326. TMTF Reviews: Socrates Jones – Pro Philosopher

Philosophy is a daunting subject.

Believe me, I know. One of my uncles is a philosophy professor. He has a tremendous beard, an office full of books, and a tendency to use words like epistemology in everyday conversation. I also have a bunch of cousins who studied philosophy. When my relatives on that side of the family gather for a meal or holiday, their conversations can get really academic.

(These relatives also talk a lot about football—I refer to soccer, by the way, not that violent American sport. Their discussions of sports are even harder for me to understand than their talks about philosophy.)

I’ve studied some philosophy, but I’m no expert. Thus I was intrigued when a reader of this blog graciously recommended a video game titled Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher. As the name suggests, it’s an homage to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I love the Ace Attorney games, which bring together clever mysteries and bombastic melodrama, and the idea of a game in the same style about philosophy interested me very much.

That said, I must echo Hamlet and ask a big philosophical question: To play or not to play?

Socrates Jones title

Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher (Available online, 2013)

Bringing out both the best and worst of Ace Attorney games, Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher is a cursory yet clever and entertaining exploration of moral philosophy.

TMTF Reviews - Socrates Jones

Give Me Philosophy or Give Me Death!

Socrates Jones, a simple accountant with an ordinary life, can’t understand his family’s obsession with philosophy. He prefers crunching numbers to arguing about abstract ideas. However, when a car crash lands him and his daughter Ariadne in an afterlife reserved for philosophers, Socrates gets one chance to reclaim their lives. He must debate a series of famous philosophers and resolve one of the Big Questions: What is morality and where does it come from?

I’ll be honest: Socrates Jones is basically a short Ace Attorney game that replaces attorneys with philosophers. Do you know what? That’s a really good thing.

For those unfamiliar with Ace Attorney, I should mention that each game has two main components: crime investigations and legal trials. Socrates Jones borrows the mechanics of the trials and makes a few key changes. Philosophers take the place of attorneys; philosophical theories are submitted instead of witness testimonies; ideas, not physical evidence, are presented as rebuttals. The courtroom structure of Ace Attorney works astonishingly well for philosophy.

Socrates Jones imitates not just the mechanics of Ace Attorney, but also its exaggerated style and sense of humor. Socrates and his opponents are funny, memorable, and well-written. I love how Ace Attorney‘s iconic cries of “OBJECTION!” are replaced in Socrates Jones by indignant exclamations of “NONSENSE!”

Socrates Jones screenshot

The philosophers themselves are a quirky bunch. When Socrates meets Thomas Hobbes, that famous thinker says gruffly, “You should know, Mr. Jones, that my mother gave birth to twins. Myself, and FEAR. By the end of the day, you will be thoroughly acquainted with both of us.” Immanuel Kant introduces himself in a similarly grandiose manner, only to add that he felt boasting was necessary “to fulfill the prerequisite grandstanding.”

For a game developed by philosophy students and Ace Attorney fans, Socrates Jones is remarkably well-crafted. The game even innovates upon its source material by adding a more robust system for questioning statements. In Ace Attorney, the player can question each statement in a testimony. Socrates Jones takes the system several steps farther by allowing players to ask three questions: Would you clarify your statement? Can you back up this statement? How is this statement related to your argument? By asking the right questions, Socrates trims away the flaws and irrelevancies of his opponents’ arguments.

This game is more than just a game—it’s the Sophie’s World of video games, a set of philosophy lessons wrapped in the appealing package of a good story. Socrates Jones does a pretty good job of setting up the arguments of historical philosophers, and then poking holes in them.

Speaking of poking holes in things….

The Value of the Imperfect

Toward the end of the game, Socrates makes a point that even flawed things can be good. “Things do not have to be ‘perfect’ to add value to the world,” he insists, and he’s absolutely right—fortunately for him. Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher has two kind of problems. It’s imperfect as a game, and it’s also incomplete as a philosophy lesson.

The game’s faults aren’t severe—in fact, they’re the exact faults of the Ace Attorney series. Deconstructing a statement can be a matter of trial and error; the “right” questions and “correct” rebuttals, as decided by the game’s developers, may be counterintuitive to the player’s way of thinking.

Socrates Jones is a philosophy lesson, not just a game. The game’s arguments aren’t bad, but they have one unavoidable problem: they are scripted. The player is on rails, able to ask only preselected questions and reach predestined conclusions. Socrates Jones excels as brief exploration of moral philosophy, but it’s no substitute for a real discussion.

Short, Sweet, Funny Philosophy

Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher is a short, fun foray into moral philosophy. It isn’t perfect as either a game or a philosophy lesson, yet succeeds in being both entertaining and educational.

Anyone interested in philosophy, the Ace Attorney series, or an enjoyable exercise in critical thinking should take two or three hours to play through the game. After all, Socrates Jones and his daughter are philosophizing for their lives, and they could use a little help!

Thanks for reading! If you have a moment, please check out TMTF’s charity fundraisers this month and make this Christmas awesome for a person in need!

284. TMTF’s Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games

It would be tough to live in a video game.

Seriously, I wouldn’t last two minutes. If I were extremely fortunate, I might end up in a nice, nonviolent title like Animal Crossing or Professor Layton. I would more likely blunder into a racing game, fantasy RPG or first-person shooter and be run over, beheaded or blown to bits. Even family-friendly titles like Mario Kart offer plenty of opportunities for violence and mayhem. (Curse you, blue shells!)

With perils, pitfalls, monsters, explosions, blades, bullets, traps, tyrants or bottomless pits at every turn, life as a video game character must be tough. It makes sense, then, for video game characters to be tough dudes. Today, dear reader, we will look at ten of the toughest.

For the purpose of this list, toughness is defined as the quality of being durable, stoic, intimidating and that word I can’t use. The usual top ten list rules apply: only characters from games I’ve played, only one character per game series, no licensed characters from other media (e.g. Han Solo or Indiana Jones) and so forth.

Toughen up, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games!

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

10. Wobbuffet (Pokémon series)

Wobbuffet

At this point there are more than seven hundred Pokémon, representing all kinds of creatures and concepts. It makes perfect sense, then, that there is a punching bag Pokémon. In battle, Wobbuffet doesn’t ever strike first, but receives blows and then counterattacks. The stoic, patient way it takes its enemies’ attacks is astonishing.

9. Chell (Portal series)

Chell

Chell isn’t a dude, per se, but the mute protagonist of the Portal games is as tough as they come. Unfazed by deadly traps, frightening falls and the childish taunting of a deranged opponent, Chell solves puzzles and cheats death with a deadpan expression and stubborn silence that would make Clint Eastwood proud.

8. Link (Legend of Zelda series)

Tough Link

Link is an all-purpose hero, navigating dark dungeons, solving puzzles, defeating monsters and wielding an endless array of weapons with effortless aplomb. Neither horrifying enemies nor baffling riddles seem to trouble him in the slightest, and no obstacle or pitfall ever derails his adventures. Link would be much higher on this list if he were not so adorable.

7. Jim Raynor (StarCraft)

Jim Raynor

Jim Raynor—a man covered in tattoos and ammunition, and probably smelling of whiskey, tobacco and engine grease—is a marshal-turned-outlaw-turned-hero. Bringing together the grit of a Wild West lawman and the tactical brilliance of an admiral, this spacefaring marine is betrayed by humans, hunted by space monsters and feared by practically everyone.

6. Bowser (Mario series)

Bowser

Bowser may be surly, self-absorbed and not very bright, but there’s no denying he’s tougher than iron. This hulking monster survives eight plunges into molten lava in his first game alone. The games that follow subject Bowser to falls, beatings and all kinds of injuries, yet the only thing he ever seems to bruise is his ego.

Update: My younger brother corrected me by pointing out that Bowser plunges into lava only once in his first game, not eight times. Notwithstanding this correction, Bowser is a pretty tough dude.

5. Samus Aran (Metroid series)

Samus Aran

Samus Aran, like Chell, isn’t a dude, but that never keeps her from being resourceful, independent and ridiculously tough. Venturing alone onto enemy spaceships and hostile planets, Samus guns down the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals and escapes without a scratch. Truly, hell hath no fury like a woman with a laser cannon.

4. Tyrell Badd (Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth)

Tyrell Badd

Look at those bullet holes. Look at them. Even Tyrell Badd’s necktie has bullet holes. I can only surmise that the bullets, after passing through his tie, simply bounced off Badd. This hard-bitten homicide detective is a man of few words. Really, his coat says it all. By the way, that’s not a cigarette in his mouth, nor is he grabbing a gun when he reaches abruptly into his pocket. No, that’s a sucker in his mouth, and he’s reaching for a hand mirror. It’s a testament to his toughness that Badd makes even these effeminate items seem intimidating.

3. Leon S. Kennedy (Resident Evil 4)

Leon S. Kennedy

Nothing seems to faze this tough-as-nails government agent: not homicidal maniacs with chainsaws, not mutated monstrosities, not even the whiny college student he is sent to rescue. Leon S. Kennedy calmly and professionally handles every crisis, making every bullet count, thinking on his feet and suplexing anyone who gets too close. His tireless persistence and grace under pressure are remarkable.

2. Auron (Final Fantasy X)

I’m not sure I even need to say anything about this guy. Auron’s sword is nearly as big as he is, for heaven’s sake! He often fights one-handed simply because he can. His clothes are equal parts samurai and gunslinger, with an awesome pair of shades for good measure. Auron is noble and courteous, but takes no nonsense and will cut any obstacle into very tiny pieces. Oh, and one final thing: Auron is dead. Not even death can stop this man. He lingers for one final adventure simply because he has unfinished business in the land of the living. Heroes hardly get tougher than that!

1. Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid series)

Naked Snake

Naked Snake is the perfect soldier: an unstoppable combination of sniper, spy and infantryman. He sneaks through jungles and military bases, enduring harsh weather, surviving on rats and snakes, digging bullets out of his body with a knife and patching up his wounds before charging (or sneaking) back onto the battlefield. Snake defeats legendary soldiers, destroys massive war machines and prevents worldwide nuclear war at least three times. Then, tired of serving a corrupt government, he becomes a mercenary, creates his own nation-state and nearly conquers the world. (Note also his wicked eye patch.) There is no tougher dude in video games than this man.

O people of the Internet, what tough video game dudes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

252. About Storytelling: Endearing Quirks

When I was in high school, I had a teacher named Mr. Quiring whose legendary silliness I have mentioned one or twice before on this blog.

For example, he once removed his necktie and unbuttoned his shirt during class to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with the Batman logo. (He wasn’t really Batman, sadly.) At various times, Mr. Quiring pelted me with chocolate, brandished a meat cleaver and leaped off a chair shouting “To infinitives and beyond!”

The reason Mr. Quiring’s antics amused me so much is that he is not a silly person. Quite the contrary: Mr. Quiring is one of the most intelligent, dignified gentlemen I have ever known. It’s as though he compressed all the humor and silliness of ordinary people into short, intense bursts. Every time he did something outrageous, he reverted immediately afterward to his solemn self.

Mr. Quiring provides fine examples of endearing quirks: those funny little habits of real people or fictional characters that make us love them.

Some fictional characters are simply masses of endearing character quirks. Wooton Bassett, the mailman from Adventures in Odyssey, has too many odd habits to count: collecting fast food toys, expressing his feelings by the color of his slippers, baking jellybean casseroles and exiting his house via a slide. Wooton is fully capable of thoughtful introspection, but he’s mostly just hilarious.

Wooton BassettSome characters are less silly, balancing funny quirks with tragic flaws or struggles. Consider the Doctor from Doctor Who and Vash the Stampede from Trigun. The Doctor is an intergalactic goofball, bouncing around the universe with a beaming face and a slew of witty remarks. Vash is a gunslinger who obsesses over doughnuts, whines like a child and walks into a firefight with a trashcan lid on his head.

My thanks to my younger bro for permission to use his artwork!

My thanks to my younger bro for permission to use his artwork!

Vash and the Doctor seem sillier than Wooton, but their quirks mask profound inner turmoil. The Doctor despises himself. His travels throughout space and time are not a careless vacation, but his way of running away from past mistakes. Vash also has a lot to hide. The body beneath the overcoat is covered in horrific scars, and the man behind the goofy grin is tormented by regret for the lives he couldn’t save.

In the case of Wooton, endearing quirks are a form of comedy. The quirks of Vash and the Doctor serve a different purpose. Their odd habits hide sad struggles, and make the viewer feel more when their stories take turns for the tragic. After all, it’s easier to feel sorry for funny characters than for serious ones.

Then there is Miles Edgeworth, the friendly rival of Phoenix Wright from the Ace Attorney series. Like Mr. Quiring, Edgeworth is dignified, composed and intelligent.

Miles Edgeworth

Edgeworth also has a secret.

This respected prosecutor is secretly a fan of Steel Samurai, a cheesy show for kids about a futuristic warrior and his neverending fight for justice. Edgeworth vehemently denies liking the show, of course… but there’s his inexplicable knowledge of Steel Samurai trivia and the Steel Samurai action figure in his office.

In the case of super-serious people like Mr. Edgeworth, a single quirk can make a cold, distant character seem a little more human. Liking Steel Samurai is a weakness, but not a sin. We can respect Edgeworth, and we can also laugh at him.

Carelessly loading a character with endearing quirks is a mistake: too many odd habits, or quirks that seem out of place, are irritating. Used intentionally, however, endearing quirks can develop great characters—and make us laugh!

A Video Game Character, Lost and Found

Larry and Cid

These are two unrelated video game characters… or are they?!

Yeah, they really are.

All the same, my younger brother and I couldn’t help but notice a distinct similarity. On the left we have Larry Butz: the short-tempered, dimwitted Casanova wannabe from the Ace Attorney series. On the right, we have the well-meaning but cowardly Cid Randell from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a tragically underrated strategy game. Both men are losers, and their resemblance is striking. What if, we wondered, they were the same person?

I mean, just look at their in-game portraits.

Larry and Cid (Portraits)

Coincidence? Yes—they come from games developed by separate companies—but it’s still fun to imagine these losers are the same guy. I’ll be the first to admit our theory is absurd, but it springs from the same great question that lies at the heart of all great stories…

What if?

Phoenix Wright Is Back

Dash it, Phoenix. I missed you. Welcome back.

It’s been more than five years since Phoenix Wright, the sarcastic and spiky-haired star of the (surprisingly fun) Ace Attorney games, has defended the innocent in court. Tomorrow marks his triumphant return to the courtroom as a defense attorney in the latest Ace Attorney game. I expect it to be full of clever crimes, plot twists, great music, sarcastic quips and melodramatic objections.

In celebration of this long-awaited occasion, here’s a brief recap of Wright’s early years.

213. TMTF’s Top Ten Life Lessons in Video Games

Wisdom can be found in unexpected places.

As we search for truth in literature, faith, philosophy and the lives of great people, we mustn’t overlook the lessons to be learned from BatmanDoctor Who, cartoon ponies and webcomics about video games. Speaking of which, video games have invaluable lessons to impart: useful principles that can be applied for success in real life.

What? You don’t believe me?

All right, then! Ladies and gentlemen, consider these practical principles as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Life Lessons in Video Games!

10. Be Creative in Solving Problems

As tempting as it can be for gamers to try solving everything with violence, some obstacles can’t be shot, hacked or blown away. Puzzles require critical thinking. Some enemies require timing and strategy, not brute force, to conquer. Players have to be creative in solving problems, and creativity is an invaluable gift.

9. Observation Is Important

Anyone who plays a Legend of Zelda game quickly learns to keep his eyes open for cracked walls. Apply explosives to a damaged wall and—boom!—a way is opened. In video games, good things come to those who notice stuff. Video games teach players not merely to hear and see, but to listen and observe.

8. Appreciate Beauty

I love solving puzzles and defeating enemies as much as the next gamer. All the same, one of my favorite things about video games is how darn pretty they can be. (Yes, video games can be beautiful. Like brushstrokes or pencil shading, pixels can make lovely pictures.) Players are treated to sunrises and forests and ocean views, and appreciating beauty in artificial environments is a step toward appreciating it in natural ones.

7. Plan Ahead

Bad things happen to those who are unprepared. The person playing a Final Fantasy game will be annihilated by a tough boss if she hasn’t leveled up her characters or stocked up on healing potions. The person playing a Mario Kart game will lose if he hasn’t bothered figuring out the controls. This brings us to the real world, where the person taking a test or applying for a job will fail if she hasn’t planned ahead and made necessary preparations. Once again, video games reflect how things work in real life.

6. Stay Calm

The player who panics and starts mashing buttons will most often lose, and gamers get plenty of opportunities to panic. It can be hard to stay calm when facing that tricky jump or twisty racetrack or nigh-invincible boss, but rational decision-making is more likely to lead to success than wild overreaction. People who learn to keep cool under pressure while playing video games are better equipped to keep cool under pressure while doing everything else.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

I stink at fighting games: kicks and combos and Hadoukens baffle me. There is, however, one kind of fighting game in which I will destroy you: a Super Smash Bros. game. (My younger brother is a rare exception to this rule; he defeats me effortlessly.) As a kid, I resolved to learn to play Super Smash Bros. to enjoy the game with friends. Mastering the game took time and effort and many failures… and it was totally worth it. Practice makes perfect. At the very least, practice makes better. Video games remind us of the fact.

4. It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

With these cautionary words, the first Legend of Zelda game echoes something in another famous work: a book called the Bible. Quoth the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” In other words, It’s dangerous to go alone.

3. You Reap What You Sow

So you’re playing a Final Fantasy game, slaying monsters, saving the world, when your quest is interrupted by some woman who wants you to gather medicines to heal a wounded traveler. A nuisance? Yes. You gather the medicines, the traveler recovers—and your kindness is rewarded. Another example: You take a break from your adventure in a Legend of Zelda game to attack a chicken. You’re enjoying yourself—after all, hacking away at defenseless fowl is fun—until the chicken decides to fight back, and your cruelty is punished with death. Seriously. For better or for worse, we reap what we sow. This biblical principle is common in video games.

2. Success Is an Investment

You can’t traverse that treacherous pitfall in a Mario game? Keep trying. You can’t conquer that unbeatable boss in a Kingdom Hearts game? Keep fighting. You can’t get your client acquitted in an Ace Attorney game? Keep gathering evidence. Sooner or later, you’ll pass that pitfall or flatten that boss or prove your client’s innocence. Now consider the real world. You can’t pass a class? Keep studying. You can’t afford something? Keep saving. You can’t achieve a goal? Keep working at it. No matter where you turn, success is an investment.

1. Good Guys Win

The world is full of terrible, selfish people who seem to succeed. Video games are no different. There are monsters, jerks and villains who triumph by lying, cheating and backstabbing. In the end, an overwhelming majority of those bad guys are brought to justice. The good guys—the guys who strive and fight and sacrifice to help others—win. You know what? In our world, the same thing happens. We need to be reminded that good guys sometimes win.

O people of the Internet, what useful lessons have you learned from video games? Let us know in the comments!

A Collection of Fabulous Video Game Mustaches

Stache Stash

Clockwise, beginning at the top right: Yang (Final Fantasy), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Dr. Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog), Dr. Wily (Mega Man), Wario (Super Mario Bros.), Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid), Don Paolo (Professor Layton) and Marvin Grossberg (Ace Attorney).

This is a collection of magnificent video game mustaches: a stache stash, if you will. Which is best? My money is on Mario’s mustache. It lacks the extravagant flair and staggering size of the competition, yet it boasts an understated charm.

174. TMTF’s Top Ten Hats in Video Games

I recently learned of an indie game titled Fez. The game’s protagonist wears a fez, presumably because fezzes are cool. (We all know this.) This game reminded me that characters in video games have some pretty sweet hats.

As a gamer, blogger and proud owner of several hats, I believe it’s my solemn duty to decide which video game hats are the best.

The following rules apply: I’ll choose hats only from games I’ve played, and I’ll select no more than one hat from any game series. Only original video game hats are permitted: no hats from licensed characters like Indiana Jones or Donald Duck. Hoods, helmets, headbands, ribbons and all headgear except hats and caps are disqualified from this list.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, hats off as TMTF proudly presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hats in Video Games!

10. Quote’s Baseball Cap (Cave Story)

Quote's Baseball Cap

Quote, the amnesiac hero of indie classic Cave Story, manages to look quite heroic in a simple baseball cap. The hat isn’t particularly fancy or elegant, but its bright white and red design helps Quote’s pixelated figure stand out against the muted blacks and browns of Cave Story‘s subterranean locales. On an entirely different note, do the buttons on Quote’s hat remind anyone else of Mickey Mouse’s shorts?

9. Cormano’s Sombrero (Sunset Riders)

Cormano's Sombrero

This Mexican gunslinger, who has been described as “either groundbreakingly inclusive or an offensive stereotype, take your pick,” is a playable character from Sunset Riders for the SNES. The game consists mostly of shooting stuff. Cormano’s skill with a rifle is belied by his sombrero, which is colored bright magenta and shaped like a taco. Never has the Old West been so fabulous!

8. Shadi Smith’s Pork Pie Hat (Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney)

Shadi Smith's Pork Pie Hat

Not since Buster Keaton has anyone looked so good in a pork pie. Despite being a shifty character with questionable ethics, Shadi Smith is a really sharp dresser. There are many fantastic hats in the Ace Attorney series, from magician’s top hats to policewomen’s berets, but none seems more stylish or elegant than Shadi Smith’s classy pork pie hat.

7. Carmen Sandiego’s Fedora (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?)

Carmen Sandiego's Fedora

As a child, I played Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on my family’s ancient black-and-white Apple Macintosh. (I’m pretty sure the above picture of Ms. Sandiego comes from another game in the series, but it’s the best I could find.) It was educational gaming at its finest: besides learning about geography and national flags, I got a taste of fashion from Carmen Sandiego’s criminally fabulous fedora.

6. Red’s Baseball Cap (Pokémon FireRed)

Red's Baseball Cap

This one was a toss-up between the hats worn by Red from Pokémon and Ness from Earthbound. Red won because his baseball cap is quite a bit cooler. (Besides, Red’s cap in the original Pokémon Red was the inspiration for Ash Ketchum’s iconic hat in the Pokémon anime.) Like Quote, Red takes a common item of casual apparel and makes it seem dashing and even heroic.

5. Agent Chieftain’s Stetson (Elite Beat Agents)

Agent Chieftan's Stetson

Elite Beat Agents is a wonderful rhythm game for the Nintendo DS in which government secret agents assist people in desperate need by invoking the inspirational power of song and dance. (Yes, the game is every bit as weird—and awesome—as it sounds.) Agent Chieftain, a senior agent of the Elite Beat Agency, flaunts a flashy Stetson that adds a dash of cowboy flair to his plain suit and tie.

4. Red Mage’s Wizard Hat (Final Fantasy III)

Red Mage's Wizard Hat

Although the Black Mages from the Final Fantasy series have neat hats, the Red Mages earn this place on the list with their gorgeous crimson hats adorned with snowy feathers. Other Final Fantasy characters have clunky helmets, dull hats or plain hoods. Red Mages alone uphold the lofty standards of fashion while defending their worlds from demons, dragons and other monsters.

3. Mario’s Flat Cap (Super Mario 64)

Mario's Flat Cap

How could I not include Mario’s cap? It’s indisputably the most famous video game hat in the world, and definitely one of the neatest. Mario’s cap from Super Mario 64 deserves special mention for giving Mario superpowers, including flight. Few things in video games have been more fun for me than soaring around the game’s locales with Mario’s winged cap. Like its owner, this hat is remarkable.

2. Professor Layton’s Top Hat (Professor Layton and the Curious Village)

Livewire-AGE

I have absolutely nothing to add.

1. Link’s… Cap? (The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap)

Link's... Cap

Link’s cap is one of the most iconic elements of the Legend of Zelda series. It’s instantly recognizable—seriously, how many legendary heroes wear green pointed caps? Link achieves an incredible feat in every Zelda game by looking cool in a hat that wouldn’t seem out of place on one of Santa’s elves. As much as I like it, I wouldn’t give Link’s cap the number one spot on this list if it weren’t for one detail: it talks. In The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Link is joined on his quest by Ezlo, an enchanted hat who gives advice, grumbles, cracks jokes and turns out to be one of the most engaging characters in the entire Zelda series. For its iconic status, surprisingly cool appearance and amusing dialogue—I can’t believe I’m saying this about a hat—Link’s cap is TMTF’s pick for the best hat in a video game.

O people of the Internet, what great video game hats would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

167. About Writing: Narrative Structure

Two brief personal notes: First, my ever-changing schedule has reverted to normal. For now, I’m back to working during the day and sleeping at night like an ordinary person. Second, my thanks to everyone who took part in Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day! It’s totally happening again on March 4 next year!

This blog hasn’t had a proper About Writing post since… October. Ouch.

Let’s fix that.

Narrative structure is a phrase I use to describe the way a story is told: a catch-all term for those fun, creative storytelling techniques that make a story different.

There are many ways to tell a story. Most stories begin at the beginning and end at the end. Many stories use only one narrator.

These are great ways to tell a story, but they aren’t the only ones.

Consider the following story: A, B, C. Let’s pretend is the start of the story, chronologically speaking. That makes the middle and the conclusion. My story is linear: it happens in order.

What if I want to tell my story out of order? It could be B, A, C. The reader can be introduced to a story in progress, with earlier events in the narrative revealed through flashbacks and the conclusion at the end. I could even tell my story backwards—C, B, A—as movie director Christopher Nolan (who is famous for films like The Dark Knight and Inception) did in Memento, a disturbing yet excellent film about a man with short-term memory loss.

Let’s consider another aspect of narrative structure: perspective.

One of my favorite narrative tricks is to switch perspectives as I tell a story. Two stories I’ve posted on this blog, The Infinity Manuscript and Zealot: A Christmas Story, give each chapter from the perspective of a different character. As a writer, it’s refreshing to bounce from one perspective to another as the story unfolds.

Things get even more fun when stories use multiple first-person narrators with different voices. A single scene can be described or interpreted in many different ways. It all depends on who does the describing or interpreting!

Then there are side stories. I love side stories.

There’s a word I like in Japanese: gaiden, the romaji form of the word rendered がいでん in hiragana and kana syllabaries. (This is what Wiktionary tells me. I don’t actually know Japanese.) A gaiden is a side story: a narrative that supplements or completes another narrative.

Call it a gaiden or a side story or whatever else you like: it’s awesome.

Orson Scott Card published a novel titled Ender’s Game, in which a boy named Ender is trained by the military to be humanity’s greatest asset in an interstellar war. Fourteen years later, Card published a companion novel: Ender’s Shadow.

The later novel tells roughly the same story as the first, but Ender is no longer the protagonist. The spotlight follows Bean, a supporting character from Ender’s Game. It’s the same story from a completely new perspective: introducing new characters, expanding the role of familiar ones and introducing fascinating subplots.

By intersecting with the original story at key points, Ender’s Shadow greatly improves Ender’s Game while being a fantastic novel on its own.

Here’s a geekier example: one of my favorite games in the Ace Attorney series is the criminally underappreciated Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. This game takes the two most important characters in the series, Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey, and relegates them to the briefest of background cameos. Supporting characters Miles Edgeworth and Dick Gumshoe become the protagonists.

The other games in the Ace Attorney series merely lengthen its story. This particular game broadens its story. By giving center stage to secondary characters, the game gives a delightful alternate take on the series… and proves its story is compelling enough to survive without its usual protagonists.

There are all kinds of clever narrative tricks, but I’ll mention just one more.

My all-time favorite episode of my all-time favorite television show is, without question, “Tales of Ba Sing Se” from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Up to that point, nearly every episode of the show follows a predictable pattern: a primary plot following the protagonists interweaves (and sometimes intersects) with one or two secondary plots following the antagonists. This narrative structure is simple and effective—and “Tales of Ba Sing Se” throws it out the window.

“Tales of Ba Sing Se” is a series of vignettes or character sketches. There are no great adventures, just glimpses of the characters’ daily lives. Some of these tales are funny. One character gets caught up in a haiku contest that seems suspiciously like a rap battle. Some of these tales are sad. One character visits his son’s grave to wish him a happy birthday.

Tragic or comic, these tales develop the characters and give the viewer a wonderful break from the plot-heavy episodes that come before. “Tales of Ba Sing Se” is a deep breath before the show plunges into a season finale: a chance to get to know the characters a little better before they’re swept off again by their adventures. I love it.

Innovative narrative structures can make a story refreshingly different, but they can also sabotage it. Not every story needs to be a gaiden told in a nonlinear way from multiple perspectives. Some stories are best told straight. It’s easy for a creative narrative structure to become a distracting gimmick.

In certain cases, however, a clever narrative structure can make a story brilliant.