“You’re a Taurus,” they barked from the front seat of their jeep. “I hate Tauruses.” “Oh” was the only sound I could make without opening my mouth, already inhaling a carpet’s worth of free-floating dog hair through my nose. “But you’re Scorpio rising, so we’ll probably get along.”
I mulled over this seconds-long interaction for days, both off-put and lost. I may be a magic-using Pagan but I don’t know, astrology and future-sight have never been my jam. I’m used to the twelve Greco-Roman Astrological signs, although I get their order after Cancer mixed up all the time. I did buy Astrology DS: The Stars in your Hands (2009) in the clearance section of my local game store a couple months ago, though, and after that, I decided to crack open the box and take a crash course in the basics of astrology the best way possible—through a minimally-interactive stylus-required text-heavy video game.
Gameplay, Or I Wish I’d Come Up With the “Stars in your Hands” Pun First
With its pastel colors, simple (if not jargon-riddled) menu, and “T”/“Teen” ESRB rating for “Sexual Themes,” this game disguises the fact that it’s incredibly thick. With five unique sections and the capacity to save up to 18 different people’s “Western” astrological data, I had no idea what I was up for in this part-game, mostly-informational digital text.
The game opened up and I had to tilt my Nintendo 2DS on its side because of the game’s “book” or “journal” format, which may have worked better on the Nintendo DS (which it originally came out on) or even a 3DS, both of which have hinges in the middle. Then I was prompted to fill in some personal information, including name, birth date (plus time of birth), and birth location. What I opened into was an overwhelming overview of star signs.
The first section, “astro advisor” was already so much. In this part, the profiled player’s body and focus are addressed in relation to universal influences for goal-setting purposes. The description for the “daily stars” subsection, for example, literally lists “tips to plan your day, your love life and your job.” The other subheadings, “biorhythm” and “moon phase,” talk more directly about cosmic forces, although they seemed more detached from the profile players must provide to play.
The second section, “horoscope,” expanded into the long term (or, at least, things starting from birth), introducing me to all of my twelve houses with a dizzying radial map that was sheer Hel to transverse with the stylus. Other slices in this include “love,” “job,” and “partner”-based astrology, although the “partner” part doesn’t quite work if your partner has no idea what time of day they were born (or if you’re with more than just one intimate partner in a relationship).
The “academy” segment was where the self- and friend-focused exploration of Greco-Roman astrology dropped off and the game really began. The academy is a progressive and linear examination (my own pun) of “Western” astrology that requires a lot of reading and ends with an actually difficult four-question multiple choice quiz that tests how well-read the material was. Players start as “apprentices,” reading ten “chapters” of material on the basics of astrology, including the twelve birth signs and a little on the houses (including the significance and placement of the Ascendant (AC), Imum Coeli (IC), Descendant, and Midheaven). Once passing the quizzes for each chapter, players move on to the “graduate” level with its ten chapters and quizzes stressing the relationships between the houses. The final level, “master,” involves understanding the models used in astrology, the importance of angles and degrees, and having a deep comprehension of the interfaces of astrological knowledge (radial maps, star charts, and more). There’s a final exam, but I didn’t make it that far. Hours later, the words kind of just swam in front of my eyes. Too much, too cram, and I didn’t retain much.
The last non-settings section, “entertainment,” became my favorite very quickly. This section houses three zodiac-inspired mini-games: “astropairs,” “splintered star,” and “zodidoku.” The first is a matching game. The second is a puzzle. The third, however, is intriguing and appealing to me. It was a version of Sudoku that used the circular astrological map as the board, an interesting twist that wasn’t just adding the astrological symbols to cards or game pieces. The difficultly didn’t scale well, unfortunately. I played on the hardest difficulty almost instantly, still looking for a challenge at the end of every solution. The uniqueness of the play space, though, was a nice touch.
My review is that the game was informational and seems good to pick up maybe once in a while, more like a reference book than anything else. The gameplay wasn’t so dynamic (click, read, drag the stylus), but the fact that it calculates birth data and provides Greco-Roman astrological data the player can then interact with the rest of the game is really cool and helpful to make what’s being learned more personal. All in all, it’s a good buy and useful to those of us who enjoy reading but don’t know much about the topic beyond our Sun sign.
My “Typical Taurus” Brief Beef
I did mention in the intro that I have a hard time getting into astrology as a whole, but it isn’t because I’m tickled with skepticism. (Trust me, with an alumnus who wrote a book on “Disneystrology” (link), my lack of cynicism towards even pop culture magic is an incredible display of my principles and discipline.) It also isn’t because my Sun sign is the stubborn Taurus or that I have Mercury in my sixth (for me, Aries) house, a signal of my fierce wit and intelligence (to the point of being combative/aggressive/off-putting). It isn’t even because of the speaker whose voiced opinion of Tauruses started off this post.
The concept of astrology makes the phrase “astrological determinism” bounce around in my head, a derivative of the term “biological determinism.” The original is used predominately when talking about gender, sex, and bodies, where people assume that sex and body types are “set,” immobile and unchanging, through some biological impetus that results in fixed (binaried often but recently incorporating “all”) genders, gendered attitudes and behaviors, and gendered development. It’s a way of looking at the body that’s anti-queer as well as exceptionally anti-woman. I’m stuck seeing person- and personality-based astrology doing the same kind of thing—your stars define you, you’re stuck. Enough astrologers have contested this, at least, defining the field more attuned to goal setting purposes and other timed events like planting and farming.
It also doesn’t help that the astrological texts I’ve encountered (books at used book stores, newspaper “Horoscope” columns, “What does your birthday say about you?” readings, cluttered 90’s-like online stores, and sex guides) have all been heterosexist and unhelpful for sexually queer folks, not to mention those of us who’re gender nonconforming. Trust me, if people feel like they are obligated to make an astrological guide to dating and hooking up specific to gay men and Lesbians, there’s something not being discussed in mainstream readings. I’m in my last year of studying sexualities and bodies—it all brings me back to the subject of sex, and to biological determinism, what people expect and fetishize of my body and the bodies of my companions.
When those associations are addressed and astrological resources improved, I might be able to embrace it a little better, but until then, I’m struck.
I picked up April Elliott Kent’s The Essential Guide to Practical Astrology from 2011 recently from my local library to learn more. It talks back to my sign-ranking friend, which is nice, but it just isn’t the same, especially since I still need to pull out my DS to remember my houses! I’m going to need the digital technologies. What are some helpful (and readable, please!) astrology apps/games you’ve all found?