Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Fatty Bear’s Birthday Surprise - Do Teddy Bears Dream of Stuffed Bees?

By Ilmari

Even with the risk of a righteous commenter, hidden behind the heroic disguise of anonymity naming me a social justice warrior, I declare that representation in computer games is an important issue.
And frankly, wouldn’t Social Justice Warrior be just a great name for a superhero

Why is it an important issue? Simply put, an important part in people appreciating any form of media is that consumers can find characters they can relate to. If some people do not find any relatable characters in games - say, because all protagonists look like they were brothers of one family, to which they do not belong - they are more likely to find games off-putting and alienating. The solution for this problem is rather easy: just include a wide variety of characters - brothers and even sisters of many different families - in games of different sorts, especially as protagonists. This seems so simple thing to do that it feels strange what reasonable objection anyone would have to it:
  • “Doesn’t this mean doing disservice to people resembling the members of the original family?” Hardly, because adding a variety of other kinds of characters to games does not wipe out all the old characters with the familiar looks.
  • “Wouldn’t there already be games with a diversity of characters, if there were a market for them? In other words, isn’t the non-existence of games with such diversity a clear sign that these new people are not just interested of games?” This supposed non-interest is not something set in stone and new people might well learn to enjoy games, if they would just find more characters to relate to in them.
  • “There are already a lot of games with AFGNCAAPs as protagonists, isn’t that enough? Just use your imagination!” Using imagination is fine, but it doesn’t satisfy all the needs of a game player, or otherwise we would have only AFGNCAAPs in all games.
  • “Characters should be determined by the stories, not added to a story because of some dictate.” This objection just changes the point of criticism - why more games don’t have stories with diverse characters?
  • “It’s all the same for me what a game protagonist looks like, so no one else need not care about it.” Good for you, but even if you don’t find the issue important, someone else might.
The reason why I am speaking about representation right now could be summarised with the following picture.
Fatty Bear’s adventures happen in a house owned by Afro-Americans. Here we see Kayla, a child, and a moment ago her dad appeared on the screen. And that’s it, that’s all the human characters in the game. This might not be as revolutionary moment as seeing the Huxtable family on TV in eighties, but it still got me thinking: how many unstereotypical non-white characters we’ve already met in our adventuring journey?

I am really struggling to remember any from Lucasfilm games. Maniac Mansion had film student Michael as a playable character, but otherwise I am not remembering others. Well, Indiana Jones games had few Arabs and Zak McCracken might have met some jungle tribe, but these were not very full characters. With Sierra games we’ve had more variety. I can’t remember any examples from King’s or Space Quest, and Al Lowe games might be best left untouched, but Police Quests have had black police chiefs and Quest for Glory -games had its Simbani characters. But the best games on this account have been those of Coktel Vision, in which Muriel Tramis included many Caribbean characters. Feel free to add other examples in the comments, especially if you remember any clear non-white protagonists!
I am nor sure whether to call Fatty Bear a non-white protagonist. Technically he is brown, but I don’t think this distinction applies to teddy bears.
In a common enough trope, Fatty Bear, and all the other toys of the house, come to life only when the humans are sleeping. This time they have a mission: Kayla is about to have her birthday, and they need to prepare the festivities for the coming day. This sounds a bit awkward: won’t the parents wonder who did it all? In any case, Fatty Bear’s task is to make a birthday cake and to find some ribbon for Kayla’s present.
Interface is pretty much the same as in Putt-Putt Joins the Parade, the only difference being that Putt-Putt’s dashboard is replaced by an enlarged picture of Fatty Bear’s pants, with little pockets for all the inventory items.

Adventure starts in Kayla’s room, where Fatty can chat with Gretchen the doll, who will remind Fatty of his mission, and with a rabbit, who uses his ears to fly to kitchen, in order to help Fatty do the birthday cake. Other than that there’s really nothing except some fun animations to watch.
There’s also a weird minigame, where you can put face parts onto a cabbage head

Opening the door led me to an upstairs hall, with four new doors to open and stairs to go down.
The fourth door is not visible here, but would be slightly to the left.
Starting with that door, I couldn’t open it, because a mouse had locked it. I bet I am supposed to find some cheese for the little guy.

Behind the door next to Kayla’s room I found some kind of home office, with a bookshelf (full of flying books) and a desk with a computer. The room appeared to be complete filler, with nothing but animations to watch.
Children, work can be bad for your health
Behind the next door I found Kayla’s parents sleeping in their bedroom. In addition to some funny animations - like a pair of dancing dressing gowns - I managed to sneak in their wardrobe.
Super Ted?
No, I am afraid not
Kayla’s parents used the wardrobe for storing all kinds of junk, in addition to clothes (space is at premium, when you have kids). Specifically, there was a small trampoline, and by climbing on top of a stack of boxes and jumping on it, Fatty could fly to a lamp and grab some ribbon from top shelf. One task performed!

Feeling good about my progress, I checked the final door, which led to the bathroom. I began my usual methodical clicking of all the hotspots, but after a singing shower I hit something unexpected.
Fatty don’t go in that---
---laundry chute!
At least it was a soft landing
After a trip through a laundry chute, I found myself in the basement. On the floor I saw a remote control, which I took in my possession. With nothing else of use to do and with no other exit in my reach, I climbed the ladder outside.
Fatty Bear noted that the door to the basement could not be opened from outside and that he wasn’t sure how to get inside the house. I am pretty sure that there’s a zero chance of locking myself in a dead end in this game, but since this is probably the closest thing to a cliffhanger, I’ll take a break and leave you in suspense. See you in a couple of days!

11 comments:

  1. Not a protagonist, but the Voodoo Lady is certainly a significant non-white character. There haven't been any visual novels covered so far, but there are plenty of them by 1993 and they have a predominantly Japanese cast, which in this context I guess counts as non-white...

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    1. Also, Carla the Swordmaster. Although it has a lesser role than the Voodoo Lady for the entire "Monkey Island" series, in the first game it starts as a minor antagonist and later it becomes a member of your crew, so in that first game it has more "screen time" than the Voodoo Lady.

      For "Tales from Monkey Island", Reginald Van Winslow would also count, and Morgan Le Flay once you know her parentage.

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    2. About Sierra games having more character variety, "Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father" (whose playthrough isn't too far, because it is a 1993 game) should add some non-white significant characters.

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    3. Oh yes, Voodoo Lady and Swordmaster! How could I have forgotten them?

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    4. Captain Dread from Monkey Island 2 probably qualifies too, although he's a fairly minor character.

      >There haven't been any visual novels covered so far

      Policenauts even has a black partner for the protagonist (inspiration obviously taken from Lethal Weapon).

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  2. "The reason why I am speaking about representation right now could be summarised with the following picture."

    I wonder if Don Freeman's "Corduroy" could be considered a precedent to Fatty Bear, an illustrated storybook for small children about another ambulatory teddy bear owned by a little black girl.

    "The fourth door is not visible here, but would be slightly to the left."

    The angles and perspective used to render that hallway appear straight out of DOTT!

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    1. I hadn't heard of Corduroy before this, but I wouldn't be surprised if the creators knew of it.

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  3. Kayla's parents probably assume the other did all the work. Could they talk to each other about it? Probably, but children's media never thinks about that. Christmas movies with Santa Claus have a bigger problem with that than this methinks.
    I remember being creeped out by the basement as a kid. No real reason for that, probably just because basements are full of mice and spiders, even fictional ones.

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    1. I think that's why Santa Claus movies often have a scene where parents meet or at least have a glimpse of the old Father Christmas and rekindle their old belief in Christmas magic.

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  4. WOW is the aesthetic of this ever '90s.

    There’s also a weird minigame, where you can put face parts onto a cabbage head

    A Mr. Potato Head spoof, obviously, but I do wonder why a cabbage particularly...

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  5. Interesting note; This means this is the first adventure game with NO white characters.

    You'll hit The Shivah in 2006/2013, which is about Jewish issues. (Historically Jewish people have often been counted as non-white despite the pale skin many have).

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