Children of the First Pandemic

Amicia and Hugo De Rune lightinging candles at a side altar in a church Review of A Plague Tale: Innocence

The year 2019 saw the outbreak of disease leading to widespread social unrest in Europe.

I’m referring to A Plague Tale: Innocence, last year’s historical adventure game that won awards for narrative achievement even as its praiseworthy young characters won the hearts of an adoring fanbase on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and personal computer.

Launched one year before the coronavirus reset many of our expectations, A Plague Tale has been inspirational beyond its modest goals and its linear story due to its expectation shattering aesthetic: its appealing use of the values associated with childhood without being conventionally “family friendly.”

You should know three things about A Plague Tale. It’s a straight shot through a simple story inside of an action-adventure game. It’s both a fun videogame and a sophisticated experience designed for both artistic impact and nerd cred. Most importantly, it’s a serious, joyful game for both children and adults that bridges the gap between them. To achieve this, A Plague Tale starts out with a family scene from an idyllic and detailed vision of the European Middle Ages.

The year is 1348, one year following the outbreak of the Black Death in Europe, in the kingdom of Aquitaine in southwestern France. Fifteen year-old noblewoman Amicia De Rune must protect her five year-old brother Hugo as they flee for their lives from the murderous Inquisition, who are imposing a martial quarantine. The De Rune siblings meet other displaced children along the way, who join the party at various points to utilize their youthful competence as they unravel the mysteries of the De Rune family and of the plague. Along the journey, the children encounter eerie parallels to our current daily experience – rumors of an encroaching illness spreading through the land, causing social unrest leading to an atmosphere of distrust while the political pot begins to boil over.

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Turning 30 with the Wheel

title graphic depicting the shadows of three people cast along a road at night Reflections on The Wheel of Time to a Young Student

You stand in the center of mountain stadium, beneath the collective gaze of the spectators watching from the tiers rising around you into the peaks above. In front of you, the judges stare at you from their platform, their expressions as blank as those of the assorted masks hanging from a stand before you. You approach the stand to select a mask, but as you consider them, a gust of wind from the mountains catches you from behind, sifting through your hair and clothing to displace the masks, sending them dancing around each other in a jumble of shapes and colors.

Now in production as a series for eventual streaming on Amazon Prime, the epically huge epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time became my story throughout my young adulthood. It helped me navigate my many conflicting identities during my high school and college years. Those conflicts were particularly fierce for me due to the difference between the small community surrounding my religious high school and the public college education I pursued in the same local community.

As I approach my 30th year of life – I was born in 1991, two years before the publication of the first book in The Wheel of Time – I’m still struggling to figure out how all the parts of my identity fit together. By casting its coming-of-age plot arc within the timeless cast of the alternate world fantasy setting containing many different factions defined by ideologies, ethnicities, and politics, The Wheel of Time became a library of vivid conflicts and folksy anecdotes that have come frequently to my mind over the years.

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Voices from Babylon: Into One Cup

review series banner depicting a generic cylindrical space ship orbiting a planet Review of The Gathering

Twenty five years have elapsed for us since the sadly nostalgic, winebibbing Londo Mollari first announced the dawn of the Third Age. In doing so, the ambassador teased the sincerely though bombastically portrayed concepts that combined uniquely within Babylon 5 to brew a pop culture mythopoeia that – unlike other media franchises – also speaks strongly and immediately to the sociopolitical issues and power dynamics that that cause so much bitterness and strife in today’s society. A faithful representation of what was to come after it in the regular episodes, The Gathering reached far and wide – through worldbuilding to the synthesis of mythology, through eclectic genre conventions to hard science, through politics to contemporary social dynamics – in order to prepare an assembly of character and setting elements brimming with the potential to express camaraderie, mystery, and catharsis. If in 2018 the critic might dismiss this brew as being garish or stale, tasters with less discriminating tongues will find the well-aged blend an enriching and stimulating draught.

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