31/31 Day 1001: A Balance of Shades - Will Sora Layton Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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31/31 Day 1001: A Balance of Shades

We are constantly at war. No, not just gamers: all humanity. We are constantly at war against an enemy that we can never win against. What is that war? It's a war between us and darkness. No, we're not trying to eliminate every single little shadow in the world, we're not fighting some aliens from a darkened planet. We're simply against the ideas associated with darkness: greed, despair, the unknown, and more negative thoughts, are all acquainted with the idea of darkness. Within the world of gaming, the war does take on a new level, with real battles waged over the two polar opposites.

Open a new door, not of light, nor darkness, but balance.

For a long, long time, we've been told that the darkness is bad. Wrong, something to not be touched, or associated with. We constantly want to turn the lights on, we want to make our hearts full of light instead of darkness. We want to see the sun rise, not the sun set. Today, we're going to take a long, hard journey through the night, so that we may eventually find the light of the truth...or, basically, my argument.

First, don't get me wrong: I'm a huge fan of this age-old fight between light and dark, black and white, or whatever you want to call them. I love the idea of there being a clash between such polar opposites, where anything can really occur. Several of my favorite games deal with these forces, like Alan Wake, Kingdom Hearts, and The Legend of Zelda. They, and many, many more titles, all convey a sense that the light is pure, and the dark tainted. While old historical and religious texts may say things like this, I don't believe that 100% of the time this is true.

A simple divide, but one we've seen before.

One of my favorite underrated games is a licensed one that was, critically, not met very well. If you recognize the above image, you know I'm talking about Spider-man: Web of Shadows. Sure, the game wasn't fantastic, but I think it should be given credit for trying to do something unique with its story. The game features small points where you can choose if Spider-man makes a decision that is more toward justice, or more toward hate. Also, spending more time in the Symbiote suit versus the normal suit will change how civilians see you, and will change if they clap or runaway. While this doesn't go Fallout level or anything, this was the first time I can think of that I had real choice in a game, and also, one of the first real times there was this light versus darkness conflict really highlighted. 

Another title I played around this time was the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time. The story has multiple arcs and different antagonists, but they all have something in common: they're dark, ghost, or poison type, unless the Pokémon is possessed. Why are these Pokemon the ones who are evil? There's going to be some Absol or Mawhile that's good, right? Going more with Pokémon, the Ranger series' second installment has an evil organization named Team Dim Sun. Why must these people with evil in their hearts be described as being dark? There are other ways, as I hope to make you agree.

Within the Mario universe, I think it's safe to say everyone is for the light, except Bowser, who uses attacks of darkness. We never see any sort of Mario attack that involves the power of darkness in any way. There's only ones that are dealing with other things separate from light and darkness, as well as the invincibility star, which makes Mario a rainbow color, and is thus attributed to light, and that kills is an instant way to kill a being of darkness, aka, one of Bowser's minions. Even in the game Bowser's Inside Story, the main antagonist, Fawful, is searching for something sealed up called the Dark Star-um, why does something Dark have to sealed up? Does being dark make it evil?

Dark Lord Ganondorf. Wait, why is it ALWAYS dark?

However, these uses pale in comparison to the Legend of Zelda's uses of the dual opposites. In every, and I mean, every, Zelda game, the main antagonist is associated with darkness. Whether they be the Ruler of Twilight, or the Demon King, or King of Thieves, or whatever, they fight with darkness. What else is there to really say? Some of the most fearsome enemies are called Darknuts. The Windfish in Link's Awakening is having a Nightmare caused by an entity affiliated with darkness. Every time you defeat an enemy, or a boss, they burst into a cloud of darkness, which fades away. And what's the most powerful item in the Zelda series? The Silver, or Light arrows, which, in some cases, take out an enemy in one hit. 

For one more look at the traditional way of light versus darkness: Kingdom Hearts. One of my favorite franchises, it focuses heavily on the two opposites, with there being Keyblades of both like and darkness, a Door to Light and a Door to Darkness, as well as the Realm of Light and Realm of Darkness. Light is shown to be an all-good force, while those of the darkness are almost always evil, sans some Nobodies who can use the darkness as a power. The barrier between them cannot be overstated: the series is entirely focused on this mechanic. 

If you think I'm bashing all these great franchises for using darkness and light in a stereotypical way, you're wrong. On the contrary, I applaud these games for bringing light versus darkness to new levels, and exploring things like contrasting worlds, new ideas, and even the in-between, like Twilight Town and The Twilight Realm. However, there is something I do want you to take away from all these games I've just mentioned, and that is this idea, well, isn't original by any means. Sure, they've taken it to new heights, but are any of us surprised anymore hearing that the main villain is associated with darkness?

"I fight with light"

One recent title that is probably the game that has really gone forward with light and dark in a new way is Alan Wake. The series has the titular protagonist wield a flashlight, a flare gun, flashbangs, and flares that repel the dark creatures he faces. The game is not unlike the others listed before, as it never has darkness be any sort of weapon, and makes out anything associated with darkness to be evil, and an enemy to Alan Wake. However, there's something very, very critical from the Alan Wake series that feeds very well into my argument. In the short spin-off/sequel title, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, there's a song that's played, called Balance Slays the Demon.

The lyrics and name of the song can pretty much start as the opening to my main argument, so let's analyze parts of them. First, a couple stanzas in, we see

"Even the light cast a shadow, 
Even the night springs from the light"

This infers that light and darkness are the causes of each other, that they are connected in a very special way. When you do one, you get the other. Now, following these two lines, we get four more that are very, very important. 

"In the end, it's never just the light you need, 
When balance slays the demon, you'll find peace, 
In the end, it's never just the dark you seek, 
When balance slays the demon, you'll find peace"

Both the first and third lines of this stanza indicate that darkness and light cannot exist alone, that they need each other, and exist with each other. Wake's goal in the games is to fight the Dark Presence, and create peace, but in order to do that, "it's [not] just the light you need". What Wake, and what conversely, WE need...is balance. Only that can bring peace to Alan Wake, and slay the demon that is the Dark Presence, and it's the only thing that can really shake up the idea of light versus darkness. The key word is balance.

Yes, balance of the two is of the utmost importance.

I first came across the concept of a balance between light and darkness, of all places, in the anime Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. I'm probably the only one who loved that show. Anyway, in one of the middle seasons, the main conflict centers around an organization called the Society of Light, who is, *gasp* not about darkness! Their goal, however, isn't to simply make darkness go away: it's to tip the scales between the two, in their favor. The protagonist, Jaden Yuki, doesn't fight with darkness, light, or anything: he simply tries to stop them from changing the very balance that exists in their world. That's what I'm arguing for here. 

I may love the idea of dark and light fighting, but thinking about it, it's been done so very often, that I want a shake-up in the formula. I'd like to see stories focused more around this idea, of fighting foes who upset the balance between the two forces. Darkness is not necessarily bad-we can have enemies who simply want to use it or light for power, and then upset the balance to get that power. I want that constant war that's going on to take a break, and make way for a new one. Give the darkness a break-sometimes, a blanket of darkness is more comforting than a harsh light. The darkness has its own ups and downs, and so does the light, and that's what should be explored more. That doesn't mean make an antagonist be some evil force of light, though that would be cool: what I want is a focus on balance.

Just think, for example-what if the current day-night cycle was upset? What if there was more light, or more darkness, in a sudden, radical change (forget daylight-savings time. :P)? That would be a change that would upset the current balance we already have in our daily lives. Imagine if we had something alone the lines in a game: what would that be like? A breath of fresh air, I think, and a new way to experiment with story-telling. I'd be stoked to see a story really break that ground. I want to see something maybe even where we don't ever pick a side at all: we just make sure the scales are weighed equally.

If you have any thoughts on this idea, or maybe even a game that has taken that direction a bit, sound off below!

They've forever been tipped one way...balance them, and give us a story.

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