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Author. Philosopher. Video Game Scholar.

My latest book, Dreams Of A Distant Planet: Chrono Trigger and the World Revolution of Video Games is now available through the Amazon Kindle store, and the Amazon Kindle App for smartphones, tablets, PCs, and other devices at an introductory price of $4.99 in North America, and for an equivalent amount in other territories.

Buy it here!

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Where does one gain the power to protect the things important to them? In video games one constantly gets new power ups, so that defeating entire armies or hordes of demons becomes second nature. But in the real world is right and wrong so black and white, and can even the most pathetic coward become a white knight, a champion of justice?


       My childhood mentor was a ‘shroom tripping middle-aged mustachioed plumber. So maybe my parents were right to be concerned about how I would turn out. Gamers, they thought, were hooligans with nothing better to do than slither around the neon-purple haze of trashy arcades and smoke-filled bars, throwing away quarters and their lives in some inscrutable and meaningless pursuit. In some areas of society and the media, games and gamers still don’t have a much better reputation, even today. As gamers, our history and our culture is one marred and defined by controversy and challenge: when the full force of the government of the United States of America is brought against your industry and your hobby, as it was during the Senate hearings in the 90s and as games are pilloried in state capitols even today, when gamers are sneered at by professors, politicians, parents and TV pundits, one can perhaps understand why one might want to more fully explore what video games are about, and what it means to be a gamer.

     They had to be right………right? After all, their accusations and their recriminations were all so lofty and seductive: staring up at the heights of those ivory towers and mountains of moral outrage from which so many proclaimed that to game and be a gamer was an unpardonable sin, one is left awed and dizzy with vertigo. But by nature we gamers are curious: we seek out secrets, we venture forth to decipher the mysterious foundations of virtual worlds. So I sought to scale that mountain. I dared to climb the ivory tower.

      What I discovered was astonishing.

      The view from atop such lofty heights is not one looking out unto the great vastness of the cosmos and its mysteries. Rather, one finds oneself in a small, empty room. An echo chamber. In which there are ghosts of debunked theorem and the lingering staleness of rotten ideas, jostling around for superiority and purpose and amongst that tintinnabulation one is left alone with only a mirror, at which to admire one’s ego. That is the reward and the sacred ritual found atop the mountain of moral outrage and the ivory tower.

        So I left.

      Adrift and unmoored from the academic anchor around which I had built my island of calm in the maddening modern world, I felt as those ancient artisans in Rome or Greece must have felt when, realizing the truth of the idols built with their own hands, gods born of mud and the hand of Man, they wondered what to do and where to go with their craft: they knew the truth of their profession, knew that if they continued in their present course they could find gainful employment at the cost of deceiving the public, that the cult-priests guarding the treasuries would open the door to riches and fame if one would only swear fealty to their lies.

       The lamp of truth shining in the darkness of Platos’ cave: that is what scholarship was meant to be. What it once served as. “Lux et veritas” (In Light, Truth) the former oath of the keepers of the flame of knowledge finding itself now to be “Veni vidi vici.” Or in the modern parlance, “I Got Mine.” Intellectual mercenaries seek to hire themselves out to any and every side in culture wars and the barbarians are at the gate of gamerdom. Culturally, academically, and in the industry itself games and gamers find themselves at the edge of the Rubicon: and if some gamers are to be believed, the one who leads the charge towards chaos and total war is a modern Caesar, Anita Sarkeesian.

      There is no doubt Ms. Sarkeesian is a political actor and devotee of the art of agitprop, and much of what surrounds her is a mix between a circus and kabuki theater, and much of it is due to her masterful control as ringmaster. Fundamentally, however, it’s not even if I disagree with or can disprove her thesis; everyone has a right to be wrong if they put forth the best effort to seek truth. That’s how science and scholarship works: that is how we put a man on the moon and that is how everyday people in society determine who they are and what their culture will be, to decide the policy of the homeland and of the hearth. But to not consider the possibility that one could be wrong; that is the basis for tyranny, that is enslavement to ideology or hubris or both.

     I’m not saying it’s a problem that she has problems with some elements of gaming: there are many people who are gamers, all who approach gaming with their own values and beliefs, and there are many people who are video game creators, who instill in their work their own values and beliefs. This dialogue between audience and creator is something I address in my own work. But that dialogue isn’t the problem. It’s when that actual dialogue is replaced by demagoguery.

      As a gamer, I’ve had to defend my hobby and culture against politicians, professors, TV pundits and parents. And what I’ve noticed is that, at least with the parents, many of their misconceptions come from the doublespeak and spin done by some of the other groups. Ultimately, all they want is something objective that explores what and who games and gamers are, but no one is willing to offer that. When I leveled up from talking about video games on the playground to considering what and who games and gamers are using the tools of my profession as a scholar, I decided that the young gamers of today could benefit from someone looking at games and gamers, much as when I was a young gamer many of my classmates could have benefited from someone objectively looking at the culture, industry, and people of gaming and letting those parents of my classmates know that hey, that NES won’t turn your kid into a mindless moron (they can instead thank the broken educational system for that).

       That’s why I decided to write Dreams of A Distant Planet: Chrono Trigger and the World Revolution of Video Games (now available globally for Kindle, PC, tablets and smartphones through the Kindle Store and Kindle App). As gamers, we explore the unknown and do so without fear. That is the same approach I took towards the questions that matter the most to the gaming culture and industry and the identity of what it means to be a gamer: regardless of whether or not the princess was in another castle, no matter who would be his foe Mario would pursue her, and I could do no less in my search for the truth. Crono, Marle, Lucca and the others had a responsibility to the dreamers of their world, to do what they could to find a reply to those who would lead that which they loved to ruin.

    Could I, can we do any less?

     It aint over till Game Over.

Disclaimer: By "claim" I in no way imply that she is incapable of her own agency.Dibs on Zelda is valid in all US territories and space colonies. Exclusivity to Zelda does not apply to Zelda Fitzgerald or Zelda Moore, Golden Goddesses know the latter wasn't exclusive to me when I was dating her. Filthy slut. Slut status does not apply to Zelda, unless you believe those lies about Ganon conquering her upside down Triforce and hey a guy can't be blamed for wondering why she hangs out so much with him even in different timelines, right? "Oh, he's just an old friend" she says, but he's not just a friend, not just a friend. At least she aint Peach, aint no doubt about that girl. And anyone notice no one has called dibs on Peach yet? We all know why. We all also know that no one can call dibs on them Fire Emblem girls, they call dibs on you! Especially Tharja. If only she'd make the yandere more popular in the States. You can have Harem Hell, I just want Yandere Paradise. It's not that I think I'm too much of a wimp for Tharja and am settling for something less, we all know about what Zelda gets down to on the weekends after drinking too much Lon Lon Milk. You gotta be a man to spring that trap. Just like Hulk Hogan, I have no problems dropping a third leg on Sheik. Gender in gaming is the third rail these days and I dunno if Zelda/ Sheik qualifies for a third gender or just a good old fashioned gender-bender but she used to be a redhead and now she's blonde so girl is no stranger to switching things up, and if she's a switch hitter it's all the better, being NTR'd by Yuri isn't being NTR'd, it just means there's more to your girl to love. Because then we're talking girl love. Fuck yeah, now that's the gender in gaming I wanna talk about. And maybe I will, but first, on my honor I claim the fair lady Zelda!

The gaming media world has been rocked by scandal and controversy recently. I have been busy with other things and haven't been able to engage with gaming culture recently, but here and now I shall do so. These recent events bother me not merely as a gamer, but as a follower of social media as well. Tumblr, instead of being filled with lewd nekkid pics of anime babes, has instead become a fount of wounded rage and howling fury, akin to what one would experience in the 90s at an Alanis Morsette concert. The video games sites I usually trawl through to find cute genderbent Link fanart are filled instead with sanctimonious screeds by hypocrites blaming online cultural for being hostile and angry all the while stirring the honey pot for the sake of that sweet, sweet clickbait revenue, and possibly to vent some of their own self-loathing towards the only individuals they can rage at in their world with so many sacrosanct groups and tribes and ghettoized human shields. Like a great bulbous landwhale, his sweaty rolls glistening in the sun, tossing so many rocks at a beehive and complaining about getting bit in the ass afterwards. Do you know how long it's been since I've had a Little Debbie banana cream roll? You take a box of those, add some chocolate syrup and sprinkles, and dip the lil' bitches in some marshmallow fluff and that shit will give ya a buzz strong enough to sit and listen to the pale skinny undergrad in the orange bathrobe talk about Buddah or whatever. You might even take one of his books and pamphlets, and swat him across the face with it. Because you figure, why the hell not, why are you ruining my buzz, you do not even have any Little Debbies, your beliefs are a lie I have the proof how did Buddah become a fat kid when he ate only locusts and honey and didn't even have any Little Debbie Banana Cream Rolls dipped in chocolate syrup and sprinkles and marshmallow fluff. Get the fuck outta here with that, brah. Apparently gaming media is lacking hawt anime babes and Link who may or may not be wielding the Master Sword (it's not a trap, I have the Master Key!) due to a Little Debutante. But I don't care or I should say if I did I would but right now I'm licking some chocolate syrup off of a delicious shortcake of hydrogenated oils and animal lard. Food is often a tool used by some to deal with being depressed and there have been a lot of blogs here discussing how people are depressed so I guess if one is to extend this general depression to not just gamers but those who write about them one of the reasons the scandal became what it has or was is because sometimes when you're depressed it feels better to be angry instead. At least some of the ones fanning the flames in the gaming media industry are honest about how insecure they are and hey, I don't hate brah. I just feel bad for 'em. Imagine being an insecure person who takes it upon his or herself to get a job where one has to interact with people all day and believe that what you have to say is so IMPORTANT, so MEANINGFUL, that it becomes a sort of truth or ethical code that one follows and it one diverges from it they diverge not only from what is Good and Right but from "you" (this hypothetical gaming journalist) as an individual. "In our age, all politics are personal." Is it any surprise these individuals, to begin with, follow something that makes them feel better about who they are? Is it any surprise these individuals, depressed and insecure and full of rage, who do not seek out the books and pamphlets of the pale skinny kids in orange robes or even a box of delicious shortcakes of hydrogenated oils and animal lard, instead seek out the largest peak they can find so as to shout to the world, "I AM ME AND THERE IS ONLY ME AND ON THIS MOUNTAIN, IN THIS UNIVERSE, THERE EXISTS ME AND NO OTHER BEING?" To which they only have the echo of their empty words replying to them? Or, should they succeed in stirring the world to action even if it is only to shout back, deem it because they and their ideas are of such power so as to command such might? And so what is needed is a scholarly view. Because if there is any field which deals only in misery and rage and self-loathing more than journalism, it is those who sought out their own peaks to piss on the world below long ago, and found them in ivory towers.

Reader discretion is advised. Advised, but not mandatory; after all it is a lack of discretion in the more prurient pursuits which has led to the creation of an entire industry revolving around whether or not You Are! The Father, and the cottage industry of video game reporting of matters regarding pixelated private bits: which while games focused on these matters have been around since the 8-bit era it is only in the modern era that those who report on gaming have deemed them to be matters of more than a mere curiosity of the culture and industry of gaming.

Gaming itself seems to be in those awkward adolescent years so it is no surprise that sex is so prevalent in gaming and gaming reporting. In fact there is a deluge of articles and editorials on the subject almost daily on almost every gaming site. Sometimes I just want to find some new info on the latest Smash Bros game, but the actual news is sandwiched between opinion pieces lambasting Samus for wearing rocket boots, or which feature hypnotic .gifs of Palutena and her divine hips.

As a gangly, growing lad, gaming and gaming reporting is focused only on the most superficial traits of sexuality: articles shout excitedly over knobbly bits and skimpy outfits and ohmygosh you won't believe what that tramp is wearing, let us burn her at the stake, but very little thought about the role of love, romance, and relationships. Like many teenage boys, gaming and gaming reporting seems to talk a helluva lot about sex, but has no clue as to what it is all for and what it is at all like.

This sexual frustration appears to spillover into the discourse within gaming reporting and gaming communities about the role and function of these matters in the culture, industry, and games themselves. The mob assembles. The torches are lit. The human body has become the political, and someone must either hang or be shamed. The mob must sate its lust.

The role-playing game, and more specifically the Japanese role-playing game has increasingly become the object of this mob. But it is not just the approach of the mob to these games which reveals the nature and role of sex and sexuality, love and romance in gaming but how these games are approached by those who make them.

Gamers and game developers both have unrealistic ideas of sex, if the games themselves are anything to go by. The mob will accuse game makers of unrealistic portrayals of gender ("Are you saying these air-brushed, photo-shopped, blue-skinned babes are meant to be the, the ideal woman? How can I compete against an Asari with an algorithmically-perfect ass?!"), and the game makers will be completely unable to adequately explain why Shepherd can seek to repopulate the entire galaxy yet not come across Space Herpes, or how children in space must really be born in a vacuum because out of all the babymaking going on no babies ever seem to be made. Perhaps the Genophage isn't the only form of infertility in-universe.

Ideas of dating in gaming are almost barbaric as well. Often taking the form of a mini-game, often inconsequential to the main story, often revealing a quite Social Darwinian concept of love and romance: the player-audience will max out the Social Links in Persona because to play the game of love this game says the only obligation one has to others is to maximize utility, you literally never need to hang out or even call them after you obtain the end game of the relationship; developers create a system where the only way to win favor of another character is to ply them with gifts, turning compatibility and love itself into a system of statistics and check lists. Check all her flags if you want her to check you out. Love is multiple choice, make sure you got the cheat guide.

Inclusivity has become a political orgy of shoving and shouting and frustration with game makers and other gamers. Yet what exactly does an "inclusive" game say? That sexuality is a choice, that it is something a player-avatar may "experiment" with and if not getting the desired gameplay outcome to simply reset to a previous state of sexual orientation. Yet that is definitely not what those who want those gameplay elements about sexuality to be: what, then, is an acceptable alternative? If the uproar over "Tomodachi Life" is any indicator, it would appear that this, this game is the one game which would herald a revolution in how games approach sex and sexuality and inclusivity if one is to approach the uproar over the game logically. But logic often has no say in matters of the heart or bed, and so is the case with Tomodachi Life, a game which proudly eschews logic. But that is not to say that it is lacking in design: and it is this design which makes it a game about lifestyle choices, a game caught up in the cause of those who want the choice included which by means they vehemently assert is not a choice in any other capacity, which is just fine because in many ways Tomodachi Life is about the principles of determinism. For relationships in Tomodachi Life are not created through any agency of the player but through a process which is determined by the software, yet this factoid was quite ignored by those who were complaining about how they were being ignored: Tomodachi Life revealing the often absurd ways we approach love, romance, and sexuality through the maelstrom of absurd rhetoric around an absurd game, life imitating art imitating a game imitating the most intimate dreams where Reggie Fils-Aime whispers into your ear, "My body is ready."

Dem bedroom eyes.

Of course if there is any consolation to be found in the ways video games approach sex and sexuality, love and romance, it is that even though you can run over hookers in Grand Theft Auto, turn your spouse or partner into a pack mule in The Elder Scrolls or Fallout, that games still recall that the purpose of sex is to be within the confines of a relationship between a man and a woman, all for the purpose of matrimonial mating to spawn mystical magical star babies so as to conquer the world.

A cornucopia of concubines for you, Player.

Because when a game player and a game maker come together......

Well, that's when magic happens.

Want to share the magic with me? Follow me on Twitter @CodeNameCrono, or lets get (meta) physical in the comments below!

I was so disappointed to discover the protagonist was a cute anime girl and not a constipated Roseanne, as promised by the box art.

Some games are like chicken and waffles: comfort food. Other games, though, are like the tub of ice cream you top with marshmallows, Twinkies, and chocolate syrup: an ungodly concoction that you eat in the darkness of the kitchen at 3 AM, with only the disapproving eyes of the dog staring out from the darkness, judging you silently. These guilty-pleasure games, while perhaps not as widely known or fondly remembered as others nonetheless are a key part to who we are as gamers: revealing our individual quirks, tastes, and gaming idiosyncrasies.

One of my favorite guilty pleasure games is Valis III. Released in 1991 for North America on the Sega Genesis, the game (which I played without having any knowledge of previous ones in the series) is an action-adventure semi-RPG. In a way it could be described as the missing link between the Dragons' Lair style Laser Disc games of the arcade and the modern video game: it is a combination of telling story through environment, old-school arcade sensibilities in regard to gameplay, and the lush visual, cinematic-focused storytelling of the Don Bluth games. While it is the third game in the series, a useful introductory movie sums up the series for new comers, a focus on providing a user-friendly experience and attention to narrative which was rather unique for games during its release.

Besides some neat environmental effects like the increasingly ominous twilight gloamings the farther one got into a level taking place in a realm existing partly in the physical world, partly in the meta-physical, the direction of the action sequences still hold up today: watching the main heroine Yuko plummet off a building towering into the clouds to reclaim her mystical blade, the Sword of Valis; fighting the first boss in the game atop a neon-soaked rooftop cityscape; Valis III was a stunning alternative to other games of the period which plopped the player-avatar in foreign worlds with little or no narrative purpose or logic. Why does one find oneself in a lava level, only to next find themselves in a winter wonderland? Speaking of narrative, Valis III was a definite departure of the wacky worlds of fire-breathing turtles of the Mushroom Kingdom that many gamers were familiar with, instead placing the heroine in the middle of a war of survival as her former foes, their homeworld on the verge of obliteration, invaded others for the simple act of survival. It raised a question about the role of a hero, and for those who had a history of the series certainly called into question why Yuko was raising her sword against those who were just seeking an escape from total destruction: video games at the time (and even in the modern era) basically summed up villains as "bad dudes doing evil because they are evil dudes", and while there certainly was some of that in the narrative of of previous games of the series (according to what I've read online about the narrative of previous installments), this very confrontation of that cliche created a (for the time) unique gameplay experience: when the bad guys aren't necessarily just bad guys anymore, how does one feel about getting to the fight with the Big Bad wondering how the bigger monster is?

But that wasn't the only way Valis III was unique in its' narrative. While most video games of the period came from Japan, and there were certainly elements which were products of Japanese culture found in video games, few games (especially the RPG) were framed in explicitly Japanese sensibilities: the rooftop cityscape of the first level is unabashedly modern day Tokyo, the game manual came with chibi-style character comics and gags, the cutscenes with their anime-style visuals and visual cues. A far cry from the medieval European tropes found in most RPGs from Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy.

From the game manual. Few games of the period openly embraced their status as cultural products of their country of origin like Valis III, even amongst RPGs.

The gameplay of Valis III was also unique for its era, and still uncommon for games today. Players could switch between anyone of the three heroines at their leisure, and find not just a re-skinned clone but a character with unique gameplay traits. Valis III was a game which offered both replayability and experimentation for the dedicated player, rewarding them with finding out the best character to use on a boss or level, or with finding ways to utilize their favorite character even though she might not be the "best' choice for that particular challenge. The levels were a strange, yet rewarding, combination of a side-scrolling action platformer and something akin to a side-scrolling 2D schump (one of the heroines, Valna, seems to even predate the doujin schump scene and games like the Touhou series, being as far as I know and from consulting others who know more on the scene than I, the first of these gameplay heroines).

An example of the introductory movie, the moral quandary faced by the heroines, and the anime visual style of the game.

Of course like in most entertainment fields, being creative and daring seemed to be why Valis III didn't sell so well. The series would have a few more installments before the rights were sold to a company which turned the franchise into hentai games. A rather ignorable "Game Over" for the leading ladies of Valis.

What are you favorite gaming guilty pleasures? Am I really the only person who played this game? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @CodeNameCrono

Video games are terrible at romance, falling somewhere in between a Harlequin paperback and the sundry scribblings found in a teenage girls' diary coated with glitter and half-peeled stickers. One of the few video games to not get a Game Over in the game of love is Chrono Trigger. The fateful meeting at a breezily balmy bustling summer fair; heroic rescue and teenage hormones; a love which literally transcends time.

It's a fairy tale romance alright, but what Chrono Trigger excels so well at is why some gamers find it hard to take seriously: the modern gamer, you see, is a cynic. Apparently gamers only talk about love when that's what they did to "your mom" last night, if XBOX Live is any indication. In the West the fantastic has become the mundane, filtered over half a century of TV sitcoms, gaudy magazine articles on HOW TO MAKE YOUR MAN WIIIIILD, and lurid late night cable talk shows sponsored by Girls Who Have Gone Wild: the expectations and ability of a people to wonder and be amazed diluted, cleansed away by THE AMAZING POWER OF OXY CLEAN!

More people believe in UFOs than magic. Unicorns are nearly extinct but Bigfoot roams from California to Connecticut.

There is a spiritual solipsistic stupor in modern society, it cannot believe in anything greater than itself: the first requirement for magic. A fairy tale romance like the one found in Chrono Trigger requires the player to breathlessly believe that all of history can come to fruition in the quick, furtive glance shared by two strangers who find each other in a breezy summer fair in a slumbering backwater kingdom in a rather rustic and unremarkable era of the world.

But "All politics is personal" is the adage of our age, and the personal has become the political, meaning everything is viewed through the perspective of the identity politics of the Left, Right, and everything in between. Poor Cinderella wouldn't catch a break in the modern world. Maybe she wouldn't be a princess, but a She-Devil.

"Magic" has become just another word for "trickery", the audience feels cheated if a relationship is extraordinary. A character not a sniveling coward with more faults than San Andreas? A Mary Sue / Gary Stu. What Plato describes as:

the soul when touching anything which has essence, whether divided or undivided, is stirred to utter the sameness or diversity of that and some other thing, and to tell how and when and where individuals are affected or related, whether in the world of change or of essence

or what is commonly referred to as "love at first sight" is now viewed as trite and cliche, not liberty but narrative baggage, the hallmark of a hack writer better off writing Hallmark cards

Alternatively dismissed as "trash," "smut", or "women's pornography," popular romance novels--and their readers--- are often criticized, marginalized, and mocked...Romance novels have much in common with traditional fairy tales: both are highly formulaic; invoke a fantasy realm; focus on the creation or reconciliation of a romantic pair; exist in an infinite variation of text that fall into distinct types; and are often dismissed as "trivial." With their prototypical marriage endings, criticisms are levied against both narrative forms for their failure to challenge the system of social relations and norms from which they arise.

* [2]

So like the world of Chrono Trigger after the events of Zeal, magic is gone from our world. Yet is a modern "realistic" romance any better? Considering all the messed up and freaky things people can be into, perhaps not [and frankly, some of the things people can be into scare the hell outta me].

             Here's lookin' at you, snookums.  ** [2]

There's just something.....pure about the love between Marle and Crono. Being a scholar, one is trained to speak in the realm of the provable and not the non-empirical, however making such a claim just feels right: there's an emotional honesty in Chrono Trigger modern gaming lacks. I'll take this:

** [3]

over a late night Cinemax-style fade-to-black awkward sex scene any day. Because the M.E.s and the Dragon Ages of modern gaming seem to say that sex is the true end goal of every relationship, "Happily Ever After" replaced by the morning after. Relationships in modern gaming involve the literal manipulation of the relationship between the player-avatar and their romantic pursuit(s!) all towards the end game of a momentary fling (marriage is at least possible in The Elder Scrolls and Fable, but general player behavior tends to treat these with the same brevity and callousness of a Las Vegas wedding). For all the talk from some gamers and developers about wanting to make gaming more mature, "stick figure sex theater" seems to be the best the industry can offer right now. After all:

** [4]

** [5]

What's the difference, playa?

For more musings on Chrono Trigger, video games and geek culture, and deep fried bacon mac & cheese, visit my blog at dreamsofadistantplanet.wordpress.com
Or follow me on Twitter @CodeNameCrono

* Works Cited:
1. Reisman, Mara. "The Shifting Moral Ground in Fay Weldons' Fiction." Womens' Studies 40.5 (2011): 645-647, 661

2. Lee, Linda J. "Guilty Pleasures: Reading Romance Novels As Reworked Fairy Tales." Marvels & Tales 22.1 (2008): 52

** Artwork Contribution:

1. pixiv

2. uuyly.deviantart.com

3. pixiv

4. redbubble.com

5. Siliconera