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Review

A Review of The Wolf Among Us, Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors. Also, Thoughts on Brothels.


Mild spoilers for those who have read the comics; major spoilers for those who haven’t.

When I wrote my review of the first episode of The Wolf Among Us, I had qualms about Snow White. She wasn’t the Snow I knew and loved from the comics. It was the only thing I didn’t like about the game, but it put me off so much that I wasn’t sure if this series was for me.

I’m happy to report that my fears have been alleviated.

Shortly after Snow’s inevitable return, she and Bigby get into an argument about how involved she should be in solving her presumed murder. No matter how you play him, Bigby is hesitant about letting her take part in the case. Snow, on the other hand, is sick of being denied autonomy. “I already lost you once!” Bigby says. Snow fires back: “I’m not yours to lose!”

That’s my girl.

Yes, Snow’s found her spine, Bigby’s in a bad mood, and everyone and their mother looks suspicious. Everything is right in Fabletown. Which is to say that nothing is right in Fabletown. Fabletown is a broken mess, a mire of crime and despair. A fuse has been lit beneath these dirty streets, burning quietly, but growing ever shorter.

As the theme of urban desperation is now on the table, this is as good a time as any to talk about video game brothels.

Play a lot of games, and you will encounter a lot of virtual prostitution. “Brothel” is video game code for “grown-up,” and it’s become an almost laughably common inclusion. I say this not to give The Wolf Among Us a hard time for including such stuff — on the contrary, I’m fine with it here. I’ve just seen so many of these settings that whenever one appears, the first thing that goes through my head is “Ah, yes, the brothel level.” I can’t help but consider The Wolf Among Us in terms of that broader trend.

In most games (not all, but many), brothels are nothing more than titillating, incidental backdrops. Pick up a side quest, buy an imaginary drink, watch a pixelated lap dance, and feel like an adult. When brothels are given heavier narrative weight, it often gets weird. Quests in that vein touch on things like abuse or poverty or human trafficking — all worthy themes to tackle, but not when portrayed within the context of lap dance/imaginary drink/experience points. It’s hard to fully engage with the story of a woman who’s been mistreated when everything in the background is shouting “Hey, do ya wanna see some tits?!” Doubly so if the damsel in question flirts with you or offers sex when you save the day.

Smoke and Mirrors does indeed feature a brothel (okay, technically a strip club, with rooms next door) with narrative intent, but it does a lot of things right. For starters, the Pudding and Pie is a co-ed club. For every pair of breasts painted on its walls, there’s a rippling torso or a chiseled butt. The worker cleaning tables when you arrive is a blond, muscle-tank-wearing beefcake. I have to give props for that. Equal opportunity sex work is a rare bird in games, and it implies an intentional lack of assumption towards player demographics. High five.

Make no mistake, though, the Pudding and Pie is gross. Peeling wallpaper, tacky artwork, cheap lighting. I could practically smell the spilled drinks and stale cigarettes. The first thing you see upon entering is club owner Georgie (y’know, kissed the girls and made them cry) yelling vicious, degrading things at the clearly uncomfortable, nearly naked pole dancer practicing alone for him. Backstage, the cheeky promo posters are replaced with flyers for alcoholism support groups and suicide hotlines. It’s a miserable, totally unsexy place — in this case, exactly as it should be. Again, I’m not saying that sexy is bad, or that sex work is bad (under consenting, respectful circumstances). What I’m saying is that splicing sexy with sad morality tale sends weirdly mixed signals, and I’ve seen it happen a lot (not just in games; TV shows and movies do this all the time). Smoke and Mirrors avoids that trap by making it clear from the get-go that this is not a fun place and these people are not happy. The environment matches the message. The Pudding and Pie was an angering place to be, but I had the sense that a lot of thought went into creating that effect. If Bigby’s supposed to be livid at that point, I should be, too.

(Sidenote: The Pudding and Pie is not the only place you will find themes of sexual objectification and predatory behavior in this game. However, as expanding on that gets very, very spoilery, I’m going to hold off until the next episode. Just know that it’s there, and it’s creepy.)

You could make the argument that women being forced into sex work is a trope too commonly used as the go-to shorthand for social ills, and I’d agree with you. What I like about The Wolf Among Us, though, is that it’s not the only story being told (though it is used heavily), nor are tragic prostitutes the only type of woman being portrayed. Beauty (as in, “and the Beast”) is a desperate woman, too, but she’s taken a different path. There’s also Holly, the abrasive owner of the Trip Trap Bar, who serves as a reminder that discarded people are still people with families and loved ones. And though the current female characters are perhaps the ones most visibly affected by Fabletown’s troubles, they’re not the only ones suffering. Mr. Toad’s son TJ, for example, is a character I badly want to hug. This whole community is hurting.

That slow-burning feeling of something’s gotta give is what has me hooked. Though Bigby is the protagonist, the character getting the savior set-up is Snow (which makes perfect sense, if you know the comics). She’s still largely on the sidelines, but you can see the wheels turning. When Snow hears Fables despair over never getting the help they need — especially if they did all the right things and got hurt anyway — you can see the effect it has on her. She’s not going to let any of this lie. Bigby may be the guy out there busting heads, but I think he’s clearing a path for the lady in charge.

Combined with the same whip-smart dialogue and engaging gumshoeing as the first episode, Smoke and Mirrors stands, in my eyes, as the stronger of the two. An hour and a half of gameplay melted away in minutes, leaving me instantly hungry for more. I honestly don’t know where this mystery will lead, and I love that.

Becky Chambers writes essays, science fiction, and stuff about video games. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also be found on Twitter.

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  • kbroxmysox

    What’s interesting is that this almost feels like an origin story for Snow. Of course she was always tough, but this shows that her time in the Mundy world, hunder Crane’s thumb, wore on her. This is how she got her groove back and became the Snow we know and love.

    Bigby is who he is, it’s up to use to decide what kind of man he’ll be(I hope he lose control because of Snow but once she came back, he was a better man again), but this to me feels like Snow’s story as much as Bigby’s, sort of like Lee’s story was as much about Clementine.

  • http://bayareageekguide.com/ Mike Chen

    I kept having frame rate drops and random load pauses on my PS3 version. Anyone else have that?

    I think my only gripe with this episode was its length (TTG episodes are usually 2-3 hours, not 60-90 minutes) and lack of any real brains behind puzzles. It was very funneled forward, though I love the interrogation tactics. The whole thing felt like a bizarro episode of Twin Peaks.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know if it’s the voice acting, or the dialogue writing, but I cringe a bit every time Beauty and Beast call each other “Beauty” and “Beast”.

    I’ve read the comics, so I know that that’s how they do it in the source material, and I also know the reason why Fables refer to each other by title instead of by their actual names. It just feels weird actually hearing them talking like that.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I think TTG is slowly moving away from puzzles in each game. I hope they make a new Sam and Max soon.

  • http://bayareageekguide.com/ Mike Chen

    I can’t imagine their Game Of Thrones episodes will have old-school “find the thing and use it differently on this object” adventure puzzles in it. Unless it’s the obligatory bonkers sex scene.

  • Bailey Fields

    I haven’t read the comics, but playing this game (parts of which I LOVE), I’ve found the representation of women really uncomfortable. It’s really like the brutalisation of female characters placed in vulnerable positions and sexually exploited is the only shorthand the story reaches for to convey dark and gritty, and like you say, ‘adult’.

    Having to paw around Lily’s corpse (disguised as Snow – so yay, we get to see Snow’s half-naked body, great), seeing the g-string on the corpse, the ever-present cleavage, then the visual thing of the pretty thin white corpse on the mortuary table turn into a fat troll corpse – just so much about how women’s bodies are handled in this game puts my teeth on edge. The venture into the strip club & the hotel room after just made my heart sink lower and lower. I get that the game is paying homage to the noir genre and intentionally meant to be dark and disturbing, but is sexualising and graphically brutalising female characters from children’s fairy stories the best they could come up with? Listening to the woman in the hotel room being made to have sex basically because she’s been trapped into prostitution was truly horrible when you realise that woman is probably yet another female fairy tale character like the Little Mermaid who you see pole dancing in the strip club, completely beaten down and debased by men. What is the message here exactly?

    Re: Hans & the chippendale posters in the club somehow making up for the handling of female characters in the game – I really don’t see Hans wandering around in a tank top getting verbal abuse from George as being equivalent to those moments where the game ‘watches’ the Little Mermaid up on the pole being forced to dance, only wearing a thong. I can’t give the game any props for its handling of any of this tbh. A lot of great stuff about the game, but its representation of women isn’t one of them.

    (I’m also super confused as to why everyone is white?? lol I’m not from America, but isn’t the Bronx meant to be like the most diverse place in the country? seems weird Fables wouldn’t try to blend in with their disguises. But nope somehow everybody you meet is a white person)

  • frankenmouse

    The comics this was based on can get DARK. It is made very clear that many of the fables have done horrible things in the past. It is also clear that many are essentially refugees that fled their homes with absolutely nothing and are being unfairly exploited by the better off fables.

    The original writer/creator duo has handled women very, very well in the comics. They aren’t all damsels in distress. They aren’t all brave heroines. They are complex, realistic, flawed figures. They also hold the majority of the positions of authority in the comic, and are not infrequently responsible for saving the day.

    I know that seeing this as a one-shot is distressing, but be assured that it is MEANT to be distressing and uncomfortable. There may be some problems in the portrayal, but rest assured that it is done with the best of intentions.

  • Bailey Fields

    I’m really interested to read the comics, I love the concept and as for the game, a lot of things about it make it the best game I’ve played for a while. But I think the points I made wrt the game’s depiction of sexualised violence against its female characters are valid.

  • Ryan Colson

    I’m pretty sure the endgame of wolf is setting up snow as deputy mayor to assist the downtrodden.

    I agree with Becky’s review and think much of the bad bits is necessary to the future of the comic.

    They aren’t all white.. you meet two frogs… but they aren’t are all European bc the fables are European bc and basically mundies create them. It’s a bit odd but if you want African or Arabian characters you want gotta read the comics.

    All in all the game is a great prequel. Always wondered Crane’s story.

  • Anonymous

    “I can’t use these things together.”

  • Bailey Fields

    ‘They aren’t all white.. you meet two frogs’ – ahaha oh dear…

    yeah, I was anticipating the inevitable ‘everyone’s white bc they’re from European folk lore!!’ – my point that you seemed to miss was it’s a bit weird when a frog or pig or wolf needs to glamor itself in order to live in the Bronx among humans and they all choose white disguises, that’s just pretty funny to me. Maybe they didn’t want to have to deal with racism haha It just seems a bit of a problem to me when the game wants to tell a story about gate keepers / social mobility / repression of disenfranchised underclass, set in the Bronx of all places, and tell that story exclusively using white people. That’s funny to me.

  • Anonymous

    You have a point. The problem of race isn’t inherent in the game, though. A lot of of it has to do with the comics as well, it takes a LONG time before we see any diverse characters of note in the comic books themselves.

    I’m also sad that this is the route they’re choosing to take with the storyline, although given what we see of the villian later in the comics, I’m not particularly surprised. And as much as I love Bill Willingham’s work…. it is often problematic.

    That being said, I still love the characters and am excited to see where we go from here, even though theoretically, I know.

  • Anonymous

    The thing that really struck me is how different this world feels, compared to the first time we see Fabletown in “Legends In Exile”. Though there’s that air of city living in the books, it’s clear that the inhabitants of Fabletown are prospering.

    Also, still hate Jack with a firey burning passion. Delighted that they kept him obnoxious and awful as ever.

  • Dan Seitz

    The scene with Georgie gets worse when you read Nerissa’s Fable’s entry. She’s not doing well because she’s in physical pain with every step she takes. Considering Georgie doesn’t show up in the comics, I’m guessing he doesn’t survive the game.

  • Travis

    You’re upset that a neighborhood of immigrants don’t immediately assimilate and join in the diversity of their surroundings?

    Yeah… that’s not racist…

  • Tiny Tina Booom

    I just finished episode 2 and I can’t wait for more. I think I’ll replay the whole game again once it’s finished but I’m not strong enough not to play as each episode is out. I love Snow and Bigby and I think she makes him a better person.

  • Jake Mertz

    Press Q now to read this comment. Oops, you were to slow, press W now to continue reading this comment. Too late, so sorry, PRESS A NOW! Oh no, not again. GAME OVER!

  • Bailey Fields

    lol no sorry try again. You don’t get to hijack immigrant diaspora narratives used by actual real life people of colour and apply that to a group of white imaginary fairy tale characters in order to accuse me of reverse racism~

    Your comment actually makes me laugh, your mentality is *exactly* what the problem is. It’s exactly the problem with stories that co-opt the discourse around race, oppression, poverty, then tell a story with those elements, only using white people. You suggest because I point that out, I’m racist against white people? Better still, racist against imaginary white fairy tale characters living as ‘immigrants’ in the Bronx. loool

  • Crabman

    I’ll have to think on this a bit more, but I feel like what you describe is neither just a shorthand nor used gratuitously, but with purpose and fully in line with the theme of the game. It’s not GTA, where female characters are degraded for the player’s enjoyment. When Lily’s corpse is on the table, it’s not presented like “Aw yeah, look at that bod!” Rather, it’s genuinely disturbing. As she says, it’s a violation, it’s disgusting, and I don’t think it’s just texture to make the villain more villainous, but rather exactly the reason he is a villain. You know what I mean? I of course don’t know where this is going, but it doesn’t seem to be the usual trope where violence against women is just used to establish that he’s a baddie before getting on with the real story. To me it seems like this IS the story, and as such, the message might actually turn out to be a positive one, depending on where the whole thing is going.

    I think the representation of women isn’t actually that bad. Yes, most of the women we meet are prostitutes, but they’re far from weak. Everybody in Fabletown is down on their luck, living in the dumps, and are being taken advantage of by creepy, disgusting people. And yet, none of them need you to save them. Faith didn’t need any help with the Woodsman and doesn’t want your money. Snow is obviously a kick-ass character who doesn’t have much patience for your male chauvinism. The prostitute who lets you into the Pudding & Pie laughs you off when you tell her you might be in danger—not because she’s careless and ignorant to your attempts to save her, but because she is in danger at all times and can handle it. Meanwhile, Beauty is the one providing and keeping the two of them afloat. That she needs to hide it from Beast because of his regressive attitude speaks volumes.

    The only weak woman we meet is Nerissa, and I for one cringed hard at seeing her exposed and abused like that. It’s truly disturbing, but again it didn’t feel gratuitous to me. It actually feels like the game is arguing strongly against the mistreatment and brutalization of women and condemns the men and society that make it possible.

    I’m not sure about the thin white body turning into a fat troll corpse. I don’t really see a message there (which of course doesn’t mean much), but I think that Georgie responding to your question about Lily using Glamour with “Of course. She’s a troll.” is meant to make you empathize with her and be disgusted with that attitude. I was at least.

    And then of course there’s Holly. This might’ve actually been one of the most uncomfortable moments in the first episode for me, when the shit hits the fan and you fight Grendel. Afterwards you go back to the bar, where Holly stands in her true form, and order whiskey. The way she looks at you, completely terrified, and demurely follows your order… I felt like shit over that one. It felt like a domestic violence scenario where I was the abusive husband.

    All in all, what I mean to say is, to me it feels like the game is arguing against all of this and treats its women far better than most, even though they are definitely caught in terrible situations. They’re victims of the poor state Fabletown is in, but not victims, if that makes sense. Meanwhile, the men are violent, creepy, disgusting, or just plain annoying. I think Becky is right, this doesn’t look like a story where you get ot be the hero, you’re too much part of the problem yourself. I don’t know the source material either, so I might be completely off here, but right now it looks like Snow will end up fixing the mess a male-dominated society has left behind, and that seems like a decent message to me. But, you know, I have no clue how and why any of this happened, so the hell do I know. ;)

    Lastly, there’s nothing to argue regarding the color of the characters. One could probably make a case that when trying to blend in, going for a disguise that doesn’t raise any suspicion (re: how people of color are more likely to be stopped and frisked by the police and all that) is the most sensible option, but it’s surely just a case of the usual ignorance found in all mainstream media. I’d like to think that it is the source material’s fault, as The Walking Dead was diverse as hell and Telltale obviously knows better, but in the end, that might’ve been worth deviating from either way.

    So much for my two cents. I just finished playing, so we’ll see how I feel about it once I had a bit more time to process it, but right now it looks pretty damn good to me.

  • Bailey Fields

    I won’t reply to everything in your comment, but as simply as I can put it, if you can’t see for looking that there’s something lopsided about how male and female characters in the game are sexualised and subjected to violence, it’s difficult to know where to begin because we’re just kind of seeing reality differently. Simplest way I can put it is breakdown of the characters in the game so far, and compare their representation.

    Male Characters
    1. Bigby
    2. Toad
    3. TJ
    4. The Woodsman
    5. Beast
    6. Colin the pig
    7. Guy from the bar, Grendel
    8. Bufkin
    9. Crane
    10. Dee & Dum
    11. Bluebeard
    12. Prince Lawrence, Faith’s husband (examine his corpse as gameplay)
    13. Georgie
    14. Hans
    15. Magic Mirror
    Total = 15, 0 are subjected to combination of sexualised depiction + violence/death.

    Female Characters
    1. Faith (forced into sex work, first encounter she’s being beaten by the physically very intimidating Woodsman, she ends up decapitated, examining her severed head is part of the game play)
    2. Snow (decapitated, turns out it’s not her, but for all intents and purposes we end up studying Snow’s severed head and near-naked body as part of the game play – line of questioning around what perfume and lingerie she wears)
    3. Beauty
    4. Holy
    5. Lily (forced into sex work, studying her severed head and near-naked body is part of the game play, examine crime scene where her blood is smeared gruesomely all over a bed where she had to have sex with her killer while fairy tale music played)
    6. Lady who keeps the door at Pudding ‘n’ Pie
    7. Nerissa (forced into sex work, we get to see her doing a pole dance in just a thong)
    Total = 7, 3 are subjected to combination of sexualised depiction + violence/death.

    If you can compare the kinds of roles women in the game thus far are occupying, and compare it to the men in the game, the vulnerability of the male characters in terms of how they are dressed and the sexualised violence they’re subjected to (none), you can surely see the game is following a ‘dead hooker’ trope were the hard-boiled private eye, Bigby, goes around fully dressed, encountering female sex workers who are scantily dressed and being abused, and examining their corpses after they are murdered.

    As the review says (though I don’t entirely agree with the conclusions Becky comes to), there’s probably a non-exploitative, sensitive way to tell a story about female sex workers being murdered by a serial killer. This game…does not do that. The storytelling follows a lot of film noir generic conventions, and like I originally said, seems to equate brutalising female characters with gritty adult edginess. Yes, it makes us feel awful for the women, and yeah, as Bigby, you’re not the bad guy, the serial killer + the social structures that perpetuate poverty and lead to exploitation of those in poverty, female sex workers especially – those things are clearly the bad guy. I’m not saying you can’t tell a story about sex workers getting murdered. But the collision between various factors:
    -Over twice as many male characters as female,
    -Over half of the female characters sexualised VS. only Hans sexualised (and anyway sexualised depiction of male/female can never be equal, i.e. Hans being the one pole dancing in a thong rather than Nerissa wouldn’t have solved much)
    -Female characters brutalised and murdered, while male characters subjected to violence with no sexual component
    -Having your fully-clothed rugged man’s-man anti-hero P.I.-type Bigby going around studying mutilated bodies of female sex workers and manfully putting the clues together* – and having THAT be the plot and HIM be the central character.

    All these factors combined make for yet ANOTHER ‘serial killer butchering hookers, male protagonist investigates’-type storyline.

    *Regarding Snow, I do count her involvement in putting the case together as definitely being a point in the game’s favour. When I thought she’d been fridged at the end of episode 1 I was about ready to quit the game. She was the ONLY central female character with a sizeable amount of lines in the game at that point still standing.

  • Bailey Fields

    Saw this quote, seems relevant:

    (is a guy) (writes a story about ladys constantly getting into gross degrading sexual situations) dont worry… this might sound bad at first but its a “subversion”… otherwise known as a “deconstruction” its actually very empowering… this is my contribution to feminism
    -angelsarecool1995.tumblr

    ‘I personally didn’t smash up the Pudding and Pie … but the opportunity to do that felt like the catharsis, you know? Taking out all of Bigby’s rage from the victimization of women he’s been constantly bombarded with for the last two days’

    -Yep i know exactly what you mean. Feelin that righteous man pain.

  • Crabman

    I’m not saying it’s not doing those things or that men and women are treated equally in the story, I’m just saying that it does so way more responsibly than most other games, movies, or what have you. It tells its story without the contempt for its characters that other stories seem to have. It doesn’t use violence and sexualization to entertain us or as a form of wish fulfillment for either author or audience. It doesn’t portray hookers as icky, subhuman creatures that don’t deserve to be cared about only to make the hero seem all the more noble and heroic for sticking up for them anyway. It instead very much portrays them as real people, down on their luck, who are exploited and abused by guys like Crane and Georgie. In my opinion, it portrays a misogynistic, screwed-up world without being misogynistic itself, because it doesn’t agree or indulge in what it portrays, but instead makes a proper effort to show it as the horror this abuse is.

    Basically, I feel like the game is about what you describe, but it’s not endorsing it. While too many stories use women as mere props to motivate the hero and enjoy brutalizing them out of some internalized contempt for women, this game does not. These characters don’t just exist for the sake of the male hero, they’re “real” people with actual personalities and real problems. Most of them actually have more characterization than Bigby, and it’s that that makes us empathize with them and be horrified over the way they are treated, not because we know it’s wrong on some intellectual level, but because the game cares about these characters and allows us to do the same.

    I don’t know, I might be wrong, but it seems to me like it is ABOUT something problematic, not that it IS problematic. In other words, the men in the game mistreat women, but the game itself doesn’t. I think it very actively argues against that, actually.

    Anyway, when talking about there being a way to tell a story with these topics, what is it you’d like to see changed? Do you dislike this kind of story in general, or would you be ok with the game if a few details were changed? I mean, the way I see it at the moment, the serial killer is a deranged misogynist, so violence against women with a sexual component is the main focus, while adding a sexual component to the violence against men would fundamentally change what kind of story this is. So would that need to happen or is there a way you could see for the story it is telling now to work for you?

  • Travis

    People of color? Have you even heard of New York? I’m pretty sure the Irish, Russians, Italians, Germans, Jews, and pretty much every other immigrating population that ever set foot in that city would point out that skintone was hardly the defining factor concerning which immigrants get discriminated against.

    I’m glad the comment made you laugh. It was intended to be funny. Pointing out hypocrisy usually is.

    Here’s where your logic falls apart. Bill Willingham isn’t telling a story about race/oppression/poverty. He’s telling a story about a bunch of white fairy tale characters laying low in New York and following that premise down whatever roads it leads.

    This particular road has led down discourse around poverty and nothing else. That you think race has to be tied into it quite frankly says a lot more about you than it does Willingham.

  • Bailey Fields

    Yes, compared to other games whose depiction of sex workers is downright misogynistic, this game does a better job. Just because so many other games hate women, it doesn’t exactly absolve this game of the questionable stuff it does. All the points still stand:

    1. big discrepancy in number of male/female characters in a story all about female sex workers being subjected to abuse/gruesome murder/rape

    2. variety/wider range of character types for males, vs. comparatively much narrower range for female characters, most of whom are shown as victims with no agency who are brutalised/ sexually abused, wind up as corpses

    3. male protagonist, male POV

    4. pawing over sex worker’s undressed corpse / severed head as part of gameplay

    I don’t care how much hang-wringing Bigby does over what he’s seeing, that he and the game want us to feel bad for the female characters. Violence against sex workers is a huge problem in real life. You know what doesn’t make me take the game’s approach to this issue seriously? The four things I just listed. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    Towards the end here you come off as sounding sort of frustrated/exasperated with me, like ‘well what DO you want to see a game do?? Be proactive!’ It’s not my job to fix everything that’s wrong here, and it’s a joke to pretend male game designers or tv/movie writers who use the ‘dead sex worker’ trope even see a problem in how they approach this topic, or care to change. So many of the problems here are to do with over-recycled tropes used in the crime/thriller genre, to do with dead women, dead sex workers, and male protagonists called in to solve the mystery.

    There’s a bigger pattern here, and just because the story has good intentions about making the male character/male gamer feel disturbed, protective of these women, see how tough sex workers have it, whatever, that doesn’t diminish the effects of perpetually drawing women as helpless victims without agency who are sexually abused and brutally murdered over and over again, while the male character is never sexualised and goes around methodically solving the case.

    You ask what I’d like to see done different. Here is one example, take the whole segment at the Pudding ‘n’ Pie.

    It would have made a massive difference if you had to play that segment as Snow. Even if it’s an impossible ask, just hypothetically, here’s how shifting to a female point of view character has the power to change the depiction of the female characters you encounter.

    Instead of the front entrance, Snow talks to the woman at the door about the murders and gets let in the back entrance of the club.

    We talk to Nerissa while she’s sat at her dressing table. This way our introduction to Nerissa’s character isn’t as a naked woman being forced to pole dance in front of an abusive man. It has a big effect on how we see her character, humanise her character, if we can talk to her first, in particular as a female character talking to another woman, and before we see her ‘at work’.

    As it stands, from the Bigby point of view, the storytelling codes Nerissa instantly as a victim without agency, being forced into sex work by men, up on stage, helpless & vulnerable, naked, debased, completely without agency.

    Just talking like me personally, if I wanted to *seriously* tell a story about female sex workers being murdered in a non-exploitative way, I’d probably go ahead and make sure my POV character was a female sex worker, instead of following the same old conventions used over and over again and do those four things I listed above.

  • Bailey Fields

    Yes, those poor oppressed white immigrants who are suffering in places like the Bronx so much today. Really not enough stories with a cast of exclusively white characters talkin bout the effects of poverty exist already, I’m so glad the little-explored white immigrant American experience is getting some much-needed attention.

    ‘why you gotta bring race into it, I just want to enjoy my stories about stuff that effects white people like systemic oppression of white immigrant communities in the Bronx!’

  • Crabman

    “Towards the end here you come off as sounding sort of
    frustrated/exasperated with me, like ‘well what DO you want to see a
    game do?? Be proactive!’”

    I’m really not. I absolutely get where you’re coming from and I’m starting to get the sense that I’m so happy to see female characters having any kind of personality at all that it drowns out the more subtle, insidious implications. I’d still say that they’re not all helpless and devoid of agency, as I mentioned in my first response, but your points still stand (except about 4. I’m not sure. You keep bringing up her being undressed, but she’s actually fully-clothed the whole time. Even at her most exposed we only see her lower stomach. I’m not sure that’s important to what you’re saying, but if you don’t mind expanding on that, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on why it’s problematic to examine the corpse.)

    But anyway, I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m just trying to understand your perspective. It’s actually the other way around, I want to be proactive myself and am thus naturally curious about opinions I don’t already share.

  • Bailey Fields

    ah right, sorry I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt, I’m used to people getting frustrated and making those kinds of demands with these kinds of conversations, but sorry for assuming.

    I think Snow is certainly not devoid of agency, and I really love the character, I think she’s handled very well.

    Why I find examining the bodies a problem: if you search ‘women in advertising disembodied’ first result takes you to an article about Hustler. There has been a lot written about the reasons it’s damaging to disarticulate female bodies, in advertising particularly, and my response to examining dead bodies of sex workers in the game to find ‘clues’ comes out of that (though it’s by no means just advertising where just summing a woman up as breasts or legs this is a problem).

    The fact the dead women were sex workers, the fact their bodies have been taken apart, and the sexual nature of the violence against them, makes me feel super skeevy to play a male character looking at the corpses / severed heads as part of gameplay, and *especially* the case with Lily, that I could write a lot about. But really, her torso is displayed, we see her thong and smell her skin, Bigby asks Snow invasive questions about what underwear she wears (I know he isn’t doing it to be creepy, but it is creepy that the game is constructed this way). The juxtaposition of alive-Snow looking on as her dead body (or its likeness) is examined, her severed head is handled/mouth opened, etc.

    I appreciate plot information arises out of these examinations (the perfume has the label – someone wanted Lily to be just like Snow, no ribbon in the mouth makes this murder different to Faith’s, etc.), but I’m saying combined with the other factors that point to an irresponsible approach to this topic, the examining the women’s corpses, the way it’s done, makes me uncomfortable.

  • Crabman

    No problem, I know exactly what you mean and I can see now how it might’ve sounded like that’s what I was doing. ;) I was just curious if the problem was in the nature of these stories or something specific they did within it.

    But I think I’m starting to see what you mean. I’ll still have to process and sort through my thoughts on it, but I’ll know what to look for and will keep it in mind.

  • Crabman

    No problem, I know exactly what you mean and I can see now how it might’ve sounded like that’s what I was doing. ;) I was just curious if the problem was in the nature of these stories or something specific they did within it.

    But I think I’m starting to see what you mean. I’ll still have to process and sort through my thoughts on it, but I’ll know what to look for and will keep it in mind.

  • Crabman

    No problem, I know exactly what you mean and I can see now how it might’ve sounded like that’s what I was doing. ;) I was just curious if the problem was in the nature of these stories or something specific they did within it.

    But I think I’m starting to see what you mean. I’ll still have to process and sort through my thoughts on it, but I’ll know what to look for and will keep it in mind.

  • Bailey Fields

    cool well thanks for listening to what I had to say with such an open mind.

  • Travis

    See, that’s the thing. You are apparently under the belief that Fables is a story about “oppression of white immigrants.”

    It’s not. It’s not trying to be. It’s never claimed to be.

    The only explicit politics in the story are a pro-Israel stance. Everything else is a matter of your own imagination.

  • Bailey Fields

    as i said in my first comment. Weird to me to hijack terminology like ‘gate keepers’, talk about poverty and class and power, and set your story in the Bronx, the most diverse place in the country. And only use white people to tell that story. Just pointing that out.

    Couple of relevant links regarding this topic overall:
    http://irresistible-revolution.tumblr.com/post/69094155715/cultural-appropriation-star-wars-and-the-myths-of

    http://racebending.tumblr.com/post/73369082993/who-gets-to-be-a-superhero-race-and-identity-in-comics

  • Travis

    You’re getting it backwards.

    It would be weird to come up with a story about poverty and class and then set the story in the Bronx and come up with a cast of white characters.

    But that’s not what happened.

    The cast of white characters was created (centuries ago), set in Manhattan (not sure why Fabletown got relocated to the Bronx for this game, but hey, magic) and then, more than a decade later, this game comes to tell a story about poverty and class.

    In-Universe, Fabletown was around back when the New York City was still called New Amsterdam. The characters are white because they are essentially European. Even the non-humans. There is no logical in-universe reason for them to look otherwise. You wouldn’t expect a glamoured Mr. Toad to be Japanese any more than you would expect a glamoured Kappa to be Caucasian.

    Out-of-Universe, Fables is Bill Willingham’s playground to tell all kinds of stories, about all kinds of subjects, through all sorts of genres. Murder mystery, political thriller, war stories, swashbuckling adventure, even super-heroes. Because that’s kinda the whole point. Story characters in stories.

  • Bailey Fields

    as I said, I haven’t read the comics yet, I can only comment on what I’m seeing in the game, and going by the game and the themes the game is touching on, my criticisms are valid. Someone who actually has read the comics and commented above disagrees with your reading. I can’t respond to your points relating to the comic because I was commenting on the game.

  • Bailey Fields

    ugh how disappointing. I’m going to have to decide if I can be bothered to wade through that kind of stuff wrt treatment of women just to get to anything good in the stories, it’s kind of exhausting and depressing trying to enjoy something when it’s got shitty stuff like this in it.

    absolutely agree regarding ‘there’s so many culturally rich fables available for the book that have been completely ignored?’, and yeah, funny how given the whole of human history, WHOSE folk lore is deemed most valuable/worth re-telling again and again.

    thanks for the info, I’m glad knowing this stuff ahead of time so I can factor it in when deciding if I want to get any deeper.

  • Travis

    Your lack of understanding about the greater work has led you to misrepresent facts. Your complaint that they “moved to the Bronx and disguised themselves as white people” has no basis in fact and is not valid.

  • Bailey Fields

    right. you’ll excuse me if I don’t privilege the reading of the text given by the guy who sprang to calling my criticism of the game racist against white immigrants to America.

  • Moira Phippen

    you are basically so great and i want to read your thoughts on everything. do you have an internet presence anywhere you post regularly?

  • Moira Phippen

    I think SO MANY of this game’s problems could have been solved by making Snow the playable character, not Bigby. I understand the classic drama arc of playing as Sheriff, but everything about the themes of this game could be so completely different in such a novel way if only they had thought more carefully about what the male POV means for this.

  • Moira Phippen

    In the book there’s a character named Cinderella – I won’t say too much in case she makes an appearance in the game (which would be AHHH GREAT! she’s a pretty major character so I’d hope so) but suffice it to say the game COULD have been played as her just as believably with the investigative angle and been 100000x more bad ass.

  • Moira Phippen

    I mean, I definitely really enjoyed at least the first 40 issues, there were a lot of really strong moments, and I basically read them all in nearly one go, so it definitely sucks you in, and is really good. I just eventually had to stop because I didn’t feel so good about continuing anymore. If you do read, I would recommend also reading Lauren Beukes’ run on the spin off FAIREST, it completely turns the tropes of the series around.

  • Moira Phippen

    Bailey isn’t misrepresenting anything. After reading 100+ issues I’m pretty sure that race was never treated remotely well in Fables, where we lived in the magical fantasy world of Willingham… the magical fantasy world where black, latin@ and indigenous fables don’t exist.

    If you read FAIREST, you know that the gateway for Japanese Fables into ~our world~ was in Japan. You know from the main series that Arabic fables had a gateway in Iran. It stands to reason then, that the gateways exist where the people who remember those fables exist.

    So we know from the books that the Fables run through the gateway around what, the late 1700s? We know that it’s at some point that there are white people in America. You know what also existed in America? Native Americans. Why would the fables who escaped through the gateway not also include indigenous populations? There is literally NO discernible rationale for this. NONE! The reason is, Willingham was too privileged to think of it, or just didn’t care.

    Along with the white people came enslaved and free populations of Africans. You would imagine, even though this population might be smaller than the white population at the time, there would be, oh, I don’t know, AT LEAST A FEW fables deriving from African cultures at the time.

    The first wave of Chinese American immigrants came in the early 1800s. I might be wrong, but I’m fairly certain this is concurrent with the arrival of the Fables through the gateway. So where are the Chinese fables?

    They’re not there.

    There is no argument here – this is absolutely a race issue. There is no ~~logical explanation~~ – It’s the privileging of white narratives over those of POC. Even the middle eastern fables are only introduced as part of Willingham’s commentary on Israel. Most are presented as highly stereotypical and womanizing.

    Willingham has no excuse for the lack of POC characters in the books. None!

    The game also had an opportunity to introduce fables the book did not use. Instead, the fables we got new were:

    - The Little Mermaid
    - Georgie
    - Hans
    - Two trolls who use white glamors
    - Grendel, a nordic fable
    - Some Frogs
    - The Woodsman
    - Faith
    - Prince Lawrence
    - Whoever the doorkeeper is at Pudding and Pie.

    All of these newly introduced characters, for the ones that have human form, are white!!! What a surprise!!!

    No, sorry, both Willingham and the game denied every opportunity to be inclusive of non-white narratives they had. I like Tell-Tale, I’ve liked them for a long time! TWD was really diverse and great! But that doesn’t mean the game is impervious to being problematic.

  • krazehh

    I wouldn’t blame Telltale for lack of POC reprecentation. Telltale is FANTASTIC at it if you ever played the Jurassic park game and The Walking Dead (Season 1 starring Clementine and Lee (both black) Season 2 opening with Clementine, Christa and Omid all 3 of which are POC (Black and one persian). What makes The wolf among us suffer badly with its lack of diversity is the actual comic it was based. Fables stars mostly White characters (which i find just as angering as you tbh, living in NYC myself and being an Asian American). If Telltale could have made more original characters that havent already been used by the Comic itself, I’m sure they would have gone CRAZY with diversity since the Bronx is full of it.

    As for Women, yes alot of the women in this game are treated poorly but we get the benefit of being given MANY well written women to choose from. Holly’s conversation about her sister tells alot of her character, fierce and crude but not without morals. Snow obv, and Beauty is given a good dose of great writing in episode 2. I wouldn’t lose hope yet, we still have 3 episodes to go. =)

  • Travis

    Look at you. So intent on being outraged you gleefully ignore little things like facts and reason.

    In case you didn’t notice during the 100 issues of Fables you read, apparently for the purpose of looking for something to get mad about, The Adversary is, for the most part, exclusively a problem for the European Fables.

    The Chinese Fables and Native American Fables and African Fables aren’t in the mundane world because why would they be? They have their own realms. They didn’t unleash a dark army on themselves and force themselves into exile. The Adversary didn’t get that far outside of his native territory.

    You are right though. Willingham doesn’t have an excuse for the lack of PoC character in his books. And he doesn’t need one. There’s nothing to excuse.

  • Bailey Fields

    Thanks for the recommendation for Beukes, will check it out!

  • Bailey Fields

    I like Telltale quite a bit. My wariness was about getting involved in the comics.

  • Bailey Fields

    haha aw thank you! no not really, I lurk mostly.

  • Moira Phippen

    What?

    I read those issues of Fables because I am able to enjoy something while still recognizing the ways in which it is problematic and has room to improve. There is nothing adult about defending something desperately against any and all criticism.

    The Adversary is not just a problem for the European Fables. The book says that the Adversary had yet to reach ALL worlds, but it does imply that the amount of conquering that has already occurred is pretty vast. We also know for a fact that there are at least three gateways in areas the Adversary had either made its territory or was advancing against during the book:

    1) In Canada, the one most of the Fabletown fables live in, arguably the first gateway
    2) In Japan, the one the Tokyo Fabletown Fables + Rapunzel came through (learned through FAIREST), Adversary came at, just before, or just after #1
    3) In Iran, where we know from the books the Adversary has yet to conquer but is advancing against (prior to its eventual downfall) and some Arabian Fables are already escaping to live in Iran and prepare a new existence there. ‘

    The Adversary got very far out of European territory. Canada is pretty far from Europe. Iran is pretty far from Europe. Japan is VERY FAR from Europe.Yet somehow you’re saying that Africa or any number of other places would be too far for the Adversary to reach? This is not logical or consistent.

    By your logic that Chinese and African fables would not be in America because they would exist in the original (not immigrated) world, there is no coherent explanation for why European fables came through a Canadian gateway. It just straight up has no logical reasoning.

    Native Americans, First Nations & Inuit peoples, if fables can’t immigrate with those who have the memories of them, would be the only population even possible to come through the Canada portal.

    I’m aware that the European fables had to escape in order to reach the Canada gateway. So… why wouldn’t… oh… I don’t know… the people conveniently located right at that gateway… escape with them? Not to mention why is it not possible for other populations of fables, including African, South American, Chinese, etc, to have escaped through the same portal?

    The only thing that forced this as a necessity to the canon of the book was Willingham’s decision to arbitrarily use solely European (white) fables. There are any number of ways he could have included an equal number of characters of color. He chose not to. That is his decision, as a writer. That’s a choice he made, in his own world-building. It’s a choice he made that continues to represent a troublesome pattern of lack of representation for ethnic minorities.

  • Bailey Fields

    that was beautiful.