendas. There’s enough debate, discussion, and outright shouting going on in that field as it stands. Instead, I want to shift the tone of the conversation by going to the opposite end of the spectrum.

By that, I mean I’m going to do the opposite of highlighting something that some may find “problematic.” Instead, I’m going to cite something that I think is inherently positive from which we can learn. In fact, I’m going to try and coin a new phrase that’s more uplifting than some of the other buzzwords used by the regressive crowd.

I call it “noble masculinity.” It’s the idea that there are noble, admirable traits in male characters that are worth celebrating in the context of a larger story. Having talked so much about toxic masculinity and why I think it’s such a flawed concept, I feel it’s only fitting that I attempt to counter it with something more positive.

I know it’s popular to criticize and complain about male behaviors these days and, as a man, I don’t deny that we can do some foolish things. However, men are also capable of incredible acts of virtue. Those traits deserve more attention, if only to remind everyone that men can be more than outrage fodder.

There are a lot fictional male characters from movies, TV shows, video games, and comics that I could cite who embody positive masculine traits. Characters like Superman, John McClane, and even James Bond come to mind, although I’m sure there are some who would disagree with the last one.

However, in this initial exercise of exploring noble masculinity, I want to cite a lesser-known male character from popular, critically acclaimed video game that some have called the most riveting, emotionally resonant story-driven epic of the console generation. That game is called “The Last of Us” and the source of the noble masculinity comes from Joel, the grizzled, yet vulnerable male protagonist of the story.

For those who haven’t played “The Last of Us” or just don’t play video games in general, Joel may initially come off as a mix of old cowboy tropes and John McClane rip-offs. However, by following his story, he reveals a level of depth that includes instances of noble masculinity that men and women alike can appreciate.

Joel’s story is not built on prophecies, superhuman abilities, or dumb luck. As a character and a person, Joel is largely defined by a grit that’s uniquely masculine in many ways. At the beginning of the game, he’s not looking to become part of some larger struggle. He’s just a single dad, trying to make a living and provide for his daughter, Sarah. In world full of dim-witted father figures, it’s pretty refreshing.

Then, within the first 10 minutes of the game, Joel suffers the greatest loss any parent can endure. He tries to protect his daughter from first stages of a full-blown apocalypse, but ultimately fails. He ends up watching his daughter die in his arms. It’s a very emotional moment, one in which Joel’s pain is palpable.

That defining moment establishes Joel as a man who fights to protect those he loves, but is all too human and very much at the mercy of forces beyond his control. There’s only so much that he do when the world around him is falling apart. No amount of anger, lament, or sorrow can change that. He, as a man and a survivor of this apocalypse, has to find a way to cope.

While his coping skills aren’t perfect, as evidenced in many powerful scenes throughout the game, Joel’s grief helps drive him. It also lays the foundation for the emotional development he undergoes after he meets Ellie, his young female co-protagonist who becomes a critical part of the gameplay and the story.

I could probably write another article about Ellie and why she’s one of the most compelling female characters in modern video games, but in the context of noble masculinity, she’s very much a catalyst for Joel’s emotional journey. Her own story is remarkable, but her influence on Joel is where she really shines.

It’s not a case of a knight rescuing a princess or a female character trying too hard to be an equal to her male compatriots. In fact, Joel’s first impression of Ellie isn’t a good one. She comes off as an irritable brat with a bad attitude. Essentially, she’s the kind of immature teenager that guys like Joel go out of their way to avoid.

However, their stories soon become intertwined. They end up having to work together, rely on each other, and fight for one another in order to survive a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by zombies, toxic fungus, and military-enforced curfews. Before long, they establish a bond that brings out the best and worst of both characters.

For Joel, the best is reflected in those same paternal instincts that caused him so much pain and sorrow at the beginning. He comes to see Ellie as a surrogate daughter, of sorts. At times, he resists that and even gets upset when the idea is thrown in his face. In the end, though, he doesn’t avoid it.

As a result, Joel’s story embodies more than the love a father has for his child. It also reveals how willing a man is to form a bond with a total stranger, who is not even that nice to him in the beginning, and tries to protect them with that same paternal dedication. It doesn’t happen all at once. He even resists it at times. He still embraces it and all the tribulations that come with it.

That, more than anything, is the most important element of noble masculinity that Joel embodies. He’s not Superman, nor does he pretend to be. He’s also very aware of his own shortcomings, saying at one point that he trusts others more than he trusts himself. Most men are reluctant to acknowledge such insecurity, let alone reveal it. Joel doesn’t hide from it. If anything, he channels it.

It’s something that resonates with Ellie too. Throughout the game, she has opportunities to cut ties with him and go along with someone who might be better-equipped to help her. However, she choses to stay with Joel. Just as he comes to see her as a daughter, she comes to see him as a father.

The fact that he and Ellie go through this journey in the midst of an ongoing apocalypse makes their bond that much more powerful. It also requires that Joel push himself harder and confront the limitations that kept him from saving his daughter. Being a father made for great sorrow in the past, but it also made him stronger and more determined in the future.

That’s not to say that Joel doesn’t have his low points. There are moments where Joel does not come off as noble. Some even argue that his decisions towards the end of the game undermines his nobility. I would argue that it actually reinforces it.

When the world is already in the middle of an apocalypse and people are willing to sacrifice innocence for what they think is the greater good, then that’s when traits of noble masculinity become most critical. That’s when a father’s willingness to protect his child should be at its strongest.

That dedication still comes at a price. With a sequel in “The Last Of Us Part II” already in the works, it’s likely that Joel will continue to pay a price for his choices, however noble they might be. The fact that he still makes those choices and is willing to accept the risks reflects the challenges and strength that come with masculine drive.

Joel is probably not the greatest example of noble masculinity in all of fiction, but I would argue that his is the most relatable. He’s not perfect, nor does he pretend to be. He doesn’t have any capabilities that are impossible for other men to achieve. He’s a man who was utterly destroyed when he lost his daughter, but didn’t run from the chance to be a father again and to a total stranger, no less.

Flaws and shortcomings aside, I still contend that the noble masculinity that Joel shows throughout “The Last of Us” are far greater than any of the “toxic” traits that others may cite. In playing the game, it’s hard not to empathize with him or his journey, especially if you’re a parent. In appreciating his strengths, though, it shows that there is room for a brand of masculinity that anyone of any gender can admire.

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