Lunarstorm, Elfwood and Deviantart some fourteen years later, in that order. My experience with social media platforms is not exactly extensive, and certainly a lot has changed since 2003, not least when it comes to etiquette and form - two things about which I am admittedly naïve.
As such, as there might be a bit of a rant ahead, I do feel it may be appropriate to here employ two of the developments of recent years: The spoiler alert and the trigger warning.
However, I will not. Because appropriate or not, I do not feel it would be doing anyone a favour.
For the spoiler alert, this journal entry concerns anthro-themed visual novels with same-sex relations - something that while not uncommon still requires some effort on your part to find quality content - so if this is in your interest to begin with you might actually want to know if something is going to be worth your time.
For the trigger warning, it also concerns the unflattering portrayal in media of characters associated with Western minority groups - but if this is your concern, then it is probably also in your interest. Also, as can probably be told from the sidebar the subjects I usually handle are in limited niches that are not stumbled upon - finding my currently most popular writing requires one to google "mink robot weasel soviet lesbians" - so if you are reading this and not already a watcher, congratulations: You may have found just what you were looking for.
So that said, I recently finished Great Troubles.
Or rather, having a dreadful paranoia that has made me very economic with downloading executable files from anywhere, I had someone else both start and finish it for me, listening to a number of longplays as I sketched dragons and dungeons. It would appear that having survived long enough to be living in the future, the infamous but most useful electric monk is very real - although the brand dominance of Youtube is somewhat unexpected.
So what is this thing? If you are not familiar with visual novels as a medium I will not go into detail there, as that could well take the better part of a day, but one of those is what Great Troubles is.
It was okay. Would probably not have noticed it if not for the anthro skinning, but better than most I am familiar with. The art was not exactly Heather Bruton, but way above par for the medium. The writing - well - good writing should not and does not need to be defended or justified, but it was just as improbable and full of logic leaps as is average for VNs. There are some clever details with the animal traits, but also some vocabular peculiarities, such as it being really obvious the two translators disagree on whether the characters have hands or paws. The obligatory scenes were okay: Obviously you are not going to pick this up unless you have some interest in boys less than decently dressed and being more than friends, but it was not too excessive to make the whole thing feel like an excuse either. Bonus points for being quick and awkward: Seen too many better authors completely forget their characters were supposed to be inexperienced and insecure once they get into bed.
Scott, the protagonist high school kitty, is just plain supernaturally stupid - but there is an awful lot of method in the madness, so if you are 25-35 years old you are almost certainly going to snicker with nostalgic recognition at some of his reckless antics. Ah, t'was good being young. In fact so good it only seems to get better with every passing year.
And it does have a twist that I saw coming from a mile away. But then a twist to the twist I never expected - and as hideous as it was, am quite pleased to see.
Let us go back for a moment to 2003, incidentally when I was myself in senior high, but more importantly when the second X-men film hit the big screens. By wide margain my favourite of the original three, although I can understand why some would disagree. However some of the arguments are harder to make sense of than others.
I remember reading a newspaper clipping from the time mentioning the film had been criticised as anti-islam. Supposedly Stryker, the not so subtly named villain, was a muslim. Now, I did not remember anything in the film remotely hinting at this, even less any context where it would be relevant, but my sense of detail has been known to fail. Some further reading clarified that someone out of the millions seeing the film had spotted some patterns on a prop ring that looked like "allah" in obscure calligraphy; ergo, Stryker must be muslim, and the film about blue superheroines politically motivated.
Of course, the real question here is not if this pudgy, balding incarnation of the usually imposing Stryker belongs to a certain creed or not, but why on earth it would be relevant. This is not a one-dimensional character: His goals and motivations are quite well elaborated on, and it is made very clear that they are personal in nature - mostly concerning his dangerous son, and changing over time from acceptance, to control, and finally to domination. Perhaps Stryker is also religious - there is nothing to say he is not a practicing muslim either - but nothing in the film has anything whatsoever to do with this.
Getting a bit closer to topic, it is perhaps not unexpected that the earlier Bond films have received both warranted and more dubious criticism in later years; and then there is just criticism that is plain baffling. The man with the golden gun has not fared so well there, being harshly criticized because apparently Francisco Scaramanga is gay. Now there is nothing in the film suggesting this. In the book it is mentioned in passing that Scaramanga may be homosexual because he cannot whistle - a myth that is obscure to most modern readers, and if I do not remember wrong even M brushes this off as irrelevant. I am not certain why The man with the golden gun would be considered more homophobic than Diamonds are forever , where the main henchmen are a then-contemporary stereotypical gay couple. But then again the latter does not feature sir Christopher Lee, so it is immediately less likely to attract attention.
Why, yes. This is very much about stereotypes.
Now, do not get me wrong. For any writer stereotypes are just a tool, and a very useful one at that. Stereotypes allow the writer to immediately convey what to expect from a certain character, and are often the most surefire method of establishing structure early in a narrative. The issues begin to mount up when the reader is more concerned with the stereotype rather than the character, and even worse so when the writer begins to use stereotypes not for the benefit of the story, but with the readers' concerns in mind. Especially when the stereotypes in question are not stereotypes at all, but existing traits.
In the minds of some readers/viewers, if Stryker is religious he not also a military veteran with a troubled family history, but only religious. If Scaramanga is gay he is not also an elite freelancing assassin with his own laser-equipped tropical island fortress, but only gay. The religious villain of a politically motivated film and the gay villain of a homophobic film. Of course, stating it like this it sounds hilarious, but this is a very real belief. One that is not so hilarious in the light of how many writers cater to it. Lazy worldbuilding is overpopulated with a number of modern stock characters. The black man who is "super non-threatening" and absolutely does not listen to rap or anything, oh no. The secular muslim guy who is explicitly "not like the others". The gay guy who explicitly is "just like everybody else. The transwoman who is as fuzzy as a pink bunny and who has no other subjects to talk about besides HRT. The list goes on. While these characters are naïvely constructed and quite unsympathetic in that, one might question what if anything is wrong about them. After all, they seem harmless.
Which is the only thing they are not.
This might only be opinion, but let us be honest here: Characterizing a minority character from one single trait is lazy writing, but writing them as flawlessly harmless to avoid criticism while claiming it promotes "inclusion" and "acceptance" is just vile. These stereotypes are just as harmful as the misandric lesbian rapist and the likes. Denying such characters the possibility of being villainous does nothing to promote inclusion. It only singles them out as being different, not playing the same field as the others.
So this guy is gay? Following Sturgeon's law the chances he is going to do anything even remotely questionable in the story just dropped below 10%. After all, someone who very strongly supports equal rights might be offended if he actually has them.
This is where Great Troubles offered a big surprise, and one that despite all other issues the VN has I can speak well of for a very long time. Given that the theme is male/male one can guess immediately that Samantha the raccoon has a secret, and not be in the slightest surprised when Scott's utterly reckless incompetence reveals it - but what followed, I had never expected. It was a deeply unpleasant part of the story to read, but it was very refreshing to see a gender-nonconforming character who is an utterly unsympathetic total fucking monster.
It is early on established that Samantha goes only by her full name and is very, very conscious of being called "Sam" or anything more neutral, so at the inevitable big revelation I had expected a tragic backstory, a cry for acceptance and the player's option whether to extend a paw or to take the openly bigoted route. But Samantha is not defined by one trait, and Scott - the adorable idiot - is not a reliable narrator conveying the author's opinion, so this does not happen. Instead she totally destroys him, and in the most reprehensible way possible. All the way through this there is no mention whatsoever of her gender or orientation, because none of those things motivate her actions; there is simply a part of her character that is vile beyond redemption.
Still, as refreshing as it was to see this kind of twist, am left with very mixed feelings after all this.
Certainly misuse of stereotypes is both lazy writing and socially irresponsible, especially when it limits the characters to harmless cookie cutouts to avoid offending people who may or may not be part of said group or target audience. If any character that is a minority group in context is to be considered fully included, they must have the same freedoms of development as mainstream characters - including the right to be flawed, even deeply so, and even be outright hideous people. There does not even have to be the societal concerns of acceptance and inclusion involved here - just the simple allowance of fuller, rounder characters should be enough.
But while Great Troubles pulls its weight, there really has to be a way of doing this that does not involve rape and psychological torture. And considering the anthro community already has a troubled reputation, how anyone googling the name will be instantly presented with in-game art of Samantha spraying her kit milk is not exactly going to help the case either.
Oh, well - nothing can be simple.
As it is quite late, and many ideas gather after nightfall, while writing I have become ever more aware that someone reading this is bound to mistake praise of a character as praise of their actions, and an attempt to justify and condone the same in reality.
As the content may be considered questionable I will not recommend Great Troubles, as much as I enjoyed it. It should be very easy to find since the official link is on Fur Affinity. I will however recommend the work of author Larry Niven.
He has some very wise things to say about the mistake mentioned above.