Browsing the archives for the Culture category

Girls Should Not Play Videogames

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Culture, Games

[Unless they legitimately enjoy them.]

I’m tired of the litany that [more] girls “should” play videogames.

Face it. Videogames, at least the videogames which are always meant by the term, are designed for boys. What are Counter Strike or Halo or Call of Duty? They’re the modern equivalent of going out to hunt or fight. It’s simulated fighting, or sports. And what do boys do? They compete with each other.

Are all games like this? Well, of course not. You’ve got your Myst, you’ve got Civilization, you’ve got a million other games that aren’t training simulators for boys to learn how to practice hand-eye coordination and fighting tactics.

Thing is, the focus on girls not playing videogames is always about this small subset of games which are, for obvious reasons, attractive to men and young boys. These are games which are acting out traditional male roles in fighting and competition, but in a safe and nondestructive way. They cultivate masculinity, why would most women be interested in that? Sure, you’ve got your outliers, but that’s pretty much the situation on the ground right now — Nerdy tomboy girls playing masculine shooters. The non-obvious twist is that women are actually a majority of videogame players once you look at things like Bejeweled, Literati, The Sims, and Facebook, they’re just not as interested in the masculine games.

I can’t count how many articles I’ve read with so much hand-wringing over these intuitive observations. These sorts of articles tend to like to profile female gamers. “Whenever I beat a guy, I like to shout over the mic, ‘You just got beaten by a girl!’” they’ll say. The point being, if you’re a girl and you play videogames, you must glorify your victories over men.

Not only is this a blow to their masculinity, but it denigrates a woman’s femininity. This is why playing videogames is a lose-lose proposition. Women don’t need to emulate masculine behaviors to have worth. It’s not even beneficial to be a “gamer girl” if you’re going to constantly compete against your boyfriend or husband and question his masculinity when you win. There are plenty of girls out there who like certain games, and who can show interest in their boyfriend or husband’s activities without making that next step to trying to become one of the guys.

Selective Sexism

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Culture, Politics

First off, I want to get this out of the way: Epic Games has really lost touch with their gamer base. They tasted the forbidden fruit of easily-swayed 12 year olds with Gears of War and have pretty much abandoned their past market — A mature and discerning gamer who demands a superior quality product.

Nevertheless, I came across this article on Kotaku which I thought was really silly. The main point of the article is unremarkable, it’s talking about Epic’s decision to go with EA (probably not a bad thing given what a debacle Midway has been with UT3) and their new projects in production.

The fun part is when the Kotaku interviewer chides Mike Capps for Epic’s “lack of female characters”:

As a parting shot, I asked about chicks in this new game. I hinted (flat-out said) every Epic game I’ve seen is severely devoid of badass females (except Unreal Tournament) and wanted to know if he planned to do anything about it. Apparently, I’m not the only one with this concern. Capps’s girlfriend is also very interested in the badassitute of female characters in Epic games – ditto for the EA handler’s girlfriend and double it for all the guys at People Can Fly with girlfriends.

Really, so “every Epic game” he’s seen is severely devoid of badass females?

Lets look at their past titles: Epic Pinball. Jazz Jackrabbit. Unreal (main character was by default, female). Unreal 2. Unreal Tournament. Unreal Tournament 2003. Unreal Tournament 2004. Unreal Tournament 3. Unreal Championship. Unreal Championship 2. Gears of War.

Pinball and Jazz are not exactly relevant here. And the only Unreal title that doesn’t feature “badass females” (badass of course, meaning “sexy female character who turns boys on by being into guns and killing stuff in the same way that adolescent boys are”) is Unreal 2. Even there, we can’t really know what Aida is like because she never sees combat in the game. She’s touted as a military genius, though, and her strategy won a past war — she just doesn’t like killing.

So basically, this Kotaku guy puts on his feminist waders and goes to chide Epic. “Of your past 9 futuristic paramilitary shooter games, one of them has not featured a ‘badass female.’ When are we going to see more games from you guys that feature ‘badass females.’”

How utterly stupid. Not that it’s anything special, it is pretty typical.

The Watchmen Is Horrible

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Art, Culture

After seeing The Dark Knight recently and being exposed to The Watchmen trailer, I finally decided to sit down and see what this graphic novel was all about. Surely, I thought, there must be a reason why this graphic novel is universally lauded in this subculture. So I read The Watchmen.

I don’t regret reading it at all. But I do regret forgetting that most people have no taste, and those who aren’t, the ones who are always promulgating the comic-books-as-serious-art-form idea, are aspiring-to-be tasteless. That’s my fault for forgetting that these people are just remora catching on to the big sharks in the water.

On some levels I think The Watchmen is kind of interesting. It’s got an ending which is such a huge Deus Ex Machina that it puts Deus Ex Machina to shame. At least in a Greek play, if you are going to have a Deus Ex Machina, the existence of said god is understood to be true within the context of the world of the play. Which is to say, if Orestes is being chased by the Furies, and he cries out to Athena to save him — And then she comes and saves him — The world of the play has already established for us that Athena exists, and if she comes flying in on stage it’s not breaking any of our expectations. Now if, say, we were watching a play about say, Willy Loman, and in the final act Athena pops in without being mentioned at any point prior in the play — That’s exactly what the climax of The Watchmen is.*

Then we’ve got the whole Black Freighter incident, which in some ways reminds me of the Greek Chorus. I suppose the main difference being, the Greek Chorus actually served a purpose beyond reiterating and framing the action onstage — They served both an aesthetic and narrative purpose in driving the story. The Black Freighter, on the other hand, pretty much drags the whole plot down for me. Yes, yes, parallelism, get on with it. This whole side-narrative actively reduced my enjoyment of the main narrative, with nothing more to show for it than my own irritation at the pretense of parallelism equalling depth.

And, well, there are about a hundred other reasons that this comic was an unenjoyable read for me, from its lax worldbuilding to its unlikeable characters. But more importantly, I think is addressing the idea why Watchmen receives all the praise anyway — “It was the first.”

While Art History and the like loves to make a big deal out of firsts — The modern realm of literary and art theorization is built up on a foundation of incestual and incessant self-referencing, and it’s easy to point to firsts (or, more commonly, to designate a first). But I’m not particularly fond of this sort of notion of “progress,” at least not beyond the idea of sophistication of craftsmanship.

So while The Watchmen may have been first, I think it’s pretty inevitable that lessons in characterization learned from books, plays, television, and movies would have come to comics with or without The Watchmen. The cross-pollination is inevitable given the universality of media. And concurrent works like The Dark Knight Returns pretty much prove the point. The innovation here in being first (or rather, being designated first for expediency in a certain critical narrative) was coming, whether or not Watchmen came about. There’s probably even room to argue that, due to The Watchmen being raised up by certain cultural activists, the process was actually retarded.

The Watchmen’s major appeal to me was in the ways it utilized the comic medium in ways that many other comics I’ve seen do not do. And, although I can respect the technical merit of multiple encroaching simultaneous narratives like we have with the Black Freighter, the virtuosity of this technique doesn’t add to the story, or otherwise make for a more entertaining experience.

The closest analog that comes to mind is the virtuoso guitar work common in metal bands — As incredible as it may be to be able to play with that level of intensity, the end result is often less viscerally satisfying than more simplistic but well-executed musicianship. Even on the intellectual level where I can appreciate what Alan Moore is trying to do, the experience is often marred by Moore’s own craziness (The most apparent case-in-point, how he takes psychic power as a given in the story of The Watchmen).

I have a bit of trepidation about the upcoming movie — On the one hand, I fully expect audiences to hate it. It’s a bleak story, it’s a complex story, and it’s nothing like you’d expect from a “comic book movie.” That gives me a bit of hope, because even though we may hate this comic book for different reasons, at least it might become culturally acceptable to point out that it’s bad.
On the other hand, I also expect that if people are primed enough about how “good” Watchmen is, they’ll believe it even if they don’t actually like it. In which case it will be even more frustrating, because instead of hearing from one random person how cool it is when Dr. Manhattan demolecularizes some Viet Cong, I’ll have to hear about it from every random ten year old with an internet connection.

*I am not referring to genetic engineering here, since the universe of The Watchmen establishes genetic engineering. I’m referring to other aspects of the plan which are in-credible.

Diablo 2 Was Not Grey

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Art, Games

Apparently, after the Diablo 3 announcement and promotional/demonstrational videos, a couple thousand deluded Diablo 2 fans signed a petition asking for the colors in Diablo 3 to be toned down. This was followed by some silly Photoshop dabblers using the desaturate slider on some of Blizzard’s screenshots to turn down the intensity of the beautiful colors and effects Blizzard has shown to us so far.

So now the Art Director for Diablo 3 has sat down and taken a look at the screenshots and made some comments on why they chose the art direction they did. It’s a pretty interesting look into the rationale of their choices, although the reasons should be pretty apparent– Nevertheless, for things that seem obvious when spoken about in design principle terms, a lot of smart people consistently get this wrong in practice. So perhaps worth reiterating.

The most amusing bit of this story for me is just the patina of nostalgia that is obvious from people who are petitioning for a “darker” feel. Diablo 2 was not all that “dark” at all. 4/5 acts had major overland areas that were substantially non-greyscale. The lands around Tristram, the desert, the jungles of Kurast, and the Barbarian homelands… None of these were dominated by a grey color palette, not even the snowy areas of act 5. Act 4 was pretty grey, but it’s uh, Hell. As for me, I’ll be really happy to see vibrant greens and autumn hues, and then watch it all fall away as my character descends deep into the nightmare of Diablo’s realm.

Manga Multimedia

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Anime, Culture, Technology

Been awhile since I posted anything, so I’m going to pick up from an earlier post I made on Bleach — I didn’t want to totally dismiss the series out of hand having simply watched the anime. After all, anime is usually pretty debased compared to the manga versions. It’s entirely possible that the Bleach manga could have had fantastic artwork compared to the anime, as some of the comments on the YouTube version intimated. So I did a little searching and actually managed to find some of the Bleach mangas online.

One of the bad trends I noticed was people usually put these manga comics to music. I turned off my volume, as I really don’t care about hearing YouTubeKid99′s favorite song of the moment. But at some point after watching a couple of these, I turned my sound back on and was surprised — The chapters I was looking at actually had some thought put into the music choices, timing, panning of scenes and pages. Pretty cool stuff, even if it is for a derisible power up manga.

TonyCHRYSA in particular seems to post some awesome, well-composed videos. He’s the source of the video at the top of this post, and most of the others that I watched in order to get a feel for Bleach as a manga as opposed to an anime.

These videos didn’t change my mind about Bleach — The manga has the same poor art quality and general power-up fantasy substitute for a story as the anime. But I do find it interesting how people on YouTube can invest the time and effort into these black and white comics to set them to music, pace the video, do special effects, and so on and so forth to turn what you’d normally expect to be a simple visual experience into an almost-interactive one.

Decision Time

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Culture, Personal, Visual

How long ago now was it that I swore off Battlestar Galactica? It’s certainly taken them long enough to get back on the air with new episodes.

So, now I’ve got to decide whether I’m actually going to bother with Battlestar Galactica again. Sure, it was a great show — During the first season. But past the halfway mark of season 2 it really lost its way. The end of seasons 2 and 3 were particularly absurd.

Ronald Moore has said that the writers’ strike gave them time to reconsider their story arcs for the new season. That’s heartening news, since the failings of the show were in the inexplicable actions of characters, absurd twists and retroactive storytelling that undermined its good qualities. Even so, I think I’m going to take a pass on the season premiere tonight until some more information has leaked out. If the word on the street, as it were, is overwhelmingly positive, I may just give it another chance.

Alien Architecture

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Art, Culture

A few weeks ago I ran across a link to the following picture on Reddit…

Architecture1

The headline being, “The aliens have landed.” And I can’t dispute that. Who gives the thumbs up to projects like these? Who thought it was a good idea to plop down what looks like a misshapen blob of Play-Dough on top of a glass box in the midst of what otherwise looks like a very pleasant area? I don’t even know what that building is supposed to be.

Here’s another example that I came across recently.

Architecture7

This one is supposed to be a civil court building. Check out some of the comments on the site. The more realistic reactions include, “Crushed coke can,” “squashed cheese grater,” and “toilet for giants.” How about another one: Ten minutes inside 3DStudioMax and a deform modifier. Any fifteen year old with a rudimentary understanding of 3D modelling programs could create this, so why is apparently so impressive when an architect comes up with it?

Here’s another angle:

Architecture3

Probably the most sensible comment so far, aside from the humorous and true quips about this pathetic lump of failure, is this one by commenter “ArchitectsAnswer”:

Is justice blind-to what its supposed to serve, the greater public? I often find Zaha’s work ironically announcing herself as an architect and using her own audacity to bring ‘meaning’ or importance to her work. I am amazed that the renderings don’t include any context of what already exists in this city. Obviously, these things didn’t go into consideration. But how can a civic building serve the popularity of the architect but also address the civic nature of a courthouse? Frank Gehry set up an appropriately pretentious art museum in Bilbao and Madrid is just trying to match its audacity in all the wrong ways.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around why anyone thinks these are good designs, or, even worse, why governments are willing to blow millions of dollars so that architects can erect monuments to themselves. I mean, I doubt I would want a spaceship sitting in the midst of my neighborhood, but if I were going to have one, I’d like a nice one and not some blob of blue or a crumpled aluminum waste-bin. How about something that’s actually aesthetically attractive, like a Protoss Mothership?

Architecture6

Beautiful colors, harmonious design. It’d be a bit overwhelming in scale, but at least it has fine detail and other elements that relates it in an integral way to humans. As a court it carries a lot more sense of purpose than the meat grinder Zaha Hadid is foisting on Madrid. And all of this in spite of being intentionally designed to be an alien spacecraft.

What a joke.

NIN Ghosts

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Music

NINGhostsI

In case you haven’t heard, Nine Inch Nails has done a rather interesting thing with their latest album Ghosts I-IV. The first nine tracks (“Ghosts I”) is available for free online in high quality, DRM free MP3. For $5 you can get the whole thing as a digital download including a 40 page PDF. There are some other options as well for receiving actual physical media if you’re so inclined, the cheapest being $10, and the most expensive being a $300 limited edition package that’s already sold out (only 2,500 were produced).

The catch for a lot of people will probably be that Ghosts is totally instrumental. Ironically, that’s actually what makes me interested in the album. Lately my tastes in listening have turned into more often than not preferring ambient soundscapes to actual songs with instrumentation and vocals. That Ghosts is instrumental and not totally atmospheric is a bit of a concession for me to make, but not hugely so. On the other hand, an instrumental offering is a bit more accessible to people who aren’t normally interested in Nine Inch Nails’ music, so this might actually be quite a smart move. It won’t bring in the vapid Hip-Hop/Pop crowds, but what would, other than more of the same?

I got the free download version earlier this week but hadn’t had an opportunity to listen to it until now. Granted, I’ve only had one full sit-through of the the album, and I generally reserve judgement about music until I’ve heard it a good ten or so times. That said, I’m looking forward to listening to it again and have already put in my order for the complete album. I’d definitely recommend at least checking out the tracks that are freely available for download and make a decision for yourself. Personally, I can’t see a reason why I wouldn’t want to pay $5 for music I enjoy when it goes directly to the artist and supports their efforts to reform the industry.

Update: Trent Reznor is also announcing a “film festival” of sorts on YouTube for people to create their own visual accompaniments to tracks from Ghosts. A very cool move, and pretty indicative of how forward thinking he is.

Sunshine

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Culture, Visual

Sunshine1

After reading and hearing a bit about this movie, I finally decided it was time to check it out this weekend.

The film has been talked up as one of the better Science Fiction movies in recent memory, so I came to it with rather high expectations. Perhaps that was a mistake, because when I think of films like 2001, Solaris, Stalker, and so on, it’s almost setting myself up to be disappointed.

The first two-thirds of this movie were good. Unfortunately, you can tell that a lot of it is quite derivative. But the film is knowingly an homage to a variety of other movies and sources, so that isn’t a fatal flaw. We have a commanding officer, Kaneda, most likely a reference to the Kaneda character in the Akira manga. We’ve got a seemingly esoteric psychologist named Searle, possibly named after the philosopher, visuals that are highly reminiscent of 2001, and the list goes on.

The fault I found with this film is in not going anywhere. Here we have an epic plot, the death of our Sun, tied in with human struggles and some thought provoking ideas. But it doesn’t go anywhere thematically. It’s inconsistent, and even though everything we see might make narrative sense, there’s no closure, nor even a thought-provoking open-endedness. Instead what we’re left with is a jumble of pieces that could have made something amazing, but instead merely make something passable.

Spoilers.

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