Fidget Cubes Awkward Relationship to Autistic Stimming

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While I wasn’t diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum condition called Aspergers Syndrome until I was almost 18 years old, looking back over a journal my mother kept during my childhood many of the diagnostic criteria were there from a young age.

From as early as age four my mother made records of various obsessive repetitive behaviours I would engage in, and the considerable distress that not being able to fulfil them would cause.

From hand squeezing patterns to jumps every set number of steps, bleeping noises to rocking on the floor, I seemingly needed to engage in sensory patterns to calm myself.

This is often referred to within Autistic Spectrum diagnosis as stimming. It can cover behaviours from small tapping motions up to full body twists, turns and rocking.

It’s often a response to sensory overload. As a person with Aspergers I often struggle to filter out unimportant sensory information. In a room full of people talking I might struggle to focus on one nearby and loud voice because of quiet distant noises, a light buzzing, someone breathing, an oven fan spinning and more.

When all sensory information is always present, having something routine to focus on, control and predict when it comes to sensory information can be incredibly helpful.

Over the years I learned ways to manage many of these behaviours in ways that were deemed socially acceptable. Having a trio of cylindrical magnets I could switch between a line and a cluster formation was much easier to explain than rotating my hands in large circular motions.

In recent months, I’ve replaced many of my smaller stimming patterns with a Fidget Cube (first a knock off, now an official version).

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The Fidget Cube has become somewhat of a popularised talking point well outside of the diagnosed mental health community in recent months. It’s a small plastic cube whose various sides provide sensory tools to interact with.One side features a switch that clicks between two positions. One side features five small clickable buttons. One side contains a rotating metal ball and some gears to rotate. It offers a variety of controllable sensory actions for a variety of needs in one small and unobtrusive design.

While it felt to me almost purpose designed exclusively as a tool for people like me to manage their stimming in a way that was unobtrusive and stylishly presented, they have taken off far more widely outside the diagnosed mental health community as a valid relaxation and anti-anxiety tool.

For someone fighting a life long battle with stimming, I have an uneasy relationship with the Fidget Cube. It is helping normalise stimming behaviour to many, while also giving a false sense of understanding that can at times lead to dismissal of the necessity of more intense stimming in high pressure situations.

So, let’s look at the positives. While most people picking up Fidget Cubes right now don’t seem to be people who have had long term issues with needing to stim to manage sensory issues, their increased presence, media attention and ubiquity has helped to normalise the idea that sometimes engaging in repetitive sensory behaviour can be a way to reduce anxiety and stress. It has shown people that a specific item someone carries with them might be an important item for stress reduction, even if it looks on the surface like a colourful toy for children.

On a surface level, it normalises stimming. In reality, it only normalises a very small bracket of stimming behaviours, those already manageable in societally acceptable ways.

While I can replace my trio of cylindrical magnets with a fidget cube and have my small scale repetitive hand motion sensory needs met with a device people recognise, a Fidget Cube will never replace my more intensive stimming needs. A fidget cube may help keep a bout of rocking on the floor or hitting violently at the sides of my own head at bay, if I end up needing to do either of those, a Fidget Cube will never do the job. The Fidget Cube for me is preventative of larger meltdowns, not curative once they occur.

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I recently had an issue on a bus where I ended up having to rock back and forth. A nearby passenger asked me what was wrong and I explained my condition and my need for certain repetitive moments to work through an Aspergers Meltdown.

She asked if I had heard of the Fidget Cube, and explained to me that it would be a much less obtrusive way for me to manage that obsessive need.

The Fidget Cube is the hot new cure for all repetitive motion needs, and as such it’s now the poster child for non autistic people to recommend how we could better manage our conditions.

How we can keep our condition less visible.

How we can treat our conditions in a more normalised way.

It’s a double edged sword. I’m thankful for the increased awareness of stimming behaviour in general but I fear long term how it may leave those not effected with Autistic spectrum disorders with a false idea of their place within our lives.

Still, I’m incredibly glad it exists. Being able to normalise my preventative actions is incredibly positive.

Steven Universe and Blue October – A Look at Musical Genre Theming

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Over a decade ago in January 2006 American Alt-Rock band Blue October released a track called Hate Me as a single. It was an angry, sad, angst fueled track about the desire to push people away during bouts of depression.

The track focuses on the way depression can amplify feelings of guilt and self loathing, and often manifests as a desire to push loving and supporting friends and family away for fear that you either do not deserve their support, or that them helping you will leave them upset further by your ongoing actions.

The crux of the song is the singer telling a supportive person in their life that they are making the unilateral descision that they know what’s best, and what’s best is them leaving the supportive person’s life.

You might be wondering what this has to do with Steven Universe.

The song Full Disclosure, from the end of Steven Universe’s first season, is a track about our protagonist Steven dealing with guilt and self loathing. He’s realising the consequences of a number of his actions and feeling like he’s putting unecessary stress, strain and pressure on those closest to him.

Steven decides to push away a close member of his support network, feeling like asking for that support puts those close to him at unecessary risk of additional pain and distress.

The crux of the song is the singer telling a supportive person in their life that they are making the unilateral descision that they know what’s best, and what’s best is them leaving the supportive person’s life.

While this may seem a little of a strained comparison, it’s one I have been thinking about from a critical perspective for several months. It’s the first time I really understood how one topic and set of themes could be covered musically by two such polorising genres.

While one track focuses on angry musical and vocal expressions of violent attempts to push someone away and the other picks a central musical hook to hang it’s feelings of sadness, uncertainty and quietly sad reservation upon, both songs take the same core relatable moment and explore different facets of the complex emotions it can bring.

So yeah, that’s it really. I just find it really cool that music can take one topic and approach it in two vastly different ways. Also, Any excuse to compare angry mid 2000’s bands with modern popular animation is good in my book.

On the future of LauraKBuzz

So, the past ten days have been very eventful in the world of LauraKBuzz.

In the past ten days I learned that my landlord is having to sell my rental property as part of some divorce proceedings meaning that we are required to vacate our home within two months. Deposit will be returned after we leave, but we need to move before UK laws on moving fees change, so we’re going to be stuck moving when we did not want to, at considerable up front expense.

I also got offered an interview, attended said interview, got offered a job and turned down a job offer in London in the past ten days too.

Let’s talk a little about why I turned down a job in London.

The job I was offered would have been a salaried editorial position with a reputable company. I’d have been mainly working on news content, and a good chunk of my 9-5 Mon-Fri would have been dedicated to working exclusively on sourcing original unique news stories, news worthy interview quotes and leaks.

While I enjoy the work I currently do in these regards, I find them incredibly stressful, draining and tiring even as just a small part of my larger career spread apart by more creatively fulfilling content creation.

Any podcast recording, video recording, editing of written, audio or video content, any reviews or original features and any silly stupid content I wanted to work on would have been relegated to outside of Mon-Fri 9-5.

While that would have been doable, it would have been an additional strain on my energy as a creator.

From experience with other Patreon creators, I suspect taking the job would have seen a sizeable drop in Patreon backer support. This is understandable, while working for the London company I’d have had less need for that financial support, but the issue is that if the job did not work out I’d have to fight to rebuild Patreon to where it is now.

Another factor, after some time spent in London, I don’t know that it’s a place I’d currently be able to feel comfortable living. It’s a city I find strangely emotionally draining on a long term basis.

The role would have been a fantastic stepping stone and a great point on my CV but it was also not something that I was going to be happy doing.

I balanced creative freedom, career advancement and financial status. Creative freedom as a creator won out.

This week has told me a lot about where I want to go in 2017 as a creator, and I’ll have more info on that in the coming days.

For now, I am going nowhere ❤

NSFW Review: Mighty Muffin Pounder Rangers

NSFW Review: Mighty Muffin Pounder Rangers

lopounderrangerssfw6So, I used my work day today to watch a 40 minute long Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers porn parody titled Mighty Muffin Pounder Rangers. It was simultaneously more amazing and more of a let down than I expected.

It was forty minutes of my life filled with severe extremes.

So, let’s get get this out the way, most of my review will be focused on the frankly stunningly hilarious first seven minutes of this movie. You can probably guess why already but that’s where a lot of the “plot” takes place.

Mighty Muffin Pounder Rangers features the highest number of forced sex puns I have ever seen in my admittedly limited experience with porn parody viewing.

In under seven minutes it manages to reference Ivan Ooze and imply that it’s a nickname for semen about to spray from Goldong (Goldar)’s “monster space dick”, imply that Rita “Repressor” engaged in a ten thousand year long blowjob which is why she was trapped in her dildo castle on the moon, rewrite the theme tune to sing “Blow Blow Punder Rangers”, rename the core cast of Rangers to Jizzin (Jason), Creamy (Trini which is a stretch), Sack (Zack), Rimberly (Kimberly) and Willy (Billy), introduce us to the Pussy Patrol and rename our anti-hero Tommy into Cummy.

You thought I was done with the puns? Oh no, I am only getting started!!!

The dinosaur themed Zords are now Dildor, Dongosaur, Vibrator, ButtPlugosaur, and MasterbatorSaurous Rex, with the MegaZord now the MegaWhore.

There’s also use of the amazing magic spell incantation “Here’s a spell to ensnare a man, I rub my titties with my hand”.

Yes, the dialogue really is THAT amazing.

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So, let’s dig into references to the show itself. The basic plot of this pornographic adventure is that Rita wants to enslave the earth for sex reasons or something. She sends giant Goldong to earth, and “a team of culturally diverse sexy college co-eds” are drafted to fight him off using sex and kung fu.

They fight Goldong off with an amazingly terrible hilarious sex scene. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

During those first few minutes of our adventure we’re treated to numerous nods to how horrendously terrible the original source material is. I love Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, but I acknowledge it’s inherently mindless crap.

We’re treated to references to Rita’s notoriously bad lip syncing, a deliberately poorly paced reaction shot, a joke about how ludicrous it is that nobody ever picked up on them colour coordinating outfits with their ranger colours, references to the black ranger “being written to once per episode do something that white people imagine black people do”, references to the worst bands and media of the decade, how poorly hidden Tommy (Cummy)’s eventual betrayal was and more.

It’s terrible, and that somehow makes it amazing to watch. Every terrible moment feels deliberate and knowingly crafted.

Also, before we even get to the hilarious Goldong Megawhore sex scene, there’s still SOOO much left to unpack.

Within 75 seconds of the movie starting there’s commentary on how banning transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity is “the first rule of being an arsehole”, which seemed oddly progressive for a stupid parody of a 90’s kids cartoon.

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It’s worth noting before the 7 minute mark the movie does equate a visible penis to male pronouns, which seems an odd choice when they felt the trans bathroom line was important enough to make their trailer for the movie.

Also Rita’s staff has a floppy huge blue neon dildo on the top of it, the Rangers “Cummunicators” are condoms, and they get “turned on” by Goldar’s giant space dong.

Oh, and the “zords” are just vibrators and butt plugs pulled across some sand by string. It’s beautiful.

So, let’s get to the darn Goldong Megawhore sex scene. It is the most amazingly cheesy, funny, not sexy thing I have ever seen.

It’s full of stilted dialogue about growing magically, the giant suits are too bulky to look like they are actually kissing, the sex itself is basically two giant costumes bumping against each other for a minute or so and the MegaWhore has giant breasts that connect to the front and look like spray painted plastic bowls.

It’s amazing.

Then we finally get to what appears to be the intended sex plot of the movie. Cummy the Green Pounder Ranger is turned evil by Rita’s evil magic and the rest of the Pounder Rangers decide sex is the way to break the spell.

But not before Cummy points out it’s stupid that they can’t work out that the character wearing all green is the Green Ranger.

The Pounder Ranger outfits are not terrible, but as someone who has cosplayed a Power Ranger in the past I can see where corners were cut. Mainly they spray painted standard motorcycle helmets as their base which have a slightly off shape and took some shortcuts by skipping minor outfit detail in favour of larger overarching brush strokes of outfit design.

It does the job, and the dongs instead of lightning bolts work well, but as a costume nerd I was sliiiightly disappointed.

And seven minutes in, we reach actual porn.

power-ranger-4The thirty minutes of pornography that follow barely acknowledge the source material at all. All of those front loaded puns and not one is uttered mid actual sex.

Sure they’re wearing their boots still and Cummy is wearing his gold shoulder pads, and you can see their helmets in the background, but not one pun saved for the sex itself is wildly disappointing.

Curse you Mighty Muffin Pounder Rangers!!!!!

I guess the only saving grace is they end by discussing how they broke the spell using “teamwork, friendship, determination… and my pussy too”, before a freeze frame rock music end title card.

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Ultimately, this was both more than I expected and less than I hoped. The material surrounding the porn was suberpbly packed full of cleaver references, jokes, visual and narrative gags, but not saving any for the pornography is a real shame.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers would never have agreed to a thirty minute physical activity scene with no puns, that’s for sure.

The Second Year of LauraKBuzz Content

Hey Everyone

So, today marks two years since I went full time as a games critic and my goodness the time has flown by unbelievably quickly. I don’t even know where to begin summarising the past twelve months of my career.

Where Year One of LauraKBuzz was a lot of big, long form and in depth pieces I hope will stand for a long time to come, Year Two of LauraKBuzz has been a very experimental year. Let’s look back at a couple of the pieces of work and events that defined my last twelve months.

Leaving Destructoid and Launching Let’s Play Video Games

destruktoid-goodbye_1So, yeah, here’s the elephant in the room. Until June this year I was UK Editor at Destructoid, pulling a salary and paying Joe Parlock and Vikki Blake a salary to work for me during UK hours.

We were informed we were being let go at midnight, two days before I went under the knife for major surgery which was going to see me out of action for at least a month.

We were left with two days to work out what we were going to do about keeping ourselves financially stable. That’s really not a great situation to be in.

I’m not sure how we managed it, but in that 48 hour window we managed to set a plan for where to go moving forward, get publicity for our departure, advertise where we would be moving to, sort out new branding and accounts and raise the funding needed to continue as a team on the same salary we had been paid at Destructoid.

I still find it amusing that Destructoid could not afford to pay us, but it took us less than two days to crowd fund replacements for those salaries.

If I talk honestly and openly about leaving Destructoid, while it sucks to lose the very powerful networking skills that come with being UK Editor of a known name site in the short term, I feel like in the long term our team is doing better as a solo venture.

Our successes are our own and serve to build our personal brands. We’re a tight knit team rather than a small part of a larger and more unwieldy machine. We have complete ownership to cover the titles we’re interested in without big exciting titles going to more long term staff members.

And with all our recent successes, we’re becoming a known name with a surprisingly high readership in our own right. A lot of my work at LPVG gets more views than it ever did at Destructoid.

I am immensely thankful to everyone’s support. Without all of you, there’s no way Let’s Play Video Games would be the fast growing name in gaming it is today. LPVG is the only place in the world I could picture publishing Five Games that Mimic a Urinary Tract Infection, Games Playable Single-Handed with a Dilator Between Your Legs, What JRPG’s Could Learn From TV’s Gilmore Girls, Genders We Want Added to No Man’s Sky, Clifford the Big Red Dog is a Titan and NSFW: What if Game Developers Made Sex Toys.

As open to weird content as Destructoid was, I know at least a few of those ideas would have been shut down as too stupid or silly. Jokes on them haha.

Writing reviews for Polygon and Jim Sterling

jim-reviewProbably one of the most fulfilling aspects of the past year for me is that I have been trusted and taken seriously enough as a critic to have people and outlets commission me to write reviews for them. That’s super validating on a personal level.

Polygon brought me back to review American Truck Simulator which was great because I genuinely love driving trucks down endlessly long roads and Jim Sterling brought me on to write his reviews of both Street Fighter V and Mighty No. 9.

I feel most proud of those reviews I did for Jim, because in his two years as a solo creator I believe I’m the only person he has commissioned as a freelancer to write long form content for him. That’s a really big thing I appreciate an awful lot.

Co-Optional Animated

A segment of me on a podcast got animated to a really high professional standard. That’s really fucking cool.

Emo Kylo Ren Makes AMVs and Plays Games

God this was a fun stupid little series of things to make. I need to do more stuff like this in the coming year. I forgot how fun these were to make.

Quest for the Boob Package

Yep, this sure is a thing I did this year. I need to do more on camera, vlog style videos like this going forward. I really like how the initial quest video section of this leading up to the unboxing turned out.

Reviewing a Tank Dating Sim for a Military Site

panzermadels3A website specialising in military hardware coverage paid me to review a game where you date sentient tanks. That was one of the weirder part of my year for sure.

I Set Up PC VR For Under £25. Results Were Mixed

12919146_984990888251973_1629751481_n-png-noscaleIn this feature I took a £25 budget and attempted to set up VR support on my PC in the run up to the release of 2016’s high end VR headsets. It went about as well as you might expect.

GaymerX Butts Talk

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I unfortunately do not have footage of this, but at GaymerX 2016 I gave an hour long talk to a completely packed out room about the narrative design of butts. It went over well, people laughed along the whole time, I apparently managed to make butts engaging for an hour. A new personal milestone.

I really hope I get the chance to do that stupidly beautiful talk again soon.

Podquisition Animated

Podquisition Animated was a beautiful experiment this year that had to take a break due to surgery and travel, but I hope to bring back in the coming months.

Norwich Talk

I was invited back to Norwich Gaming Festival this year for the second year running and was able to give a talk on getting a job as a gaming critic which went over really well. Attendance was certainly helped by Youtuber Stuart Ashens promoting my talk both on his Youtube channel, and at the end of his own talk at the event.

Fan Meets

13466053_1036442606440134_7773867196936805839_nYear Two of LauraKBuzz was certainly the year I got to meet fans from across the world. From PAX Boston to E3 in L.A., PAX Australia to MCM London, GaymerX to the Pokemon Nationals and EGX, I truly got to travel this year and see fans from all corners of the world.

14939524_1150952828322444_8502387580188043948_oAsk me two years ago and I never would have believed there was a demand for fan meet ups with me, but this year has shown me there’s certainly a market for that. It’s weird to realise you’re someone people actively want to meet.

How SWERY’s Reactive Hypoglycemia Manifests Itself in his Video Games

how-developer-swerys-reactive-hypoglycaemia-manifests-itself-in-his-video-games-055-d4-deadly-premonition-body-image-1471255154-size_1000In terms of freelance features this year, I’m probably most proud of this interview feature with game developer SWERY about stamina systems in his games and how his own medical conditions impacted those designs. Really proud I managed to pull this together and find a good home for it.

Cooking with Depression

Nothing at all to do with geek culture or gaming, this video series started as a stupid joke and ended up becoming of of the most consistently requested things I did for a while. Not sure where to take the series from here but it was a fun series while it lasted.

Gaming Butts with Yogscast Hannah

I did a few new episodes of Laura’s Gaming Butts this year, not nearly as many as I would have liked to do, but perhaps my favourite was the episode about Lara Croft and Nathan Drake butts I recorded with Yogscast Hannah.

Beyond Good and Evil Leaks

original-2Much of my most notable work this year has been in the form of reporting on leaks and unannounced projects and all of that kicked off this year when I learned from sources at Ubisoft and Nintendo, the same sources who would later help me leak information on the Nintendo Switch before it was officially revealed, that a new Beyond Good and Evil project was finally entering pre development, and Nintendo were in talks to fund its development to secure it as an exclusive.

Later in the year, after pre development on the game was officially confirmed,  I put together a video explaining my understanding of the development timeline of the game over the past decade, and revealed that the game would not be a straight forward direct sequel.

Reporting on the Unannounced PS4 Slim Pre Reveal

slimSo, let’s talk about the PS4 Slim haha

The PS4 Slim was revealed by Sony on September 7th 2016. Two weeks before that, on August 24th 2016, I made a video about the PS4 Slim. I talked about possessing the system, I talked about the ridiculousness of PR inflexibility when it comes to not announcing products which have been clearly shown by press to exist, but I stopped shy of showing my own PS4 Slim.

Digital Foundry and Eurogamer had a few days prior shown pictures and video of a PS4 Slim they were able to test but did not own. They very quickly took that footage down due to unspecified legal issues.

I was left scared to talk about a product I had in my hands, which I knew for a fact existed.

I felt frustrated that PR had such a hold over me that I had solid evidence of a piece of tech existing, but feared doing any actual journalism with it.

Polygon covered my video and feature. I got a lot of attention. A lot of people did not believe my claims I had a PS4 Slim ahead of launch.

I was fed up.

I unboxed and reviewed a console which had not yet been revealed, and was still weeks from reveal.

I unboxed and reviewed it knowing there might be legal or work related ramifications. I knew I could be sued or blacklisted.

Outlets covered my review of the system.

I made a compelling case that my work was protected under journalistic protections, and I held my breath for ramifications that somehow never came.

I don’t know if it was my plea at the start of my review that did it. I don’t know if it just spread too fast for them to think they could silence it. I just know I got up a review and unboxing, which were not pulled not were there requests I take it down, two weeks before the system was announced.

Kotaku interviewed me about my review which was pretty surreal. I think that’s when it set in I reviewed an unannounced system before anyone else.

That was a pretty fucking exciting part of my year.

Totally Legit Gaming News

One of the weirder and more adventurous things I’ve done this year, Totally Legit Gaming News was somewhat of a response to being accused of faking video game coverage. I donned a Tin Foil Hat, read fake gaming stories and discussed video game conspiracies.

Oh, and got kidnapped by tin foil PR.

Best of Podquisition

Podquisition has been going for over two years now. I spent a LOT of time putting together a lengthy clip show of our first year. A good place to jump in if you want a feel for the podcast.

Switch Leaks, Rumours, Reporting and More

maxresdefaultSo, here’s probably the most comprehensive account I can give of my Nintendo Switch reporting up until it was officially revealed haha.

Since then I’ve done a bunch more reporting based on many of the same sources.

How Nintendo Ensures Switch locks into the Dock correctly

JoyCon R IR Fucntionality to Replace Touch when Docked

No Handheld Only Package at Launch

No Headphone Port on Pro Controller

Supports 128 GB Micro SD

Switch Dock Doesn’t Support USB Hard Drives

USB-C Support, No Kickstand Charging

Amiibo delayed for Smash Port

GAME Switch Pricing Plan

Launch Software and Pack Ins

Rabbids Mario RPG

I also wrote / talked about the stresses of working on video game leaks.

Villainous Agency – Undertale and Murder

sansOne of the things I did in the past year of content was complete Undertale’s Genocide mode. It took me 582 attempts and 20 hours of gameplay. I am not good at gaming but I persevered.

I wrote this feature about the fact that Undertale is the only game that has ever made me feel truly villainous.

I also wrote and performed a song about fighting Sans. That was a fun thing haha.

Are We Too Forgiving of Narrative Weakness in Hero Fantasy Video Games?

uncharted1aWell, this article sure ruffled some feathers haha. Very proud of how this turned out.

Improving Video Game Narratives From The Genre Distinction Upwards

image-2Another slightly contentious article, but one I have wanted to write for almost a year. Felt good to finally get it out onto paper.

Rethinking Video Game Difficulty Settings

imageOne more article that a fair few people disagreed with, but that I feel really proud of in retrospect

AND THERE YOU HAVE IT!!!

Another year of the LauraKBuzz Empire complete and summarised. Now to push forward and see what the next brings 😀

Guest Opinion – Overwatch’s Zarya is a Trans Woman

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The following feature is written by video game, comic and pop culture critic Mia Violet. She can be found on Twitter at @OhMiaGod.

Overwatch’s Zarya is a trans woman. At least, it looks like she might be anyway. I should disclose that yes, I am a trans woman myself, so I have extra incentive for wanting this to be the case. However, there are a few curious hints that back up this theory, beyond my fervent wishing. If you’ll allow me a few moments, I’ll elaborate as to what evidence there is that our favourite pink­haired Russian is transgender.

Why it’s true:

Let’s begin with the newest piece of evidence. Ana was recently added to the game as Overwatch’s newest hero. Her original announcement brought with it a couple of new trailers, nestled within one is a new piece of artwork, a group photo of some of the game’s characters. In the photo, which is set during the game’s backstory, we can see R eaper (pre­creepy costume), Ana and her daughter Pharah, Soldier 76, Torbjörn, Reinhardt, Mercy and McCree. At either side of the frame we also have two new mystery characters.

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Humour me for a moment, is the “guy” over on the left actually Zarya, pre­transition?

They’re the right build, have the right facial features, and even a similar choice in hairstyle. As soon as I spotted them, my mind went to Zarya.

Interestingly, the person in the photo bares a resemblance to an earlier piece of artwork for the game:

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That slicked back spiky hair, those muscles? Seems like it could be the same person right? Well, that silhouette is Zarya, during her bodybuilding days. This was a piece of promo art done to tease her announcement back in 2015. Could this be a pre­transition shot of Zarya?

Looking outside of the game and its lore for a second, there’s more evidence that Zarya in particular is a likely candidate for being a queer character.

When she was revealed, Blizzard specifically explained they were listening to the audience’s desire for broad er diversity in their games (reference). Of course, transgender characters are woefully underrepresented in games, with practically none to speak of when it comes to other AAA titles in Overwatch’s league. Blizzard have to be aware of this and I’m certain they’ve at least entertained the idea of a transgender character.

Separately, Blizzard also said that at least one character is gay. Rather than just outright state sexualities, they’re apparently intending to reveal the information in a “natural” way, presumably as incidental information in videos and stories. Perhaps they’re doing something similar with Zarya’s gender identity?

Finally, the last piece of evidence requires a lot less elaboration: her gun shoots the trans pride flag colours.

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Folks, seriously, just look at it. That’s pretty blatantly the trans pride colours in arrangement and shades. So Zarya runs around the battlefield shooting a giant trans laser.

Coincidence? Unlikely.

Why it’s not true:

It would be careless of me to not cover a couple of little flaws in my beloved theory. The first of which is the fact that nobody has ever said Zarya was a member of the Overwatch taskforce.

For those who’ve not dug into the lore, Overwatch was the peacekeeping organisation that a portion of the game’s cast were formerly members of. As of the game’s present day time period, the organisation has been disbanded.

The aforementioned photo is of official Overwatch members, we know that much. Although it’s possible Blizzard may have just glossed over this part of her history, nothing in the lore says Zarya was part of the Overwatch team. Going by the information we have on her, she went from bodybuilder, to soldier in the Russian Defense Forces, there’s no mention of her having held membership in Overwatch along the way.

The reason we don’t hear about Zarya having been a member of Overwatch, is because Zarya is only 28 years old. By contrast McCree is 37, meaning if the person in that photo is Zarya, there’s a 9 year age gap between the two of them, which seems like a stretch when they look about the same age.

Things become harder to explain when you consider that Pharah, clearly a child in the photo, is older than Zarya. Though oddly Pharah is only 5 years younger than McCree, who certainly looks much, much older than her in the photo. But either way, if we use the official character ages and apply them to that photo, the theory doesn’t add up.

That said, in a world where Widowmaker’s slowed heart and altered physiology have seemingly affected her age, while Mei went unaged and frozen in cryostasis, it’s not entirely impossible, right?

Conclusion:

Whether Zarya is or isn’t the person in the photo, she still could be a transgender character. For now, I’m choosing to believe that she is.

Something we’ve danced around here is the political implication of this being true. Russia is a very conservative country with a poor track record for LGBT rights. Blizzard would be making a powerful and supportive statement to queer fans, especially Russian ones, if they made their only Russian character transgender.

Really that cuts to the heart of why I want Zarya to be revealed as trans. It’d be a small revelation comparatively, with no impact whatsoever on the state of the game, but to trans fans it would be groundbreaking. It would mean a lot to see someone like us centre stage, as an instrumental member of the cast.

There’s a long history of fans “queering” their favourite media, including video games. For decades queer fans have used their own theories, art and stories to imagine broader representation where it’s originally lacking. Overwatch has been no exception, with a notably vocal queer fanbase already. If Zarya’s gender identity becomes part of the official lore, it’ll be exactly the kind of gesture that Blizzard say they’re trying to make. It’ll be a step towards a more inclusive franchise, where everybody can see themselves reflected in the cast, without the need to headcanon their way in.

Until it’s confirmed or not, I’ll be here with fingers crossed.

Lengthy but Interesting and Important Addendum

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Firstly I want to say thank you to the people that reached out to give feedback on my above article, on why Zarya could potentially be a trans woman. Lots of folks said they enjoyed it or found it interesting, which is always lovely to hear. I also really appreciate those who took the time to explain why they had an issue with it. Discussion and differentiating opinions are obviously healthy, I didn’t expect (nor want) everyone to agree with me.

However, I noticed that there was a particular reason most of the negative comments cited, which made me realise something important. I made a pretty big omission in the original article. In hindsight, it’s painfully obvious and creates an entirely understandable gut reaction to the premise. It’s one I should have seen coming. So firstly, I’d like to apologise for not catching it.

Secondly, if you’ll allow me a moment, I’d like to elaborate as to why Zarya is actually the most progressive, surprising and significant candidate for being transgender.

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As a muscular woman with traditionally masculine traits, many people had a perfectly justifiable response to what I said about Zarya. An assumption that by proposing the theory that she’s a trans woman, I was drawing from her physical strength, height and boisterous appearance to claim that she’s queer and especially likely to be trans. In actuality, these things make her potential identity as a trans woman less obvious and more refreshing. But without context, I know that sounds ridiculous.

If you’re a trans woman, especially a British one, you likely know where I’m going with this. For everyone else, stick with me and I think you’ll see where I’m coming from in a moment.

The first person I came out to as trans was my mother, I was 14. She was unprepared and completely uneducated on what it meant. Her reaction was to claim that it was impossible, it didn’t make sense, because I was too masculine to be a girl. Unfortunately for a long time I believed her, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I feel it’s important to add that I was a quiet and timid child, one who hated sports and didn’t fit in with boys. I certainly was not a masculine kid. But I also liked video games, action movies and comic books, which apparently negated everything else. I know what you’re thinking, saying only boys like video games and comics is ridiculous. Gendered stereotypes around hobbies are completely silly and don’t matter, at all. Except when you’re trans they do, they matter a lot. They probably don’t matter to you, the person who’s finally discovered their gender, but they sure matter to everyone around you.

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When you tell someone you’re transgender and you want to transition, at any age, the reaction is often judgement. People will scan their memories to see if you sufficiently fit or rejected stereotypes at appropriate times. Next they’ll often tell you what they think, which could be outright denial of this precious and fragile revelation that you’ve come to.

If you can push through the denial, some particularly unsupportive people will even directly warn you away from transition, telling you such a destructive choice is wrong, too dangerous. The worst will still refuse to accept it. They’ll tell you that you can’t be transgender, as it would have been obvious in the past otherwise.

Essentially, if you’re unlucky, from day 1 you’ll be fighting to prove you’re not a fraud. Coming out means stepping onto a stage, whether you want to or not. By society you’re now being viewed as a trans person, with all the connotations that come with that.

When you begin your transition as a trans woman, the consequences of showing masculinity can be devastating. That’s never more obvious than when it comes to healthcare. Here in England for instance, the wait lists for our gender identity clinics range from 2-4 years, that’s for your first appointment. If you’re not lucky enough to be able to pay for private healthcare, then these clinics are where you’re required to go for every aspect of your medical transition. Unless you’re astronomically lucky, your local GP will not hand over a prescription for hormones. You have to get in line and wait.

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When you finally arrive at a GIC, you’re assessed by two different members of staff, in two different appointments. Anyone who spends a moment of casual research will find that the advice for trans women visiting GICs is the same: dress feminine, downplay any interests you have which might be seen as “masculine” (like video games) and stick to stereotypes. I’ve been told by other trans women to say that I dressed in my mother’s clothes and played with dolls as a child, whether it’s true or not is irrelevant. It’s vital that I give everyone at the clinic the impression I am a woman and always have been, by relying on patronising stereotypes and laughable ideas of gender roles. The worst case scenario in all of this is that you will be discharged, kicked out and denied your hormones. Which can happen, it happened to someone I know even. It means you’re put back to the end of the queue to try again somewhere else, that’s if you have the strength of will to even try again.

Meanwhile in everyday life, many trans women are in environments where showing masculine qualities is a risk. Incredulously the “trans panic defence” is still often used. An explanation often used by those on trial for murder or assault, it relies on the fact that the reality of who we are can send unsuspecting men into a frothing, murderous rage.

When out in public we’re told not to be proud. Pride is dangerous, be quiet and unremarkable. That’s how you avoid becoming a spectacle in the street, or worse, a victim.

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Exhibiting masculinity around unsupportive workmates or family members risks having them believe our transition is fake, fetishistic, frivolous or an outright mistake. The advice to deal with these people is often the same: blend in, eyes down, talk soft, wear unassuming clothing and especially avoid heels, because God forbid we might look even taller. It’s an atmosphere of shame and embarrassment, one many of us passionately reject, yet it permeates in many places in the transgender community. Browse through some Facebook groups, pop over to Reddit, or even visit a support meeting, chances are you’ll come across these attitudes.

Physically, hormones will eventually reduce muscle mass in trans women, something we’re intended to celebrate. In our apparent quest to become smaller more stereotypical women, physical weakness is a triumph. Many of us are also tall, which we’re supposed to resent, while shorter trans women are praised as the lucky ones.

All of this combines to dictate how we’re portrayed in the media, regardless of how many of us fight back against this narrative. To be a successful trans woman you have to conform to femininity. That’s what we’re taught by fiction, by the blatant lack of any trans woman who doesn’t fit the mould, but it grimley mirrors real life too. Being a masculine trans woman is career poison, unless you were lucky enough to become famous first, then you have a chance to stay relevant in the public eye. But when an organisation wants a token trans woman to talk to, they go to the pretty young ones first, those who look the least threatening, the least different, the least queer. That’s who we’re supposed to see as our role models. Those are the visible women our family and friends measure us by, their point of reference for what being a trans woman is. Society’s definition, a safe heteronormative demonstration of womanhood.

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What does all this have to do with Overwatch? Well, Zarya is a woman with short hair, muscles, a bodybuilding career and a confident proud attitude. The opposite of what we’re told to be. If she was revealed as a trans woman despite these qualities, it would be astounding.

Some have argued that characters like Mercy, who are pretty and unassuming, would be better candidates to be revealed as transgender, because they lack qualities coded as queer. I understand where this line of thinking comes from, but I completely disagree. Mercy is a tall, blonde, thin, attractive woman with long hair, as a conventionally beautiful woman she’s the most boringly obvious candidate in the cast. She is exactly what trans women are supposed to aspire to be. At least, she embodies who our role model is supposed to be according to gatekeeping doctors, and a media industry obsessed only with trans women who look cisgender.

Instead, let’s imagine Zarya is a trans woman, it would make her one who doesn’t care what people expect her to look like. She’s shunning stereotypes, ignoring what people say she has to be and instead owning who she is with beaming confidence. She’s showing the world you don’t have to look and act a certain way to be a trans woman, you can be tall, you can be shorthaired and you can be brash. You can even build your muscles and embrace your size. She’s not ashamed of who she is, she’s proud of herself, regardless.

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That is the reason I want her to be a trans woman.

I’m sick of being told I have to be petite, pretty and weak to be a good trans woman. In actuality as trans women we can look however we please, no matter our relationship with “masculine” aesthetics. It doesn’t endanger or erase our identity when we step outside of those boundaries. That’s what Zarya could stand for as a trans woman, challenging what everybody else is telling us we have to be. The very qualities that supposedly disqualify us from being women, qualities that we’re supposed to reject are what Zarya embodies.

I’ll take her as my role model any day.

Comic Review: Assassin’s Creed Vol. 1: Trial By Fire

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Editor’s Note – This review was written by Mia Violet, a colleague with years of experience writing about comics. You can find more of her work at @OhMiaGod on Twitter.
I like Assassin’s Creed. The 9 year old video game series now has over 15 different entries, with a busy storyline and gameplay that’s often accused of dancing into awkwardly repetitive territory. With fairly forgettable spin­offs and recent entries suffering from rushed development cycles, Ubisoft’s series has seen better days. Yet despite its flaws, I always find myself going back to the time­hopping franchise. There’s something dependably appealing about its free roaming gameplay, even if it’s ongoing plot of a secret war between Assassins and Templars has perhaps begun to run out of steam.
So with the story arguably one of the wobbliest elements of A ssassin’s Creed, I was cautious

Could writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, with artist Neil Edwards, still craft a compelling comic with the convoluted source material? As it turns out, yes, actually.

Trial By Fire ( hereby referred to as TBF) opens with a frantic Wild West set piece, establishing right away that this story is going to do more than retread familiar ground. Unfortunately, our time with this setting is tragically brief, as the story pops over to modern day to introduce us to Charlotte De La Cruz, a kindhearted but broke bank teller. Before long her mundane life is stabbed to smithereens and, surprise surprise, she’s got to pop into an Animus machine to explore the life of her ancestor.

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It’s a little tired that after starting with an acrobatic cowgirl sharpshooter, the ancestor assassin who we spend the most time with turns out to be a surly white dude. Thomas Stoddard is as stern faced as he is stereotypical, with his uncaring attitude and grumpy dedication to sticking to the rules. The setting is at least somewhat more compelling, with Stoddard stomping around Salem, during the time of its infamous witch trials in 1692. Although the witch trials themselves only play a small role in the plot, history buffs will get a kick out of the extra details from the time period. For instance, William Stoughton, known for being one of the most cruel and zealous magistrates in Salem, is dropped into the plot as one of the central villains.

Once things get rolling, we spend the bulk of our time with Stoddard and the rest back with Charlotte in modern day, as she tries to keep a mismatched band of contemporary Assassins from bickering with each other. Her ancestor has information which is vital to the group, meaning Charlotte has to spend as much time in the Animus as possible, if she wants to help her new allies. Back in the past, Stoddard meets up with one of his Assassin colleagues, as they begin their investigation into the town’s suspicious leadership. From there onwards the story is a fairly simple, albeit enjoyable, romp about cackling Templars up to no good and the Assassins who want to shove small blades in them.

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The Pieces of Eden subplot from the video games resurfaces here, with another mysterious and magical artefact serving as the McGuffin. There is at least a little unexpected twist to it, which I won’t spoil here, but primarily the Piece of Eden serves as an excuse for the opposing cast members to violently clash.

Speaking of the violence, TBF can be surprisingly brutal. Expect to see knives jammed through faces and frequent bloodsplatter as plenty of scuffles break out. True to the source material, plenty of unnamed henchmen are butchered and otherwise beaten by our acrobatic protagonists. Thankfully, Edwards’ artwork makes these fight scenes fairly nice to look at, with detailed characters and dynamic action. Likewise the scenery is equally impressive. There’s a touch of bleak detail to everything here, with Salem’s streets looking especially grim and filthy. The modern day is contrasted with smoother shapes and lighter tones, but still maintains the grimey look of a modern day city.

Edwards was given quite the challenge, having to render three completely different time periods in a single volume, but he handles it perfectly. Meanwhile, Ivan Nunes’ colour work ensures that the present and past segments are subtly distinct without causing any inconsistency in style, bringing everything to life with sharp but grounded colours.

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One interesting tidbit is that the comic takes a little time to explain desynchronisation, which is code for the video game’s Game Over screen. It’s also established how much control modern day descendants like Charlotte have over their genetic flashbacks, something the video games are often a little vague on. It’s quick details like these which throw bonus goodies to the fans, without alienating anyone who can’t tell their Animus from their Abstergo. In fact, when it comes to the story, T BF strikes a commendable balance between being a faithful tie­in and still an accessible standalone comic book. In­universe terms are kept light and the focus on the conflict between heroic Assassins and scheming Templars means it’s easy to follow who you’re supposed to be rooting for.

The comic moves at a good pace throughout and before things become too repetitive, it waves Salem farewell and free­runs back to modern day for the final chapter. However, being volume 1 of an ongoing series, it of course closes out with an open ending, but there’s still enough of a conclusion for this installment to feel like a complete package on its own.
All in all, T BF is a decent opening volume, earning the relatively rare achievement of a well received video game tie­in. If you’ve stuck with A ssassin’s Creed this long, then you’re going to gobble this up. For better or worse, it’s more of the same. Basically it’s the plot of your average Assassin’s Creed game, condensed into 5 issues, without the extra fluff and feather collecting. If you’re someone who long wandered off from the franchise, then T BF doesn’t do anything too daring to woo you back, the story is entertaining and the art is good but neither are exceptional.

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Ultimately, no matter your affinity and familiarity with the Assassins’ earlier exploits, there’s a straightforward but enjoyable set of issues here. Just like the video game franchise, it does nothing audacious or exceptional compared to its peers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look.