We live in a day and age where it can be scary to think for oneself.
This should not be the case. Today’s world is more connected and coherent than ever before. Some countries are still outside of certain loops, of course, and there are those individuals who simply refuse to participate in the new public consensus because they’d rather sit in their dark homes and reminisce about simpler times before everyone had Internet access and women so openly thought for themselves. This constantly evolving society continues to grow as more people share, confer, and disagree with one another.
It’s those disagreements, however, that can make things a bit scary.
Each individual has the right to maintain their own opinion. It’s a simple fact. And it’s also a fact that not everybody is going to share that opinion. When someone is in a position to transmit that opinion, it would be ludicrous to assume that all recipients of said transmission are going to agree. The mature thing to do is accept or discuss those disagreements and, at the very least, part ways with the understanding that individuals differ. And yet, this is how wars get started. This is how accusations are lobbed against skilled professionals. This is how young people feel so trapped and isolated that they’d rather take their own lives than face the people who disagree with them. We have the right to disagree with one another. Seeking to harm one another over a disagreement is another matter entirely.
It seems to me that there’s a lot of this going around. It’s becoming unfortunately rare for the response to a stated interpretation of a fact or a broadcasted opinion to simply be: “I disagree, and here’s why.” More often that not it’s accompanied with some form of dismissal or derision. “This person’s getting paid to say the product is better than it is.” “They’re being overly sensitive feminazis over something that is actually empowering to women.” “These people are going to burn in Hell for not believing the universe was created over 144 hours.” “Little Jimmy has simply been brainwashed by the liberal media and it’s our job as his community to pray, shout, and beat the gay away.”
Each of these stances, and those like them, are knee-jerk, immature, misguided, and ultimately destructive. They’re all born from fears. Resorting to accusations of bribery, dismissal of progress, condemnation, shaming, and violence is clear indication that the opinion being promoted in this way is too weak to stand on its own. Subjective viewpoints and individual experiences do not constitute irrefutable evidence. Resorting to the aforementioned weapons of the ignorant is, unfortunately, easier than forming one’s own opinion based on the evidence that does exist, even if does at the very least make you sound like an entitled or bigoted moron.
Yet these moronic voices are so loud, so prevalent, and so forceful as to make the venturing of an opinion frightening for some. Professionals do their utmost to maintain their opinions in the face of such stupidity, and God bless them for it. There is support out there for kids who feel bullied based on something they’ve said or the way they live. But it’s still pretty scary. You can ignore some of the stupidity up to a point, but there’s always the chance that insecure jerks looking for power and validation will flock to some focal point of negativity just to be part of this damaged culture, and rather than adding an individual viewpoint or piece of evidence to support the dissension, the newcomers just lob words at the target intended to harm, like “whore”, or “heathen”, or “faggot”.
It’s very difficult for me to get into the mindset of hating an individual. Yes, I can get upset at being cut off in traffic or someone out-performing me in a game, but these things pass. I can’t even say I hate the individuals to whom I’m referring that participate in this stupid and damaging behavior. I hate the behavior itself. I hate the culture that looks down on intellectualism and enlightened opinions. I hate the fact that I continually see professionals I respect dealing with or suffering because of this behavior. I hate the fact that children kill themselves because they get bullied. I hate the fact that people in the 21st century don’t realize the world has changed and some ideas just need to be left in the past.
I am an individual. I believe what I choose to believe. You have no obligation to believe the same things I do. And if you don’t, that’s cool. You don’t have to like everything I like. You can adore something I despise. It’s part of what makes the world a beautiful and interesting place in which to live. We all deserve to be treated like human beings, and if you treat me like one I promise I’ll do the same for you.
Just stop abusing your opinion. You are ultimately not helping your case. And, in the end, it makes you look really fucking dumb.
In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill…
There are certain experiences that are consigned to particular media for one reason or another. As well as HBO has adapted Game of Thrones, the full expansiveness of the world and characters created by George RR Martin is best experienced in its original doorstopper book form. Hearing a song by Lady Gaga doesn’t hold a candle to seeing her perform the song live on stage. And some video games are best left as video games, and not made into, say, movies. Nobody told this to director Christoph Gans, however, when he took the helm of 2006′s Silent Hill.
Chris and Rose Da Silva adopted a little girl named Sharon nine years ago. Sharon’s started having some really bad dreams and always screams the words ‘Silent Hill’. Convinced that the haunted town that bears the same name holds the answer to her daughter’s torment, Rose puts Sharon in her Jeep and drives to the town. When Chris follows, he’s stopped by a police cordon and the ladies are nowhere in sight. Rose, however, loses Sharon quickly after her Jeep crashes, and wanders the town pursued by a dedicated motorcycle cop, a fiendish cult of witch-burners and, for some reason, nurses with big tits. Because big boobs sell more tickets.
For those of you just coming out from under your rocks, Silent Hill is a video game series in which the town of the title is plagued by a singular problem. You can be walking through the town, which seems normal, only to turn a corner or emerge from an elevator and find yourself in another world entirely. It’s a dark reflection of our own, populated by creatures spawned from abysses beyond our ken and, in some cases, based heavily on our own fears, doubts and unrequited appetites. As the games progressed, the stillness and isolation that brought those fears out of us as we played petered out, replaced with the typical slavering bad guys to be bloodily dispatched with blunt objects seen in most horror games released in the West. But we’re here to talk about the movie, right? Right.
Remember, even if you don’t smoke, always have a lighter handy.
The problem with many adaptations, provided they aren’t coming from a studio dedicated solely to bridging the gap between two media (which Marvel appears to have done with fraking rainbows), is the committees assembled by the money-hungry executives are so busy patching together fan favorite characters and moments that they completely miss whatever point the original story might have had. The point of the Silent Hill games defended to this day in spite of their dated graphics, terrible voice acting and asinine plots is being alone in a cloying darkness with something that hates you, not simply disgusting monsters and fiends in human skin just waiting for you to put a hole in them with a bullet or a bludgeon. Instead of a story of self-exploration, the film Silent Hill pits Rose against the town with the town’s only motivation being the sort of generic evil force that chased Bruce Campbell through a forest and forced him to cut off his own hand with a chainsaw.
The interesting wrinkle in terms of story is that the cult isn’t motivated by drug deals for tourism or awakening eldritch abominations, they’re just good old-fashioned Bible-thumpers that know their Jesus, loving savior of all mankind that He is, cannot and will not suffer a witch to live even if said witch is a nine-year-old girl. The purity of purpose these people cling to is something actually frightening about this story, since I know people this simple-minded and blinded by unquestioning religious fervor exist. It’s one of the things about the movie that works.
Hey, kids! It’s Pyramid Head! *applause*
What doesn’t work is the transition between worlds. Silent Hill usually consists of our world and its dark reflection, but Silent Hill the movie ups the ante with a third world in between. There’s our world, a sort of parallel dimension covered in perpetual fog and ash and the signature dark hellish place populated with creatures from the franchise who pretty much showed up because representations of sexual repression and masculine aggression have bills to pay too. As mentioned before, switching between worlds in the games often happened without preamble, effectively blurring the lines of reality and causing the player to question what exactly was happening. The line between worlds in the movie is a very bold, clearly defined one, and there’s a nice loud air raid siren just in case you aren’t sure. To say nothing of all that nice creeping CGI on those environments! Boy, I bet those games from the PS2 era are just besides themselves with jealousy.
Despite having all its subtlety removed, its signature creatures reduced to generic horror baddies, the world structure unnecessarily complicated and the twist ending having no explanation whatsoever and all the impact of a wet noodle, Silent Hill is not without redeeming qualities. While the world of fog and ash is somewhat baffling, it and it alone brings on the feeling of stillness and isolation that made the games so memorable. It’s juxtaposed with our world once or twice to great effect, and if the movie had just been about that divide and Rose and Chris trying to reach each other across it, the film might have really worked. There’s some excellent sound design, some effective use of music and a scene in a bathroom that carries more tension in a few short moments than most of the exposition-laden second half holds. And then there’s the way the character of Cybil looks in those leather pants. … Sue me, I’m a straight male human.
The movie also passes the Bechdel Test like a champ.
Imagine, if you will, a cookie where the chocolate chips are actual chocolate, but the dough is actually made of insulation foam, and you don’t realize it until it was already in your mouth. That’s the film adaptation of Silent Hill put concisely. The few moments where some artistic choices overshadow the Frankensteinian construction of the movie and the fraying threads of plot used to stitch it together are simply not worth watching it fall to bloody pieces. I have to say this one is not worth your time. There are better horror films, better psychological ones and better video game adaptations.
Oh, I almost forgot. Sean Bean is in this, and he doesn’t die. It would have been nice to see his character do something useful, but I guess that he, like us, became trapped without recourse or pity in a lonely world not of our making. At least Pyramid Head didn’t show up out of nowhere to decapitate the poor guy.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.
I feel like Karn some days. And not just from lack of coffee.
Bad writing can be just as influential and inspirational as good writing.
That may seem to be an incongruous statement. But in my experience, there have been some instances where I’ve been reading a novel, a story or a post, and have wanted nothing more than to blow the author out of the water, literarily speaking. I find this to be the case especially in writing related to gaming, which makes me twice as angry. It’s one thing to write badly, but to degrade a setting or concept I like through that bad writing should be a hanging offense.
That’s my opinion, at least.
Take, for example, the Quest for Karn. I’ve been looking for a good Magic: the Gathering novel ever since Arena, which is still the best if you ask me. The planeswalkers that Wizards of the Coast have put together are an interesting bunch, but I feel like there’s more that could be done with them, territory in the human experience and the permutations of their powers that remains unexplored. And when you present these characters in as bland a way possible, with no real characterization and a plot apparently paced to make The Lord of the Rings look like a jaunty sprint by comparison, you leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth, instead of making them hungry for more.
I must confess, however, that doing this to the likes of Venser and Elspeth is pretty harmless, considering what could have been done. As far as I’m aware, Wizards has yet to acquire the services of someone like Richard A. Knaak, who misses the point of characters like a champ. Consider Stormrage. In Warcraft III, we learn that Tyrande Whisperwind is a confident, driven and inspiring leader of her people, a warrior-priestess with thousands of years of experience in doing what she says and making decisions without regret. By Knaak’s hand, however, she’s transformed into someone who never grew out of being a teenager, an immature and insecure person who fears the judgement of her peers and might just be cribbing notes from Bella Swan. There’s no growth in Knaak’s characters. If they’re great, they’re always great as well as flawless. If they’re flighty, uncertain and relatively weak, they’re a girl.
I had to pause for a cleansing breath, there.
Gaming books outside of novels suffer as well. Mage is probably my all-time favorite permutation of the World of Darkness, but the core book for Ascension feels unnecessarily huge. There’s great stuff in there for storytellers and players a like, but it can take a little sifting. The prose passages feel ponderous more often than not, with some overwrought language and long-winded anecdotes that are likely aimed at increasing the book’s gravitas while taking away from the essential information gamers are looking for. I still love the book, don’t get me wrong. It’s gorgeous, the new mythology tickles my fancy and the new spheres of magic are very well thought out. It’s just fluffier than I’d like.
In addition to wrapping up the first draft of one manuscript, rewriting another and editing a third, I think it would behoove me to investigate more deeply the ways and means people find their way into gaming material, from source books to novels. I’ve had great experiences working with Machine Age Productions and I hope I can take that experience to other gaming houses in the future. Writing for and about gaming isn’t just something I want to do, after all; it’s something worth doing right.
We all need reminders from time to time. Soldiers visit war memorials to remember why we fight. You can turn on the television or look up a few political websites to remember why you vote the way you do. And when you’re involved with entertainment, especially if you review movies for one reason or another, you need to remember that they’re not all great cinematic storytelling experiences. Some of them are absolute stinking piles that not only smell on their own but give off a stench of a deeper, more intrinsic problem with the industry. To that end, I give you Bugs.
The City (which goes unnamed out of a sense of shame) has built an ultra-modern subway sytem using ancient, as-yet-unexplored tunnels. Thanks to unscrupulous business practices, the construction crews unwittingly awakened the tunnels’ former occupants: giant prehistoric insectoid predators. One of them skewers and partially devours a police officer who was in pursuit of a dangerous transient. An FBI agent is called in when the cops think it’s the work of a serial killer, but evidence on the body prompts the agent to bring this to the attention of a smoking hot entymologist. Together with the supervisor of the tunnels’ construction and a SWAT team of expendables, they head into the darkness to exterminate the bugs.
Being an original TV movie for the Sci-Fi channel, back when it was spelled like the abbreviation for the science fiction it features, Bugs can’t be expected to attract the kind of talent or produce the sort of narrative or visual appeal in larger works. Some corners had to be cut to fit a meager budget but the biggest problems with the movie have very little to do with money. While the CGI is laughable, the acting tends to be more wooden than a carpenter’s assortment of cabinetry and the premise and plot points lifted bodily from other movies, Bugs suffers from three major issues. It’s inconsistent, derivative and, at times, utterly boring.
Sorry, Hudson, it’s a bug hunt. …WHUPS! Wrong movie.
The tone of Bugs, at first, seems to lean towards that of B-movie horror, going for a semi-creepy splatterfest as opposed to anything largely cerebral. After all, thinking is for squares, daddy-O, and sometimes a flick is just there so you can turn off your brain, right? But that’s a discussion for another time. In the case of Bugs, if it maintained a bit of camp and tongue-in-cheek awareness it might have risen above the mire of other similar tripe. However more than once, Bugs tries to shift into areas that try to go for pure suspense, tension or emotion, and falls short every time.
The tongue-in-cheek feeling would also help it feel more like an amateur homage to Aliens rather than a blatant rip-off. The chitinous enemies with acidic blood and horrible means of dispatch; a rag-tag cross-section of ethnicities and genders toting guns and acting badass right up until they meet the enemy; the slimy corporate douchebag only interested in the bottom line – heck, there’s even a moment where our hero, Antonio Sabato Jr, climbs into some construction equipment to do battle with the queen. There are shout-outs to the likes of Predator as well, because why stop at ripping off one classic action flick when you can rip off several?
I can’t find pictures from this movie anywhere, so here’s a photo of Angie Everhart instead. You’re welcome.
These two problems coupled with bad direction and a laughable script tend to defang the action and pushes the characters into a mental area of “what the hell ever, just get it over with.” What movies like Bugs and Saw’s sequels and just about any other splatterfest flick fail to grasp is that it doesn’t matter how many ways you can eviscerate a human body if we don’t give a damn about the persons inhabiting said bodies. When the badly-written and worse-acted stock characters are thrown into a meat grinder, what I presume to believe is an action thriller is reduced to a rather dull and tedious lesson in how not to make a movie. You don’t want to write, direct, act or produce in any way like what we see in Bugs.
The only thing that can be said positively is that some of the actors aren’t terrible. The foreman who heads into the tunnels he helped build is easily the best of the bunch, playing his character with reserve and aplomb in a manner clearly deserving of a better movie. Angie Everhart was never a fantastic actress, but she at least delivers her lines and manages some emotion a lot better than some of the other folks involved, and she’s always nice to look at. Our leading man only leads with chiseled handsomeness and acting skills a notch or two below Ms. Everhart’s. Everybody else is so stock they should be traded on Wall Street.
This might actually be our hero. He certainly out-acts every other member of the cast.
The writers of Bugs, Patrick J. Doody & Chris Valenziano (a.k.a. thetwojerks.com), went on from this little turd to write Silent Hill: Homecoming. This is sad on several levels. First of all, it means that with a little effort the first American Silent Hill could have been a better experience that didn’t completely miss the point of what makes Silent Hill great. In the same vein, it means that the producers of that game saw Pat & Chris’s resume and presumably their work, and judged it worthy of a Silent Hill game. The worst part about Bugs isn’t how boring it can get or the way it rips off Aliens the same way many sci-fi shooters do. The worst part is that it’s evidence that so-called producers don’t care about things like good storytelling or artistry or even decent production value. All they want to do is fleece easily-amused idiots with some shallow spectacle that deepens the pile of gold in their pockets. And if they can do it while tacking on extra cash for a 3-D experience and selling big plastic cups of barely-flavored corn syrup, so much the better, right?
Bugs as a movie is bad enough. What it implies about the entertainment industry is absolutely repugnant. If you can, stay far away from both. At least when you rent or call up a movie via Netflix, you have some control over the experience, and your entertainment is in your own hands. Go to a cinema and it’s in the hands of the executives, and they’ll drop you on your face once you hand over your money. And they’re not going anywhere. It’s a thought far more frightening than any blob of CGI scuttling towards Angie Everhart could ever be.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.
“[A] writing career is about putting a bucket on your head and trying to knock down a brick wall. It’s either you or the wall.”
Reality’s a stone-cold bitch. That’s why I mostly write fiction.
I identify first and foremost as a writer, not necessarily a programmer or a social media guru or mediocre gamer. As such I’ve come to accept several truths about myself.
- Any emotional problems from which I actually suffer will be exacerbated by the short-sighted stubborn sociopathy inherent of being a writer.
- If I take up writing as a full-time profession I am going to dodge debt collectors and utility bills even more than I do now. (Don’t panic, family members, my knees are unbroken and will remain so. I’m just not dining on steak and drinking cognac. More like dining on pasta and drinking cheap pop.)
- The longer I do not write full time and cram writing in whenever I can into the nooks and crannies of a packed schedule, fueled by whatever energy I can spare, the more my writing is going to suffer for it and the less likely I am to get published before I’m facing off against Gandalf and Dumbledore in a long white beard growing competition. Which I’ll win because they’re fictional.
- While writing is an evolutionary process that requires several drafts, torrents of trial and error, and accepting that one’s final effort might still be a flaming pile of poo, processes in the professional world are very different, and being writerly will rarely be tolerated long in the face of clients who want what they want yesterday for less than they want to pay. If you don’t get something right the first time, there’s the door, don’t let it hit you on those fancy pants you thought you were wearing.
- I am never, ever, for as long as I keep breathing, going to give up writing.
Sure, I’ll be miserable more often than not. Who isn’t? I’ve learned to seize and capitalize on my joy when I find it. My wife’s smile. Pulling off a win in StarCraft. Meeting fellow geeks in person instead of just over the Tweetsphere. The open road on a sunny day. Poutine. The Union scoring a goal. A decent movie or video game with a coherent story and three-dimensional characters. My mom’s cooking and my dad’s laughter.
And finishing a story.
That’s the hidden beauty of writing. If you do it right, you get to finish it multiple times. After your first draft, you go back and edit it. And when you get through the edit? Guess what, you finished it. Awesome!
Now go do it again.
Work, edit, revise, cross out, swear, drink, work, write, grind, swear, edit, DING.
In my experience it’s not a case of diminishing returns. The next round of edits might not be as heady in its completion as the last, but it’ll be different and it’ll still be good. And let me tell you, it’s a long hard road to get there.
Even if you do write for a living, you still have to produce. Instead of the aforementioned clients you have looming deadlines, a constant and gnawing doubt that your writing just won’t be good enough and the cold knowledge that at least a dozen younger, hungrier and more talented penjockeys are just waiting for you to fuck up so they can take your place, and your paycheck. Pressure from clients or deadlines or those lean and hungry wolves becomes pressure on you, pound after pound after pound of it, and when you go home at night with even more words unwritten, you’re going to feel every ounce of that pressure on your foolish head, and every word you haven’t written will pile on top, each one an additional gram of concentrated dark-matter suck.
It’s a love affair with someone who never returns you calls when you need them but always calls just when you think you can’t take another day of this tedious, soul-eroding bullshit.
I said earlier I mostly write fiction. This, for example, isn’t ficton. I wouldn’t mind writing more recollections like this, but guess what, I’m not getting paid for it (I could be if somehting hadn’t gone wrong with my ad block, thank you SO much for that, Google Ads). My movie & game reviews, short stories, commentary on geek minutae, Art of Thor series, IT CAME FROM NETFLIX!, the Beginner’s Guide to Westeros? Not a dime. I don’t write any of that because I get paid for it. I do it to entertain those couple dozen of you who cruise by here every day. I do it because I feel I’ve got something to say that hasn’t quite been said this way before.
And yes, I do it because I love it.
It’s in my blood and my bones. It keeps me awake at night more than bills or code or politics or Protoss cheese or ruminations on the Holy Ghost. And since I doubt I’m going to be getting rid of it at this point in my life, I might as well embrace it and make the most of it.
I’m going to suffer more hardship. I might have to move, or change jobs again, or go through some embarassing procedure because I tried to hock my words at passers-by on the train and had made one of the first drafts of my manuscript into what I felt was a fetching kilt (nae trews Jimmy) and a matching hat that may or may not have been styled after those conical straw numbers you see atop badass samurai in Kurosawa movies.
So be it.
Say it with me, writers.
I will not whine.
I will not blubber.
I will not make mewling whimpering cryface pissypants boo-hoo noises.
I will not sing lamentations to my weakness.
I am the Commander of these words.
I am the King of this story.
I am the God of this place.
I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.
Courtesy Jared Fein & laryn.kragtbakker.com
Sooner or later, the work you do is going to come under fire. Mistakes are going to be made. Guess what? You’re a human being. Mistakes are inevitable. How those mistakes are handled, corrected and prevented from repeating themselves matter more than the mistakes themselves, with the experience informing the better construction of future works. Hence, “constructive criticism.”
It tends to work best, however, if the criticism begins with you. And as a critic, you suck.
At least when it comes to your own work, that is. Your opinions, your creations, your procedures have all be formed by you (or, in the case of opinions, possibly snatched from more prominent critics for rapid regurgitation – we’ll get to that) and you’re going to be as defensive of them as any creator is of their created. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and I know how that sort of behavior can circle right around and kick you square in the ass just when you don’t need it to.
It’s like bruises in martial arts, loose teeth in hockey, a face covered in egg on a televised debate. It’s going to happen. Beyond a couple of opinions of yourself and your creations that I can tell you are patently untrue, how to get back up when one of these events flattens you is a matter for the moment and circumstance. Communicate, discern, be patient and communicate more. Nobody will get anywhere while blood is up and words are lost in the volume, so step back, breathe, look at the situation and act in the interest of everybody involved, not just you.
Okay, enough hand-holding and team-building, here are two big fat lies we tell ourselves when it comes to stuff we do.
This Is The Best Thing In The History Of Ever!
No. No, it isn’t.
The following might feel something like the above.
The things we consider great only got that way through long, grueling processes, the input of several people and the viability of whatever environment into which they were released. There’s a factor of luck involved as well, but that’s not something we can control, so we’ll leave it out of this deconstruction.
Basically, to keep ourselves going, we may at times tell ourselves that what we’re doing is good. That’s fine, and it probably either is good or will become good. What it isn’t is the best thing ever. Not on its own, and especially not in its first iteration. No author I know of hit the bestseller list with their first draft or even their first book. No director makes an Oscar-winner the first time they point a camera at something, unless they got their hands on the super-secret list of critera the folks in the Academy check off when they watch movies that might be worthy of the golden statues they give to rich people. Then again I’ve grown somewhat jaded with the whole Oscar thing and it’s colored my opinion somewhat.
That’s another thing. Opinions. Now I’m as guilty of the following as another special snowflake individual on the planet, and it bears saying & repeating to myself as much as anybody else. I’m fully aware of the glass house in which I live, but dammit, sometimes you just gotta toss a rock.
Your opinion is unlikely to be entirely your own. It might be right or wrong, but to defend it like it’s gospel is not going to win you any friends no matter from where or whom it originally derived. Our tastes, viewpoints and leanings are a combination of our life experiences, the things others say and do around us and the environment in which we live. Other people have had similar experiences, heard or seen the same things we have and/or live in similar environments. That means your opinion is highly likely to be not entirely your own and should be taken with a grain of salt, even if you’re telling it to yourself.
Back to your work. I’m sure it began with a good idea. Ideas can persist through edits, revisions and future iterations. The idea might still be good even if the implementation sucks ass. That doesn’t mean the overall product is good. A good idea badly implemented makes for a bad product. Look at what happened to Star Wars. What’s important to keep in mind is that you might not be able to find all of the flaws in your own work, and in order to make it the best it can be before it ships, you might need to take some knocks to the ego. If you can remember that your idea and work are not the Best Things Ever, if you can maintain the ability to take your own creations with a grain of salt from an objective viewpoint, the overall product will be much shinier for it.
TL,DR: Don’t act like your shit don’t stink.
This Absolutely Sucks & Will Never Amount To Anything, I Should Quit Now
Cheer up, emo donkey.
Ah, the other extreme. I hate this one just as much.
Let me pause a moment before I rant in the other direction from where I just came from. If you truly feel your time will be better spent doing somthing other than the thing that you’re considering the absolute worst that humanity has to offer, I can understand that. Go and do the other thing you want to do. I and others might still consider what you’ve done worthwhile or even worth sharing, but you are the best arbiter of how to spend your time and energy. Just remember others are entitled to their opinions as much as you are.
Remember how I said that the things we consider great didn’t start that way? That means they started in a state of not being great. In fact some of the first attempts probably sucked out loud. I’d love to see a first draft of The Stand or an early shooting script of RDM’s from Battlestar Galactica or Michaelangelo’s first painting. These creative minds only became great after the grueling process of editing, revising, being told they suck, editing and revising again, and managing to find the right time, people and environment for introducing their work.
Since soothsaying isn’t exactly a reliable basis for planning, the only way to find the right time is to keep trying. Finding the right people means going out and meeting some. And locating the right environment can be a matter of research. Don’t try to put a work with a narrow genre focus into purveyors with general, broad interests; try instead to locate an venue catering to similar tastes and passions to whom you can relate and communicate, and let them see what you can do. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a monumental achievement, but it wouldn’t have gotten painted if Michaelangelo had been approached by the manager of a Starbucks instead of His Holiness.
Notice that this is all stuff you can control. Your work is no different. If you really think your work isn’t good, and you want it to be, you can improve it. Work at it. Practice. Don’t let the nay-sayers and the lowest common denominator and the mediocrity get you down. Nothing excellent ever comes to be out of nowhere and without some work and sacrifice. Give up some time, expend some energy, burn a little midnight oil, and make that thing as powerful and awesome as you can. And believe me, most of us are capable of being pretty damn awesome if we’re willing to pay that price.
TL,DR: Don’t act like your shit is a world-scale biohazard.
I think I’ve said about all I can on this subject. No human being is the be-all end-all of all great things; neither are any of us completely and utterly irredeemable. I think we could all stand to take things said to us, about us and by us with a few more grains of salt.
My wife’s corner of the living room is dominated by an anachronism. An aged, clunky CRT monitor squats on top of the bookshelf behind her desk. On that desk, now, is a shiny new Acer laptop with a wider display than that old beast, not to mention much faster & cleaner peformance to the oversized paperweight of a PC to which the old monitor’s connected. I keep meaning to move things around so she has a little more room, but I can’t help but look at that corner and think of Bob’s Big Picture feature on the death of the PC.
I’ve been building my own PCs for years. Ever since I got one sore knuckle and torn finger too many from the confines of a Packard Bell case, I’ve wanted to make the experience of working with computers easier and better. For years it’s also been the case that upgrading a system through the purchase of a pile of parts has been more cost-effective than buying something from a store shelf, to say nothing of the flexibility and lack of bloatware inherent with taking the construction & installation onto oneself.
But technology is moving on. My wife’s laptop cost as much as the upgrade I just put into my desktop case, and while the bleeding edge Sandy Bridge processor will satisfy computing needs for (I hope) quite a few years, her laptop is just as good. If the ancient external drive to which I’d saved our Dragon Age games hadn’t ground that data into powder, it’d have been a completely painless upgrade. That won’t happen again, of course, because not only are the hard drives we have today lightyears ahead of that dinosaur, we can always upload our save data to a cloud.
And it’s not like I need my desktop to write. I do most of these updates in a text editor (gedit, if you’re curious) before taking the content and putting it into the blog, enhanced with pictures dropped into Photobucket and the occasional bit of rambling audio. I can do that with pretty much any device. Within the next year, fingers crossed & the creek don’t rise, I’ll be retiring this old workhorse of mine with some iteration of the Asus Transformer – hell, I’d write blog updates on my Kindle if it had a decent text editor.
My point is that as much as I love my PC, as nostalgic as I’ll wax about StarCraft II marathons and isometric views in games like Dragon Age: Origins and LAN parties and simulators like Wing Commander, there’s no reason not to celebrate the growth of the technologies we as gamers use to enjoy our hobby. The tech emerging on a steady basis is lightyears ahead of what many of us grew up using. From number crunching to heat management, the computing devices we use today are so superior to those old devices it staggers the imagination. If I went back even ten years and told myself that within a decade people would be using tablets in lieu of laptops and there would be laptops that turn into tablets on the horizon, I’d congradulate myself on being such an imaginative science-fiction writer. In my humble opinion, technology changing and evolving is a good thing, and there are a lot more benefits than drawbacks when it comes to embracing that change.
The thing is, as Captain Kirk pointed out once, “people can be very frightened of change.”
“They made the game easier to play and dumbed down the mechanics! TO ARMS!”
“This has nothing to do with the previous parts of the narrative because it’s using new characters we don’t know! A PLAGUE ON EVERYONE’S HOUSES!”
“WHAT? Visual changes that make things unfamiliar/derivative/different from before? KILL IT WITH FIRE!”
“PCs are no longer inherently superior to consoles? LIES AND SLANDER, I SAY!”
Start a bandwagon and you’ll be sure to find people happy to jump aboard it without forming opinions of their own.
In fact the lemonade (haterade?) being served on TGO’s bandwagon is rather refreshing, now that you mention it.
There’s a picture of me out there, and I wish I could post it here with these words. It’s of me, at around 8 years old, proudly showing off my Transformers backpack. Optimus Prime, in all of his 80s glory, is ready to stand up and protect my books and Trapper Keepers from anybody trying to subvert my freedom, which is the right of all sentient beings. I knew Prime wasn’t real, but I believed his philosophy to be true.
As you can imagine, I got bullied as a kid.
My peers made fun of me. I actually got beat up once. I probably caused concern from my parents at more than one point. Somewhere along the way I tried to dial down the behavior that was causing such strife, in the name of fitting in. I never really did, and the behavior remains to this day. At this point, it probably isn’t going anywhere.
These days, though, I wonder why ‘fitting in’ is such a big deal.
The people who we remember, the ones we admire, aren’t people who fit in. Galileo, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Nikola Tesla, Rosa Parks, Issac Asmiov, Gary Gygax – these are people who refused to fit into the molds cast by the world around them. They sought change. They embraced their natures. And we love them for it.
Why do we demand so much less of ourselves? Are we just lazy?
Let’s face it, fitting in it easy. It requires almost no effort. Just do what everybody else around you is doing. Buzz in time with the rest of the swarm. Contribute to the overall productivity that will bluesky that turnkey solution. There is no ‘i’ in team.
Because they’re all hanging out in imagination. Innovation. Initiative. Plenty of ‘i’s there.
The problem is that imaginative, innovative people might not always channel that energy effectively. There are lots of mixed signals out there that can muck up one’s internal compass. We look for immediate payoffs. Benefits with minimum investment. Bigger bang for our bucks. To get them, we settle. We compromise. We take the safe road.
There isn’t anything wrong with this, in and of itself. It’s good to have certainty. Especially if you’re in a situation where you need to concern yourself with the wellbeing of others as well as yourself, you need to find a middle ground between dangling by your fingertips and keeping your feet on the ground. The nice thing about not being alone in this is the potential for someone to watch out for you, or you for them, as you make your way towards that goal, inch by inch, one foothold at a time.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time building LEGOs. And not always with instructions. In fact, I probably spent more time digging my fingers into the big plastic bin, fishing out blocks and assembling them by the blueprints in my head rather than going by established plans. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that sort of initiative. I started doing what other people did and were successful at, rather than seeking my own path. I followed well-trod trails around the mountain, rather than looking up and figuring out how I’m going to get all the way up that thing. I’d take a few steps up the incline but then back down when it got hard, because those trails are much easier to follow.
I forgot what it meant to be a kid while still occasionally acting like one.
I’d lament lost time but not consider how better to spend it. I’d rage against my situation and take no steps to change it. I’d experience rejection and loss without using the motivation it was handing me. Kids at their best don’t just cry over scraped knees. They let the pain out, wipe their faces and get up to try again.
At some point, if you’re on top of things and really want to hold onto that initiative, you’ll fail enough that you’ll realize why you’re failing, and instead will begin to succeed. You can’t get there without failing, though. Learning to ride a bike means falling a few times. Ditto traversing the monkey bars. The first few sandcastles you build are going to crumble before your eyes, possibly before you even finish. What matters isn’t necessarily the scrapes, the bruises, the wipeouts. What matters is what we do after they happen.
It’s okay to fail. It’s okay not to fit in. We have to find a way to make the most of those failures, to make not fitting in matter. When we do, the successes mean more, not just because of the failures that lead to it but because we can take full ownership of it. We had the crazy idea. We stuggled to make it come to life. We were aware that we’d get odd looks and skepticism. We got to the finish line anyway, and something new and exciting is the result.
That’s reason enough to abandon the set paths. It’s why we remember those luminaries I mentioned. And it’s why, at this point, I’m probably never going to ‘grow up’.
Once upon a time I wrote an article for an online magazine. It went over pretty well. The relationship I described therein has blossomed, and my wife and I work together on quite a few occasions to best the challenges of a particular game. I thought that might be worth writing about.
And then, along comes Chuck Wendig.
It was like practicing your kicks in the dojo and thinking you’ve got what it takes to achieve the next belt when this unknown guy smelling slightly of bacon and gym socks strolls in, crane-kicks you in the mouth, swipes your water bottle and walks out with your girl.
If you want to be a writer, you better get used to it.
One of the few things I carried with me from my brief stints of studying fencing & the martial arts (no, really) is that there will always be somebody better than you. Somebody will be faster, beating you to the punch. Somebody will have better, more powerful delivery. Somebody’s already hit the rhythm that’s been eluding you all the time, and once they’re in that groove they’re not getting out of it.
Because, in the case of writing, it’s going to pay them.
All writers deal with rejection, but on top of that is seeing other writers succeed. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s great for talented writers to be getting work. We know how much it sucks to go without food. Seeing people who actually know how to string words together feed their families on the power of their words is heartening.
It’s also saddening because we haven’t done it yet.
I was asked by a friend “How do you keep writing?” It’s a complex answer, and this is part of it. I’m motivated by ideas I want to put into words, by the notion of making a living with my chosen art instead of just living for it, and I want to be one of the people who actually makes it.
It might never happen. I may simply get one rejection after another until I’m laying on my deathbed still spinning ideas and outlining novels that will never get published.
But if I stop trying, I might as well ragequit now.
We can’t all be Chuck. We can’t just splatter gold onto the desks of editors and directors all over the place. And even if it looks that way, it probably isn’t. Every writer that seems to be effortlessly earning cash for words had to go through the same wringer of rejection and depression we are. And guess what? It’s persistence that got them where they are.
If we persist, if we work through those rejections and hardships until we finally get where we want to be, there will be other, lesser-known, unpublished voices looking up from their dayjobs and their pretentious little blogs wondering how the hell we make it look so damn easy.
How do I keep writing?
I see where I am, and where I want to be. There’s a gap in the middle that needs to be filled with words. They won’t always be the best words, or even particularly smart ones, but the more words that go into that, the closer I get to my goal. And yes, someone out there somewhere might have done what I’m trying to do better than I have. Then again, maybe my work will be just different enough to distinguish itself. As much as I admire George RR Martin, it’d be foolish for me to try and be GRRM. Same goes for Chuck, David Hill, Will Hindmarch and Marty Henley. They’re all great guys. And I can’t be them. I try to play in the same field they’re playing in, I’m likely to get blown clear out of the water.
I keep writing to carve my own niche. To push myself to stand out from the crowd. To become an author on my own merits, with my own ideas, distinguished in my own ways.
I keep writing because as much as the world is flush with stories, mine has yet to be told the way I can tell it.
And I keep writing because I have to. I’m compelled to. At least in choosing writing over heroin, I’m nowhere near as broke as I could be. And I’d be frothing at the mouth for reasons completely unrelated to my daily frustrations.
I’m not saying you should abandon all hope of succeeding, if you’re writing or want to be a writer. Far from it.
I’m saying you should abandon all hope if being able to praise a fellow writer without, to some degree, cussing incessantly under your breath.
Just remember: as much as your teeth might hurt today, tomorrow you might be the crane-kicker. Get up. Dust yourself up. Wipe the blood from your face. And keep hammering those words.
You won’t get anywhere laying there feeling sorry for yourself.
Most individuals with a modicum of intelligence and self-awareness will tell you the truth, uncomfortable as it might be: Not everything you produce is going to be good. Even if the idea seems immaculate in your imagination, the transition between brain and mouth or fingers can dilute it somewhat. We have to clarify ourselves at times, in order to ensure we’re understood, meaning the way we initally articulated ourselves was imperfect. So too are our ideas: the perspective we have on the world around us, the stories we experience and the events of our lives is unique. We each have our own unique opinions and the Internet makes it possible for us to share, discuss and debate them. It’s this diversity that makes living with other human beings, at times, a wonderful experience.
At other times it’s grueling torture because some people don’t understand their imperfection.
You’ve seen these people. You’ve read their comments on forums, YouTube channels and Twitter feeds. Barely coherent, badly misspelled, over-abbreviated and wholly inaccurate ramblings that, when challenged, incite anger and accusations rather than honest debate. I’m painting with a broad brush here, but the sad fact of the matter is that the amount of hatred spewing from the mouths and fingers of the ignorant far outweighs the pontifications of people who actually have something to say and the means with which to say it to a large audience.
And when someone does gain a large audience, the arrogant and entitled flock to the outlet in question to make their voices heard, piggyback on success, do their damndest to outshine the reason they showed up in the first place.
I’m guilty of this behavior, if I’m honest. I’ve chimed in on the videos of those sharing their reviews, opinions and news readings not just to support their efforts but in an effort to promote myself and my work. I have to. If I hope to have any success in the mass market when it comes to selling fiction, I have to get used to the idea of selling myself through any means necessary. Now, I don’t post on forums or respond to tweets for this purpose alone. I’m not a SEO bot or a web marketer. But I’d be lying if I said I do what I do simply for the enjoyment of it. Even if it is a great deal of fun to talk about ways The Dark Knight Rises could go horribly wrong with twitter peeps (tweeps), it’s getting my name out and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What bothers me is the behavior of people who post their thoughts for the sole purpose of dissention and rabble-rousing. Constructive criticism is one thing, combative, racist or incendiary commentary is quite another. It’s rude, dickish behavior that can border on harassment in certain contexts, behavior for which you can be banned from whatever venue you were using to spew your ignorant bile. And yet, it persists. These people keep right on finding ways to annoy and harrangue, under the presumption that not only is their opinion the only correct one (arrogance), they have every right to voice it any way they wish to whomever will listen (entitlement).
Critical analysis and review is everywhere on the Internet. But you will never catch any such entertainer worth their salt telling you point-blank that they are 100% right in their opinion and everybody else is wrong. Go ahead and take a look. Yahtzee, MovieBob, SFDebris, Confused Matthew, Red Letter Media, TotalBiscuit, the Extra Credits crew – none of them end a discussion with “I’m right, you’re wrong, your mom agreed with me last night” in any serious discussion. Some of them may play this sort of thing for laughs, but even the most satirical and cynical of these folks are also intelligent enough to know that anything upon which they might pontificate involves the exposition of their own subjective views.
Sorry, that was a lot of big words. Put simply: None of these people believes they are a holy authority on anything they talk about. Yes, some of them are professional critics, paid to give their opinion based on the years of experience they have weighing objective and subjective criteria of various media, but each and every one of them are human beings, and human beings are fallible, subjective creatures. Yahtzee and MovieBob might not like shooters, but that doesn’t mean shooters are bad. People like those caricatured by MovieBob’s Anti-Thinker may consider retro games to be stupid, but them saying it does not make it so. These people I’ve mentioned know this.
It’s a shame a lot of the people who chime in on their presentations can’t have the same sort of self-awareness. And when you try to point out the flaws in their arguments, their mental couch forts repel your critiques with such eloquent responses as “NO U” or “COOL STORY BRO.” Just because your point of view makes more intellectual or logical sense doesn’t mean you’re going to win over the mistaken. Ours is a culture that nurtures the arrogant and entitled, and trolls of this stripe thrive in this culture, the pundits and politicians ranting on about rights and freedoms while these dregs emerge from under their bridges to tell you why your opinion sucks and theirs is The Truth. It’s a level of impenetrability to reality that would be impressive if it weren’t so pathetic.
I don’t know what I hope to accomplish by posting this, other than to bring attention to and underscore the causes behind this prevailing sentiment among the seething and apparently idiotic masses of the Internet. Because like any disease, the more we know about the causes, the better chance we have of finding a cure.
If one even exists.
Some personal stuff related to writing and my life in general follows. Maybe this stuff will be useful to somebody else, and I apologize in advance if you choose to click the spoiler link and find the following text empty, useless or pointless.
There are some habits that are good to get rid of. Excessive drinking, smoking a pack of cigarettes that are more chemicals than tobacco a day, picking your nose or other body parts in public… You catch my drift.
There are other habits that one should hold on to. Keeping up on household chores, paying bills on time (if one’s economic situation allows), things of that nature. It can be a lot easier to fall out of these habits than it is to lose the habits that are bad for us, mostly because the more effort something requires, the less inclined we are to do them, especially if there’s a dayjob and other responsibilities involved. Firing up a game or watching a movie requires a lot less effort than washing the dishes or changing the car’s oil, after all.
But the more we put those things aside, the longer we stay out of the good habits, the worse things get. Detritus piles up, be it dirty silverware or engine deposits or recyclable waste. Then more effort than what should have been necessary is required to deal with that detritus, leaving us even more drained and less inclined to do the task on the following day. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, and it takes conscious effort to put a stop to it.
The habit of pursuing art is no differnet. Gone are the days when the artist could seek a patron as a source of income that kept them fed and clothed while they pursued their vision. Nowadays, to appease the exorbidant rates of utility companies and maintain even the most meager of households, one has to submit themselves to the will of a corporate or small business master. And while the cost of living goes up with shocking regularity, the salary of the day worker often remains the same. Make a single mistake, indulge in a single distraction, and you can expect nothing but disappointment if not scorn from those above you.
Thus it falls to the artist to engage in the habit of pursuing art in one’s spare time. The reduction of a life-long passion to the status of a hobby can be a crippling one. Your dreams limp along, gasping for air and vying for one’s attention admist distractions that require much less effort, input and time. After a long day of disappointment and doubt, a film or game or night out holds a great deal more appeal than even more disappointment and doubt, even if it’s in the form of something you love.
As my big sister was in the habit of saying, “Suck it up and deal with it.”
Without our passions, we’re nothing. We’re empty husks trudging from day to day banging away at insignificant tasks and spewing preprogrammed corp-speak jargon. Living that way isn’t really living. It’s existing. Amoebas exist. We should live.
I know it may seem like a lot of whining or grousing on my part but it’s been made crystal clear to me that I have once again gotten out of the good habit of seizing appropriate opportunities to write. It’s a habit I need to return to and this is my way of expressing that. Maybe somebody reading this will come to a similar realization and re-engage in a discarded good habit that leads them to freedom from a vicious cycle of depression and a dimishing self-image.
We, as individuals and especially as artists, are so much more than cogs in a machine, regardless of what anybody with a higher pay grade might say. It’s necessary for most of us to become a part of that machine just to afford a warm place to live and clean food to eat. But the machine need not be our lives. It doesn’t have to be our reason for being. There’s a reason people put faith in things that cannot be proven by science, other than ignorance or stupidity – there’s hope in the notion that there’s something more than what we see every day, because most of what we see every day can be pretty damn depressing.
I know I may never really succeed at writing. I know I may be doomed to working thankless, underpaid jobs for which I have little passion until my body begins to fail, my mind starts to unravel and all of the fire in my heart goes out.
That’s not going to stop me from trying, dammit.
I just have to try when I’m not getting paid to do something else.
Feyd-Rautha will cut a bitch.
This was an image I originally hunted down for use in the potential video project of turning the IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! review of Emperor’s New Groove into an entry in the Escapist’s contest. However, it’s feeling more and more like I won’t have time to even think about seriously working on such a project. More to the point, to work on that project would take time away from the frustratingly gradual process of refining a novel to its publishable form. It’s been bothering me for days, sometime to the point that I can’t even stand to look in that folder’s general direction.
The query for Citizen in the Wilds has been the major struggling point for me. A lot of the sentiments and experiences I’m about to convey are going to feel like a pale echo of stuff that’s been said before and in a much better and more useful way here. And, at the expense of tooting my own writer’s war-horn, I’m making progress. I’m confident enough in my skills to say that what I’ve written (in the novel, mind, not the query, that’s still kind of meandering around) is good. I just worry that it isn’t good enough.
I feel I may be too close to it.
Hence the Police-flavored title. See what I did there?
Anyway, my big fear along with the usual little ones of not being good enough, smart enough, charismatic enough or prompt enough to grab and hold the attention of an agent is that I’m too close to the work. I’ll be looking for grammatical errors, hunting down darlings and re-examining passages with such myopic focus that I’ll miss some big glaring issue that will keep this from getting published. I think it’s part and parcel of being the sort of person who fixates on games along with being a general media sink: I’ll zone in on something of a particular interest to me, at times to the exclusion of all else. In other words, expect my blog posts to be a bit less substantial in content when Cataclysm actually releases, in other words, provided I haven’t decided to play through the Mass Effect games for the seventeenbazillionth time instead.
I’m wandering off my point again, but this is less of a coherent advice-focused blog post and more of a stream-of-consciousness infodump. I’m sure you’ve picked up on that already, and if you didn’t you’re either on some other, better-written site or looking up an old ICFN to hear me rant about how badly something sucks because we just don’t have enough Internet critics yet.
You do know you should avoid the fuck out of writers, right? Okay. Moving on.
My point is that I am aware of the fact that this myopia is a problem inherent with geeks in general, gamers in particular and me most of all. Compounding the problem is the fact that I don’t know what the Achilles heel of my own work is, because in the act of creating it I have inextricably put myself in very close proximity to it. I’m not about to run to the mountaintop declaring that the salvation of fans of high fantasy is at hand with this tome, fuck no, but I’m also not operating under the impression that it’s absolute shit. What I will say is that my goal is mostly to have it not be mediocre, the sort of easy-to-crank-out guaranteed-to-sell-to-morons schlock I’ve decried on many an occasion here. But my dilemma is while I strive to avoid those things that piss me off about said schlock, I may be writing a different kind of schlock entirely and not even really know it.
I can say “this doesn’t work and needs a rewrite” or “this is unnecessary and I need to bypass it before I take it out back and put a bullet in its brainpan.” What I’m struggling with is saying “Overall, this book is really about X in the context of Y but element Z undermines or detracts from that central theme or narrative throughline.” This is probably why the query is such a tremendous hurdle for me to clear. Ultimately I am unsure if the proper course of action is to hand it to someone I trust to read critically from start to finish or to put myself through the editorial process as many times as it takes, but the fact I can’t shake is that I might just be too close to it.
It’s a “forest for the trees thing.” I can tell this tree is an oak and that over there’s a pine, but I have no idea how big the forest actually is, how close the nearest river or roadkill-strewn freeway might be or how much (if any) of it is on fire because I forgot to stamp out my stogy properly and now HOLY SHIT IT’S SMOKEY THE BEAR AND HE’S PISSED OFF AT ME RUN JUST GODDAMN RUN. I wouldn’t see it coming. I’m nose-deep in bark and needles trying to get the sticky sap out of my beard and the sharp plantlife out of my eyeballs. I’m too obsessed with details to realize that the kind and gentle guardian reminding me that only I can prevent forest fires is only wearing that park ranger hat because he ate the last park ranger that trashed his woods.
I really don’t know how else to express this impasse I seem to have reached. Hell, I don’t even know if I’m writing this properly. I’m uncertain if I should be pestering those brave souls who’ve volunteered to test-read the thing to give me more feedback, or if I need to keep to the writer tradition of the bitter isolationist hermitage into the editorial chambers. And I remind myself that no matter what I do I’m likely to still receive a shitload of rejections long before I even remotely grab the attention of someone in a position to help me turn a hundred thousand words of fantasy fiction arranged in a particular order into something that actually pays my fucking bills.
I do this because I’m crazy. I do this because I hate myself. I do this because I’m sick of working dayjobs.
And, deep down, I do this because, frustration and depression and bad metaphors and all, I love it.
I just need to not be so close to it. Otherwise, I may lose sight of how good it actually is.
Since I and others may get worked up over this, here’s a picture of our kitten.
I try to keep the contents of this blog focused on storytelling and the best ways to do it in modern media. One of those forms of media is games. Video games, to be precise, and it’s a form of storytelling and interactive entertainment I’ve enjoyed since I was knee-high to a corn stalk. It’s in my blood. It’s part of my life. I am a gamer.
And yet, I feel like using that word has come to carry a negative connotation. Some have tried to distance themselves from the hobby to some degree. Some have pointed out that a lot of gamers are doing it wrong. Some are curious as to what’s going on with the term in general. And others want the label drowned in the bathtub altogether.
By the way, you should really go watch and read all of that stuff I just linked if you haven’t already. It’s worth your time especially if you’re a gamer, and it’s the basis for this entry.
For my part, I want to make something perfectly clear. I don’t think I’m better or worse than the large community of gamers out there. I’m just as guilty as taking joy in the failures of another gamer who happens to be on the opposing side of the Internets as anybody. I’ve shunned social interaction, ambition and even relationships for the sake of gaming. I’ve gotten pissed off to the point of physical violence over another failed attempt at a challenging level. After the experiences of suicidal depression, a nervous breakdown, abandonment, divorce and the rigors of the mental health recovery system in this country, I made a promise to myself that when I came across a flaw in my behavior, I’d take a look at the problem, find out where I’d gone wrong and strive to improve my behavior going forward.
Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I kick it right into the goal, sometimes I bounce one off the post. Nobody’s perfect, right? Yeah, I might lose my cool when I nearly get run over by somebody in an Audi who’s in a hurry to get from the local Starbucks to their next high-powered marketing meeting. Who doesn’t? And I might invoke the works of other gamers and critics – like I did two paragraphs ago – and be seen as taking them out of contest. Mistakes are going to happen. I’m a human being.
My point is: so are you, and so is everybody else out there. I want to be treated like one, and so I make the attempt to treat others like one. Is it really that hard? Am I strange for wanting this? Has common courtesy somehow become taboo, uncool or downright lame?
No. It hasn’t. And nobody should feel that way.
I’ve gotten into arguments over games, stories, programming procedures, politics, religion, philosophy and the best variety of Pop Tarts. And some of those arguments have gotten pretty heated. But when it comes to an actual debate, even when I bring up a point that I know is going to be unpopular for one reason or another, it’s never my goal to piss anybody off, make anybody feel inadequate or ashamed to feel the way they do. I especially have zero interest in perpetuating the notion that disagreement and dissension should be met with blind hatred phrased in abusive language.
Now before I get into the meat of this, let me pause to say that some of the discourse I’ve had recently related to games and gaming has been balanced and respectful. It’s heartening to experience respect and debate on the Internet, but the unfortunate truth is that this feels more like the exception than the norm. And that’s a problem. I’m also not opposed to the use of profanity. I make precision F-strikes from time to time to get a point across. But using that language in a demeaning, personal attack is a far cry from using it to emphasize a point.
Let me give you an example, specifically regarding the word “faggot” or “fag.” For a lot of so-called gamers out there, if you present a counter-argument to the prevailing sentiment about a given game or aspect of gamer culture — the characterization of a video game’s protagonist or lack thereof, for example, or the virtures of an RPG or turn-based strategy game over the plethora of FPS games out there — you must be a “fanboy” of whatever side you’re percieved to be on. Additionally, it’s not only acceptable but encouraged to imply if not out-and-out state that as a “fanboy” you are automatically also that aforementioned f-word and all it implies. The reinforcement of a negative sterotype of a particular minority of humanity, the perpetuation of the acts that are wrapped up in that stereotype and the consequences desired by certain political and religious groups for being a part of or even associated with that minority have become the default reactionary response of these so-called gamers. In other words, if you were to say that Team Fortress 2 is a better multiplayer experience than Halo or Call of Duty, the default reactionary response of these gamers is that (a) you play Valve games to the exclusion of all other games to the point of obsession and (b) you should be burned alive for being so clearly deviant from the accepted norms of gamer society.
This behavior is absolutely fucking disgusting.
Putting aside the fact that this sort of rabid defense of a given sub-strata of gaming makes these valiant defenders of whatever they’re defending just as much a “fanboy” as the object of their ire, the virulent vomiting of acidic homophobic or racist hate renders any sort of counter-point they want to make entirely worthless, if they have any point to make at all. People work personal attacks into their commentary all time, be it for the sake of comedy or lacking anything further to say of intellectual importance. And in the interest of full disclosure, in the context of gameplay, busting out the occasional “Your mom” joke when you’re among friends is pretty harmless — I’ve done it & will likely do it again. There’s no intent there to harm, which is a point I’ll revisit.
But in the context of discourse and debate, when all you do is attack the person making the point instead of the point itself, all you’re doing is proving just how aggressively juvenile and socially inept you are. Pointing out flaws in an opponent’s logic, citing sources that discredit their thesis, deconstructing their argument in a way that’s just as constructive for future talking points as it is furthering your point of view — that’s interesting, intelligent, thought-provoking and respectful discussion. Invoking lewd sex acts done by or to your opponent or their family isn’t any of those things, nor is it all that funny.
As I said before, busting out the occasional “So’s your face!” among friends is one thing. Constant, unrepentant and abusive behavior is quite another. Making fun of someone aiming to have everybody laughing, including the one being made fun of, is one thing. Spitting out derogatory remarks laced with profanity for the sake of proving your superiority is another. See what I’m getting at here? Are you picking up what I’m putting down? Does this make any sense to you whatsoever?
Another picture of one of my cats associating with games. It calms me.
I know it might seem hypocritical of me to be telling people how to behave and to knock off personal attacks in what is looking more and more like a personal attack, albeit directed at a number of anonymous people. But how else do we call attention to this fundamental flaw in our society? What other recourse do we have to point out how bad this makes us look as a community? Why should we continue to let this be accepted, encouraged and in some cases defended behavior?
We can, and should, do better. We have a whole lot of language we can use. We are fully capable of rendering our arguments in ways that are not personally insulting, potentially inflammatory or deliberately pejorative. And when you get right down to it, the words themselves are devoid of meaning other than those we give them. George Carlin, may he rest in peace, said the following regarding language:
There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad intentions. And woooords.
So I’m not saying that certain words are taboo and should never, ever be used. Taking words out of parlance is tantamount to censorship, which I’m just as opposed to as I am treating other people like shit because they happen to disagree with you. What I’m driving at here is that, as gamers, we should respect the opinions of other individuals even when we disagree with them. If we want to be respected, we need to show respect to others in order to earn the respect we crave.
We are a culture of short attention spans and ever-emerging distractions. We’ll get fired up about something for a bit and then move on to the next big release, content update or point of contention. I’m afraid this will happen when it comes to this aspect of our society. If that means I need to jump up and down in my cage, thump my chest and throw some poo, so be it. After all, the only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.
Now, I’m not saying these gamers are evil. That’s just as wrong as all of the homophobia. I’m just reiterating the fact that this kind of behavior, from its roots deep in the insecurities of socially inept gamers to its manifestation as streams of profanity wrapped around racist and homophobic epithets with the intent of degrading an individual for the sake of elevating one’s own sense of self-worth, is completely unacceptable. It wouldn’t be tolerated to use these words with that intent to someone’s face, and it shouldn’t be across the Internet, either. If you engaged in this behavior around a gaming table where dice are being thrown, or while sitting on the couch as a guest in someone else’s home, it would not go on anywhere near as long or be anything close to this ‘accepted.’ In fact, you’d be sitting by yourself pretty damn fast in most public situations because nobody wants to associate with the dickhead who thinks it’s funny to imply people he doesn’t like should be burned alive.
You can disagree with me if you like. You can even hate me for pointing this out, even though it’s been pointed out before. Send hate mail, engage in the very behavior I’m opposing, vote for projects other than mine out of spite, whatever. If that’s the price I have to pay for sticking my neck out in the name of common courtesy and asking that a level of decency be introduced to the interactions we have with one another as human beings sharing the same planet and trying to enjoy the same hobby, I’ll pay it gladly.
Art courtesy Lucian
Once again I’ve provided a provocative title to try and get your attention. Is it working? Is it?
Yesterday’s post on females in fiction has generated some feedback, but thoughts from one of my friends got me thinking. He said, “Why not disregard gender entirely? Why not just write characters?” This is something worth consideration. Tyrande, the Baroness, Hit-Girl… they’re characters no more or less valid than Brann Bronzebeard, Destro or Kick-Ass. They all have interesting angles, they all exemplify parts of ourselves and they call can be used and abused at the hands of different writers. There are differences in character much deeper and more nuanced than their disparate gonads. So why do gonads come into it at all?
Is there, in fact, no sex? Or more to the point, no genders?
Proceeding with Lucian‘s intriguing line of thought, consider the following. While this is not a direct quotation from the conversation we had, it’s still thinking outside of myself, hence it gets the blockquote treatment.
The purpose of gender existing is to help us construct schema for social situations. A schema is a semi-conscious pre-evaluation of a situation based on how things are “meant” to work. Driving’s a good example. Driving has a tight schema: we expect people to drive on a certain side of the road, stop at red lights, etc.
Gender works like that for social situations. You see a person, evaluate male/female, and pre-judge how they will act based on gender stereotypes. The problem is, stereotypes hardly ever really hold true,
and they are usually reinforced into place by social expectation. Not to mention, they are harmful and insulting to “both” genders.
That is how gender works and why it exists.
And why it is very, very boring.
From the perspective of the writer, at least when it comes to fiction, the goal should be to write compelling characters, regardless of their gender. Now, this doesn’t mean that the newsboy on the corner should have as much depth or development as John Dillinger. But the characters we do spend time with should have some dimension to them, things for the audience to discover.
Say what you want about the stories in the Mass Effect universe, but many of the characters we encounter have depth and nuance divorced from their gender. Would Wrex be any less interesting if it turned out he was female? How about Tali’s fans – would they still exist in their large numbers (with me among them) if Tali was a male Quarian? I’d still want to hang with Tali if he were a guy, for the record. I’d also like to believe that Miranda would be just as smug and Jack just as caustic if they were men. Sure, their character models would undertake radical changes and Miranda probably wouldn’t be called Miranda, but that’s beside my point.
Under those layers with varying degrees of curvature and color that we call “bodies,” the characters we create that carry our stories should be interesting, thoughtful, compelling – human. “Human” means more than gender. It applies to our lives, and I think it should apply to our fiction as well.
How important is gender, when you get right down to it? When it comes to what’s really important about our characters – motivation, outlook, goals and fears – is there, in fact, no sex?
Women in fiction can be tricky things for writers, especially male ones. Every individual, regardless of gender, is a creature of nuance, and unless you want your work to be regarded as lacking substance, easily disposable and the sort of thing no publishing house will get near with a ten foot pole, your ladies are going to need just as much development as the gentlemen. But there is definitely a wrong way of doing it. Or them, if you want your discussion to become kinky.
Gracing the top of today’s post is the feral and beautiful face of Tyrande Whisperwind, from the Warcraft universe. When she and her people were first introduced in Warcraft III, they were depicted as a semi-Amazonian society, where the females hunted, fought and provided for settlements while the men healed, dealt in the arts and acted as spiritual guides, when they weren’t hibernating. Tyrande, a high priestess, rode a giant tiger into battle and, despite being mated to the world’s most powerful druid, wasn’t the sort to be pushed around. To this day, the quote that will always define her for me is “Only the Goddess can forbid me anything, Malfurion!”
Unfortunately, this depiction of a strong female leader didn’t hold up over time. Richard Knaak has, through several of his novels, chosen to take Tyrande down a slightly different path, that of a somewhat meek woman not entirely comfortable in her own skin whose identity is completely entwined with that of her husband. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, that fact that night elves do not marry – they choose mates privately and don’t make a big deal out of it. According to Knaak, Tyrande’s more of a “teenybopper”, either waiting to be rescued from one peril or another, or wringing her hands shyly while the men (more than likely Rhonin and a couple others) sort out how to fix the issues of the day. This isn’t helped by the fact that a lot of role-players take their night elf females in exactly this same direction, watering down the uniqueness and draw of their entire race as far as I’m concerned.
This is starting to sound a bit like that complaint I had about the Baroness.
The thing that really irked me about the Baroness’ derailment in the G.I. Joe movie was the apparent necessity to not only have her secretly being a “girl in love” but also mind controlled. First of all, just because you have a female character doesn’t mean they need to be defined by a relationship to a male. Tyrande suffers from this at Knaak’s hands, as I mentioned, but I see it everywhere, even in good works like Inception. Granted, in that work, Mal is actually a projection of Cobb’s unresolved feelings and guilt over the loss of his wife, so it’s more a case of him being defined by his relationship with her, but it can be interpreted as this sort of problem as well.
G.I. Joe, though, has no wiggle room. Everything that made the Baroness interesting, clever and fun to watch was never real to begin with because (a) she never stopped loving that unemotive dull-surprise-faced Duke for whatever reason and (b) she was being manipulated and brainwashed by Cobra’s malevolent doctor. The worst part is that for most of the film this was barely eluded to, even if eagle-eyed viewers could see the penny on the rails long before her character’s train hit it. It was going in a cool direction before it jumped the tracks. She wasn’t uninteresting, meek, submissive and just waiting for a male to take her away, unlike other supposed “heroines” I could mention. But after the changeover she might as well have been walking next to Edward Cullen instead of Duke.
So let’s take a look at a girl done right.
Kick-Ass introduces us to Hit-Girl. Instead of being defined by her relationship with her father, she turns it around and defines that relationship herself. And when she’s on her own, she doesn’t fall apart. You won’t catch her wringing her hands in dismay or wondering what to do next. She takes action. She does the best she can with what she’s got. And she does her own way, woe be to anybody stupid enough to be between her and what she’s after.
I hesitate to call her a “role model” due to the violent, foul-mouthed way she goes about doing things, but once you get past the bloodshed, there really is a lot to admire about Hit-Girl. As a male writer, I often find myself struggling to ensure I deal with female characters fairly, neither watering them down to the point of being uninteresting or inflammatory to potential female readers, nor amping up their sexuality to sell more words. I mean, I like a good-looking woman as much as the next red-blooded straight guy, but when it comes to works of fiction as well as real relationships, there’s got to be more to her or I’m likely to lose interest. You enjoy eating cheesecake in the moment, but how often do you remember eating it a week or a month later, unless it was really, really good?
Give me a few more examples of either extreme. Lay on me what sort of things you’d like to see girls in fiction saying, doing and being. What’s overdone? What isn’t done enough? I just want to ensure that, in my hands, girls are done right.
When it comes to writing, of course.
Ours was a Transformers house. G.I. Joe wasn’t on anywhere near as much when I was growing up. In retrospect, this might be why my initial impression of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies was a little bit rosier than my overall take has become. So I went into G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra expecting a dumb, flashy action picture more in line with those movies than the colorful inventiveness of Iron Man or the “introspection coupled with action” brilliance of Equilibrium. I didn’t quite get what I expected, and I mean that in both the best and worst possible ways.
Following a very brief scene in 17th century France to give us the family history of the man who would be Destro, we open to find that man, James McCullen, showcasing a new weapon for his NATO investors. His arms company, MARS, supplies most of the world’s militaries with weaponry, pursuing his family’s policy of never getting caught selling arms to both sides. His new weapons’ warheads, which dissolve metal upon impact and self-replicate to encompass city-wide destruction provided a kill switch isn’t triggered, are left in the hands of a special ops unit ambushed and assaulted by a highly advanced force. Before the weapons can be stolen, however, a different highly advanced force comes to the rescue. The latter is G.I. Joe, an international black ops outfit formed of the best & brightest from around the world provided they can deal with silly nicknames. The mysterious bad guys still want the warheads, though, touching off a conflict that will define both teams forever. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the word “international” in there: G.I. Joe is still as American as baseball, apple pie and questionably motivated military interventionism.
“A Real International Hero” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way.
When you go into a movie like G.I. Joe, there are certain expectations. There will be explosions, one-liners will be dispensed and you’d better bring your own batteries, as they are not included. However, this movie seems aware of this. It has some fun at its own expense. I’m reminded of the scenes in You Only Live Twice or Thunderball where James Bond dispenses a cadre of henchmen or breaks out a neat gadget and you can’t help but smile because you know it’s the result of invoking the Rule of Cool. This movie has a level of camp that never becomes overly silly, but it seems aware of this for the most part. I mean, it opens with the words “In the not too distant future.” And in another move that distinguishes this from Revenge of the Fallen, the fights are relatively clearly shot and paced so you never lose track of combatants or where the action is headed. As I mentioned, I didn’t expect a level of inventiveness I’d attribute to Marvel. But how often have you seen people doing parkour on moving cars? Or a dogfight under water?
Now, in a movie like this, you can’t expect top-flight actors to give their all. That said, most of the performances fall on the “passable” side of “phoning it in.” The Joes we’re introduced to during the first real action sequence are actually a well-balanced team, and Rachel Nichols in particular tries to give Scarlett a little bit of depth and nuance. I really liked her, Snake Eyes, Breaker and Heavy Duty. Dennis Quaid seems to be here just to be the gruff leader and Brendan Frasier has a cute little cameo. They’re not ground-breaking characters and lean towards cliché, but what do you expect? It’s G.I. Joe! There’s kickass energy weapons, cool vehicles and freakin’ ninjas! We’re here to have fun, right?
He knows war is good for business, and knowing is half the battle.
On the Cobra/MARS side of things, I have to say there were times I didn’t quite buy Christopher Eccleston’s Scottish accent. Still, he gave McCullen a sort of cultured gravitas I wasn’t expecting, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role had a touch of mad menace I really appreciated. This is Cobra we’re talking about, so of course things lean towards the sort of malevolent camp that makes Blofeld look like a Machivellian genius, but it’s more fun than laughable where these two are concerned. Oh, and Arnold Vosloo just owns the Zartan role. He’s a very bright spot in this film. Again – having fun’s the order of the day.
There was a lot of potential in G.I. Joe. I was on board for some of the action-aimed fun and I found myself really wanting to like it. When the movie’s firing on all cylinders, it’s a fast, fun and inventive little action flick. But like a date who chats you up pleasantly for an hour at the local pub only to duck out for a “phone call” and never come back, sticking you with the check and refusing to respond to your texts afterwards, this movie let me down. I could point to the overuse of action clichés, the occasional bit of dodgy CGI or the fact that there’s a reason why ice floats (I’m looking at you, climactic action sequence). So what makes me feel like G.I. Joe is so full of potential but ultimately a let-down? The answer lies in some spoilertastic territory, so fairly be ye warned.
A scene from G.I. Joe, or Halo? Hard to tell, isn’t it?
Let’s start with Channing Tatum. You don’t really need to do a lot to carry an action flick as the hero or main protagonist. Kick ass, take names, crack wise and show a bit of emotion here and there to inform the motivations of the character. Tatum as Duke does kick ass. But he doesn’t seem interested in taking names, his one-liners are utterly flat and he has the emotional range of a brick. Considering the ways we see Rachel Nichols, Saïd Taghmaoui and even Ray Park show emotion here and there, I don’t think I can legitimately fault director Stephen Sommers or the writers – for this. Tatum feels like a beefier, even less emotive Hayden Christensen. He’s not having fun, and since he’s our main protagonist, it waters down our fun as well. On the other hand, I think I’ve found the perfect guy to play Master Chief in the inevitable Halo movie! Michael Bay, give Channing a call! I’m sure he’ll be excited to be a part of it. Not that you’ll be able to tell.
Then, there’s Marlon Wayans. I haven’t liked anything a Wayans brother has done in terms of acting since In Living Color, save for maybe Blankman or Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood. Half the time Marlon as Ripcord just looks sort of lost. The other half, I just struggled to take him seriously. To me, it feels like he’s trying and failing to channel Will Smith. His jokes never really made me laugh, I didn’t buy him as either an action hero or the sort of guy to figure out the connection between the attack on the Joe’s base and McCullen – his line felt like it should have belonged to Breaker. He just feels superfluous, along for the ride, sort of tacked on. He’s not having fun because he’s trying too hard. I’m really not sure how to articulate why his presence made me so uncomfortable past my personal lack of affinity for the Wayans brothers in general and Marlon in particular. So let’s move on to the real deal-breaker.
I’m going to get this out in the open: I dig Sienna Miller. She smoldered in Layer Cake and completely nailed the selfish Victoria in Stardust. I think she did the most with what she was handed in this, and for the most part she pulls off a classic femme fatale in a black catsuit with kickass guns and the coolest pair of Transitions lenses ever. The problem I have here is the exact opposite of the one I have with Channing Tatum. I feel Duke would have been fine in the hands of another actor. The Baroness, on the other hand, bothered me because she was assaulted in the writer’s room and never really recovered.
You see, for most of the film the Baroness is a cunning, smirking, damn fine looking kicker of ass who loves every minute of being the bad girl. She especially delighted in playing her rich scientist husband for a sap, and watching Storm Shadow and McCullen vie for her affections. For some reason, though, this sort of strong female antagonist seemed to intimidate the writers, who worked in a relationship with Duke right from the beginning. As much as I loved seeing a black-haired Sienna blowing things up and complimenting other girls on their shoes while she points a gun at them, in the back of my mind there was a sinking feeling as I felt I knew where this was going. Sure enough, towards the end the Baroness pulls a High Heel Face Turn. But wait! It gets worse! It turns out she was brainwashed into working for MARS the whole time, so all of her awesome villainy wasn’t even her fault! She’s really a sweet girl who missed Duke and was ready to forgive him for the pain he caused her! Seeing an interesting character and a strong female one at that completely undermined in this way just made me sick. At that point I very nearly turned my back on the whole affair, but I was already on around the 110th minute so I figured I might as well see it through to the end. It never got better. I’m sorry, but this sort of character derailment just isn’t fun for me, and while some of the characters are bad or flat, this sort of thing is just completely inexcusable.
Like I said, I wanted to have fun watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but going back to my baseball analogy: One, two, three strikes – you’re OUT!
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film that’s difficult to put into a genre. Its central story is, at first glance, a romance. A great deal of the dialog is comedic. But how many romantic comedies do you know where the conflicts are resolved through kung-fu matches? And how many kung-fu battles have you seen in a movie that include running scores, power-ups and visible sound effects? The term “something for everybody” gets bandied about a great deal, but Scott Pilgrim just might fit that bill. The problem with having so many of these elements in a film, however, is that some elements don’t get as much time as they should.
That isn’t to say this movie is bad. This movie is far from bad. This movie, in fact, is very good, and you should go see it if you haven’t already.
Scott Pilgrim. Age: 22. Rating: Awesome.
Based on the acclaimed series of graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley, the eponymous Scott Pilgrim is a Canadian bass player who’s unashamedly between jobs, dating a high schooler and mooching off of his gay roommate Wallace, who tolerates Scott because it’s fun to watch him squirm when discomforting things happen to him. Scott’s precious little life takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious girl named Ramona Flowers skates through his dreams. Drawn to Ramona’s mature and world-weary personality, Scott encounters more than he bargained for when he is attacked by Ramona’s evil exes. Like Mega Man needing to defeat a series of Robot Masters to restore order in the world, Scott Pilgrim needs to defeat a series of super-powered individuals to get what he wants. Luckily, despite being a slacker and a dweeb, Scott’s also the best fighter in the province. As for what he wants, let’s take a look at Scott as he’s depicted in the film.
Let me make this perfectly clear: if you pass up on this movie because you don’t like Michael Cera, you are making a mistake. It’s not that I don’t understand where the ire against Cera comes from. Previously, in romantic comedies, he’s cast in the role of the screenwriter’s projection of the ‘right guy’ for the girl. You know what I mean, the sensitive, quiet, intelligent and otherwise marginalized young man who’s so much better for the girl than the large, attractive, macho jerks she tends to date – a Marty Stu, if you will. Now, while Ramona has dated some jerks, and Scott is somewhat sensitive and quiet… he’s also, himself, a jerk. He knows he’s sensitive but he uses that sensitivity to milk those around him for sympathy. His intelligence is applied to remaining as free from responsibility as possible. He exists in a personal space that I think a lot of young men of my generation, including myself, have at one point or another: the militant refusal to grow up. In a way, the ‘final boss’ in the story is the kind of person Scott could become if he’s not careful – a pretentious, self-centered, smirking and completely slimy hipster douchebag.
+2 versus critics.
Meeting Ramona (very well played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) doesn’t just change Scott’s life because he has to fight to the death in order to date her. The message she conveys to Scott and, by extension, those of us in the audience who live or have lived in that aforementioned Neverland in our heads, is as necessary as it is harsh. “You’re not Peter Pan. You have to grow up. You need to get over yourself. If you can stop being self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing you can let the good things about yourself shine through and speak for themselves; otherwise, you’re going to turn into something you hate.” Ramona also presents us with a personification of the sort of things we deal with when we get to know somebody. Their past, the people they’ve loved and lost, the mistakes they’ve made that haunt them; this ‘baggage’ doesn’t just sit around. It’s active and nearly constant, trying to keep us out of the moment and pulling us back into the past. While ultimately the battle Scott needs to have is with himself for his own sake, he also needs to be willing to fight past Ramona’s baggage in order to be a part of her future.
Now, when you get right down to it, all of this unsubtle metaphorical self-examination occurs under a surface of retro gaming references, genuinely funny comedy, a slew of callbacks to the graphic novels and some really memorable performances. Kieran Culkin’s come out of nowhere to own the role of Wallace, Scott’s smirking roommate who acts as something of a mentor. The League of Evil Exes seems to have come to life directly from O’Malley’s pages, and Chris Evans and Brandon Routh in particular seem to be having a great deal of fun in their roles, which I found quite amusing personally as I tend to think of them as Captain America and Superman, respectively. And I will admit, when the dual cameo shows up at the end of Scott’s fight with a particular evil ex, I went into full fanboy mode. I’ll say nothing more for fear of spoilers.
So here’s a picture of Sex Bob-Omb instead.
It’s not a perfect movie. Condensing six novel-length parts of a narrative into a two-hour movie means things are going to get trimmed, watered and reduced down. A few of the characters are robbed of some of their development, and even Scott’s growth towards the end is somewhat truncated compared to how it occurs in the books. Now, the books were still in production when the film started shooting, so the last third overall is different from the source material. However, I think a lot of the people who still didn’t feel any sympathy whatsoever towards Scott at the end might have been buoyed up by some of those missing experiences. Not that Scott or any protagonist necessarily needs to be 100% sympathetic in order to carry a story – in fact, Scott’s jerkass behavior in the beginning and middle of the movie drives home his need to get over himself all the more, and holds up that rather uncomfortable mirror to those of us who’ve been there.
In spite of its flaws, I really liked Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Director Edgar Wright, the man who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, really makes the visuals pop off of the screen and worked with O’Malley to ensure the characters that do get developed do so in a well-paced arc that shows their complexity and their humanity. There’s a lot of great music throughout the movie, the visual style is a quirky flavor of awesome, the dialog is smart and the fights all have a great deal of energy. The video game rules by which Scott Pilgrim’s Toronto operates go unexplained but, really, we don’t need to understand why Scott has a Pee Bar or where he stashes all of those coins after a fight. When the ex leaves him more than 2.40 Canadian, that is.
Stuff I Liked: I’ve yet to see an Edgar Wright film I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. Michael Cera acquits himself well with a very faithful and very good Scott Pilgrim. The messages in this movie are necessary to our generation and rather clearly conveyed under all the trappings of indie rock and 8-bit kung fu.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A lot of the characters – Kim Pine, Stephen Stills, Envy Adams and Stacey Pilgrim, to name just a few – feel a little underdeveloped. The metaphors aren’t terribly subtle. I expected Scott to have a little more smirking self-confidence at first to more closely follow his arc in the books, but this is a minor quibble. And I really didn’t like how people went to see The Expendables or Eat, Pray, Love instead of this film. America, I am disappoint.
Stuff I Loved: The music. The fights. The fact that Toronto is actually playing Toronto instead of standing in for America. Ramona, Wallace, Knives and the League of Evil Exes. The playful, retro and refreshing visual aesthetic. This exchange:
Young Neil: “What’re you doing?”
Scott: “Getting a life.”
Bottom Line: Go see this movie. I plan on buying it on DVD when it comes out. Brian Lee O’Malley, Edgar Wright, this great cast and a hard-working crew have labored to produce something fresh, original and fun while other studios churn out the cinematic equivalent of a corner convenience store hot dog. You know, the ones that have been sitting under heating lamps for at least four hours? Ew. See Scott Pilgrim vs. The World instead of the other stuff that’s out there. Trust me. You will not be disappointed.
Let’s face it. Fiction is a planned endeavor. The best works are ones that are plotted out from first act to last, from beginning to end. They have structure, flow and purpose. Some even have a message to deliver along with a story to tell.
But when that message is tied to an anvil dropped on the audience, or the story is delivered with gaudy wrapping paper surrounding a poorly-constructed product, the whole thing suffers. You can have all of the CGI in the world in your film but if there’s no coherence to the narrative or depth to the characters, all you have is a bunch of CGI. People can get that by logging into World of Warcraft. Or Grand Theft Auto. Or Second Life.
I’m going to use a key example in all of this. Since this weekend turned out to be something of a success in terms of experimentation, even if it kept me from doing things like going outside or spending time with loved ones or smelling like a human being instead of a pile of rage and shattered dreams, let’s use Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the
Lame Title Talentless Hack Fanboys Clones.
Contrivance is Bad Writing
Plain and simple. If you write a scene that’s intended to be heartfelt, or romantic, or tragic there’s a very basic rule you need to follow. Show, don’t tell. If you can show characters being in love, or caring about one another, the audience will understand what’s going on without having to be told, and what’s more, there’s a much greater chance they’ll actually care about what’s happening. Or, you could just have your characters sitting around talking about how they feel.
There’s a right and a wrong way to show people’s emotions, too. Is it really that hard to weave emotional undercurrents into plot-salient actions and dialog? You don’t need to draw out a scene of two young people frolicking in a field with lilting, string-heavy music playing at fortissimo to show they’re so in love. You might as well be sitting in the wings with a bullhorn shouting, “THESE TWO ARE IN LOVE AND YOU SHOULD EMPATHIZE WITH THEM BECAUSE THEY’RE IN LOVE BECAUSE THEY SAY THEY ARE.”
“You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! THAT MAKES ME FEEL ANGRY!”
Me too, Beelzebot. Me too.
Contrivance Defies Logic
Let me toss a hypothetical your way. Say you have a plot in which you need to deal with an idea you presented in a previous work. You also have a fan favorite character whose origins you want to explore. How do you work both of them into the same work at the same time?
First of all, why? Why is it necessary for one to have anything to do with the other? If you want to show that character X is a badass, fine. If you want to explain how cloning works, fair enough. But having every single fucking clone patterned on the same person who has the family name of a fan favorite character but about as much development as a patio umbrella and less depth than a teaspoon raises more questions than are likely to be held in the writer’s brain at any given moment.
You know, questions like: Why did they pick this jagoff to be the prime clone?
Why is he trying to assassinate some one in the Republic and fighting Jedi when his clones are going to be used to support both the Republic and the Jedi? Did he just not know? Did nobody tell him what his clones were for? Did he not think to ask?
Did anybody bother to think about this shit, let alone write it?
I paid ten bucks to watch THIS?
Contrivance Destroys Enjoyment
We enjoy stories. We like to read them, listen to them, watch them. We like to envision the action, let the characters grow, anticipate what happens next.
The problem with prequels in general and Lucas’ six hours of wanking onto a green screen in particular is that there’s really only one way for things to resolve. You need to get characters and situations into a certain configuration so the already established works make some sort of sense. Unless you’re going far, far into the past of your own universe – thank God for Knights of the Old Republic – if you don’t do things right you will outright ruin any enjoyment of said previous works.
I can’t think of a better example of this than Star Wars. Every time you see Darth Vader, every time you hear James Earl Jones rumble out his orders and declare the ‘promotion’ of another officer, you see and hear the whiny little psychopath pictured above. It’d be different if Anakin had been characterized as somewhat insecure but nonetheless good-hearted, concerned about the scope of his power and wanting nothing more than a happy, peaceful life.
But no, we got a self-centered, power-hungry, whining, disrespectful asshole.
He had to be with someone so he could have kids, so he’s set up with someone who could have been every bit as inspiring to women now as Princess Leia was back in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. You know, a confident, intelligent, competent and brave young woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty but still knows how to look good and deal with people.
But no, we got a vacuous, empty, shallow, entirely underdeveloped plot convenience.
She has to leave the scene before the end of the last prequel, since Luke and Leia get separated for their safety by Obi-Wan and Bail Organa. How can we get this to happen? Does she make some kind of brave but stupid decision to make one last effort to reach the man she loves who is now lost in his own desire for justice that has been subverted and perverted by the Dark Side of the Force?
No. Just have her drop dead of a broken fucking heart. They might as well have said the midi-chlorians did it.
Mister Lucas? With all due respect for the pioneering you did in science fiction and special effects back when I was a little boy…
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, crap! He’s finally snapped! He’s going to get himself a white hoodie and start jumping on random people so he can stab them in the neck with a #2 pencil to to make sure people get the irony!” First of all, no. Neither Altaiir nor Ezio jumped on ‘random’ people and I certainly wouldn’t, either. Secondly, I’m talking more about the seminal line in the titular Assassin’s Creed than I am their way of dealing with problems. The line in question: Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
I was set on this course of thinking by one Henry Rollins. I saw on the Tube of You that he’d given some thoughts on Jesus. This bit’s sort of brief, but focus on what he says at about the 1:45 mark:
Rollins’ awesomeness aside, he makes a very good point that’s helping me get back into the groove of working on Citizen, a boost that I needed after this weekend’s experiment. Basically, it boils down to not listening to what other people might have to say about trying to do something creative or interesting with my life.
According to some, to make it as a writer, you have to pander to a certain demographic. Success in the modern literary world, according to sales figures, means main characters who are little more than blank slates onto which young & impressionable readers can project themselves, shallow stock supporting characters that do little more than fuel the ego of the protagonist (and by extension the author and/or reader) and presenting the whole project in an easily marketable way that can generate enough hype to overwhelm any criticism of the work itself. If sales trends are to be believed, this is the truth of the fiction market.
But remember, nothing is true.
Further, you don’t want to get too complicated, some might say. Don’t get to involved in your characters. Don’t stop to develop them. Don’t build a world that people can believe in. It’s just window-dressing, a green screen, and shouldn’t have any depth to it. Let readers project what they want into it just as they do the personality-deprived protagonist, and by the way, why are you trying to make that into a human being? You can’t spend time doing this stuff and expect to finish what you’re writing, let alone be successful with it, they’d cry. That’s not allowed!
And yet, everything is permitted.
You see what I’m doing here? I don’t have any intention of giving up. I won’t water down what I’m doing just to make it more palatable to the masses unused to the taste of something more complicated than gruel and wallpaper paste. I won’t compromise the visions that keep me up at night in order to make my work trendy. I don’t care what the teeming masses think is true, or what those in the world of business or sales or marketing think an individual is or is not allowed to do. Just because some people gave up on their dreams long ago doesn’t mean I have to do the same.
Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
It might seem a bit odd to take a line from a video game franchise this seriously, but when I stopped to think about what I’m trying to do, what I need to push myself to finish, I found myself ruminating on why it’s important, and not just to me. I’m certainly not expecting anything I write to change the world or sell a bazillion copies or even help me get away from the environment of the corporate day job. I know that it’d take months or even years after finishing just one novel for it to finally see print, and even then I’d be lucky to sell a dozen copies to friends and family.
That’s the truth of this situation.
Nothing is true.
I’m not allowed to expect anything more.
Everything is permitted.
I really like the work of JJ Abrams. I’ve seen bits and pieces of his TV show LOST and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. I like that it makes people think, posits difficult questions to both its characters and the audience, and has a bit of an old-fashioned serial feel to it. I dig all of that.
The show ended last night, and people for the most part like how it ended. They like that it still provoked thought at the end. And they laugh at people who are pissed off because it’s over but it’s still making people’s brains hurt when they try to use them. I dig that, too.
But everywhere I turn, people are blathering on about LOST, and it’s kind of pissing me off.
My wife’s never seen it. I missed the first year or two. So, we’ll be going back and starting from the beginning. That means I’d like to avoid spoilers. Which, in turn, means I need to avoid 90% of the blogs, feeds and Facepages I tend to visit. It’s also irritating because there are interesting conversations going on in which I can’t participate because I have no frame of reference. And by the time I am up to speed, none of my points will be particularly relevant.
I know, that’s pretty much true of any damn review I do on this blog, but I’m still miffed about this, dammit.
It could just be residual anger over the issues I’m having trying to get World of Warcraft working on my Linux laptop. Just because you can install Linux on just about anything doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work. It’s so close, I’m either going to sort out this last little bug or I’ll have to break down and find a way to install a stable copy of Windows on a different partition through a USB key.
Oh, and there’s still unpacking to do in the new flat, at least one load of laundry needs to get done so there are clean teatowels to tackle the ever-growing stack of dishes in the sink, and my older sister’s wall map and an old monitor linger at the old place.
And that’s not even touching my dayjob workload or my desire to finish the novel in the next couple of weeks or so.
Good times. Happy Monday, everybody!
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
Along with some support for the ideas I put forth in yesterday’s post, there are some that spoke up saying I’m just pushing my male ideas onto women, that chivalry is dead and it should stay that way because it’s a very bad thing that’s denigrating to women.
Cue me looking very confused.
Before I get into why this topic of conversation turned me into a seething ball of hatred, let’s look at why chivalry has become, for some, an epithet that means “the code misogynistic entitled male tossers use to impose their imagined superiority on women.”
In Days Of Old
Knights went to war back in the Middle Ages. To differentiate themselves from common folk, since most knights owned land and had other privileges due to their status, they chose to adhere to a code of behavior called ‘chivalry’. The code actually has Islamic roots, with Moorish knights expected to demonstrate “Piety, courtesy, prowess in war, the gift of eloquence, the art of poetry, skill on horseback, dexterity with sword, lance, and bow.” (Source) Christianity imposed more definition upon the code, instructing knights to use their might and influence to protect “weaker members of society.”
Back in those days, this mostly meant women.
For years, women were seen as inferior to men. Men took on the difficult or dangerous tasks of protecting the homestead from rampaging barbarians or going off to slay heathens in a holy war in the the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Women were expected to maintain said homestead, doing the things men couldn’t do because they either weren’t home or hadn’t be raised to know how to cook. This societal structure was maintained for quite some time, and it’s still a thorn in a lot of female sides to this day.
The Modern Interpretation
“Forget about honor, charity and self-sacrifice, the crux of the chivalric code was men imposing themselves upon women. The gentleness and graciousness with which a knight was to conduct themselves towards women was clearly a facade behind which lurked the desire all men have to put women under their thumb. If a man with wealth, title and strength of arms were to act this way, a woman was all but obligated to bow down before him.”
That’s the impression I get from most arguments made against the old chivalric code. And on a certain level, I am incapable of mounting a defense. Women’s rights have been a struggle for years, and many women still fight to prove that they are just as entitled and capable as men. Indeed, in some behavior of men, both then and now, there’s an undercurrent of condescension. “Oh, let me do that for you, my dear. It’s not your fault you’re incapable of rational thought or gross physical labor.”
I don’t think I need to clarify why I agree with the women who get angry at that sort of attitude. Hell, I’m male (at least, I think I am, let me check… *looks down pants* Yep, male) and this sort of thinking pisses me off. Women, from my experience, are tougher, smarter, more cunning, more quick-witted and far more cutthroat than a lot of men out there. Cross a guy, he’ll punch you in the face. Cross a woman, she will not only kick you in the crotch, but drag you into the street and repeatedly stomp on your balls while declaring to everybody within earshot what a fucking douchebag you are. And this won’t happen right away. It’ll happen when you least expect it, and trust me, somewhere in the haze of pain and humiliation, you might realize why you deserve it.
I’m talking mostly in metaphor, here, but I catch you get my drift. Women don’t need special treatment. A lot of women don’t want it. They’d much rather go through their daily lives without anybody taking notice of the fact that they’re put together differently from men.
It’s not going to stop me holding the door open for them, though. Let me tell you why.
I Call Bullshit
It’s not because I’m afraid of getting my nuts flattened, although there’s something to that. No, it’s because I was taught from a very young age through both instruction and experience that women deserve respect and courtesy, just as much as anybody else if not moreso. My mother busted her ass to take care of me and my two sisters, my grandmother taught us everything she could, and my sisters made damn sure I respected them through various means. I observed the way my dad treated my mom, from the good-natured jibes to the way he listened to her concerns, offered advice and worked towards compromise. I was told, and still believe, that holding a door open for a woman, speaking to her with courtesy and considering a woman more attractive if she’s smart, funny and clever rather than based on looks alone isn’t just common courtesy but common sense.
That, to me, is chivalry. It has nothing to do with oppressing women or considering myself superior to them or any of that misogynistic bullshit. Chivalry in my vernacular is and has always been shorthand for “treating people kindly regardless of who they are, where they’re from or what the color of their skin is, especially giving women the respect they deserve because for every kind act I do, at least a thousand other jerkoffs are treating a woman like shit and I want to make a difference, dammit.” I don’t give a damn what the world at large or the mass media or crusaders of womyn’s lib call chivalry, that is what chivalry is to me and I happen to think it’s an attitude that still has merit.
So if I talk about chivalry, or proceed to act in a chivalrous manner, that’s my thinking behind it. Maybe it’s wrong, maybe I’m flawed, maybe I’m still going to get my balls stomped on by a woman who thinks I’m being a condescending dickface. If I am, though, you go right ahead & pour my intentions into the paving machine and point the damn thing at Hell, because I’d rather be damned for seeking a better code of behavior than sit in the darkness cast by the shadow of others, waiting to be saved.
That’s what the word ‘chivalry’ means to me, and by God, I’m taking it back from people who use it the same way tea-partiers use ‘fascist.’
I touched on this subject yesterday, and it’s something that I’d like to expand upon. Basically, there’s a tendency among both game designers and game players to marginalize, sexualize or downright denigrate the role of women both in the games and playing games. It’s a stupid, misogynistic and shockingly accepted behavior, and I really wish it’d stop.
Nice job empowering young girls out there, Christie.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As a red-blooded mostly-heterosexual male who still has a pulse, I can appreciate a curvaceous woman who’s unashamed of her body. But really, how you can take the female fighters from Dead or Alive, stick them in a game that has them frolicking around on a beach in skimpy swimwear and not call it objectification? I mean to have strong women in a fighting game is one thing, but to take them from that context and stick them in another where all they do is flail around at one another, roll around on a sandy beach and pose provocatively for the player is quite another. At one point in DOAXBV 2, Christie does a pole dance. It’s just absolutely shameless exploitation of her sexuality. On top of the unfortunate social message this sends, the engine’s “jiggle physics” makes things unrealistic to the point of hilarity. Sure, somebody’s somewhere getting off on it as I write this, but I could say the same thing about a picture of a particularly woolly sheep.
Somewhere out there, somebody’s picturing Victa here on a pole.
Even when taking a lead role in a game, it’s difficult to find a pre-determined female protagonist who isn’t meant more to titillate than inspire. I haven’t been able to take Lara Croft seriously for some time now, for example. Bayonetta is a pretty blatant example of female protagonist exploitation, but at least she’s aware of it and is willing to laugh at how pathetic her exploiters can be. For the ultimate tongue-in-cheek gamer prick “taking the piss” experience, I’d love to see her saunter into a future No More Heroes title.
Seriously. This babe, teamed up with Travis Touchdown. Think about it.
It’s not all bad news, though. Yesterday I talked about Alyx Vance, from Half-Life 2 and its episodes. While she isn’t the main character, she gets a lot more characterization and personality than Gordon does, other than what’s projected onto him by the player. She’s probably still number one on my list of female sidekicks, though Farah from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is a very close second. And when it comes to protagonists, positive ones are certainly out there. Alex Roivas from Eternal Darkness comes to mind, as does Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. But I think it’d be very difficult for me to find a girl gamer who doesn’t consider Samus Aran a very positive role model.
Looking this good and kicking galactic-scale ass is a tough job.
Now, recent titles seem to depict Samus’ Zero Suit as having been sprayed on by some unknown Chozo technology. However, it still makes sense, as an environmental layer between her and her armor that still provides a layer of protection. In addition, she doesn’t need to look as good as she does, never relies upon her looks to survive, functions independently and projects a motherly instinct from time to time. She’s a well-rounded, positive character that blows the crap out of alien pirates who cross her. Female Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect games is another good example. It’s no coincidence that they’re both voiced by Jennifer Hale, if you ask me.
Women in games continue to struggle to be taken seriously. The players, too, have a lot of misogyny and prejudice to deal with. A good chunk of the gaming population seems to think that girls who play games are limited to Farmville or Cooking Mama or Little Big Planet. That’s such a complete load of immature misinformed crap. Face it, kids, women play games too, and not just the aforementioned “casual” titles. (And really, what makes those games “casual”? A lack of gunfire? No swearing? Not enough achievements to swell your
virtual penis gamerscore?) There are entire organizations out there like the PMS Clan dedicated to reinforcing the notion that women who get behind the keyboard or controller are just as capable of racking up kills, scoring points and talking smack as the boys, if not moreso.
Ladies, don’t let those underdeveloped wisecracking jerkoffs keep you from playing games you love and demanding a better representation for women. They’re not better than you are and they don’t have any right to say that you don’t have a place on their servers or in their games. And what’s more, deep down, they know it, and it scares the hell out of ‘em. I think I’ve said more than enough on the subject, so let me close by reiterating something I’ve come to believe about pretty much any endeavor I or any of my peers undertake.
The only thing that’s really capable of stopping you from making the most of the opportunities out there, in gaming or any other walk of life, is you.
EDIT: The conversations started by this post over on the Escapist have gotten VERY heated. Watch the fireworks from here, but bring an umbrella, as the forecast predicts a 75% chance of bullshit.
I was going to write about Maschine Zeit some more, since I spent some time yesterday working on a little promotional material and trying to drum up some interest. It really made me miss a gaming store in Conshohoken called “The Roundtable” that had a great staff, fantastic atmosphere and fun events. I’d be willing to try and help promote that place, too, if they hadn’t closed their doors. I’d even try to reopen them if I had the credit to support a business loan.
Anyway, the reason I’m not is because of a debate that began over yonder regarding Zynga. Basically the argument was that people who play Farmville (among other things) aren’t “hardcore” gamers and thus they’re not legitimate. That’s bullshit, obviously. Video games are video games, from the tiny little indy projects programmed in BASIC to the massive summer releases that rake in millions of dollars from youth just itching to blow an alien’s head off rather than taking it out on their math teacher.
So in that I’m in agreement. But placing Zynga on the same level as other game developers is, to me, comparing apples and oranges. My ire might be increased due to Zynga’s performance in The Escapist’s March Mayhem, where the social network gaming company has defeated NCSoft (creators of Aion), Infinity Ward (Call of Duty), Rockstar North (Grand Theft Auto), Square Enix (Final Fantasy), and are facing off against a favorite of mine, Valve (Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead…)
This irritates me, and I’ll tell you why.
Zynga doesn’t develop games the way those others developers do, or at least they go for a different kind of game. Zynga’s games are technically video games, just like So You Think You Can Dance, Jersey Shore and Millionaire Matchmaker are technically television shoes. They’re aimed at a very specific demographic. I don’t mean to generalize, but a lot of the people who play Zynga’s games know very little about video games in general. They don’t realize how far things have come. They don’t understand why someone like me can sit back in awe of a Mass Effect 2 or Super Mario Galaxy or No More Heroes when things like Asteroids and Galaxian were the height of gameplay innovation.
To put it another way, here’s a post made over on the Escapist by one Catherine Lyons:
It’s about the culture America (and even the world) is taking that the cheap and tawdry is more important than the innovative and artistic.
“Twilight” gets throngs of fans, who understand nothing of the true genre (one fan even wrote about how Universal’s “Wolfman” was a rip off (despite the fact Universal was remaking a movie they produced back in 30s(? don’t know the exact year), and flamed them because “how could a silver bullet kill a werewolf?” and “the transformation sucked. Look at Jacob for how a real werewolf is supposed to look and morph like.”) It’s mediocre writings set a low standard for it’s fans, and they can’t recognize good material if it doesn’t have a romance between moody teenagers.
Other movies are giving into the “zomg3D” craze where movies that have nothing to really gain from a 3D environment slap together a 3D version just because they can.
TV is getting bogged down with melodramatic crap. The Hills, Secret Life of the American Teenager, Tyra.
WoW is watering down WoW (and by extension, the entire MMO community) with hand-holding and catering too much to their non-gamer base.
Even the news is more celeb gossip and political flaming than actual journalism.
We idolize people like Paris Hilton and the Kardashians, and teach our children from a young age “Be a slut. It’s the cool thing to do. Aspiring to be the concubine of a man in his 80s is a worthy goal.”
Every day, the general populace moves further and further away from anything that makes them think, exert effort, or engage in more than a non-superficial way, and more towards the inane and uninspired.
Gaming seemed to be the last bastion of hope for artistic medium. Despite problems with WoW and Zynga bringing in people that know nothing of gaming into the gaming world and making them think that they know what they’re talking about, it seemed that our games were just getting better and better. More attention to detail, better plot lines, better gameplay.
Now, to see Zynga, who, for reasons I won’t re-enumerate here, doesn’t even deserve to be in this competition (and my assumption is that they were only thrown in there to fill a spot, and expected to quickly get kicked out) win against game houses who have reshaped the industry (Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty is one of the most popular war-based FPS’s out there, Rockstar has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of content and has redefined the idea of a video game again and again, and Square Enix has put out some very popular series that hold a special place in the hearts of many gamers) is like a film fanatic watching Twilight go up for Best Picture. Or a music fanatic watching Kidz Bop go up for a Grammy.
It’s watching our art from get pushed down with the rest of the world in this new world-order of “Thinking is, like, hard and stuff.” and watching as our passion falls to the tawdry mediocrity that is drowning our entire culture.
Anyway, that’s my two rather pretentious cents on the whole Zynga thing, and if they win March Mayhem I won’t be terribly surprised. Just disappointed.
Yahtzee put it best. Released in 2007, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed is a decent game with an interesting concept and good story let down by a few things that I’m going to dive into right now. This isn’t really a review, though I’m filing it as such. It’s more of a ‘first impressions’ overview because I got about three hours into the game, realized how much tedium I’d have to repeat and decided I’d finished wasting my time with it and went back to wasting my time with World of Warcraft.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about the Prince of Persia games on the PS2 was the free running you could do, basically holding down two buttons in such a way that the rather charming and very human prince of thieves jumps, swings, runs and leaps across ancient palaces full of nasty traps and nastier enemies made of sand. However, you were always going from point A to B, so any sense of freedom engendered by this mode of transportation seemed to deflate once you arrived. Then again, it was also buoyed up by knowing exactly where you were going.
In Assassin’s Creed, you’re free to run, jump, swing and fall on your face anywhere in the 11th century Holy Land you damn well please. That is if the guards aren’t trying to turn you into chunky salsa. But let me back up and talk about the story.
From the promotional art and trailers it seemed that the game was an action-adventure-platformer set in the aforementioned Holy Land where you play an assassin dispatching some of those dirty amoral Christians everybody loves hating so much. But Ubisoft lied to us. Assassin’s Creed is really about this guy named Desmond, strapped to a table in a lab located twenty minutes into the future where an evil scientist who really isn’t Dr. Breen from Half-Life 2 wants to mine the genetic memories of his 11th century ancestor, Altaiir. Now, I have to give Ubisoft props for making an action protagonist who’s of Middle Eastern descent and not characterizing him as a crazed fundamental Jihadist. Then again, Altaiir was just a touch more bland and emotionless than Desmond himself, but at least he wasn’t pursuing his targets the way Glenn Beck pursues anybody with a functioning frontal lobe or decent sense of morality.
Ah, shit, I promised I’d keep politics & religion out of this blog, didn’t I. Dammit.
Anyway, the game. Altaiir is tasked with taking down a series of extremely nasty Crusaders who are making life miserable for pretty much everybody and begins to uncover an ancient battle between his people, the Assassins, and a rather well-organized secret order of amoral knights called Templars. The Templars tend to get the short end of the stick in historical fiction, big examples being Kingdom of Heaven and anything Dan Brown writes, while at other times they’re actually shown to be somewhat virtuous, i.e. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Knowing some of the members of their spiritual descendants, the Freemasons, I find it hard to believe that the Templars are as dirty and horrible as some like to characterize them. However, that’s the route Assassin’s Creed goes, and Altaiir has quite a few pseudo-pious throats to puncture.
However, there’s a lot standing between you and your targets. Every time you jump into a new memory, you begin at your home base, which is at the top of a mountain far from any sort of Western civilization. While I can appreciate this from a historical perspective, as Alamut was indeed used by the Hashshashins as a refuge and fortress, walking down from the peak all the way down to the stables every single time was pretty much the definition of tedium. When you do get to the stables, you have to resist the urge to gallop off to your next target, since the Crusaders who patrol the roads of the Holy Land don’t want you to hurt yourself by riding too fast, and why don’t you have any papers for that horse? You need to get your horse inspected and registered every 12 months, or they’ll slap you with a fine. And by ‘fine’ I mean ‘longsword up the ass.’
Anyway, so you’ve hiked all the way down Alamut and gotten to Jerusalem or whereever at a slightly faster pace than your own brisk walk by having your horse do a brisk walk. Time to get your stabbing on, right? Wrong! You need to ‘gather intelligence’. And by ‘gather intelligence’ I mean ‘run around doing chores at the behest of NPCs before someone will tell you where the damn target is.’ You deliver messages, beat up bad guys (but without killing them, that’d summon the legions of Crusaders waiting around the corner to slay you for Jesus), sweep chimneys, walk dogs, babysit, run to the store, help little old ladies across the street and generally do everything for everybody in sight like this is an 11th-century MMOG and you’re trying to grind your way up to a more impressive hood.
When you finally find out where your target is, Assassin’s Creed adds something to the ‘good’ column under ‘breathtaking environments’, ‘intuitive free-running’ and ‘original story-framing idea’. You plan your route to where the target’s hanging out to make sure you avoid being seen by his cronies, make your way there stealthily either by moving through the crowd or via a tricky Parkour sequence that belies the peacefulness of the scene, leap onto the bad guy and slam your retractable blade into their larynx. Awesome!
But wait – the target has something to say. In fact, these guys have a lot to say. Even after you’ve sprung your sharp implement of holy death and driven it home, they’ll clearly tell you something about the ongoing conspiracy or their apple-cheeked children or something, with nary a gurgle or spattering of blood. Are they telepathic or something? How can you soliloquize when you’ve got a gaping hole in your voice box?
Following a successful assassination you are rubber-banded back into Desmond, who has a near-future room to hang out in between the near-future experiments on his near-future brain. And once you’re strapped back into the Animus, whammo, you’re back on top of Alamut again. It was around the third time that this happened that my patience for the game ran out.
“It’s like you’re enjoying a nice (if somewhat bland) grilled cheese sandwich livened up by intermittent lumps of Branston pickle, when someone snatches it from your mouth and replaces it with a spoonful of watery ejaculate between two peices of wood.” – Yahtzee
I do consider that a bit of a shame, because Assassin’s Creed had a lot going for it. The story seemed interesting and the free-running and sealth-assassining was fun, but the tedium of going from one place to another, all of the crap I had to take care of before I could stab with impunity got on my nerves and the lepers and beggars who ran up to me begging for cash really tempted me to break the first rule of the Creed, which is ‘Never harm an innocent’. I harmed quite a few, only to get desynchronized (read: killed) when the Crusaders nearby jumped on me for giving the beggar a discouraging poke. With my hidden blade. In the face.
This turned into a bit more of a rant than I expected, but I wanted to revisit my thoughts on Assassin’s Creed because I’m playing the sequel when I’m not sinking more time into the Mass Effect universe. So how does Assassin’s Creed II stack up? I’ll let you know when I finish playing it. Yes, I’m going to finish it, which says something for it right there. And here’s something else.
You know how Yahtzee described Assassin’s Creed as, at first, a nice little grilled cheese & Branston sandwich? Assassin’s Creed II is, so far, the same sandwich with a nice thin layer of prosciutto added for extra deliciousness. And nobody’s come to snatch it yet, which is a good thing because I love prosciutto to pieces.