Browsing the archives for the Culture category

Mass Effect vs. Lord of the Rings

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Art, Games

Just read a pretty interesting article which piles on the bandwagon pointing out why Mass Effect 3’s ending sucks, comparing Mass Effect to Lord of the Rings.

While I agree mostly with the overall thrust of his argument, the author of this article goes a little far in praise of Mass Effect:

The simple fact of the matter is that Mass Effect is a story, and it’s a very good story — in my opinion, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced. People can hem and haw about what constitutes a story — about whether a game can really be a story if people can play it — as though a story is only a story if it’s spoken or written or projected up on a movie screen. That’s like saying a person is only a person if they walk or ride a horse or drive a car… because we all know the vehicle in which the subject is conveyed changes that subject’s inherent nature.

Some people say it’s not a real story because the player’s choices can alter it. I think they’re full of crap, and I say the proof of its power as a story is right there in the story-pudding — it affects me as a story does — and that’s all the criteria met. Walks like duck, quacks like duck, therefore duck.

But the problem (if you’re BioWare) is that human beings understand stories; we know how they’re supposed to work, thanks to thousands of years of cultural training. Mass Effect (until that conclusion) is a nigh-perfect example of how a story is done correctly, thanks in part to the medium, which allows (if you’ll permit me the slaughter of a few sacred cows) a level of of immersion and connection beyond what a book or movie or any other storytelling medium up to this point in our cultural history can match, because of the fact that you can actively take part in that story from the inside. Heresy? Fine, brand me a heretic; that’s how I see it.

Our author here seems to have pretty low expectations for writing in general. Mass Effect is a mediocre story and always has been. But it cost a lot of money to make and has good overall production values.

Mass Effect 3 Ending

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Games, Literature

It’s pretty obvious that Mass Effect 3’s ending couldn’t have lived up to the expectations of some of the series’ fans. However, what Mass Effect fans got was an ending that did far less than fail to live up to their expectations: It failed to be logical, provide emotional closure, or even be consistent with itself.
One really has to wonder what happened at Bioware that led to this mess being released. I don’t think I have seen a single person who expressed more than a hesitant acceptance of the ending. When the best even the most rabid fanboys has to say is, “Well, I can kind of see how it might work,” you have probably erred horrendously.

Cognitive Tools: Apex Fallacy

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Culture, Politics

Recently I came across a bit of an interesting observation — And it really struck home for me in terms of pithily summing up one of many fatal critiques of Feminist pseudo-scholarship.

[Feminist] critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men. Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man. The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too.

This is a quote by Dr. Helen Smith. What she’s describing is a phenomenon known as the Apex Fallacy. It’s a wonderful shorthand for understanding that even at the fundamental level, Feminist critiques are blind to a wealth of contradictory evidence. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen anyone articulate the idea of the Apex Fallacy until now. Maybe in another ten years the idea will have caught on well enough that people making Apex Fallacy mistakes will be pointed out on it.

Sexism? Or Just Not PC?

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Culture, Games, Politics

So Shamus just posted over at his site discussing a video that showcases a so-called reality show called Game Boss, presumably about some group of game-developer rejects. For reference, here’s the video.

Now the brunt of the reaction to the video seems to be about the second proposal showcased, which seems to be making an ineffectual, tongue-in-cheek jab at feminism. The backstory of the game proposal being that by 2021 the European Union is taken over by feminists and their main villain is an angry, childless woman in menopause.

This, of course, is being used to demonstrate that these guys are SEXIST and MISOGYNIST!

But are they really? Lets put this proposal into context. The previous contestants proposed a boss fight that involved launching the plague-ridden corpses of dead princesses at the player, and then later following up with the idea that the player would have to dodge a literal stream of excrement. This isn’t exactly highbrow stuff the other guys are producing, all of them are rolling around in the gutters. So the idea of making a game that is also social commentary seems fine to me. It may be inept social commentary, but then I don’t expect games, game designers, game journalism, or reality TV to produce good social commentary.

Being that I’m not the type of person to fly off the handle at some socially awkward guys presenting a poor satire, I decided to do a little research.

Where did this video montage come from? It turns out the Game Boss show aired sometime in early-mid 2011. Very old news in our 24/7 hype-and-outrage driven media culture.
It was posted to YouTube by a user named OffalAl. This guy also posted a second montage clip containing many of the same video clips although slightly different. In the comments to that video, he posted a link to the website Gamers are Embarassing.

If you take a look at the Gamers are Embarassing site you’ll notice that it essentially takes offense to the entire idea that people play and enjoy videogames. I’ll be the first to admit that “gamer culture” is a ghetto that I’m eager to step away from. But the guy thinks that this unabashedly cute video is somehow deeply embarrassing. He’s also quite persistent in trying to argue that gamer culture is “rape culture” or somehow celebrates rape. Also included in the typical topics are:

  • can’t deal with gender
  • can’t deal with homosexuality
  • can’t deal with race
  • can’t deal with relationships
  • can’t deal with women

That’s right, If you enjoy videogames, you’re a racist, homophobic misogynist virgin. You obviously don’t have the “correct” views if you’re a gamer. If you have a sense of humor and are able to see the fun in a character like Duke Nukem, you’re a sexist rape-promoting bigot. As far as I’m concerned, while gamers might be somewhat embarrassing, they’re certainly more intelligent and better company than somewhat deranged leftist blog authors with an axe to grind. The only cringe-worthy thing I found is that games journalism continues to cater to the increasing unhinged views of people like the Gamers are Embarassing blog author.

Mega Man Fan Movie

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Culture, Visual

I don’t think I can embed this player, but check out this link anyway.

http://ningin.com/mediastream/item:show/2008/11/21/megaman-movie-official-trailer/

Continue Reading »

Videogame Gourmands

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Culture, Games

I’m really fucking tired of people who play Xbox 360 and PS3 calling themselves “hardcore gamers.” Look at the list of top 10 games on 360 up above. See anything in common? Those are the games that most people play on 360, and with the exception of Braid, they also happen to be the most popular, most heavily marketed, and most consumer-oriented games in the industry. It’d be like someone eating a meal at McDonalds and saying “I’m a foodie!” No, you’re not. If you’re into movies, you don’t go out and see Jurassic Park and call it a day. You try to see movies that try new and interesting things. The types of movies that only someone who has watched thousands of movies could appreciate for doing something unique.

Maddox, as usual, pretty much nails it.

I only tend to buy one or two videogames a year. Who really needs more than that? Of course, through the magic of informed decision making, pretty much every videogame that I buy is worth hundreds of hours of entertainment, and will usually be different from the last game I bought.

The entire console game market is amazingly analogous to fast food. Not only do we have games getting shorter and shorter, delivering 15, 10, 8, 6 hours of gameplay, but each is increasingly seen as less and less of a valuable thing unto itself. If you’ve got a hit game, why bother to patch up the major flaws, as good computer game developers of yore did, when you can just release a sequel? That’s not even digging into the stagnation of gameplay and the devaluation of storytelling when you’re simply trying to impress a bunch of kids.

We Interrupt This Non-Broadcast…

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Culture, Music, Politics, Visual

Many moons ago I posted this video called Flying at Tree Level.

It’s a stunt/trick video showing some of the insane movement tactics in UT2004. The other day while checking my email I got a friendly message from the YouTube Police telling me that this video had been removed for violating copyright.

Now, as it turns out, YouTube hasn’t totally removed the video, they’ve simply muted the audio. Fine, at least they’re not totally annihilating volumes of original work just because they include something that may be copyrighted*.

*Although, the distinction must be made that these works themselves have copyright, what they don’t have is deep pockets and teams of lawyers to aggressively antagonize hundreds of millions of people.

So, anyway I went back and took a look at this so called copyright violation. Apparently the audio on this video was pulled because it contains a whole 40 seconds of the song “I Believe I Can Fly” by Space Jam. What a crock. Bitterly ironic that it gets pulled for containing only the main chorus of a song by a band who only ever made one popular song…

Update: Related Reddit thread.

Mirror’s Edge

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Culture, Games

Awhile back I got exposed to Mirror’s Edge, a new game by Dice/EA. There’s been a fair bit of buzz about this game, because … Well, I’m not really sure why. Basically, it’s a first-person platformer, the goal seemingly being to get from point A to point B.

The game looks pretty slick, visually. The design style of the environments is realistic, but austere in a way that a lot of games haven’t been lately. Almost all game designers are pushing a more-is-more angle, but what we’ve seen of the game breaks away from that.

I have mentioned before that Michael Blowhard is one of my favorite culture critics (perhaps culture enthusiast is a better term?), but there’s one thing I’ve never quite seen eye-to-eye with him on. One of Michael’s themes is looking at modern advertising, and examining how so much of our current design sensibilities arise from the tools used to construct those design sensibilities. For example, People with metallic skin, words with incomprehensible (parenthetical or [bracketed]) emphasis are seen as byproducts of the techno-fetishization that goes on in a design world entirely run by computers. One design theme that seems to come up again and again is the idea that the human form is infinitely malleable — Which is not to say that advertisers have a fetish for portraying humans as unformed lumps of clay, but rather that designers go out of their way to display the human form used in physically implausible ways. One of the culprits he names in this is typically video-games, which by their very nature have abstracted the form from the function.

Personally, I disagree with the conclusion that this tabula rasa physicality comes from videogames. It’s certainly invested in videogames, a medium where every woman is capable of being just as fast, strong, smart, and charming as any superhuman male protagonist. But the bigger culprit to me is movies — Movies have latched on to the concept of elastic physicality far more than videogames have, if only because videogames are typically more abstract in their presentation (due to technical limitations). In a videogame you are in control of your character, so when your on-screen avatar who happens to be an attractive 100lb female grabs a 200lb burly security guard and tosses him into a wall, it’s less about the character doing this than about you doing this by mastering the game’s mechanics. On the other hand, once special effects in movies allowed it, we increasingly began to see 100lb females beating up 200lb males, overpowering them, often multiple opponents at a time. Because movies are a medium of presentation and not of interaction, the emphasis really becomes that of showing a woman performing spectacularly outlandish things.

What really struck me about Mirror’s Edge is how it seems to be less about the player interacting with the world and more about the presentation of your avatar (Faith) interacting with the world. This is a trend toward the cinematic over the interactive. Paradoxically, it is probably Mirror’s Edge’s greatest strength to think that in moving towards a cinematic valuation of presentation it also enhances interactivity (at least on some level) by providing a more immersive sensory experience than other first-person-games.

My big problem with Mirror’s Edge is that I find it totally implausible. It is implausible not only in the way the main character is presented interacting with the environment, but the entire premise of this near-future world which follows-our-rules-but-doesn’t. Even if we can accept the implausibility of our 100lb protagonist running around, jumping 30 foot gaps, sliding down 100 feet on steel cables, dodging bullets, and shrugging everything off with a roll, what is our rationale for accepting that our supermodel protagonist would even bother risking life and limb to deliver letters? Accepting these things is accepting the premises so frequently promoted through other media that the human form is something infinitely malleable– that being a 100lb waif-thin female doesn’t stop one from being a top-notch athlete who can do superhuman stunts that would cause most people to break a wrist, ankle, or worse; that being a supermodel-class female beauty doesn’t carry social cachet and expectations that would make this sort of life-risking behavior unnecessary and pointless.

I want to point this out, because I know this game has been praised and praised for its supposedly progressive visual design, but Faith is just another supermodel in a long line of supermodel protagonists. There is nothing new or refreshing or progressive in her visual design for anyone who has anything more than a politicized interest in videogames. A tank top and pants are nothing to go nuts over. Aside from her clothing, how is Faith any different from Paris Hilton?

Even though I am inclined to believe that movies, more than videogames, are pushing an ideology of physical mutability, I think it’s inevitable that games such as Mirror’s Edge are beginning to adopt this subtext wholesale as the entire medium moves towards emulating the cinema. It really isn’t unexpected, given that very few videogames (none which I know of) actually treat the physical representation of a character as inextricable from that character’s capabilities in the game world. That seems like a shame, since to the extent that videogames survive as non-mainstream media expressions, they …

… are pure products of the the engineer and nerd culture that is completely different from, say, the culture born of marketing, social sciences and various “critical studies” that currently dominates Hollywood and print media. (Link)

Alarmist? Perhaps. But I also think that Mirror’s Edge will just not be a very good game, and that this is not entirely unseparate from the tropes it adopts and the forces that it panders to.

Flagellant

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Culture, Technology

I wrote a post yesterday about Shamus’ post revealing the scary-as-hell Electronic Arts / Big Brother plot to “integrate” all of your purchases from EA with your online accounts and make it so that any infraction (real or perceived) can cost you all of your games. (I have no doubt, by the way, that this is all part of a plot to try and convince courts that they aren’t selling a “game” they’re selling a “service” and that thus, their EULAs could actually be something more than trash not worth the bytes they’re printed on.)

I just saw this comment by Factoid though and wanted to respond to it:

My tinfoil hat alarm just went off. I’m now pretty much convinced that EA is deliberately killing off the PC platform. They hate the pirates so much, that they’re waging a war of attrition against them. Except it’s not normal attrition, where you try to grind the OTHER guy down until there’s nothing left….they’re grinding THEMSELVES down, and making the pirates look on in horror, A Clockwork Orange style.

This image reminds me of the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton begins fighting himself inside of his boss’ office. And while his boss looks on in horror about the deranged man who is mutilating himself, he can’t speak out about it because if he does he’ll be pinned with the assault. It’s exactly the same, except Electronic Arts is both sending the boss to jail and accepting tons of bribe money.

Semi-related: Today I saw this article in which a Harvard lawyer points out the pitfalls in letting the [supposed] plaintiff decide who to prosecute, accept bribes for prosecuting or not prosecuting, and charge hundreds of thousands of times the value of the perceived infraction.