Dettlaff: a Vampire follow-up

Ever have a great idea for an all encompassing post on a topic then forget several major things from said topic?

In my last post I talked about my own personal experience with the vampire myth, highlighting my favorite portrayals, films and even games. And yet I left out possibly one of the most defining recent examples of a vampire story-line, one that had me once again rooting for the vampire: Blood and Wine, the expansion to The Witcher 3. This is all the more egregious because it was one of the prime examples of a case where the vampire was the tragic hero in my eyes. So let me make up for leaving this out by telling you the story of how I met Dettlaff in The Witcher 3, and the impression he left me with. Spoilers ahead, you have been warned!

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The Witcher is a story about a mutant monster-hunter, in a fantasy world, named Geralt. He wonders the land killing dangerous creatures nobody else is willing to face in exchange for coin. Every now and again though he is sought out by more wealthy and powerful people, even kings and queens. One such event takes Geralt to the land of Toussaint, where the local duchess asks him for help finding out what kind of monster is killing her knights. As the title of the expansion suggests, it is not hard to guess that the creature in question is a vampire, a man by the name of Dettlaff, as Geralt finds out from a friendly vampire he knows, who shows up to help track him down. But the thing about the Witcher is that nothing is as it seems. The writers of the series love to frame situations with clear heroes and villains, that would be totally straight-forward situations in other stories, then toss a few twists in along the way. Good and evil are completely subjective terms here, and as with most Witcher story-lines, this one too is far from as simple as it seems.

marcin-blaszczak-thumbVampires in the world of the Witcher operate by somewhat different rules than in most other versions. They do not burn up in sunlight, for instance, nor are they repelled by garlic or religious symbols. Their transformation abilities are restricted to a single, massive, bestial human-bat hybrid form. But by far the greatest departure from the common rule-set is that vampires do not require blood to sustain themselves. Blood is like alcohol to them, a substance they can survive without, but one they love and crave despite that. So there is nothing other than cruelty and greed behind those vampires who choose to hunt humans for their blood. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure they count as undead in this world.

Geralt’s vampire friend describes Dettlaff as one who does not partake in the addictive behavior of blood consumption, and through magical means we even get to see Dettlaff execute one of his murders, all the while showing great regret both before and after the deed. Almost as though he is not in control of his own actions. The answer ends up being quite close. As it turns out Dettlaff was being blackmailed. A woman he fell in love with had been taken hostage by criminals who were using her as leverage to force him to kill the duchess’ knights. This kind of moral gray area is pretty much standard for The Witcher. Was he wrong to do it or not? I’m not just being leading when I say “you be the judge”, because I honestly can’t be sure myself.

Giving the monsters human sides is another thing the Witcher does often, so sympathizing with Dettlaff was not surprising to me, hell, I was kind of expecting it. But this would not be a main quest story for a Witcher game without at least one more big twist, and huge moral choice at the end. Geralt goes to rescue the captive lover to free Dettlaff of the blackmail, only to find out that the woman in question was the one leading the bandits. She is the duchess’ sister, and she is out for revenge for her childhood banishment for being born under a bad omen. And as you can imagine, when Dettlaff finds out he goes mad with anger, demanding that the woman be handed over to her or he will wreak devastation on the city until she is. And he follows through. Despite the fact that the sister wanted desperately to murder her, the duchess is entirely unwilling to hand her over to Dettlaff, so Geralt has to take matters into his own hands. As the result of a series of end game choices as to whether to lure out Dettlaff or kidnap the sister, one of several things happens. So let me try to be as systematic as I can with how I approached the endgame. Trust me, this is important.

Based on the interactions I had with the sister (I know, I forgot her name and am too lazy to look it up, sue me) I had absolutely no qualms about handing her over to Dettlaff. Her backstory ends up being something along the lines of being banished from her home for being born under a bad omen, then being abused by the knights quite badly. I don’t know many of the details because when prompted to inquire further about her past I simply told her I didn’t care. Geralt, who speaks more from his own hearth than mine most times, did take the words right from my mouth when he told her she was less interesting than she thought she was. I’m not denying that she has the right to be angry for what was done to her, I’m not even going to argue that the knights didn’t deserve death since even though they never acted as anything other than perfect gentlemen to me she may have known a side of them they didn’t put on display. Where I drew the line at the time was what she did to Dettlaff. He loved her. He loved her enough to murder people he considered honorable men to keep her safe. To a vampire struggling day after day to keep his evil urges in check, to force him to kill, turning him into an accessory… that was more or less the point where I thought to myself: Fuck her. I would hand her over to him, and if he ended up killing her I would say she had it coming. Alas, this is the point where I expected too much of the game.

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Due to my gamer tendency to complete everything I possible can, I ended up helping the sister retrieve an item of sentimental value to her. I did this not because I cared about her feelings in any way, just because it was a task and I wanted to tick it off. However, when I went through with my plan to hand her over to Dettlaff it came into play. I was expecting Dettlaff to prepare to murder her, at which point I would be given the opportunity to interfere or let him (as it happened in a previous expansion in a similar situation). Instead the item in question teleported her away to a place of safety. Dettlaff was furious. He was convinced I had tricked him, and would listen to nothing I said. In his rage I had no choice but to kill Dettlaff, and because I earlier ignored the finer bits of the sister’s backstory, I was missing key information for a certain line of dialog. As a result I received the bad ending, where the naiv duchess tried to forgive her sister, who ends up killing her with a hairpin just before getting shot herself by a crossbow bolt. Fuck me, right? To then make matters worse, the friendly vampire – whose name I do remember: Regis – I mentioned earlier ends up hated and hunted by his kindred for aiding in the death of a fellow vampire, so literally all my intentions went to shit, everyone I cared about died or ended up otherwise for the worse.

tesham-mutna-syanna-is-deadAnd the irony here is, that if this was all a result of wanting to hand over the woman to the vampire, if it was some cruel act of karma come to teach me a lesson and punish me for being bad, I wouldn’t be making such a fuss about it. But it was an act of compassion that ruined the whole thing, namely me going the extra mile to get the sister her keepsake. I know this, because I naturally reloaded my save game from before that event and ignored it. The events change in the following way: Dettlaff kills the sister; I was given the choice to let Dettlaff go, which I immediately took without a second of thought; the vampire swarm attacking the city disperses; the duchess has Geralt thrown into prison for a bit, until she has her mind changed by on old friend of the witcher’s; the duchess lives; Regis is not hunted by the other vampires. And the ending I got still seemed to try and convince me that this was the wrong choice.

Out of curiosity I looked up the other ending, the one the game considers to be the “Happy ending”. Basically imagine the original scenario I got playing out, except if you talk more to the sister, you can eventually convince her to forgive the duchess. In the same scene, where the two got killed for me, they end up hugging it out, and they all lived happily ever after. You know, except the two vampires. One is dead, the other now ostracized by his kind. But who cares about them, I guess? This was not the first time The Witcher’s sense of the correct conclusion to a plot-line was very far from mine, but this one really stuck with me. Specifically because the game made damn sure we saw how much Dettlaff hated to kill, so I assumed he would get some redemption in the end. Yet what the game considers to be the good ending ends up with him dead.

Anyway, that is the beauty of games like these: they are open to interpretation. Each player has their own experience, and what you expect or hope for will likely be very different from what I do. I am pleased that my version of the story ended in a way I was happy with, even if the game did its damnedest to make me feel bad about it. After all, who hasn’t felt so betrayed by a woman, who tricked them into murdering her enemies, that they later unleashed a swarm of angry vampires on humanity until they handed her over to them to execute themselves? … No one? Just me? Well… pretend you didn’t hear that. Later!

An essay on Vampires

Good evening. I’m Lemorack, and I bid you welcome to my site.

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Video games have allowed me to thoroughly examine my own personality from multiple angles. I know that “evil play-throughs” of video games are popular, that is a play-through of an RPG style video game (or similar one where player choice impacts story) where the player role-plays an evil character. Murder, steal, betray, rule the world as an evil overlord and the like. I get the concept. Sometimes it’s just fun to be bad, to let loose and allow all the inhibitions to give way to the built up frustration. It’s make-believe, after all. I have tried multiple times to play an evil character and never finished, because my fragile soul couldn’t handle it. This makes me feel both good an bad. Good, because it means my parents did a good job of raising me to be compassionate by nature, but bad because I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on some good fun. I did, however, find a loophole in the workings of my conscience: I can easily play evil characters, as long as they’re Vampires.

It is said that everyone is the hero of they’re own story. The key to being truly evil is to start seeing yourself as a hero while you do. I’ve liked vampires for quite a while as effective villains, and I’ve been trying to pinpoint when and why they recently started to turn into heroes to me, if that is actually the case.

Thus far I have three self-portraits where I depict myself as a vampire. The first was an attempt to sort of theme my profile pictures across social media to Halloween, even going as far as to change my twitter display name to Lemorac-ula, in an objectively hilarious play on the name Dracula. I strongly dislike the first picture in retrospect. The goofy grin was a result of me wanting to show of the fangs, just so all who look at the picture can easily identify the mythical creature. The second time around I chose to go more subtle. Of all the profile pictures I had the second Lemorac-ula is likely my favorite (close tie between that and Medivh). The third I never used as a profile picture, as that was never my intent with it. But of all my self-portraits, not just the ones I used as profile pictures, the Vampire Lord takes an easy first place, though that is largely due to the company he keeps.

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I went through most of my youth not having seen a single Dracula film. The only vampire movies I saw were by chance during random flips of TV channels. Most of them were garbage, or sub-par at best. I encountered far more vampires in games. Off the top of my head I’d have to say the first ones had to be from Heroes of Might and Magic III, and the very similar game Disciples II. The first time I played as a vampire in a game was in The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim, and it wasn’t really much to write home about. I had a random throwaway character who would do all the things my main character would not: missions for the thieves guild, the dark brotherhood and eventually the court of Harkon. That is where things started to turn. Skyrim’s legendary modding community turned the game’s mediocre, uninspired vampire experience into possibly the best existing gaming example, on the count of how customizable it is.

This was right around the time the Twilight series became a popular film franchise, as well as becoming the Justin Bieber of cinema: a movie for which there were no centrist feelings, they were either adored or despised. You can easily guess which camp I was in. Simultaneously I recall there being a TV series also featuring vampires called True Blood, which I will confess knowing absolutely nothing about. But vampires had something of a golden age. Rather than the villainous predators they are they received a conversion to sympathetic pretty boys. And I want to say: I get it. I do not approve, but I understand. Vampires are attractive for numerous reasons. They have elegance, they have charm, they are inherently mystical and seductive. But more than just that, they are dangerous. Dangerous is exciting, especially when it’s just fantasy. It’s the reason such poorly written garbage as 50 Shades of Gray was popular, and it’s also part of the appeal of say Amazons. Elegance and beauty, with just the right amount of danger mixed in. Who doesn’t like a bad boy? And no, you can be sure it’s not just a female preference. I know I’ve had my fair share of villainess crushes in the past. But I like them because of their evil side, and I can accept that. I don’t need to turn them into sympathetic characters to justify my attraction and resolve the cognitive dissonance.

Nevertheless, I felt the vampire mythos come under attack and a desire to rush to it’s defense, to protect the vampire image from this, what I considered slander it was receiving. I was motivated to preserve my vision of what the real vampire was like, and she was not sympathetic. Vampires are predators. They are wolves in a world of sheep. They feel the same amount of sympathy for mortals as we do for cows: they don’t care, for to them we are just food. Since then I have read Dracula by Bram Stoker and seen every major Dracula film, not including the most recent Dracula: Untold (2014), because I was told it tries to turn Dracula sympathetic again. The movies had their ups and downs. I consider Nosferatu and the 1931 Dracula an obvious high point, though surprisingly both the Francis Ford Coppola version and the Hammer films to be confusing at best, and just disappointing at worst. As much as I adore the portrayal by Lugosi Béla (Bela Lugosi for everyone not born Hungarian) my favorite Dracula might be looked upon as a controversial pick: Dracula: Dead and Loving it. I just have a soft spot for Leslie Nielsen, and despite him being a parody of the character, I actually find him to be a better Dracula than any other I can think of.

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“Renfield, if I am discovered we must flee.”

“Yes. I’ll escape and meet you at Carfax.”

“No, that would be to dangerous. They will search there first.” says Leslie Nielsen’s Dracula, shamelessly pointing out a major plot hole from the 1931 movie. “I have moved my coffin to the abandoned chapel at the top of the cliff. When you come make sure you are not followed.”

To then put the cherry on the cake, I recently also watched the Netflix Anime: Castlevania, and loved every second of it. This was the first time I found myself actively rooting for both sides: the vampires and the hunters. Dracula was sympathetic without being good, he was an evil tyrant, but one still felt for him, understood why he chose to wipe out humans. Still it was also clear why the heroes had to end him. The only real villains here were the church, and boy did they get what was coming to them!

So why do I like vampires as much as I do? I have several theories. For one I might be at odds with my own mortality and find the idea of living forever to be very appealing. More likely is that I relate to them on a level. For what vampires mostly are is an elegant, beautiful facade hiding base, vicious desires. Maybe I see them as liberators from outdated human morals, kind of like what the zombie apocalypse means for society. When you consider how appropriately sexist the original book is (I say appropriate, because it was written in 1897) you can even make an argument for Dracula being the tragic hero of the story. A man who liberates women from the society that chains them down and keeps them from reaching their full potential, and gives them the opportunity to let their desires free and overcome those who tried to keep them down.

“Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer–both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams.” 

uta_refsonOr maybe vampires are just cool. Maybe I’m just putting far too much energy into answering a pointless question. But I like to know the reasons for things, and I enjoy discussing theories that are on my mind. So to conclude let me just say:

“Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men´s eyes, because they know -or think they know- some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.”

Deviantart links:

Vampire count; Lemorac-ula I; Lemorac-ula II; Centuria Sanguinis; Ancient Vampire;

An essay on Lara Croft

I’m reminded of things I want to talk about all the time. I love many things and have much to say about most of them. A recent release has got me thinking about Lara Croft again, enough to inspire my next drawing even. So check out the drawing below, watch the Timelapse too if you want, and if you are curious you can keep reading to find out some of my thoughts on the hero of the Tomb Raider franchise, in particular her recent self.

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Lara Croft is one of my earliest gaming memories. A friend owned Tomb Raider II back when I was a kid, and we spent many hours playing it on their old Playstaion I. Frustrating as it was for me to get anything done in that game, Lara Croft became one of the first female gaming characters to shape my perception of women as a whole. I was introduced to her before the age when boys start to find girls attractive, but her gaming prominence extended well into my teenage years as well, so yeah, like many others I too was pulled in by the character’s sex appeal. She does have plenty. But unlike many others I don’t consider Lara’s beauty to be the secret to her success. It may have been what first caught many people’s attention, but that alone would not have been enough to fuel a series of twelve plus games. Something else kept us around.

Even from her early polygonal conception,

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when the most memorable things about her games were how impossible it was to grab onto a ledge, a few things were apparent about Lara’s character: She was an adventure seeking action hero on the trail of secrets from humanity’s past, akin to Indiana Jones; She had training and understanding in the use of firearms; She had a reputation, fame and resources to support her adventures; Above all else she was in it all for the thrill and the excitement. “I’m sorry, I only play for sport.” Throughout the following games players became more familiar with Lara’s attitude. She was a tough, athletic lady with an acrobatic fighting style and a quip or two when it mattered most.

We did, however, know little about her past, other than the fact her parents were not around, and they left her with a mansion and a butler.

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It was in the next trilogy of games, the Legend trilogy (named after the first game in this new series, Tomb Raider: Legend) that more light would be shed on this aspect of her story. After the death/disappearance of her mother, her father drove himself and his reputation to ruin in pursuit of finding her. These games focus on her getting to the bottom of the family mystery, putting her parents memories to rest along the way. Despite the dark tone of the plot, the games are made much more light-hearted, mostly to the credit of Lara herself. With a new plethora of side characters helping her, Lara goes through these adventures, and what I personally consider to be the height of the series, with a confident attitude and plenty of witty banter. Simply put, she made those games fun.

Then the reboot happened… Truth be told, I very much liked game one in this new trilogy. It was marketed as Lara’s new origin story. Gone was the confidence, gone was the wit and the humor and gone were her iconic dual pistols.

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The new Lara was an unsure, insecure and fearful young adolescent girl, with no experience and little to make her interesting as a person. But after all, that is what origin stories are for, right? Never mind the fact, that we got many glimpses into Lara’s past in earlier games, and saw that she was a fearless, cocky little girl in the face of dangers back then. In this version she is transformed into the woman we all know and love through this one experience, right? Well, kind of. There is a clear path Lara takes toward becoming the Tomb Raider here, her confidence, her skill, even her wit occasionally show signs of development.
“Seems anyone close to you has low survival odds.” Says Reyes, just after Lara witnessed another of her friends die.
“Better keep your distance then.” She replies, in probably the only Tomb Raider moment of the new trilogy.
By the very end of the game she finally has her guns back, she is standing triumphant over her captor as well as an ancient Japanese ghost, and her thirst for more adventure is awoken. Pretty awesome as far as origin stories go. Not the Lara of the past, for sure, but a satisfying tie-in to the old awesome action heroine we were waiting for. But sadly, there were more games to come.

I was baffled to learn that throughout the next game Lara NEVER held two pistols. Instead she got shoved into the new Hunger Games action heroine mold of “badass lady with a bow”. Everything that game one was building up to was gone. No wit, no humor, just the same stealth-action protagonist from the last game.

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I understand that much of this must have been game engine limitations, which is why the plot of the second game followed the first one’s formula so closely, but that was far from the only problem with new Lara. I did not recognize this girl. She was… boring. I wish there were a better way for me to say it, but that’s it. Never did she have anything but the most cookie-cuter, straight forward dialog.
“Forgive my daughter. She can be overcautious.” says Jacob, after his daughter just threatened to kill her.
“In her place, I would be the same way.” she replies, with no intonation, no expression of any kind. Old Lara would definitely have had something witty to say in that situation. Not even an attempt. And the game is just full of moments like these. Worst of all is the scene where Lara is standing over the defeated Trinity leader, Constantine, surrounded by fire and crumbling ruin. A situation practically served for a badass one-liner.
“It was not supposed to be like this.” he says, grasping his wound. “This was my destiny!”
“This was never your destiny.” She replies. Again absent any emotion what so ever.
I’d go on, but you get it at this point. Suffice it to say that I was hoping the latest game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider would at least try to bring some of the old Lara back, but no. Just more of the same. Boring dialog, no emotion save for constant self doubt and deprecation, no dual pistols.

Regardless of what the future brings for Lara, she will always be that same amazing influence on me that she has been. She was the first woman I remember for being in what was typically considered a male role, and she absolutely killed it. It makes me sad that new generations will see her as this female action hero stereotype they made her into, without any outstanding personality or traits of her own, but the games are receiving plenty of critical praise, and they’re all financial successes so… maybe it’s me. I hope to see the Tomb Raider truly return one day in all her former glory, in new settings and with new perspectives, but still remaining true to what made her into the icon she is. But if that Lara is truly gone, well, the old games aren’t going anywhere. Let the new fans have their hero. I already have mine.

DeviantArt link.

I’m considering buying an EA game at release

Here is a strange turn of events. I hate Electronic Arts. Despite growing up with the company being a permanent influence on my childhood I absolutely despise them on account of the crap they’ve been pulling for the past decade or so. I hold them single-handedly responsible for the ruination of one of my favorite sci-fi franchises (Mass Effect), I consider them one of the most prominent builders of the video game industry’s most resilient creative dead-end (But keep working Activision-Blizz, you are catching up!), and the sheer amount of unrestrained greed they exhibit at every release boggles my mind. And yet, for the first time I’m actually considering buying one of their upcoming games on release.

Trailers for Battlefield V have been under bombardment since they appeared on the web, just as the reveal of the game’s box art, that features (dramatic pause) A WOMAN!!! Now anyone who attacks the game for this has already either stopped reading, or  has already written their response as to how wrong I am, even though I have literally not even started arguing yet. I know I am inviting trouble by even addressing any of this, but you know what? I started this site in part to share my thoughts on popular subjects. So here it goes.

Above this paragraph you can see the controversial trailer I mentioned earlier. As with all Youtube videos, however, the real entertainment is in the comments (provided you are not too squeamish about human stupidity, and what I really can’t call anything other than insecure sexism). To WWII enthusiasts I’m sure the problem is blatantly apparent: Women during the second World War were not front line fighters, despite what this trailer seems to be depicting. The response to this (as well as to the prosthetic arm) were, to say the least, a disaster. The irony is that besides those points, the trailer is as bog standard as they get. Now I’m sure that there will be tuning, and mechanical improvements, and quality of life improvements from previous games, but for someone like me, who is bored to death of the myriad of military FPS games, nothing at all new or interesting was shown. Just the bloody women.

Now before anyone starts tossing around the SJW accusations, I honesty think that this is good, but my reasons have nothing to do with social justice. Beyond the fact, that I truly believe diversity is a good thing, my reasons for liking this are purely selfish ones. You see, I like women. I pretty much always feel more comfortable in their presence than men, and I find them more intellectually stimulating to interact with as well (Though I’m sure this has much to do with the specific company I find myself in. Yay, Hungary… ). However, video games are foreign to many of the women in my circles. They either don’t care about them, or just don’t know enough about them to form any opinions. Since video games are possibly my most prominent hobby, that means that favorite conversation topic is useless. I want more women to like games. I want them to enjoy the hobby as much as I do. Thus I want them to feel welcome in the world of video games. It honesty blows my mind that there are so many men (or lets be honest, boys) who cling to the opposite.

Inclusiveness is probably the one thing EA consistently does that is good. The first FIFA game to include women’s teams was the first sports game I wanted to play since FIFA 2004. I remember thinking that this might be one of the ways to help elevate women’s football by making it popular among young girls, just as the men’s game is among young boys. Having Battlefront 2’s main character be a female imperial was also a breath of fresh air (that admittedly turned sour after she almost immediately joined the rebels…). Of all the shitty practices that EA indulges in I see no reason to chastise the company for one of the few good things it regularly does.

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The “historical accuracy” argument I actually find hilarious though. I am not well versed in the topic, so I don’t know if women occasionally fighting on the front lines was a thing or not (outside the French resistance). But at the same time I can’t help but roll my eyes at the sheer stupidity of bringing up the problem of realism in a Battlefield game. Were all these outraged people attacking EA with torches and pitchforks over the previous game, where half the soldiers on a World War I battlefield ran around with automatic weapons, or every other ludicrous piece of technology that at most only existed as prototypes at the time? We are talking about a franchise, nay, a genre where soldiers run around battlefields discarding half-loaded clips, or clips they fired a few shots out of. Where combatants can move at full speed after taking on multiple bullet shots, and even the slightly annoying red blur that covers their vision disappears after a few bandages are applied. Where death lasts no more than 30 seconds at most. When games are designed, the point is to take aspects of real life and adjust them to fit the comfort level of the players. To make deadly scenarios slightly less deadly. To make frustrating elements less frustrating, or even fun and exhilarating. They already bent the rules of physics and biology to make these games more enjoyable, I see this as no different. If anyone ever made a historically accurate FPS, it would be the most boring, non-enjoyable experience ever. War is not fun.

It’s also worth mentioning that the usual predatory business practices EA use in their big-budget titles are not going to be present here. Or at least that is what they have been saying as of my writing this (trust for EA is in short supply). In essence this is no different from when Marvel Comics made the character of Thor into a woman, or made Captain America black, or Spider-man Hispanic. Huge controversy, but in the end the comics never really changed anything. The same will happen here. People will realize, once they get over the anachronistic fighting females, that this is still just a Battlefield game. Another WWII FPS, that have been made a billion times in the past. And for that reason it will sell like all the rest, and both EA and the butthurt audience will move on like they always have. And maybe, just maybe, a change like this might bring on some new fans to the franchise, who now feel that much more comfortable with the character they get to play as (like myself, for instance). And honestly, those who decide to get out on the count of women and social justice “invading” their games, I feel justified in saying that gaming is better off without them.