Sunday, January 20, 2013

If There is Any Doubt Left, Know that I Am Writing This Without Any Pants On

It is the future, and I'm finally able to make a post on Blogger; but wherefore art thou, point....  Like Ondaatje's version of Caravaggio, I've got mad skillz but no reason to twiddle my thumbs as my 360 is broken, leaving me to abandon hope of naming my squad after my family in XCOM and writing my own ending to "Bus Uncle" in Sleeping Dogs.

The persona "lasttoblame" pretty much stopped with this blog when I wasn't able to make posts to Blogger from beyond the Great Firewall, so then the persona "terroir" took over, and as its the bright future and we're all wearing shades, "terroir" has a new website to glean on you:  Sinopathic.

"terroir" writes about the pride and exoticism that prevails in an air of cross-cultural misunderstandings between China and the West, and there's honestly no end to content to provide for it.  While I'd love to write about video games again, I'd like to write about China while I slowly pony up the change to get a PS3 before the next gen comes out.

See ya over there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious have one song in common

Tomorrow, besides being a Tuesday and not having to bear the burden of being the Godawful first day of the week but neither can boast to be the middle of the week - a signifier that even if you haven't done anything your being alive has brought you closer to having a day off, is a special day. It will be the one year anniversary of the day I started this blog.

Now, I won't cry - not because my tear ducts were destroyed during my tour of 'Nam, but because when I do my body shakes in uncontrollable dry heaves and makes typing/blogging/complaining impossible, even though I shed no tears but still make a sad clown face but without the round nose and ominous overtones. And honking, too.

But, as I restart this blog after months of neglect after having to abandon it due to censorship controls, I'm really quite happy to know I'm continuing something I enjoyed back then, and still do now. It may prove to be irrelevant in a fast-food society with an appropriate concentration as well, but it's important to me.

Even though I may be wrong, and worse - not funny - it's great to have an outlet again. I can't say what I write is funny; sometimes I myself don't find it funny. I'm trying to make arguments and points that people just aren't interested in even if I had my requisite team of lawyers and experts behind me.

My blog has never been about yakking about my life, or promoting myself, or seeking the cause of celebrity. It can probably be said you can read my blog and have no idea who I am or what my favorite color is (blue). So why do it for the wrong reasons?

I'd argue it's reason enough to take a stand and try to make sense in a world and is constantly trying to make sense for you. I often dream up the most ridiculous arguments, and then try to prove them - even if I don't believe them - as an exercise in articulation.

The reason why is that as individuals that's basically all we have: our opinions and our beliefs. If we don't articulate them first these most personal defining characteristics are up for grabs by active forces who need your dollar, your vote, your attention, your love.

I've said this before: that money in your pocket isn't yours. It's spent already, as is your paycheck you haven't received yet. Your loyalty to brands and your idolization of material items deemed to be valuable make you working for them, not yourself. Your vote isn't yours if you vote for the status quo because you scared of the things that haven't happened rather than making the right choice for the right reasons; you're just voting that way along with the other electoral cattle because change is terrible and constant.

Is your love your own love? Or do we after a while heal over the wound where we've let in our significant other to the most vulnerable part of us? Does "love" before a custom thereafter, a series of compromises and fully delineated lines drawn across the battlefield, as it is since real love - like first love, true love - is a passion that burns and torments and can do nothing but hurt?

Okay, so I'm a cynic; but that's my point - I know I a cynic because I've articulated it myself. However, it is in articulating my doubts, my criticisms, my complaints that I've become hopeful in scanning into the future, my future, the unknown.

For me, it's okay to say "I don't know". I don't know a great many things, but it's not okay to say "I don't know because I won't think about it".

Maybe it's the artist in me who is trying to withstand the constant pressure to abide by outside influences. Maybe I'm just stubborn in thinking my personal untraveled difficult road is the only road for me. But as my life is my own, no one else will live it for me, so too are my responsibilities, my regrets, my dreams, my failures, and my beliefs and opinions.

I don't believe this is at all being arrogant to think we absolutely need to express ourselves; in fact, I think it's a humble stance to stand up to speak for yourself and shoulder the possibility of being wrong.

With that, I'd like to signal a slight objective shift for lasttoblame: from now on I'm going to include other topics besides video games. For one, I'd like to test how wrong I can be about everything else, but more to the point I've moved and don't have a game system, TV, or a house to plug them into. Any new game non-reviews will be far off, though I've played so many (old)games to this point I will have lots to write about.

And so, a year older to add to my credibility, I happy to say I still haven't grown up. See you in the later posts.

Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus; As a Result Gigantic Intergalactic Bugs Invade Earth

How Earth Defense Force 2017 Is Better Than Chocolate, Roses, and Chocolate Roses Laced With Cocaine, and Cocaine

It’s very difficult to love someone; in fact, loving someone is probably the hardest thing someone can do besides make art. Well, that is great art and not government-funded attempts to reconnect with your dad using coprophilia, even though the non-government-funded stuff does pretty well on its own without funding (..or so I have read).

We have to make decisions every day and if it doesn’t involve flipping a coin or entrails being outside where they shouldn’t be, that involves thinking. Now, we’re modern people; we don’t want to have to think more than our own fair share. So why would anyone want to influence their own sound and logical way of thinking by having it twisted and maligned by someone you’ve let into the most vulnerable part of yourself?

It’s great to be loved. It’s hard work to love someone. It’s so hard to do the right thing and suppress your pride and make sacrifices for the better of your relationship. It’s so hard to see things from someone else’s perspective when your emotions take control. It’s so hard not to take things personally from the one person who can break you because you love them.

Why do we love? Why go through all the trouble? Why can’t people just have sex? Bird and bees do it, and we even tell our kids about the results. Why must we have relationships?

The next time you are at a dinner party and it is attended by all married couples and you are single and thirty, then you know just how fictional Bridget Jones feels. What those people are doing is peer pressure: they aren’t urging you to get married because it’s so great – they are harassing you to get married so that you too meld with their collective unhappiness and bear the load by being a guilty participant. There’s a big difference between your single self and these people wedded in blissful union: while your conscience may or may not have an issue with lying, these married folk always have to be careful with what they say because their wedded partner has a stake in the presentation both of them present.

While you take the subway home, they take a trip that starts in a car that doesn’t stop at the driveway, the front door, or bed or the next twenty years or forty years. This is a trip that is built on dreams, guided by hope, and seemingly powered by nagging.

Love doesn’t have to be so difficult, however. Shared interests and beliefs is a mutual haven for reconciliation and inter-relational growth. Furthermore, shared experiences can be a common touchstone for both parties. For example, a great experience to share with your partner is shooting at a horde of gigantic bugs using over-sized dangerous weapons that exact massive collateral damage to the very city you are trying to protect.

Forget black lingerie and light S+M; Earth Defense Force 2017 is that marital aid you’ve looking for all your life.

Earth Defense Force 2017 will make your marriage all the more better, save you still do certain things like have sex once you turn off the TV. This is very important. Don’t say “I’m tired,” or “I rather keep playing and not have sex with you,” or “Again? Didn’t I have sex with you yesterday?” Earth Defense Force 2017 will make your marriage better, but it is you that will make your wife happy. It is but just a marital aide; it doesn’t remember anniversaries, take out the trash or cuddle.

That this game is a great game is besides the fact. Yes, it’s a great game. It is the best embodiment of arcade action, clear subtext and ridiculous suspension of disbelief that a video game has ever been graced with. Even the flaws of this game don’t detract from the experience but instead heighten it. Bad clipping and terrible game physics only remind you how much fun you are having playing it; in fact, these shortcomings only heighten the cheesy presentation and emphasize how you, the player, interact with this game by blowing everything up. Real. Good. That and it is well designed and balanced for replay; changing difficulty levels means shifting strategies that worked for easy levels but not for harder ones.

Don’t tell the wife that because that’s not important. No, what’s important is that you can do all this – together.

Earth Defence Force 2017 has a dual player mode besides the single player, and since this was back in the early days of the Xbox 360 it wasn’t criticized how it didn’t offer online play (in which everyone has to pay for their own copy of the game and game publishers smoke another cigar). Instead, the only option for two players was to sit side by side and watch a split screen down the middle. And because your buddies only have restricted access to your house, you should enlist the one constant available soldier; that, of course, is your "til death do us apart" contractual other half.

What starts out as an awkward silence while watching the load screen becomes a fantastic shared experience of game action glory. What could be listless spectacle becomes a reveling in victory due to the arcade demands of “satisfaction delivered only by success” as well as the downplay of the visual presentation; since we’re not distracted by the graphics we can fully absorb the gameplay and all the fun it provides. Now the two of you are "til frag do us apart until the next game".

It’s arcade action; it’s a language everyone speaks. It’s simple, it’s raw, it’s instantaneous with its challenge and reward system. You suck, you die, and you have fun while you master the skills necessary to beat the game. There’s no levers to pull nor doors to open and no subterranean secret military bass to storm/lost ancient city to explore/sewers with rats to level up with/nuclear power plant about to blow up. This isn’t rocket science, but instead deploys the science of rockets in a much more practical manner. This is just one step above Ms. Pac-Man, sure, but is also three unnecessary steps away from having to talk, I mean REALLY talk about your relationship and where you want it to go and what you expect out of it and let you explore the feelings that you have naturally repressed away since the very last time you had this talk in order to avoid having it yet again.

Earth Defense Force 2017 further delineates the role of husband and wife by letting a man do what he would do in reality: protect his loved one from the awful menace of insidious insects. While there are no jars to open in this game nor lost car keys to find, husbands can help strengthen their relationships with their wives by stepping metaphorically on bugs with rocket launchers.

The thematic strength of Earth Defense Force 2017 is that it takes an irrational fear and turns it rational and logical: of course you must kill these invading aliens, they deserve to die just like the bugs you find in your house – it’s you or them. They take the ordinary and then add the impossible – that spiders can jump, or that normal household insects can shoot goo – and then by enlarging it a thousand times over your darkest fears have spawned rational incentive to want to play this game: that is, because you’re obligated to roll up the newspaper of truth to swat at the legions of evil (because entrapping them in the upside-down disposable plastic cup of mercy with a jack of spades card of mutual existence to serve as the floor of their temporary jail doesn’t cut it).

This effectively cuts out the ominous overtones of “Starship Troopers” and the fascist leanings of doing something which is right for your self but not for others. While Verhoeven’s film was a great satire on the action film and Nazi propaganda, Earth Defense Force 2017 is basically you coming home at night and flicking on the light, over and over again but with suspension of disbelief and without having to flush away your war trophies.

So then allow me to regale you with the tale of my perfect date with the girl-fy and how we eschewed candlelight and roses to beat the last level “Starship” on Inferno level: (to have been read by a young Barry White in his prime in a lone mimosa grove, disused but not forgotten, at sunset whilst butterflies dance, the scent of mangoes linger and the laughter of children can be barely heard in the distance, evoking a strong reminiscence familiar only in the sleep of dreams) (and barring that I will take Keith David, a convertible, and a bottle of Jack Daniels)

I, equipped with dual Lysander Z sniper rifles, and she, with a similar Lysander Z and the mightiest FORK missile launcher available to one so innocent and pure, namely the X20, set out together on our date to see where fate and our love would take us. As she relayed her concerns to me her fears that I wasn’t serious in my love to her, we were beset on all sides by gigantic UFO’s dropping Walking Arms protected by Fliers. “I will explain everything, just trust me and give me time!” I shouted. “But first let’s split up, if just to complete different objectives and to be reunited in joyous rapture at a later time,” I said quickly to avoid long good-byes.

Wordlessly she nodded and unleashed volley after volley of automatically homing surface-to-air missiles. “Come back, I miss you already,” she cried. Using both Lysander Z’s I increased my rifle shooting time capacity and took down the UFO’s first and then the fliers thereafter, and looking back, grinned. However, in her I absence I felt a crushing lonely that only firing guns side by side could absolve. I had traveled a long way to destroy every Walking Arm, a far ways off from the original spot where we once held hands. However, my longing was drowned out by the massive gun being unsheathed from under the mother ship.

I cried, “Look, a massive gun threatening all humanity and obstructing our love for one another!” I steeled my resolve. “We must destroy it… to save Earth and allow our relationship to progress to the next level!”. With explicit instructions I humbly requested my beloved to retreat to the furthest corner of the map whilst unloading upon the massive gun and using the FORK missile launcher to take out the air support. “But don’t destroy until after I’ve killed every Walking Arm and returned to your side,” I pleaded. Then like the voice of a cherub I heard a light breeze whisper to me, “Then I will wait forever to the end of time, and longer if necessary.” Oh, rapture! Oh, delight! Our love is a tightly executed military operation!

After headshotting the final Walking Arm, as I sprinted across the barren urban landscape seeking the warm harbor of my beloved’s embrace as well as shooting the final sniper bullet into the massive cannon. A shot, a kiss, a bang and a crash… in time the sound of enemy forces abided and a chill spread through the pervading quiet.

With just me and her and the massive mothership above us, she confided, “You know, I never thought you were the committed type,” to which I answered, “I am as committed to loving you every moment the best I can as I am committed to making every explosion the biggest I can,” and then turned away, shocked at my own candor. She stepped up and took my hand in hers from behind and said, “I know. Every time a building gets knocked down there’s a little more room in my heart.”

Her confession was punctuated by a metallic clang seeking attention that only a loaded weapon can command. Our reprieve interrupted, we looked up and far in the distance, yet looming larger than life, the mother ship had transformed into its last and most formidable shape. Sprouting tremendous under-hanging arms from which a dizzying array of laser fire erupted, the mother ship hung in the sky, obtuse to us young, idealistic dreamers. Dozens of Fliers buzzed in the sky, underscoring the tension that awaited us.

She drew a breath and burst out, “Let this be it, our celebration of love through fire!” And so we did: two lovers, standing two abreast but enjoined in our hearts, discharging weapons in a frenzy, enthralled in each other but confronting the enemy, gritting our teeth but laughing through the joy.

Reckless. Driven. Exhilarated by amorous bliss, through the blizzard of chaos and in the eye of the storm I might have imagined through the corner of my eye a glint in hers that one only sees in diamonds and madmen. I say “might have imagined” because though I was so busy and distracted by this boss of all bosses in a show to end all shows, a spectacle of grandeur that dwarfs all that come before it and after, I know that glint doesn’t belong anywhere else; so even staring straight onto this most shuddering, humbling, awesome opposing force in my mind’s eye I can still see it, and there this eye winks back at me.

Wielding both Lysander Z’s I abandoned all modesty in ravishing my savagery upon each gun-arm as it revolved into range, as I did in training the untamed dogs of my white-hot rage onto the vulnerable pink exhaust port every time it exposed itself to view. My love used the FORK – X20 to unbridle her fury upon the Fliers, aggravating us with their distractions, and could only sporadically join in directing her primal passion during lulls in-between waves of Fliers.

Alas, it was not to be, my love and I and the victory of humankind. Grievous injuries I suffered, terrible unhealable mortal wounds, and with my hit points dropped to zero, I would soon succumb to the sweet darkness. Having fallen and between short breaths, I could only offer encouragement against the inscrutable deed still left before her to complete. “Go on…” I called feebly, “don’t stop, baby…” Only then did my beloved turn to me and became aware my defeated state. “No, I can’t,” she said, shocked, “I don’t want to finish this without you…” Her will broken, she ceased firing, her gun slackened at her side as the winds of war blew indifferently, first as a stiff gale that diminished to a numbed wind that listlessly dragged it feet along the ground.

However, somehow through the howl of death that same breeze which carried the same cherub as before graced me to send my whisper to my love. By no short definition, it was a miracle. “But you must – you have to kill the mother ship… to save all humankind… for us.” Her unwavering look led me to continue. “Do it then, for me.” Summoning all my nerve, I drew my ultimate breath. “Do it… so that … upon completing … the level… I can… get the... Genocide Gun…” And then, after that, the cherubs would have the breezes all to themselves.

Through the roar of weapon discharge and fiery explosion, there was a silence. And this silence was not heard, being silence, but it began in the heart of my beloved, was drawn out by the next breath she took after a single tear finally traversed the length of her face, and it became something that was heard on that battlefield, up on that mother ship in the sky above, and by the very gods beyond and away that both compel and astonish at the very human nature we are burdened with for all our brief lives, all of us who walk under the heavens.


The world could not continue as it always did. Slowing to a stuttering stop, time scattered, colors bled into each other and the hiss and boom of anarchy faded away to a muted dull thud where everything became an aching grey that blinded every sensation save that for the bloody taste for dire, dire vengeance.

Wanton. Livid. Intolerable, to the degree of cruelty, if that was permissible. It was a inescapable wrath of seething, biting brutal revenge that washed over all the battlefield to scorch and blacken even the dust to brittle glass.

And then, it was over. It was finally and at last over: the mother ship was defeated, the war is over, the Earth is saved! Bested, the mother ship finally gave up her long hidden secrets: namely, that of an extraordinary trance-inducing gory super-explosion of ocular wonderment. Indeed, the mother ship would blow up, and then blow up some more, and then some again, and then again, and then some more.

Her goal completed, my beloved turned to me and, out of breath, said, “We did it. Both of us. Our love prevailed,” and then lapsed back into quiet satisfaction, just drinking it all in but instead just swimming in the dizzy ocean that is completing Earth Defense Force 2017's “Starship” level on Inferno.

And with finishing the game and winning, the next day the two of us would begin the first day for the rest of our lives.

Played to completion (100%) on Inferno mode on the Xbox 360.
Rated 3 out of three stars.

Monday, March 15, 2010


You’ll have to excuse the lateness. Blogging is the fresh trend for self-important hipsters (I have read), and one of the very best features of blogging is how fast a new blog can be ‘published’ for prospective readers to read, printed fresh off the minting press and hawked by sad-looking newsies with puppy-dog eyes and suspenders hoisted high above their modern day relevancy. Well, today is different; besides the invention of belts, I have recently moved from one place in the world where blogs are not available for public consumption to a place where a politically-sanitized white-wash society has its hippest citizens also be its most vocally oppositional.

So, I’ll start writing this blog again.

After being quiet for so long I have had the need to pipe up about a few things, videogames or otherwise. So we have Avatar.

I had to see it. The choice had already been made for me. It’s like looking at cleavage or a compilation of compound leg fractures, you’re just drawn to it unconditionally. In this case, Avatar is the most pleasing three hours you’ll spend relaxing with other people forgetting what you just saw to make room for the next forgettable spectacle you will see. I promise you, I tried going in without any expectations and so I only got angry when I thought.

But when I think I get into trouble and then I ruin the whole experience, just the way it wasn’t meant to happen. Sorry, Avatards.

Look, tools are great. The wheel is something I use everyday. It helps me get to the store to buy my sliced bread. But Avatar is nothing but an emphasis on those tools such that those tools have become important of themselves rather than what those tools were trying to accomplish in the first place. That means that audiences who have been accustomed to these grand spectacles of flash without substance will lower their expectations so long as there is more amazing spectacle to see.

And that’s what Avatar is: purely an argument for the advancement of technology. I’m just like everybody else: I like my white clothes whiter and my uncanny artificial intelligence uncannier. At the end of Avatar when that spear was sticking out of that guy, I thought, “Good,” something I might not have thought if it wasn’t in 3D. But to bloat this technology up to 3 hours and call it a movie goes beyond a fart in an elevator; frankly, it’s just rude. Avatar should be 20 minutes long and be that awesome little flick you see while waiting for an elevator to take you somewhere high or low or far away. Avatar doesn’t need to have been made into a movie.

I know I should have said this months ago when I was living behind the harmonious veil; saying this now is saying this with the impunity of hindsight. But it isn’t like it’s too late, after all. Even though I saw it over two months ago, Avatar has become newsworthy again after being systematically dismantled by the tender mittens of “The Hurt Locker”. According to experts and the respect for authority that society has banked upon, Avatar’s next biggest competition at the Academy Awards was The Hurt Locker. Yes, for this year’s competition two nominated directors slept with each other (at least). It’s the kind of drama that our mainstream media knows how to hype to sell stories of their own. It’s the “King of the World” versus that director who couldn’t have made a more misogynist flick, “Strange Days” (1995).

I know I’ve been out of the blog game for two-thirds of a year, but man people, what have you been doing since I’ve been away? You have near universally acclaimed Avatar to be a “great” movie. I was fuming and rabid that such a boring movie could be so highly praised; I was a deserted blogger without his squeak toy to placate him. Ah, but now I can finally say: where is your “great” movie now?

The truth is, the Academy Awards have never really been about anything relevant in the past. Far too many truly great movies and movie talent gets passed over and ignored. The usual route is that audiences aren’t ready for the great stuff the first time around. It’s edgy. It’s confrontational and controversial. It smells funny. Instead, this “art” (if you will) can only be appreciated over the passage of time which dulls what was once edgy and poignant to be a safe fuzzy cube with no edges that is safe for the tamest palates and, very importantly, marketable.

Audiences will only recognize real talent when the audience is ready, and not when the talent deserves it. So, what you have is Martin Scorsese being passed over when he makes the best films of his life (Raging Bull, Goodfellas) but then finally gets rewarded for being an old white man when the other older whiter men have since passed on. Scorsese didn’t get awarded for making “The Departed”; no, he finally got rewarded for his life’s work when the Academy was good and ready for him.

[Full disclosure: I have not seen “The Departed”. Honestly, I don’t care to. I saw it the first time around in “Internal Affairs”, one of those “I can’t tell who’s a cop and who’s a crook, everybody is wearing black” HK movies. ]

By painting it this way, I am saying that such an outdated and irrelevant institution as the Academy Awards has served as a wake up call to gather praise to those who deserve it and take attention away from those who don’t. Gee, it doesn’t look so good right now for my argument that Avatar sucks and a naked Golden man who only has a long sword to hide his modesty has finally erected a pointed finger at the Emperor’s new clothes.

But perhaps the Academy Awards have changed, and for the better. In her acceptance speech Mo’Nique stated “I’d like to thank the Academy for finally awarding someone based on performance, and not for politics”. Perhaps at last the ‘old school’ mentality of paying your dues is done away with. But then maybe Mo’Nique won specifically because a black woman hasn’t won for awhile, and won’t win for awhile after that. Shine on you crazy diamond, welcome to the machine.

However, to continue this argument let’s consider this system to be sound. The Academy Awards are a true kitchen tile to test the spaghetti-tenderness of modern films. Jim Cameron would support this statement because he won big last time round. He’d say, “Look at all my awards! I’m a great filmmaker!” At this year’s awards even though he came up short he can still say “Look at all my awards!”

If I had to criticize Cameron for one thing (and it’s not like I have criticized him), it’s the fact that with Avatar he has basically collapsed the main thematic themes he has been working with all his career. By turning Avatar as the polar opposite of Aliens, he has dismantled and reused all the best parts of the latter to make the former less the sum of its parts. I mean, with Aliens Cameron originated the modern female action hero and with Avatar you have shallow portraits of chicks talking tough because they talk with hoarse voices (not that there’s anything wrong with hoarse voices). Dude, you’re ripping yourself off, and also doing it more poorly than other guys who have made their careers ripping you off.

In the end, the Academy Awards are still irrelevant to me. If Avatar did in fact win, and win big, I suppose I’d have to write a different blog. But, it’d be even funnier.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Access Denied

My word. I start up a nice little blog talking about video games, and diligently post a new entry every day for about a month.. and then you get banned. Well, let's put it this way: in the country where I reside I am not allowed to access this webpage and other ones (I'm told). I'm able to put this up, half a year later, because I'm on vacation and went elsewhere for awhile.

I'd love to post more stuff up. I've played Earth Defense Force 2017 and GTA IV recently, and would love to write some more if just to add more sarcasm to the world, or just to get around this imposing ban that really just gets me down. Don't know if I can do so soon, so I would just like to thank any readers who somehow got blown over to this side of the internet and enjoyed my writing.

Hope to see you soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Welcome to the Video Game Review Wizard! (or how to say the same thing as everyone else and say nothing at all) [Good version]

Video games are a fun experience that proves to be so immersive and moving to some that they are inspired to write about their experience and share it with the world at large. However, at times this task may seem daunting; how can we best describe such a life-changing experience? What words can we use to describe our epiphany and the beautiful, all-knowing face of God?

Here at Last to Blame, we've made a handy multiple choice quiz to help you write your review if words fail you. As a “Review Wizard”, the choices are laid out such that it shouldn’t matter what game you've played and enjoyed as every positive video game review on the internet basically reads the same. So, feel free to choose with reckless abandon!

1. The graphics are…
a) stunning.
b) top notch.
c) breath-taking.
d) state of the art.
e) crisp.
f) sharp.
g) spot on.
h) indescribable.
i) perfect.

2. The game environment…
a) is rich in detail.
b) is immersive and deep.
c) beautifully resembles a living, breathing world.
d) is just like being there in real life.

3. The music …
a) is stirring and moving.
b) is wonderfully composed, and utilizes the orchestra wonderfully.
c) does not detract from the game play.
d) is full of bleeps and bloops

4. The sound effects are…
a) okay. The shotgun gives off a satisfying boom.
b) okay. The snapping of necks gives off a satisfying snap.
c) okay. The collecting of coins gives off a satisfying “bling”.
d) nonexistent in this text-based adventure game.

5. The camera…
a) needs to be babysat.
b) is the right thumb stick.
c) shows a nice perspective of the heroine's buttocks from behind.
d) doesn’t show my feet in this first-person shooter.

6. The story…
a) is moving and emotionally deep and brought me to tears at certain points.
b) has memorable characters that stay with you long after the game is over.
c) is full of plot twists that will keep you guessing until the very end.
d) is a complex tale of love, loss and betrayal that will keep you at the edge of your seat until the final boss confrontation.
e) SPOILER ALERT! A main character who is not the hero dies/a secondary character betrays you/Bruce Willis is a ghost.
f) made me cry and realize that we are all just people who deep down need to be loved.

7. The game play…
a) provides non-stop action.
b) is full of thrill-a-plenty moments.
c) is an orgy of gore and violence.
d) is addictive and fun.
e) is a visceral and immersive experience that makes you believe you are really there.

8. The voice acting…
a) is cheesy and annoying. (Japanese releases ie. Namco)
b) has Ron Pearlman/someone who sounds like Ron Pearlman talking in a low, raspy voice.
c) is great for all the characters, except the protagonist, who is silent.
d) is used to demonstrate dialogue between the characters.

9. This game is…
f) the best game evar. (sp., but “evar” encapsulates your feeling better than “ever”)
g) The best game of all time.
h) The best thing next to sex.
i) God.
j) At least worth a rental.

If you get stuck, these are things you can say at any time in any review safely and (almost) never be proven wrong:
a) If you are a fan of the series/genre then this game is for you.
b) This is the latest newest game to be released in the franchise.
c) However, that's my humble opinion/just my own two cents/the way I see it, and you may find things differently.
d) This game can, at the very least, take up 5 minutes of your time.
e) This game has a boring tutorial in the beginning.
f) This game is worse than the movie it is licenced from.
g) (if the game doesn’t have online multiplayer) This game needs online multiplayer.
h) (if the game has online multiplayer) This game is full of douche bags online.
i) The crossbow is the coolest weapon.
j) This game is good, but could use more ninjas/gigantic battling robots/Nazis/gigantic breasts/blood/.
k) At least worth a rental if you're not too busy masturbating.

As this is a positive review score this 10 out of a possible 10, write the words “must buy” at the end and then post it somewhere. You’re done! You’ve managed to say something without actually saying anything at all; welcome to the internet!

COMING SOON: Welcome to the Video Game Review Wizard [Bad Version] in which we become creative and use metaphors involving one’s own testicles! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Attention: Oprah Winfrey

I've figured it out. I was washing the dishes and lamenting the toll upon my graceful, supple hands and about to whisper, "Calgon, take me away!" when it hit me. I know the method by which video games can reach international prominence as a respectable art form worthy of unaminous acceptance and intellectual debate.

We need to get on Oprah.

You see, "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as it was once called, is a big deal. A really big deal because Oprah is a big deal; when Oprah nods her head, at least 50 million US women nod their heads as well. Likewise, when Oprah refutes a guest with "Oh, really?" you might as well burn all your business cards - no one will ever hire you again; when Ophrah found out an author had fabricated parts of a non-fiction book, she dragged him on the show and wrung a public apology from him, and his corpse was never seen again.

Maybe I'm exaggerating things here but if Oprah said, "We need to go to the planet Mars - next year," President Obama would make it happen. Why? Because these 50 million US women would tell their husbands, and husbands are people who would rather write their congressman than take out the trash.

Video games have often been in the news, but it has always been sensational, alarmist fear-mongering: video games are corrupting our youth, video games teach people how to shoot guns, or video games are pornography and a mental health addiction. This would be worthy of Maury Povich or the old Ricki Lake ("Which MMO-gamer is my baby's daddy?"), but we need acceptance and praise. We need someone like Oprah to say, "Wow, I had no idea this issue was so deep," and then cradle her head with her arm propped on the couch and listen, and nod, nod, nod.

What video games need it to get on Oprah's Book Club.

This sounds fantastical: Dan Houser isn't going to go on Oprah and talk about Niko Bellic as a complex man who has to face vast, moral issues; neither is Oprah going to summarize with, "Okay: who did say are the boss characters in this version of MegaMan?" However, let's face it: whatever Oprah touches turns to gold. If she likes you or your book, movie or product you can be sure you will be eat fois gras caviar hamburgers before the end of the year.

The inception of video games into the Book Club is important because of what the Book Club means: high art meant to be consumed for intellectual discourse. When a book makes it into the Book Club, not only does it help propel sales but also through Oprah's approval it means that this book is important, it's fascinating, it's art.

Here's how I came around to concocting this scheme: a while ago, my girlfriend recommended me the book "The Time Traveller's Wife", perhaps because the sci-fi element would interest me, or perhaps because she knows this book can affect me as it did her friend Ted, a man - who cried. For whatever reason and not wanting to cry, I didn't read it.

Earlier this year, I heard that this book was going to be released as a Hollywood movie; my immediate thought was panic, as I have resolved ever since "The English Patient" not to let a Hollywood movie come out before I had read the novel (we intellectuals have hubris; we are intellectuals, after all). To immediately spur my need to read this book and have a good cry in the tub surrounded by scented candles, I found out that "The Time Traveller's Wife" was going to be the topic in next month's local Book Club. (I can already see into the future and report that it will be disasterous, but I'll tell you how it goes after it happens)

So, I'm reading furiously with all the intensity that befits me, a hardcore gamer-cum-literature enthusiast, when I flip to the back of the book (it's a kind of "time travel") when I find to my bemusement that there is a section of questions written out for book club discussion. I tell you, I "lol-ed" at that; you mean to tell me that people are reading this book just to have the satisfaction of attending book clubs? What hypocrites!

Honestly, I can't think of another book that comes pre-packaged with questions so that a gathering of would-be book intelligensi wouldn't have nothing to talk about and just blink at each other. Are we so passive a critical audience that we wouldn't know what to talk about? What about a literary round-table of "Wasn't it cool when...?"

So far, the book is pretty cool, but I can tell the emo-gasm is going to come down hard like the Hammer of Dawn; by putting the chronology of the story through the perspective of Clare growing up, we can see this is a mediation into the importance of the present, and about a Buddhist-type concept of having to undergo the same trials again and again until you get it right, like the cycle of life and transcending reincarnation and achieving nirvana. But don't worry about me: I have a box of tissues ready.

To take us to the present, I was washing the dishes and lamenting my hands when BOOM! It hit me. Oprah. Give us your seal of approval and get video games out of the endless cycle of toys-made-for-children as well as video-gamers-who-behave-like-children. Also, make it the "Video Game Book Club"; we need a literary reference or else everyone will mistake it for a online fragfest rather than the jostling of intellectual ideas that it needs to be.

So, in the effort to kick-start video game book clubs across the world, I have compiled a list of questions to help get you started.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
* How does CIA spook Mike Torino factor into Carl Johnson's life as a father figure? How does the placation of "Don't worry, you'll be back in no time for a blowjob and a baloney sandwich," affect CJ when coming from such a figure? How literal/metaphorical is this statement?

Half-Life/Half-Life 2
* How does Gordon Freeman's role as a silent protagonist affect his status as "the everyday" man, a person the average video gamer can relate with? Conversely, how does it belie his status as a scientist and otherwise brilliant man who can only now express himself of thought and feeling with a crowbar?

Space Invaders
* Space Invaders is a classic arcade game that has defined every video game ever made: a game where endless waves of cloned enemies are dispatched with again and again, all by exhibiting an awareness or artificial intelligence that doesn't befit their dangerousness. Discuss.

Final Fantasy and every JRPG ever made as well as the Metal Gear Solid series
* The plot and story are so convoluted with twists, surprises, betrayals and shocks because a sense of overwhelming and perplexity makes it easier to see something we don't completely understand with an air of awe and respect. Discuss.

Halo, Gears of War, Call of Duty and other online muliplayer shooters:
* Does fragging your same-sex friend and then celebrating your victory by tea-bagging your crotch in their vanquished faces denote a socially acceptable way to express my homosexual tendancies in an otherwise homophobic world? Is tea-bagging a safe practice that won't set off one's "gay pull-cord" and enact full-on flaming homosexuality?

That's enough for now. But you, Oprah: have your people call my people and they'll do lunch together. We need to talk.

Commentary: Rapelay and the Globalization of Self-Righteousness

I was watching satellite TV last night, and it was eye opening since I hadn't watched Western TV for a long time. After such a long absence, it was like watching TV for the first time; my eyes were rubbed raw by the Western bias of mainstream television. It hurt, it stunned me.

After watching a bit of CNN and noticing after ten minutes that cable news was still in the same format of spinning the same stories again and again so that in one hour you learn nothing you couldn't have learned in five minutes, I switched to the Discovery channel. Immediately I saw an advertisement for an upcoming show, "Profiling a Serial Murderer" and I blurted out loud: "This channel should be called 'Discover Fear' channel," and I was shocked by my observation.

The Discovery channel, CNN and every other mainstream media all want you to watch and follow their own channels, and they will attract you and interest you with fear. To accentuate my point, another upcoming show on the Discovery channel is "World's Greatest Disasters"; this show and the serial killer one are inherently watchable because people want to know what to be scared of.

That's how "Rapelay" (2006), a Japanese eroge game made by Illusion Software, has come into global prominence recently - for being something new to be fearful of. Nevermind the fact that this game was made three years ago and by Japanese law is not legally for sale internationally; this game has made the rounds lately on media outlets around the world alarming people to this new insidious threat that they now must be vigilant against.

Rapelay is pornography of the lewdest and most perverse kind; that it be pornography in the medium of video games is most alarming to those with the stereotype that video games are still just for children, despite being an bigger industry than movies and having a main demographic of adults over 30. Nonetheless, Rapelay is immoral and deplorable: it is a video game that tells the story of a man's domination and cruelty over a family of women whom he rapes repeatedly into submission.

As depraved as Rapelay is, it still is in essence what all pornography is: a fantasy. Charges that Rapelay acts as a "rape-simulator" are about as groundless as charges that a Grand Theft Auto game acts as a "crime simulator", teaching children with parents that allow them to play such a game how to carjack a car or beat up hookers. If video games teach the respective in-game skills to the people that play them, then the world would be full of children trained to be special ops commandos with formidable hand to hand combat skills and proficient in small and large arms weaponry as well as being able to pilot jet planes and space craft.

Rapelay is a game, and as such with a push of a button or move of the mouse can enable you to experience things that you would not normally be able to do, just like a Grand Theft Auto game or any other game. In fact, this is the main selling point of video games to many that play them; never would we get to throw the winning pass in a Superbowl game, save the universe or time travel to the distant future. Rapelay follows this very same concept, only that it allows players to victimize virtual people by raping them rather than the more acceptable behavior of fragging your friend with a head shot in Call of Duty 4 and celebrating with a teabagging.

Rapelay is a deplorable and depraved game; any defense of the game in terms of free speech, artistic expression and the pursuit of fantasy has to accept this fact. Rapelay is misogynistic and especially cruel; to enjoy this game is to actively delight in the suffering of others. To like Rapelay is also liking to be sadistic and vicious.

However, to the contrary of what the western media would have you believe and fear that which you do not know, Rapelay is not your concern. Instead, the western media shouldn't impose our western values upon other cultures; in this case, its upon Japanese eroge culture (or hentai or whatever you call it).

To western culture and sensibilities, Rapelay is reprehensible and morally wrong. To the typical Japanese person, it likely is as well; its not unreasonable to think that the average Japanese person is morally sound and wouldn't condone a video game that celebrates rape culture. However, there is a difference here: Japanese people live in Japan. Other people don't - they live somewhere else, obviously. Therefore, while as citizens of the world we should be knowledgeable and aware of other cultures, we shouldn't we so quick to pass judgement on these cultures by using values of our own respective cultures.

It's so easy to ostracize other cultures, and in this case the culture of Japan. It's well publicized in the West the nonsensical excess and absurdity of Japanese culture: women's panties sold in vending machines, schoolgirl fetishes, tentacle porn - these and more cultural oddities have Westerners laughing with ridicule at such foolishness, saying with scorn "only in Japan".

While globalization of the world in the internet age has made the world a smaller place, it has made the world a less tolerable one. When peering in on an outside culture and judging it to be improper, we "think locally, act globally" and improperly impose our values on another culture. While we may rightly see Rapelay as misogynist and celebrate violence against women, we shouldn't condemn it as a blight upon Japanese culture and involve ourselves in what is the domestic issue of another country.

Consider this: the act of female genital mutilation is a horrific act of brutality wherein the gentailia of a young girl is removed. Not at all analogous to male circumcision, female genital mutilation is a oppressive act that subjugates women and denies them their sexuality. The world community has gotten involved in stopping female genital mutilation through the UN, who among other practices and measures have declared February 6 "Internation Day Against Female Genital Mutilation".

The point here is that it is through the activitism of members of the cultures that practice this horrible act that have influenced change, and in fact should remain the spear-headers on these issues. While the world should aid when help is asked for, this remains an issue that has to change from within the culture that affect it.

I remember watching on the news a conference in which a beautiful model revealed that she is a victim of female genital mutilation; it was her hope in telling her sad story that she could shine a light upon this issue and hopefully impact change. This is the same type of action required of Rapelay if there is any action to be done: it needs to be started internally, and spearheaded by these same people. In the current case of Rapelay in the news, this is not at all the case. Instead, we have the western media shining a spotlight into someone else's backyard to promote unnecessary fear mongering.

That said, the real issue of Rapelay in the news being sold over is that parents still can't police their own children and control what games they play; instead, these same people look to the help of the government and others to help raise their children. The issue of Rapelay for the west should instead be, "how to keep adult and otherwise harmful materials out of the reach of minors"; with all the copies sold on Amazon being illegal and not sanctioned by the Japanese government, the country of Japan is doing their part. We should respect another culture to take care of its own domestic problems, rather than impose our judgement and will over that which we consider improper.

Rapelay is filth. Rapelay is degenerate pornography. Rapelay is also none of the west's problem. If the west finds this unsuitable, then it should be noted that many of the inherent freedoms and liberties that the west enjoys are seen with reprehension and disgust by some cultures. Some cultures find the liberalization of women in opinion and sexual expression and independence to be completely unacceptable. Similarily, they may find the acceptance of homosexuals and lesbians to be an abomination, just as they do the availibility of pornography, illegal drugs and casual sex. To some, the west is morally decadent and needs to be cleaned up.

Let's consider democracy. A country like the United States considers democracy a central tenet to life - in fact, New Hampshire licence plates all read "Live Free or Die". Americans, to put it mildly, love democracy. The United States, to put it mildly again, have started wars and invaded countries with the "proliferation of democracy" as a main reason.

To that, US citizens look upon other countries and their citizens with pity if they are not democratic; for instance, Cuba. However, if democracy is going to come to Cuba, it should be of mitigating internal factors and not something akin to a forced military incursion; this is because no matter what you think, what matters to other people is what they want. It sounds simple, and so it should be similarly simple to follow except that the peoples of the world do share something in common: we all have a ego-centric world view - we all think we are all right.

It's worth noting that license plate doesn't read "Live Free or Kill Them"; while this seems to be the case for Iraq, I don't see this being true anytime with a war between Cuba and the US.

Rapelay is morally repugnant decadent pornography made by Japan. So, let Japan deal with it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Commentary: Duke Nukem Forever and Schadenfreude

The Rolling Stones are a group of redundant has-beens that have been smart enough to capitalize on the cultural black hole left in the hearts of middle-aged Westerners with a surplus of cash and a forfeit of happiness. By managing to stay in the public eye for so long as well as not being dead, the Rolling Stones have secured their place as the cultural icons for a demographic that keeps itself young by having plastic surgery and extra-marital affairs as well as buying thousand-dollar Rolling Stones paraphernalia like Rolling Stones leather jackets at live concerts with aid of the many ATMs specially trucked in for that purpose.

However, the Rolling Stones weren't always the status quo - in fact, they became today's status quo by being yesterday's rebellious youthful voice of dissent. The risque lyrics of "Let's Spend the Night Together" were asked to be changed to "Let's Spend Some Time Together" on the Ed Sullivan Show (and not complied with). The early marketing of the band as unkempt, wayward rogues in response to the clean cut image of the Beatles proved to be true as the Rolling Stones garnered an infamous reputation for heavy recreational drug use. These guys were rock and roll: they lived fast and hard and antagonized the status quo with songs about three chords and the truth.

And rock the establishment they did. On 1968's "Beggar's Banquet" album, the Rolling Stones suggested in the song "Sympathy for the Devil": "Who killed the Kennedys? ..after all, it was you and me." "Me" suggesting the devil incarnate, and "you" as in everybody. Not five years after the shocking assassination of President John F. Kennedy that arguably had a greater impact upon citizens of the US than the event of 9/11 as well as the very same year of the assassination of Presidential Democratic candidate Robert F. Kennedy did this song come out. Once again, this song claimed that everybody was complicit in their deaths; even though you did not pull the trigger, you sanctioned such a horrible deed by being the person you are.

Beggar's Banquet would become a platinum selling album and become part of the Rolling Stones' iconic discography. But how would they get away with criticizing everyone and casting blame on a public who would just as soon feign indifference and ignorance to such accusations?

Because it's true. We are all to blame. This observation of the human condition would be often quoted everywhere in this cult classic Stones song; listeners love this song for this line - they identify with it. We can see this same human condition in the latest video game sensationalist news: Who killed Duke Nukem Forever? was you and me.

3D Realms announced on May 6th of this year that they were shutting down and closing down the company. 3D Realms is best known for the development of "Duke Nukem Forever" and the plethora of delays incurred during this developmentto make it a video game industry joke, called derisively as "Duke Nukem Taking Forever" or "DNF - Did Not Finish". Announced on April 28, 1997, Duke Nukem Forever would be teased for impending release in the near future only to change physic engines and suffer set back and further delays; that this would happen again and again for an amazing twelve years would put Duke Nukem Forever on vaporware award lists at the end of years for web magazines like Wired, be retired from consideration by being placed in a "Vaporware Hall of Fame", and then make it back onto the active list by teasing an impending release.

This happened again and again; twelve years is a long time, especially in the fast paced and ever changing world of technology. Gamers couldn't believe the exorbitant length of time required to finish this game. Delays of video games mean only one thing to expectant gamers: if I have to wait for it, then the wait better be worth it. It's strange that this need of gamers to have and play the newest and most advanced games doesn't comply with the patience logically required to wait for such games, but then video gamers are a victim and beneficiary to that monster they alone feed and nurture: hype.

Game makers and developers often circulate news and previews of their games to institute a basis for interest for their product; that said, some game developers are guilty of manufacturing hype of sky high proportions that they can't possibly live up to. Ads for "Daikatana" (2000) infamously state, "John Romero's About to Make You His Bitch." as well as the tagline, "Suck it Down." Peter Molyneux famously touted astounding features of "Fable" to an eager public only to later publicly apologize for promoting things that never made it to the finished product. "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) was not able to sell much of its purported five to six million games despite its licencing to the biggest movie of that year, and urban legend states that many of the unsold games were buried in a New Mexico landfill.

All three of these examples are cases where the game developer or company overreaches its publicity and attention-grabbing, only to suffer a public shaming due to their own hubris. As common people, we all enjoy the sight of the arrogent and conceited receiving the retribution that is deserving of them. It seems that those with pride "live by the sword, and die by the sword", and as such it is fitting that they fall so hard because they built themselves up so high.

However, this type of hype isn't the case for 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Forever. Instead of making any brash proclamations (and actually had a blanket statement of "When it's done, it's done,") 3D Realms sinned grievously in the public eye by teasing the public with an announcement or a preview, and then retracting this "prize" from gamers by issuing yet another delay. In the case of Duke Nukem Forever, this back and forth teasing of the public lasted for twelve years. Twelve long years; that's more than the time it took from Barack Obama's first election as an Illinois senator to his inauguration as President of the USA.

The excessive amount of waiting for this game created hype of massive proportions. As gamers react with emotional vindication to games they feel have had unwarranted waiting periods or unneccessary hype, the backlash against Duke Nukem Forever would be massive. As it turns out with the folding of 3D Realms, it is likely that none of us will ever actually get to play Duke Nukem Forever unless publisher Take Two can wrestle away the source code and give it to another developer who can finally finish this game. That means that all this waiting, all of this expectation and hype has been for nothing.

The jokes at the expense of Duke Nukem Forever can be best seen at, where the entire chronology of the Duke Nukem Forever development saga is further illustrated by a list of things that happened during the time it took to develop Duke Nukem Forever in the twelve years from April 28, 1997 and May 6, 2009. That this list is entirely too long is completely the point: in the most obvious geek behavior allowed to nerds everywhere with an internet connection, Wikipedia was scoured to the dregs to provide a pedantic yet humorous list that really just says one thing: you took too damn long, 3D Realms.

However, as we peer between the lines of this geek outpouring of love of facts and data, we see that there is a definite underlying emotion here: schadenfreude. Defined by little Lisa Simpson as "German for 'shameful joy'", schadenfreude is basically feeling happy at other people's misfortune. Gamers have it in spades for 3D Realms for taking such a long time with Duke Nukem Forever.

But why do we feel such schadenfreude for? The real ramifications of this is that people are losing their jobs - we should feel good over that?

3D Realms took a monumental amount of time to develop Duke Nukem Forever, and obviously spent a whole lot of money that will never be recouped if this game is never finished and sold. This is not your money nor do you have any stake in this, save emotionally, and therein lies the problem of video gamers and trying to cater to these people.

3D Realms, you deserve to fail miserably in the opinion of video gamers because they have invested in your game already - in hope. From playing previous versions of Duke Nukem, gamers had a pre-visualized idea of the joy and fulfilment that a new Duke Nukem game will bring them and were banking on you to rekindle these fabulous memories of kickassery and cool. You tortured gamers with your unexpectant and unreasonable delays - and gamers wanted revenge.

This is the culture and world view of video gamers: one of a double-edge sword of hype that is created by gamers to artificially increase the emotional investment at stake with these games. That video games often provide an immersive, emotional experience that gamers want to replicate over and over again sets the stage for the way gamers await new, promising experiences.

The schadenfreude of the failure of Duke Nukem Forever is indicative of the detachment from responsibility video gamers feel about the culture they take part in. While many gamers complain over and over again about issues big and small, like the retail value of downloadable content or the lack of integrity to mainstream video game journalism, it isn't very often that such an apathetic crowd who is content to remain languid and indifferent would do something to affect change.

The culture of video games is one of consumption, not creativity. We don't want to make video games, we only want to play them. However, we don't want to hear about how hard it is to make a game but rather we will complain about every tiny detail if it doesn't measure up to the miraculous first-time playthrough of "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" (1998). We want every new game to be better than the last, and we want this game to give us joy, happiness, and fulfilment.

It's no wonder in this kind of social climate that Duke Nukem Forever failed; we all wanted it to fail. While there are many reasons for a company to close in the current depression (ie. "economic downturn/crisis/euphenism"), there was never any hope for this game to succeed in light of the massive hype built up before it.

Who killed Duke Nukem Forever? After all, it was you and me.

Analysis: State of Emergency and Amorality

White cowboy hats versus black cowboy hats; white Kung fu gis versus black kung fu gis; white knight armor versus black knight armor - it's every traditional story you've ever read or seen that details the struggle of good over evil. And because these are traditional stories, the hero in white always wins in the end over the villian in black. This is because the term "traditional" could be exchanged with the term "moral" without any negative repercussions - a traditional story is a moral story where good always prevails in the end.

However, that's traditional storytelling. Nowadays in the current social climate of cynicism and aspirational apathy, traditional storytelling with a moral bent isn't welcomed by a public that doesn't relate to princesses trapped in castles or saving the world from utter annihilation of the world. Instead we eagerly follow stories that celebrate the life and accomplishments of criminals and sociopaths.

This is an anti-hero: a hero of a story that doesn't embody the usually qualities and trait we associate with a hero. The origins of the anti-hero go back far in literature, seen in Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and "Othello". Still, it's significant to note that a character like Bob Kane's Batman is more regarded by our contemporary society as a hero than as an anti-hero; whereas back during the first years of his inception Batman paled in comparison to his contempories by being obsessive, dark and gritty, these days an audience won't accept a hero aligned with traditional heroic qualities: unselfishness, transparency, infallible integrity, and the adherence to definite moral boundaries.

However, the more savvy and aware we are to a world that exists without moral boundaries, the more we require our heroes to follow suit. That's why the anti-heroes that exist nowadays are each a mere breath away from being villians themselves. These are characters that are immoral: they perform actions and duties they know are wrong, but do them nonetheless to suit their personal needs and goals. In video games we have protagonists like Kratos in "God of War" (2005) who gladly sacrifices an innocent soldier to appease the angry gods and overcome an impassible obstruction; we also have the protagonists of the "Grand Theft Auto" games who each start out as a lowly thug who work their way up the criminal hierarchy by committing crimes and misdemeanours; furthermore we have "Conan" (2009) who pillages villages and loots treasure who goes on a murderous quest to satiate his own greed and lust rather than any ideal of goodness and morality.

This continuing trend has devalued our heroes into anti-heroes and our anti-heroes into nothing more than villians who perform good deeds. From the embedding of this literary trend, there isn't much room for the tragic hero, a hero with a major flaw, since audience want gritty, realistic heroes of dubious integrity to replicate the same ambiguousness in real life.

Indeed, this sliding trend as seen in video games has our anti-heroes performing immoral behavior. However, this isn't the end as there is still yet another "bottom" to exploit: that of amoral behavior.

Amorality is neither moral or immoral behavior; rather, it the absence of either. Amoral behavior recognizes neither good nor evil; an example of this is the amoral behavior of a child who can't yet differentiate between right or wrong, as does someone who is legally insane.

The legitimate advancement of amorality has been debated by philosophers ever since Socrates. Machiavelli's "The Prince" advocated the rule of force over the rule of law, and eschewed ethics and morality to maintaining the ruling status quo. The Marquis de Sade advocated amoralist egoism and posited that virtues leads to failure, whereas vices lead to success. Nietzsche railed against the "master-slave morality" in which religions like Christianity hypocritically preach love and forgiveness yet at the same time condemn unbelievers of said religion, and urged a re-examination of all morals.

I suppose the opinion of whether or not amorality is positive among philosophers is like asking two economists whether or not the economy is doing well or not. However, video games are breaking new literary ground by offering amoral video games.

That's right: there are amoral video games. They don't know the difference between right and wrong. There is no good, and no evil. You could even argue that they've been around for awhile: "Pac-Man" (1980) has a hero and and nemeses for the hero, but in the absence of a story its unclear who is good and who is evil (unless its argued Pac-Man is good because you are good).

Similarly, "Berzerk" (1980) had you facing off screen after screen of killer robots and the indestructable arch-nemesis, Evil Otto. However, besides the name nothing indicates the morality of either side; even though like Pac-Man it is commonly inferred that your character is good, the robots say "Stop the intruder!" meaning that you have trespassed upon their area and are only defending themselves. The aggressive, homocidal behavior of the robots can be attributed to their need to revenge their fallen comrades. In Berzerk, it's a clear case of both sides trying to defend themselves - which means the fault will fall to the transgressor: you.

However, these two examples are early arcade games that offered lots of fun and game play but little in terms of exposition; in fact, these games lack the platform from which to make any real judgement to its state of morality. Modern games have either been moral, or moral stories featuring an anti-hero or immoral like "Manhunt" (2004) or "Postal" (1997). That's where "State of Emergency" (2002) by VIS Entertainment and published by Take-Two comes in and fills the void.

State of Emergency is a third person beat' em up action game that has a new venue for a playfield: a riot. The story has the player taking part in an armed uprising against the "Corporation", fighting security guards, police, a riot team, the army and even sympathetic vigilantes as you complete objectives and try to obtain a high score.

State of Emergency suffered a backlash from video gamers who bought into the hype that this was another Grand Theft Auto game, considering that Rockstar, the maker of both games, had released "Grand Theft Auto III" a year previous. Gamers complained they couldn't aim weapons, carjack cars and that the levels were too small. However, that's the point: State of Emergency is a fast-paced action game, and not the open world sandbox game of GTA III. You couldn't aim weapons because that took too long, and the levels were small to accomodate the fast action and the numerous objectives that needed to be completed in short time. Unfortunately, State of Emergency never got the proper accolades it should have for being what it is: a fun, old-school game.

Being a Rockstar game, everyone could be reassured that there would be a level of controversy that has permeated every Rockstar game (except "Rockstar Presents Table Tennis" (2006)). Other Rockstar games were notable for its use of violence, sex, drugs and foul language, but State of Emergency was controversial for depicting a riot as being a fun environment to play in, having you kill both people of authority as well as innocents running around and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

State of Emergency allowed you to do many immoral activities; this isn't a video game you should recommend at your next PTA meeting, nor at your local law enforcement charity bingo fundraiser. Shooting cops and blowing up blameless bystanders sounds pretty immoral and evil until you see this game for what it is: largely amoral.

The "Corporation" and all of its agents are portrayed as corrupt and evil, whereas the rebellious insurrgents are depicted as good freedom fighters. It's true that the game rewards you in points, time and health bonuses when you kill a law enforcement agent with a weapon or your bare hands - a statement when compared to reality would conform to an "immoral" standard. However, this game features the same kind of oppressiveness shown by a totalitarian empire as does "Star Wars" (1977), admittedly, a children's movie. State of Emergency does differ in tone by featuring violent gore and blood that isn't suitable for children, but does feature just as Star Wars the same shallow depiction of evil that requires stopping.

Where State of Emergency is most interesting is in its depiction and treatment of innocent bystanders. While your protagonist is depicted as a moral character who is fighting the evil "Corporation", how you deal with these innocents is up to you. In the beginning stages it is easy enough not to target these uninvolved civilians, but in later stages and with more powerful weaponry it becomes harder and harder not to target and kill this collateral damage.

State of Emergency interestly has this amoral approach: only during certain times are you penalized for killing and injuring innocent bystanders; the game will say "Civilian casualties penalized," and take off points for every wayward bullet or RPG. However, at other times there is no penalty; you can fire into a crowd of innocents and enemies and let "God sort them out". In this way, State of Emergency depicts these innocents as a temporary hindrance at times. You're not trying to save them, nor are you trying to hurt them. Instead, they are just a objective at certain times to not harm despite the obvious duress you are under in this game.

However, this is very extreme amorality, right up to the point of immorality. What else would you say about someone who doesn't care if you live or die, but just sees you as "safe to shoot" or "not safe to shoot"? Being amoral to this degree reeks of moral insensitivity and immorality, but is still amorality. This close approximation makes for some confusion between amorality and immorality, but there is a difference, no matter how slight.

Makes for some great philosophizing. Also, makes for some great old-school action.

Rated: two out of 3 stars. Recommended, for the anarchist in you.
Played to completion on the PS2 on both Revolution and Chaos mode. Scored a high score of 2 or 3 million, can't remember, but it's higher than what you can get.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Metaphor: Katamari Damacy and Capitalism and Overconsumption

When I first watched "Reservoir Dogs" (1992), I thought I had watched the very essence of the coolest god to have ever taken attention of us mere mortals. I was witnessing the truth, and it was cool. It was the coolest. This Quentin Tarantino appeared to be an auteur of the highest class. This revolutionary man with the household name would surely go on to make the best movies the world has ever seen.

Or not. While Reservoir Dogs and "Pulp Fiction" (1994) were fresh, innovative films that were well done and epitomize "cool" for a league of copycats that would follow in their wake, director Tarantino would lazily release a new movie every few years or so for good reason: he's made the best movies in life already, and now lives in the shadow of his achievements. As an artist that mercilessly steals from other sources, it appears Tarantino requires a few years in-between movies to find new sources to undermine to fund his bankrupt creativity.

And the theft is blatant and brazen and even a source of pride to Tarantino, a B-genre director who brings an artistic sensitivity and high production values to his movies. Examples of such theft include: "A Better Tomorrow II" (1987) by Tsui Hark has a scene of its heros walking in profile in slow-motion wearing black suits and ties, similar to the beginning of Reservoir Dogs; also, the three way gun stand off seen in Tarantino's first three crime movies he wrote a script for (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and True Romance) originate in Ringo Lam's "City on Fire" (1987).

Indeed, it appears this type of referential art work exists only to reference other sources. Like rap and hip-hop music, the idea to to find the best lines or samples from other sources to remake into your own image; thus we have Rick James' "Super Freak" (1981) remade into yet another hit, MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" (1990). However, in Tarantino's case this leads to pompous and indulgent film making. Tarantino has a penchant for long, lingering shots happening in real time (eg. Jackie Brown's walk through the mall in the pedantic eponymous 1997 movie) as well as long, drawn out, meandering conversation seemingly full of significance but not having any.

Perhaps the worst crime Tarantino commits regularly in cinema is his regular device to establish dramatic tension by having one character point a gun at another character; in this imbalance of power, we can see both characters operating under duress to try to influence the situation. This is best seen in the opening scene of Pulp Fiction when Samuel L. Jackson's character points a gun at Frank Whalley's character. As a dramatic device it's cheapened when it used again and again with diminishing return.

As cinema, it's exciting to watch. The immersion is deeper for this type of scene since there's so much at stake for the characters. With the imminent threat of death looming, we normal film-goers who haven't had a gun pointed at our heads think to ourselves: is there anything more terrifying? What is more powerful than brute force? Violence is terrible and affecting, and its influence can shape further than upon its victims. Violence can affect people and the way they think, but what about changing entire worlds? Being able to shape entire world views without having to go through the trouble of pointing guns at everyone - now that's power.

The pen is mightier than the sword; it's true, and it isn't negated by the joke "Anyone who ever said violence never solved anything obviously never tried it." In the age of information wars are fought daily for opinion through flame wars on forum boards, snarky blog posts and writing everywhere. This is why metaphor is so important - metaphor is a weapon that can turn the tide of opinion in your favor for victory.

Metaphor is powerful because it can be so subversive and so subtle; by being understated and not focused upon, metaphor can deploy its hidden cargo of meaning to take down established, ingrained ideas and the regular status quo. You see, the status quo is just that: an entrenched, established way of thinking or doing that serves a certain minority an advantage to perpetuate, but isn't challenged by the majority to change even though it may be to the majority's favor to do so.

Metaphor, a device too subtle for most of Tarantino's low-rent movies, is more powerful than any gun. In slyly suggesting a metaphor whose message may or may be accepted by the public and so can surreptiously disseminate through society without obstruction, the status quo of entire empires and armies can be challenged - successfully, all without having to hold a gun.

After World War II, the world order was in flux; after years of violent upheaval, powers would consolidate to have two opposing sides - this would then begin the Cold War pitting east versus west, communism versus capitalism. Effectly ending with the collapse of the former Soviet Union and East Germany, we can safely say that capitalism and a culture of consumption has won out. This is a capitalist world, everything has a buck, and everyone wants to be rich. You can even safely say that capitalism is the status quo, as enough people believe in capitalism that you can't expect a sudden change in the world order anytime, ever.

Not if "Katamari Damacy" (2004) has anything to say about it. Katamari Damacy is by far the most sinister and subversive mainstream video game to clandestinely challenge the status quo. Katamari Damacy uses the power of metaphor to subvert the ideals of captialism, the culture of consumption and even the value of other video games. Katamari Damacy, developed and published by Namco, is a sublime work of persuasion because it masquerades as a video game while sabotaging the mainstream; it is so effective that it's work as a metaphor goes undetected by the many who play it.

Because this is metaphor, being undetected doesn't mean that it is uneffectual. Rather, as a metaphor Katamari Damacy plays to the subconscious and to overall themes; this means that without having to say it plainly and obviously, Katamari Damacy is able to give its players a "feeling" that will linger and may even trigger some follow-up thought and discussion that would expand upon this metaphor.

To explain this metaphor, the entire game play and premise must be explained. In Katamari Damacy, you play as the Prince to the King of All Cosmos, your father, and are sent to Earth in an attempt to recreate all the lost stars of the universe, which disappeared suddenly and unexpectedly one night. A star is made by rolling around a "katamari" which picks us suitably small items and objects; as this occurs on Earth, it is noticeable that each location a game level occurs in is teeming with objects to pick up. In houses, streets and cities we see the product of capitalism and overconsumption: floors and ground littered with junk, stuff we amass for no reasonable purpose but for the purpose of amassing.

In any level there is literally no end to this junk as upon rolling the katamari around and collecting things the katamari grows in size, letting the player reach areas previously unaccessible as well as now being able to pick up things once too big to handle. And you will grow to the size of islands, being able to pick up clouds and oil tankers. The message is clear: Earth is full of stuff of all sizes, and there's too much stuff.

Katamari Damacy takes a left turn from other video games and the approach to inventory. Most adventure and role-playing games have the status quo approach and adopt a philosophy of "more is better", allowing the player to own vast inventories and to enjoy the culture of consumption unavailible to them in real life on real life salaries. Instead, Katamari Damacy presents a situation where you capitalize on the excesses of others. Instead of claiming others peoples treasures as your own, Katamari Damacy has you use the possessions of others to achieve your game goal of making a star.

Katamari Damacy is a fun, addictive game in this aspect, but what hides this metaphor so well is the presentation the game comes in. The graphics are purposely low-tech and outlandishing cartoony, obviously to defeat any suspicion to the games subversive message. Bright and colorful, this game appeals to kids and the kid in all of us by stripping itself of unpretentions - as a game, Katamari Damacy doesn't try to be anything but fun. It doesn't try to impress you with cutting edge visuals as every other game attempts to do. It doesn't try to present a gritty, realistic view of the world in all its problems. Instead, you have brightly colored singing ducks and red dancing pandas - it looks like a world any cynic would be happy to inhabit. In a medium where video games are commonly derided for having poor graphics, Katamari Damacy requires the use of poor, simple graphics to add to its charm and sense of fun.

In fact, if you don't find this game fun you have to pinch yourself to find out if you're breathing or not. The game tells two (!) seemingly unrelated nonsensical stories that are burst of child-like joy; the inanity and lack of ostentation evoke the rapture of Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. Katamari Damacy has an unthreatening sense of humor that has you accepting this game in no time flat. Adding to this sense of joy is a J-Pop soundtrack full of catchy, fun songs that have you humming along. Everything adds to Katamari Damacy's status as a fun, unthreatening game played by everyone, regardless of demographic or world view.

It also stands to emphasize Katamari Damacy's use of songs. That is: pieces of music with a beginning, middle and end that have a melody. This way, Katamari Damacy differs from most video games as well as most modern music at this point. As if it knew that society suffers from a lack of fun, Katamari Damacy also supplies us with songs with real melody to make up for the lack of melody in our everyday lives.

To underscore the sublime mastery of game and persuasion that is Katamari Damacy, this game is also what the best ideas are: simple. In a revolutionary new use of the Playstation analogue sticks, Katamari Damacy goes the opposite route from its peers and has a control scheme that doesn't use every button on the controller. Furthermore, it has a gameplay concept that can be instantly learned instead of fumbling with controls and manuals. In fact, Katamari Damacy has alot of simularities to "Portal" (2007) by Valve Software, yet another quirky, sleeper hit. Both games are simple concepts that provide a unique fun experience that use humor to hide the game's subtext.

Also worth comparing is that both games are relatively short in order to serve the exposition of the story/subtext. For Katamari Damacy, the dramatic effect to emphasize the consumption metaphor would be lessened with if levels were repeated ad nauseum; while the game has the resources to do so and pad out the experience for whiny fans who demand value/time for their purchase, the developers did not do so, just as the number of colossi ended at sixteen in "Shadows of the Colossus" (2005). For Portal, its status as a puzzle game was subjugated to tell a story about love (please see: Analysis: On "Portal" and Love). We feel they are too short because we want more; however, they are great specifically because they are short. Napolean knew this; and he conquered France and most of Europe and got a chick Josephine, to boot.

While fun on it's own, all these disparate elements combine together to create that feeling every single gamer has been trying to recapture ever since he blew up his first asteroid or jumped his first barrel: joy. Nothing can ever match that sense of wonderment as when we first allowed ourselves to live another life in a fantasy world where we could do and be so much more than what we actually are. This is a similar reason that musicians have for playing music, both professional and amateur: even though we continually grow and learn for the rest of our lives, that very first feeling of discovery is profound.

Katamari Damacy reminds you of your first kiss, the first time you held hands, the first time you actually saw a nipple. It gives you a child’s sense of wonderment that other companies like Disney try to ape; however, when your first responsibility is to your shareholders and the profit they seek, your motives cause your results to be contrived. That's one reason of the universal appeal of Katamari Damacy: the game enables the player this immediate feeling of joy and doesn't let go.

However, the brillance in Katamari Damacy is in combining the fun and joy with the game's metaphor against capitalism and the culture of consumption and have no one notice but leave them nagging, lingering feelings afterwards. For a children's game it's especially sinister and subversive, but then again most children's fiction is similar (eg. "Alice in Wonderland": drugs, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory": class war). It makes for the happiest social commentary you'll play on the Playstation2.

This type of artistic deception is the same reason how people can play the Police's "Every Breath You Take" (1983) for a first dance at a wedding and yet not realize that it is a song about obsession and stalking. Oh, I'll be watching you.

Rated: Three out of 3 stars.
Played to completion on the PS2; had finished with the last level katamari measuring over 900m in diameter.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Analysis: Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard and The Reinstatement of Ironic Diction

I've always maintained as a life goal to strive for every day: I don't want to be smart, I just don't want to make another bad decision in my life again. You see, it's important to set the bar low enough so your dreams can actually get legs over that thing.

Being smart is bad. I mean, we're always walking around trying to do less in our already busy lives. Why would anyone walk around and try to think more than they have to do so? Are you some kind of smart guy? Do you think you're better than me?

It's clear to us laymen, Joe Sixpack, and Mr Go-home-have-sex-with-wife-and-wake-up-early-to-slave-for-wages - you can be too smart for your own good. Even certain republics of peoples have had revolutions of culture that punished intellectuals for for their nagging intellectualizing and tweed jackets with elbow patches. Indeed, it would be difficult to sip a half-cap chai latte when you're knee deep in a rice field wishing you never cracked open a book. It happened, and it can happen again.

Because I don't want to be accused of moving things too quickly, let's recap because saying the obvious is self-evident; nothing could be more clear. So: smart - okay. Too smart - you're making me look bad, and stop it. That's why someone who is too smart for their own good is called a "smartypants" or "smartass", because your bum should only be a device to sit upon and not make life decisions for you.

Video gamers know this. Video gamers won't stand for some game to demean them and insult their intelligence. Oh no. It's more than evident gamers have thumbs for d-pads and index fingers for mice to express ourselves and reclaim our culture from these Berkeley has-beens. Hands off my video game! Leave my intelligence alone!

Some games try to do something different, and you know what? Someone gets hurt. In fact, someone somewhere has lost an eye in admidst all these games and fun. And that's the case with "Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard" (2009), as developed by Vicious Cycle and published by D3Publisher: this is a game that's too smart for its own good, its so smart it makes us look dumb.

I don't want to look dumb. I'm a video gamer, dammit! This matters to me.

Eat Lead is a self-aware post-modern video game. And because you can never recap enough, another way to say this is that this game knows its a video game. Its protagonist, Matt Hazard, will often break the fourth wall and speak to you , the audience, directly, but knowing full well what he is doing and what you are doing. He is a video game character in a video game; you are some guy, John Q Public, playing a video game with a video game controller in your hand. For instance, if you don't touch the controls for awhile and leave Hazard idle for a minute or so, he say of his own accord, "Great framerate, huh? Of course, I am standing still..."

This video game character is making a joke about the video game that you are playing. A joke. First, we had to dodge the fireballs in the insanely difficult "Ghosts 'N Goblins" (1990); now, this. What's next, is the video game going to shoot fireballs out of a third-party peripheral you have to purchase while having to talk about your mother in the first person about you?

We can only handle so much. We are red-blooded salt of the earth normal everyday gamers. We want a game where you have a gun and you shoot things that die or blow up. It should be as easy as falling off a stool and having an orgasm. Instead, Eat Lead goes out of its way, again and again, of making self-referential quips to video games to excessive amounts. Lots of jokes.

So many jokes in fact that they sometimes get lost in the game play of shooting things. However, Eat Lead is less of a game instead of a constant barrage of self-referential jokes. That's right: Eat Lead is a six hour video game version of "Scary Movie 4" that masquerades as a video game. Seeing as it is basically very basic (always recap!), Eat Lead is a comedy experience that uses your shooter skills honed from hours upon hours of homoerotic "Gears of War" (2006) game play to meander casually through Eat Lead.

This isn't a hard game. It isn't challenging. You can get through this game while doing your taxes, changing the baby's diaper or having a quick nap. The game play becomes very stale and repetitive, but the game play of this video game surprisingly doesn't become the focus of the video game, as neither do the graphics nor the outrageous powerfulness of the guns (or lack thereof, in this case). Instead, the easy and trite gameplay is a chore for the gamer to undertake to listen to the valuable quips tossed out by various game characters.

Says the Russian commando: "My [assault rifle] clip is as empty as a capitalists heart". In reference to "Die Hard" (1988), Hazard quips, "Yippee kai-yay, mother- whoops, can't say that," as well as "Come on out, be in a video game, have a few laughs." The "Soak 'Em" commandos armed with water squirt guns says, "Someone get me a refill! I'm as dry as a bone here!" and "Prepare to be liquidated!"

It goes on. Some of these are so self-referntial and post-modern that you'll roll your eyes so far back in head that you'll see your brain thinking about shaking your head in amazement/disgust/something that's not quite humor, but close nonetheless. On the loading screen, when the game usually has helpful hints or information about game play, it instead quips "Tip: a gift of money, usually for services rendered," as well as "With a loading screen this long, the level has got to be good!".

It goes on some more. Playing this game is like a chronicle into the history of video games and the genre of shooter in particular, referencing the 2D enemy sprites of "Wolfenstein 3D" 1992 (the Wafflethin), Halo (Crown of Light and Master Chef), Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong (Captain Carpenter) and more. Much more. But, as its referential humor, you needed to have been there at the time and have played these many games to get the humor of this game.

Despite the story that has strong allusions to 80's action heroes as well as many video game references, Eat Lead has a particular target for all of its comedy: you, the gamer, Mr Escapist-from-reality-by-saving-princesses-through-headshots. This game makes fun of the person playing it. Eat Lead never lets you forget you are playing a video game. There is no suspension of disbelief whatsoever, and so this game constantly points out the futility of the action you are currently doing: staring at a screen, using a piece of plastic to animate some guy who's a stand-in for you and your hero aspirations. This is especially clear whereupon waiting in an elevator to take you to the next level, Hazard senses your impatience and wisecracks "It's not like you have anything better to do; you're playing a video game, after all."

That hurts. Oh I won't lie. That gets my blood boiling mad, and as the average, quintessential video gamer I won't stand for it. In fact, I am so white-knuckled with irrational fan-boy rage that I'm having trouble typing this right now. As a matter of fact, because my hands are balled up into non-retractable clenched fists of violence, I am typing right now by punching the keyboard like Chris Redfield does at the end of "Resident Evil 5" (2009) with the boulder. I'm average about 30 wpm, all the same.

Other mediums have long endured the po-mo treatment from its creators, and all you have to do is see anything written by Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman or the Wayan brothers for that matter. "Scream" (1996) was the movie that set po-mo into the mainstream. Since then we've endured "Dawson's Creek", "South Park", "The Simpsons" and "Fight Club".

But me? I'm a gamer. By nature, I want to point a cross hair on a barrel and pull the trigger and witness the best rendering of flame and explosion possible on current game-generation hardware. I want to shoot people and see how rag-doll physics have evolved since the last game. Cutscenes are the reward for slugging it through a long hard level. Story is just a device to let me know who the next boss is at the end of the level.

This game lacks many things, and as a gamer I'm also expressing my need to whine and complain about something that may get addressed in the following sequel, a formula that is not repeated for any other medium or type of entertainment. This game doesn't have enough boobs or explosions. This game doesn't have the gigantic guns as shown on the game cover: a minigun and a huge assault rifle. This game doesn't have any blood. This game doesn't copy Gears of War well enough since I am incapable of judging this game on its own merits and independent of comparison to other games a la "it's like Gears of War meets Scary Movie" type of mis-mash x-meets-y.

Recap? You betcha, drinking buddy/comrade/fellow union member. Eat Lead is the work of bourgeois decadent game designers who think they're better than us, the common video gamer good guy. Eat Lead makes jokes that force us to laugh at ourselves, we the serious video gamer. Because video games are serious. Period. Poker face.

And while in the end, Eat Lead really isn't much of a good game, nor honestly a very funny one, nor even has a story that lives up to its promising premise and voice acting. Where Eat Lead has transgressed is in it brazen effort to do something innovative off the beaten track, something D3Publisher has been guilty with games about survival horror-ambulance driving and attacking an 80-foot tall bikini-clad woman with a tank and helicopter.

See, we the gamer demand a subserviance to the status quo and hereby neccessitate all games in the future copy directly from Gears of War, God of War, and Halo. It's beyond me why every game that is released from now on isn't a sequelized installment of "God of Gears: Halo Edition", which is a 3rd person shooter where you can take cover and shoot at enemies in the 1st person while doing quick-time events and jumping puzzle in the third person and can slaughter minotaurs and medusi to our hearts content.

Video gamers require mediocrity. That's why Eat Lead, a mediocre game that is actually more than a game and is a post-modern parody of video gaming, is not suitable.

To recap, put your favorite non sequitur here.

Rated: Two out of 3 stars. Recommended, if you are one of those smartpants-jerks who can laugh at yourself.

Played to completion at medium difficulty (hardest default difficulty) on the Xbox 360. Took six to eight hours.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Analysis: "Chasing Ghosts" and the Pursuit of Two Rabbits and Capturing None

I can't believe that teachers are using video games as teaching aids in their lessons; I mean, when I was a kid I would rush home to play video games - I don't want to play video games in school. That's work. Don't ruin my hobby my associating it with something worthwhile.

Still, the examples are out there. The University of Minnesota used the role playing game "Neverwinter Nights" (2003) as a aid to teach interviewing skills to journalism students. Minnesota middle school teacher Brock Dubbels taught a lesson that compared the classical works of Homer to Sega mascot Sonic the Hedgehog. In fact, Constance Steinkuehler, professor of Education Communications and World of Warcraft undead priest, wrote a paper called "Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds" in which she argued video gamers were applying the scientific method by postulating theories on how best to tackle bosses, gathering empirical data by first-hand experimentation and afterwards discussing the results with their lab partners/fellow paladins and clerics. Video games are a hobby that can be exploited for their logic and reasoning skills as well as a aide for teaching.

Back in my day, the Golden Age in which video games was still only considered mental cotton candy that would rot a 2D perspective of your brain, it would never for a moment be considered plausible that we could play video games for learning. We had "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" (1985) and "Oregon Trail" (1982); but all I learned from those games is that if you never go anywhere you'll never get lost, and that it isn't excessive to shoot cattle for a surplus of 3000 lbs. It prepared us - not well - for a life of staring blankly at video monitors.

Using computers was a way for us to familiarize ourselves with technology and the oncoming age of information. We all kind of knew that, probably because we'd rather play Donkey Kong than kickball. However, what I couldn't believe is that we would watch movies in class. Movies! The teacher would wheel in that giant trolley with the TV on top and the VCR in the middle, and all the students would know that we can slack off for the next hour without penalty. This was for me the equivalent of a teacher bringing in WiiFit to class because it's raining outside and we don't get to use the parachute (maybe I'll explain that later...).

I remember studying in high school the Scottish play by Shakespeare - you know, the one whose name you can't mention anymore, like Sarah Paylin or Leroy Jenkins. I remember thinking that it was crazy since we weren't reading books anymore but instead watching a movie, and as anyone can tell you: watching a movie isn't reading - it's fun.

I don't remember many details of the version we watched, but it was the one where the monologue was a creepy inner dialogue that wasn't actually spoken; instead, the character would putz around as he was thinking, walking from one dim room to the next. The other thing that I remember is that this movie version was much more kick ass than they book. In the movie, after all the lines are spoken and the play is over there is actually still more - the rocking big fight at the end. Mr Vaulting-Ambition is defeated and exposed, but he still has not received his comeuppance. Surrounded by enemy troops and left vulnerably alone, Mr Bad Luck Name challenges any one man to try and defeat him. Being a King, Mr Better Left Unsaid is fiercesome and too terrible for any of the common foot soldiers that surround him.

Of course, as all you Scottish play fans know, MacDuff has a can of whoopass on him and he brought he can opener with him. After studying the play for weeks, it was a real eye-opener to witness a kick-ass kitchen sink blow-out of a fight. And besides being so awesome, it was particularly memorable since the last few shots of the movie was a POV from his decapitated head as the victorious army carried it around mounted on a pike.

Video games may teach something to children; it may even be something worthwhile. However it wasn't a video game that taught me this: "Kings die hard." There are many themes and ideas percolating within the Scottish play, but that was the one thing that I was left with after watching that movie during school.

Kings die hard. That's why it's ironic that this central theme of the "Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade" (2007) isn't one I had learned from video games and their many bosses at the end of levels, although this theme is emphasized with scorn and yet pathos with all the characters depicted in this documentary by Lincoln Ruchti.

After watching the documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" (2007), the similarities between these two movies about competitive classic video gaming don't outweigh the many differences. Chasing Ghosts is more about video games than King of Kong, even showing most of a Pac-Man level using a pattern called "tunnel terror"; however, like King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts is not about video games themselves as much as it is about the people who play them.

Also, worth comparing is the fact that both movies are incredibly manipluative, with Chasing Ghosts being the more obvious of culprits. Chasing Ghosts chronicles the high rise to prominence of arcade video game high score champions of the early 80's as well as the spectular crash of the arcade industry that has left these people seemingly picking up the pieces ever since, some of them still to this day. Chasing Ghosts does a manic switch from emphasizing the skill and importance of these people as well as the fame they endured as "kings" of their domain to outright condescension of these people who are maligned as outcasts and extremists who require video games as an escape from the society to which they can't adapt. It's the old media trick done in a 90 minutes movie: you tear down the very same subjects you yourself built up.

In Chasing Ghosts, this manipluation happens again and again. Director shows some of these people in a terribly poor light, but reporting the sad truth isn't as effective as manipluating these events for maximum effect. Jeanifer, the girlfriend to Leo Daniels who is suggested to be a pimp and been extremely promiscuous, says despondently, "Yeah, he's met alot of people... but that's okay." Mark Robichek is depicted as being afflicted with compulsive-obsessive behavior, and both folds a t-shirt on camera as well as relaxes in a massage chair to "Wild Thing" by Tone Loc to comedic effect. Walter Day's assertation that he will embark on a musical career after retiring from scorekeeping is followed by a pastiche of his songs, which show them to be nonesensical and has him making mistake after mistake. Todd Rodgers is shown to be a shut-in who amasses a overly large collection of spiders who has such a long life story of tragedy and loss it is edited down to a verbal collage for tragicomic effect. We are teased with Robert Mruczek's status as an art collector until we find out he collects pin-up art of women in explicit poses, which alongside
the fact that he still lives with his parents and doesn't have any other interests besides playing video games colors him as being a hopeless loser. Steve Sanders' admission he lied about his Donkey Kong high score is miraculously accompanied by a shot of Sanders asking for forgiveness during a church service. It goes on.

I always go overboard with the examples, but I admit it's fun to be excessive when it proves your point. And anyways, it's the internet.

Chasing Ghosts is much more manipluative than King of Kong, but as I said this is to be expected as documentaries and media in general all have a bias. This isn't the truth, this is somebody's version of the truth. You can't just stick up the truth on the screen; it can't possibly work that way.

So what is the truth of Chasing Ghosts? If you were to infer from the title, the idea is that these are people who are chasing the glory of a by-gone era that won't return, pursuing nothing but the etereal remains of relevance important only to themselves and not the society that they can't fit in with. This could very well be the message, since the film casts such a disparaging light upon them. However, the title Chasing Ghosts can also mean the search for acceptance that was never afforded this culture and its heroes, even though they got a fleeting moment of prestige and fame back when it started. The film has no more tragic hero than Walter Day, who is suggested to have wasted a life babysitting other people's children and had not capitalized on fame like other video game champions.

That's how the film ends, on a sad tragic note with Walter Day mailing his retired referee jersey to the Smithsonian Museum's Video game history department, though no such department exists. A tragic and sad ending that happened after affording laughs at their expense, such as suggesting with a montage of girls from the 80's that aren't flattering to look at that their priviledge of "video game groupies" is a hollow sham, or suggesting the lengths and measures required to be a video game champion isn't worth it to the normal human being: some high scores require 20 to 40 hours to complete or even more, not to mention the social disadvantages to playing video games by yourself constantly.

So at the end of the movie, that's how I feel: manipluated and exploited for my sympathy. Director Ruchti plays both sides of the morality fence to equally exploit his subjects to be both hero and loser at the same time. And that's my issue with this movie: what are you trying to say? Are they kings? Or are they losers? They can't be both, and that's what this movie winds up doing since it maniacally veers to both ends of the spectrum.

This isn't a case of presenting two sides to an issue and letting the audience judge for themselves, something excellent documentaries can do with controversial issues that don't beg for simple explanations. Chasing Ghosts is an exercise in manipluation that foregoes objection, so when the two extemes of comedy and pathos are mined again and again Chasing Ghosts becomes a movie that says everything and nothing at the same time.

That's why King of Kong is a much better movie. It says something. It does play hard and fast with the facts, but it's about something. And being about something, the movie has something to say - something important, and in this case, something affecting and involving. Chasing Ghosts might have you believe its a movie about tragic heros who have fallen on hard times, but on watching the movie you realize that much of the victimizing comes from the machinations of the movie itself.

It's a closed fist; it's a welcoming open palm. And as a zen koan, it's both at the same time attached to somebody who can't make up their mind. As much as I've picked on Billy Mitchell in past writings, classic competitive gaming needs a image like his to transcend all this compulsiveness and loser-ism. And if he's going to do it with long hair, an American tie, and a thumbs up well I guess it better than the rest.

Me? I'm ambivalent towards a movie that describes someone who uses an electric turkey carver as "genius", or Jerry Garcia's "Pac-Man Fever" as the "best song ever". However, the movie had me when they were all discussing each others skills as though they are special ops mercs or ninjas belonging to a secret sect. It's as though they should shout aloud their special move when performing it like movie kung-fu practicioners do.

But why blame me for my ambivalence? I just watched ambivalence as though a two-sided coin and Charlie Brown had a love child in international waters. So, I'm still waiting for that great, elusive video game movie. Well, other than King of Kong.

Rated: Two out of 3 stars. 3D renderings of classic 2D games may make it more accessible to non-gamers, but mostly preaches to the choir. Mitchell shown giving the thumbs up again. May have the contrarily desired effect of encouraging the gamer audience to seek a world record high score - maybe.