Category Archives: Gaming

On Garner Road – An Expansion

The ever-gracious Glen Campbell interviewed me for his podcast On Garner Road last week, and as I expected, he centered his questions on film. It was a good conversation, but there were a few things I wanted to clarify/expand because I tend to have difficulty composing my thoughts as well as I’d like when speaking as opposed to writing. So go listen to the episode first, because I’m going to jump right in to the same topics. It’s only about a half hour long.

Thanks so much to Glen for giving me the opportunity to be On Garner Road!

Best Sci-Fi Right Now

I answered this based on sci-fi films, which have become, in mainstream film, anyway, almost fully about sci-fi trappings – that is, action films that happen to be set on other planets or in space or have aliens rather than sci-fi that tackles questions of ethics and the limits of science or the role of technological advancement in society in the way that hard sci-fi does. Most of the time they’re not even particularly innovative in the way they incorporate futuristic elements into their stories. There are exceptions, which was what I was trying to get at with my awkward comments about people like Timur Bekmambetov who made interesting, even visionary films, before they came to Hollywood, and then ended up making much less intriguing things after. Bekmambetov was a weird name for me to come up with, though, because even though I do think there’s a lot to like about the Night Watch series he did in Russia (well, it was supposed to be a trilogy; the third one hasn’t gotten made yet), it’s got a lot of issues. But maybe that’s one of the things I like about sci-fi – it goes places that don’t exist yet or transmogrifies things that do exist into a new context that makes them otherworldly, and that can get messy. That good kind of messiness gets lost in Hollywood.

So to really answer this question, I’d say the best sci-fi in cinema is happening in other countries and in independent film – Mexico’s Sleep Dealer, the UK’s Moon and Monsters, Spain’s Timecrimes, Canada’s Splice, and indies like Primer. Hollywood mainstream is too safe, and sci-fi shouldn’t be safe. I was shocked when they gave Splice a wide release, because it’s a highly transgressive film that goes some very disturbing places. I didn’t love every choice Vincenzo Natali made in it, but I appreciated his bravado in making the choices he did. The elephant in the room talking about current sci-fi films, especially in the context of indie/foreign/Hollywood differences, is District 9, a film from a first-time South African director that straddled the line between indie and mainstream, both in its production and distribution. I can’t speak for sure as to Neill Blomkamp’s original intentions, but the film demonstrates my issue with indie and Hollywood sci-fi quite well. The first half or two thirds of the film is a really intriguing, if rather obvious, sci-fi-based inquiry into apartheid and its faux-documentary style was interesting. I loved that half – it was thoughtful and refreshing and not what you expect from a multiplex film. Then it took a turn both in style and story and turned into a big action movie, and I all but hated that part. It stopped being what it was and lost what made it unique. That’s what seems to happen when Hollywood gets ahold of sci-fi.

Avatar

Somehow we got into a brief Avatar discussion, because Glen asked me what were some recent overrated films, and Avatar was the first thing that sprung to mind. And I do hold to that, but I think I came down a little harsh on people who praised Avatar, which led to the little side note on elitism, which Glen was far too kind about. I get what he was trying to say, and I appreciate that, but I also know that a good portion of the vitriol I’ve hurled towards Avatar over the past year is reactionary and I don’t like being that way. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think it’s that great a film, but it’s not the worst thing ever made, either, and being derivative of other works isn’t necessarily that bad – I like a lot of films that pull ideas from other films.

The difference for me, and why I rate Avatar lower than pop-culture pastiche films like the ones Tarantino, Rodriguez, Edgar Wright, and others (back to Godard!) make is that Avatar doesn’t seem to be aware of what it’s doing, and is so totally earnest in tone that it turns me off. It plays it so straight while regurgitating every oppressed-people-liberated-by-hero story ever that I can’t tell whether Cameron is really oblivious to how much he’s thieving (it feels like theft rather than homage) or if he’s deliberately suppressing awareness to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes, and I can’t decide which would be worse. I do give Cameron credit for being a good storyteller, though (which is not to be confused with having a good story), because between the gorgeous visuals and the momentum of the plotting, you don’t really notice how thin the basic story here is until you get to the end and start thinking back over it. And that’s the step that most audiences don’t take, which is what I was sort of trying to get at with my comment about audiences being blinded by pretty visuals and not having the background knowledge to see the unoriginality – honestly, it’s fine with me if people want to enjoy their experience at the movies and not mull it over for weeks after. I do that often (hellllllo, Resident Evil series), but a movie being an impressive technical achievement or an engaging experience doesn’t necessarily make it a great film if other elements are mundane and derivative without any self-awareness that makes pastiche fun. And honestly, I prefer Resident Evil‘s campy B-movie fun to Avatar‘s overearnest self-important tone.

Adaptations

I’m not sure I really answered Glen’s question here, which was asking about adapting long-form novels into relatively brief movies, and whether the visual component made up for losing so many words. My general answer about adaptation stands, though, which is that the film adaptations that work are generally the ones where the director has their own vision for the story and brings something new to their interpretation of it. As far as adding visuals goes, of course you can save on a bunch of description when you throw in a visual, but sometimes that can backfire because just showing a landscape isn’t as necessarily as meaningful as the words an author uses to describe it (think how much E.M. Forster gets out of describing the caves in A Passage to India or in contrasting the houses in Howards End, or the feeling you get from Virginia Woolf’s descriptions of Mrs. Dalloway’s London or the way the countryside looked to the characters in The Voyage Out as they were falling in love – it’s really hard to get that subjective sense across in an unmediated image). Any adaptation from novel to film is going to be a reduction of some sort, so the question is how to reduce the novel to its core elements, stripping out subplots and characters that don’t support that core. You’re always going to piss some people off when you do that, so you’ve got to be confident in your vision for what the FILM should be apart from the book. And that’s the real issue – you’ve got to not think “how can I capture everything about this book” so much as “how can I make this the best film possible”. Adaptations can fail by being too faithful to the book just as easily as by deviating from it too much – Kubrick’s The Shining may not be extremely faithful to the King novel, but it’s a damn good movie, while the recent Chronicles of Narnia films are almost stiflingly faithful, with no vision of their own or trust in their own existence apart from the books.

Video Games as Art

Here’s where I have to almost totally recant something I said; even as I was saying that Red Dead Redemption wasn’t art, I was internally crying out, what am I saying?! Here’s the thing. “Art” is a notoriously slippy term, and I tend to prefer to take a broad view of it. The question as phrased, though, led me toward answering it with a narrow view of art. I’m not really interested in getting into an art vs. non-art debate, because I don’t find the distinction to be very useful. The line is too blurry and depends on too many pre-conceptions that are hardly ever articulated, if they even can be articulated. I think you can experience video games as non-art by focusing solely on the mechanics of the gameplay and completing the missions, but you can also experience it as art by focusing on other things – in Red Dead Redemption I found myself getting lost in just riding around delighting in the landscapes and the random encounters I’d have, even if I wasn’t actively engaged in doing something toward game completion – in other words, I wasn’t experiencing it primarily as a GAME, at that point, but as something else, though there were still elements of gameplay that allowed me to experience it at all. This can be turned into an argument that video games are not art for the exact reason that they are only experienced as art at the point when they cease to be experienced as games – I disagree with that argument, but it is fairly compelling in some ways. Similarly, you can experience things that are generally considered art, like paintings or classic novels, as non-art by using them merely as a means to an end. So generally, my feelings about art, at this point in time anyway, is that art is better defined by the way that a work (game, film, novel, painting, music, etc.) is experienced rather than by anything inherent in the work itself. I do think that some works lend themselves better to certain types experiences than others, so that some things are more likely to be considered art by more people than others, but I would try to avoid categorically deciding that one thing is art and another is not.

Side note on the uncanny valley – Amber reminded me that the major source of the uncanny valley effect is the fact that human faces are asymmetrical, and capturing asymmetry believably with a computer algorithm is really difficult. Computer-generated faces tend to be perfectly symmetrical, which subconsciously alerts us that something isn’t right, and it creeps us out. I still think there’s also something with the eyes, though, too. I’ve yet to see computer-generated eyes that don’t look vacant.

My 2008 Recap

As per usual, I haven’t seen enough 2008 releases to be justified making a Best of 2008 list, so here is my much more egocentric list of my favorite movies that I saw during 2008, no matter when they were released. And I threw in books, music, and games, with the same caveat. The links go to my reviews, reactions, or other previous writings about them. The non-linked ones I, uh, didn’t write about. Because I am lazy. So I’ll throw in a line about them, but I may still write about the more in the future. Or not. Because I am lazy.

Oh, and also, don’t even think these are lists of bests. They’re lists of favorites, 100% subjective. And highly subject to change.

FILM

LOVED

Cleo from 5 to 7

Cleo from 5 to 7 (imdb) – A New Wave film from a female director (Agnes Varda). It’s an excellent combination.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sunrise
Wall-E (imdb) – edit: I managed to forget this one upon publishing this post. BAD JANDY. A breathtakingly beautiful, heartwarming but not maudlin, and prescient sci-fi animated film. Virtually perfect in every way.
Divided We Fall
Easy Rider

The Fall

The Fall (imdb) – A dazzlingly imaginative film set partly in war-torn Spain and partly in the story a dying soldier tells a young girl. Not as cohesive as Pan’s Labyrinth, but very much in the same vein.
Kicking and Screaming
All That Jazz
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Speed Racer (imdb) – One of the most criminally underrated films of the year. A visionary expression of sensory overload and invention. Plus, shiny!
I Walked With a Zombie
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Planet Terror

REALLY LIKED

I'm Not There

I’m Not There
Rachel Getting Married (imdb) – Fantastic acting and script. Just misses being in the “Loved” section because I could strangle Jonathan Demme for misusing the shakicam.
The Savages
Orpheus
Werckmeister Harmonies (imdb) – Director Bela Tarr is known for using reaaaallllly long takes, and he does. But the slow pacing soon becomes mesmerizing and stunningly beautiful.
Iron Man
The Dark Knight (imdb) – I’m sorry, but I have to say I think The Dark Knight is a little overrated. Ledger is fantastic, and the Joker is the best villain the movies have seen in a long time. But I pretty much can’t remember ANY of the scenes without him.
Go
All the President’s Men
Repulsion

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading (imdb) – The black humor Coens return in force (and farce) here. It’s nothing like No Country, but it’s an over-the-top great time.
The Innocents (imdb) – This should’ve been in my Month of Horror post; don’t know how I forgot it. Very well-done quiet (maybe) evil kid horror film based on The Turn of the Screw.
Them!
Let the Right One In
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (imdb) – Perhaps a movie about hipsters running around New York City in search of an elusive band is just made for me. Granted, it’s slight, but it’s really enjoyable.
Australia (imdb) – There are admittedly a lot of tonal problems with Australia, but I enjoyed watching every second of it.
Tell No One (imdb) – A man’s wife is murdered…or is she? When he starts seeing her and hearing from her years later, it quickly becomes clear there’s much more going on in this twisty French thriller.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Transsiberian (imdb) – A couple travels from China via the Transsiberian Railway, but gets pulled into trouble by a couple of young drifters. A solid thriller with a good twist or two.
Shaft (1971) (imdb) – I saw Samuel L. Jackson’s remake a few years ago. As cool as Sam Jackson is, he WISHES he were as cool as Richard Roundtree, the original iconoclastic black private eye facing off with Harlem and Italian gangsters and the NYPD.
Night of the Living Dead

Saawariya

Saawariya (imdb) – This fairy-tale Bollywood film is extremely stylized and imaginative – one of the more interesting Indian films I’ve seen so far. They’re always visually sumptuous, but this one takes it to a whole new level.
The Flower of My Secret (imdb) – Pedro Almodovar film similar to All About My Mother in tone. Not as good, but still very worthwhile.
Synecdoche, New York (imdb) – I can’t do this one justice in a few sentences. I’m still working out in my head what I think about it. The best quote I’ve seen about it, though, is from Roger Ebert: “a film that should never be seen unless you’ve already seen it at least once.”
Les bonnes femmes
Atonement
Village of the Damned (imdb) – Evil alien children take over a rural English town. It’s way better than it sounds, a classic old-school British horror flick.
My Blueberry Nights (imdb) – Wong Kar-Wai’s first English-language film is a visually beautiful odyssey following a girl as she tries to find out what she wants. I’m excited to see his other films now, which I’ve heard are better.
Sunshine
Metropolitan
Some Came Running (imdb) – Frank Sinatra gets to prove his acting chops again as a cynical soldier returning to his small-town home. Shirley MacLaine is a revelation, and Dean Martin gets probably his best role, as well.
Lars and the Real Girl

Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole (imdb) – Reporter Kirk Douglas will do anything to get a good story, even keeping a trapped miner trapped as long as he can to increase the media frenzy. It’s Billy Wilder, so you know it’s going to be solid, and it is.
Two-Lane Blacktop
The Body Snatcher
Wristcutters: A Love Story
Isle of the Dead
Do You Like Hitchcock (imdb) – This Dario Argento film has a film student getting involved with a murder that bears a close resemblance to Strangers on a Train; the overall film also had plenty of Rear Window and I like to think a little Vertigo in there.
Be Kind, Rewind
Leatherheads
Shadows (imdb) – John Cassavetes’ first film, and often hailed as the beginning of American independent film. Touches on show business, youth, and sibling rivalry, but the tough look at 1960s racial issues is the most interesting aspect.
In Bruges (imdb) – I expected a comic action film, and it is that sometimes, but it’s also got a huge dose of thoughtful philosophy in there, as two hitmen go to Bruges (read: Purgatory) to wait out a botched job.

RECOMMENDED

Hannah Takes the Stairs
Lacombe, Lucien (imdb) – A young German boy falls into working with the Nazis during WWII, but finds his loyalties divided when he befriends a Jewish family – and falls in love with the family’s daughter. It’s a big tough at first to relate to the implacable boy, but there’s more here than meets the eye.
The Seventh Victim (imdb) – Val Lewton, occultism, missing sisters, overall creepiness – what more do you want?

Made in USA

Made in USA
The Blue Angel
Lola Montes (imdb) – Max Ophuls’ only widescreen, color feature about the rise and fall of a the title character in the courts of Europe is sumptuous, but a little distancing. Perhaps purposefully.
Paprika
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Lantana
Mickey One
Michael Clayton
The Cool World (imdb) – Another early independent film, this is the story of a young Harlem boy who thinks everything in his life would be better if he just had a gun, and thus some power and authority. Hard to see due to rights issues, so if you get the chance, jump on it.
I Am Legend
Papillon
Bottle Rocket
Ghost Ship

BOOKS

LOVED

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – First thing I’ve read by James, and I was highly impressed. His mastery of depicting the interior life is a great foreshadowing of Modernism.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons – Proof that graphic novels can be just as complex and well-written as traditional novels.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – The basis for my current revaluation of Hemingway, who I used to not like. But this one is great.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – A Victorian mystery, and with my general dislike of Victorian lit, I was shocked at how much I liked it. It’s perfectly written, and so much more than *just* a mystery.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers – Similarly here, as this is technically a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but the mystery is almost secondary to Sayers’ exploration of life at an Oxford women’s college, with side notes on feminism, class, and academia.

LIKED

Good Night Mr. Holmes by Carol Nelson Douglas – Douglas rewrites Sherlock Holmes from a woman’s point of view, making Irene Adler, the only person to outwit Holmes (in A Scandal in Bohemia), the heroine.
Alias Grace Margaret Atwood – Grace is a convicted murderess, shuttled between prison and mental institution; she tells her story to a sympathetic doctor who hopes to absolve her. But the truth of the matter is elusive, even to the reader.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Ichebe – A leader in an African tribe struggles with pride and the conflict between tribal customs and the incoming Christian missionaries. Achebe is known for being among the first to bring a truly African voice into English-language literature, and his minimalist style suits the story perfectly.
Spook Country by William Gibson

MUSIC

With music it’s more “these are what I’ve been listening to the most in 2008.” Although I think I did acquire all of these albums in 2008, even though several of them are from earlier. All 2006-2008, though, I think. I linked Music Monday or concert coverage posts where I had them; otherwise tacked on a MySpace link so you can hear them yourself.

LOVED

Jenny LewisAcid Tongue
The SubmarinesHoneysuckle Weeks
BabyshamblesShotters Nation (MySpace)
Mates of StateRearrange Us
Los Campesinos!We Are Beautiful, We are Doomed / Hold On Now, Youngster
MetricLive It Out (MySpace)
Army NavyArmy Navy
Silversun PickupsCarnavas
The Apples in StereoNew Magnetic Wonder (MySpace)
Arcade FireNeon Bible (MySpace)

REALLY LIKE

Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes (MySpace)
We are ScientistsBrain Thrust Mastery (MySpace)
She & HimVolume One (MySpace)
I’m From BarcelonaWho Killed Harry Houdini / Let Me Introduce My Friends (MySpace)
The RosebudsLife Like
Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend
The FratellisHere We Stand

GAMES

LOVE

Mass Effect
Bioshock – One of the most amazing stories and art direction in any game ever.
Bully – Like GTA, but at a boarding school. :) Not particularly innovative, but a blast to play.
Portal – The only problem with Portal is it’s too short! Fantastic puzzle game with a fun story to boot.
Fallout 3 – I’ve only played a few hours of this, but I can already tell it’s headed to the “loved” category. Looks fantastic and plays like Oblivion (aka, my fave game of all time).
Rock Band 2 – Not much different than Rock Band, but don’t fix what ain’t broken, and the improvements made are good. I just keeping coming back for more.

REALLY LIKE

Fable 2 – Does a nice job of improving on the first Fable, which was already good. The difficulty’s not perfect, though – I found I got through the whole main quest with very little leveling.
Guitar Hero: World Tour – The first Guitar Hero game that remotely gives Rock Band any competition, to my mind. I actually think the gameplay is a bit better, but the overall experience was less enjoyable.
Assassin’s Creed – Climbing up every building in town and running over rooftops never got old. The gameplay here is spectacular, but it’s not one I’d ever play again. Looking forward to seeing what the sequels do with the story, though.
Mirror’s Edge – Again, groundbreaking gameplay, once you get the hang of it. But I’m about halfway through and I’m already bored with the story and missions. Still, paves the way for potentially stupendous games in the future.
Lost Odyssey

Lost Odyssey – Things I liked, Things I Didn’t

I rented Lost Odyssey a few weeks ago largely because I asked Ashley (who writes a really good gaming-focused blog) about Japanese RPGs and how I could learn to like them. Her foreseeable comeback was to ask me what I didn’t like about them, to which my response was “uh….” Yeah, I’d never played one except for demos. So since she’d spent a long while with Lost Odyssey and spoke highly of it, I thought I’d use it for my J-RPG test.

And here are the results – the things I liked and didn’t like. The question now is what this means about my future with J-RPGs. Are the things I disliked common in J-RPGs? Am I likely to open a new category of gaming for myself, or should I stick with Western RPGs, which I already know I love?

Liked

1) The story and characters. I loved the care with which the story was crafted. There were moments when I laughed (mostly due to Jansen, who annoyed me slightly, but was definitely hilarious), and moments when I cried. It’s not always that video games are that moving. I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, as you learned more and more about why certain characters are immortal and the way characters you thought were enemies turned into allies.

2) The length. Somewhere around 70-80 hours. The trend lately in game design has been toward shorter games, and I’m not altogether happy about that. If I can finish a game on a five-day rental, it’s too short. (That’s why I joined Gamefly – I’ve had Lost Odyssey for about three weeks now.)

3) The leveling/skills system. Leveling works much like most RPG games – you get experience in combat, which automatically grants your non-immortal characters new skills. But the immortals learn skills by a) wearing accessories and absorbing their attributes or b) linking to mortals and learning skills from them. That made it so you had to think not only about what skills your immortals need the most, but how to best manage your group so that the mortals they need to learn from are in it (you can only have five of your nine characters active at one time).

4) The ring part of the combat system. You can equip each character’s weapon with a power ring that gives specific kinds of damage boosts. For example, if you’re fighting a magic enemy, you can equip a ring that gives extra damage to magic entities; or you can equip a ring that deals fire damage. Matching the right kind of ring to deal maximum damage for each enemy added an extra bit of interest to the combat, as did the need to hold and release a button at the right time to increase the effectiveness of the ring.

5) The dreams. Your immortal characters have lost their memories, but they begin to get them back in the form of dreams throughout the game. I was shocked at how moving many of these dreams are, even though they’re presented as text on background. (Reading a video game? I know, right?) But the animation and music and writing in the dreams is really great, and even though you can skip them to save time (and reading if you’re not the reading sort), I found myself looking forward to them.

Meh

1) Turn-based combat. I knew this was going to be one of my biggest obstacles, because it’s a staple of J-RPGs, and I HATE IT. Okay, hate is a strong word for something I ended up putting in the “meh” category, because once I got the hang of it, I didn’t mind it as much. But I still find it really frustrating, and pretty boring once I did it, oh, a few hundred times. Now I know what people mean when they talk about level-grinding. So annoying, and distracting from getting on with the story, which was all I wanted to do.

2) The world. I loved it as a background; the graphics are gorgeous, and I love the idea of a magic-infused not-quite-steampunk world. But it was just that – a background. There was little opportunity to interact with it, and I never really felt a part of it. There are very few NPCs, most of them shopkeepers who are little more than an inventory screen. I longed for the sense I get in Mass Effect, KOTOR, and to a slightly lesser degree in Oblivion and Fable of there being a living world beyond the parts I see, and people with lives outside of my story. In Lost Odyssey, you only get that sense during the dreams.

Didn’t Like

1) The randomness of combat. Battles just start randomly as you’re running through somewhere. Everywhere is perfectly devoid of creatures and enemies until the combat music starts, the swirly gear graphic appears, and suddenly you’re asked to set combat maneuvers for each of your characters. Oh, and the battle isn’t even in the same physical place where you were – you might be running up a set of stairs, but if you get the battle graphic, you’re at the bottom to fight it, then back on the stairs after it’s over. At one point you’re running through a train car, and you get in a battle, and suddenly the train car is the size of a small stadium. It’s disorienting, takes you out of the game, and while it didn’t ruin the experience for me, it came really darn close.

2) The linearity. I’m used to associating RPGs with open worlds and lots of choices and options about what to do and where to go. Maybe that’s a western RPG thing, or maybe that’s something that my favorite RPGs have inherited from Grand Theft Auto-esque sandbox games. I don’t know. Granted, Lost Odyssey does give you the ability to move back and forth between areas you’ve been to largely at will, but beyond allowing you to see a few more dreams and buy things from stores, there’s not a lot of point to this. The story goes on a straight line, and there are essentially no sidequests. Even going through levels is largely a linear affair.

3) No choices/conversation options. In fact, you don’t control any of the conversations at all. That’s my FAVORITE THING about Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic. In Lost Odyssey there’s no good and evil, no choices about how you deal with things. It’s sort of like watching a movie that you control parts of – which is okay only because the story is good. Oh, and side note, having to press “A” constantly to get through most of the conversations? Really annoying when you’d like to let a cut-scene play out while you do something else (like that time I died and the save point was before a ten-minute cut scene, which you can’t skip).

Overall

Overall, I enjoyed the game. Really. I enjoyed the story and the characters enough to keep me coming back despite my lack of affection for random turn-based combat and linear design. (I will admit that I didn’t go all the way to the end, because I got Fable II, which fits my likes much better, and after having Lost Odyssey sitting around for a week without playing it, I opted to do the responsible renter thing and send it back. But I saw enough checking walkthroughs to know that I was within a few bosses of the end – and something else I don’t like is boss battles. At some point in the future, I may rent it again and finish it up.) But if the things that appear in the “didn’t like” section are common in J-RPGs, I might not be availing myself of any more of them unless someone can convince me that a specific game has pros that outweigh those cons.

Life Update

I know I’ve been lax on the old blog lately. I claim a combination of schoolwork, socializing, nearing-graduation stress, returning television shows, and generally not much interesting going on. Oh, and also the part where I’ve gotten in Twitter a lot more and am post one-off thoughts there instead of collecting them together into a blog-sized post. That gets most everything I want to say out of my system so it doesn’t end up here, which can be good or bad, I guess, depending on how you look at it. The socializing has been largely responsible for my not being around and live-blogging American Idol. Various people have wondered what’s going on with me, though, so here’s a bulleted update.

  • American Idol – I’ve been ragging on Carly a lot, but honestly, I was pretty shocked when she went home instead of Jason. I’ve also supported Jason mostly throughout the show, but that was a trainwreck of a performance on his part, and I think he’s pretty well proven that, much to my disappointment, he’s a one-trick pony. So America got that one way wrong. For me, though, David Cook has it locked. Which means he’ll probably get voted off next. Just my luck.
  • School – In case you didn’t catch the edit to my post about the oral exam, I did pass it. Which is a major yay. Actually, it was sort of enjoyable – a conversation about books and film with really smart people. :) Except one professor kept asking me about Faulkner even though I admitted to never reading any Faulkner. Guess I know what’s next on my reading list! And a friend and I gave a joint presentation in Literary Criticism yesterday which went surprisingly well. And now I just have two seminar papers left, and I’m fairly comfortable with them, so stress-level has fallen exponentially in the last two days.
  • Post-Grad Plans – My current plans are to take a couple of weeks after graduation, maybe spend a week here hanging out with friends minus finals week stress and a week at home, then move to Los Angeles. I’m looking for jobs at USC or UCLA (not teaching; administrative), or pretty much anywhere out there that will pay me to do something I can do. ;) I mostly just want to live in a big city for a while, at least, and LA won out over New York due to climate.
  • Television – Most of the TV shows are back from the writer’s strike now, which caught me by surprise, a bit – I had gotten used to my DVR NOT filling up every week. ;) The fact that I found the writer’s strike a bit of a relief probably means I’m following too many shows, but I can’t figure out which ones to give up. And the down side is that I ended up picking up a bunch of Bravo reality shows during the strike, and now I don’t want to give those up either. Good thing most of them are short. Anyway, the big television news around here is that Battlestar Galactica is back! After marathoning S3 on DVD, my friends and I jumped straight into the fourth and final season, and it is frakking amazing. If you’re not watching this show, get the DVDs and start. Don’t start in the middle.
  • Gaming – GTA IV came out last night at midnight, and I went and got it. At midnight. Only time I’ve ever done that for a game, though I’ve been to midnight movie premieres. One. Harry Potter. Anyway. I wasn’t able to stay awake for more than a couple of hours gaming once I got home (I’m getting old, what can I say?), but it’s pretty sweet. Graphics are beautiful, Liberty City is HUGE. I was afraid that it’d seem small after the three-city-plus-desert of San Andreas, but no. It’s ginormous, and with so much stuff going on that I’ve repromised myself never, ever to drive in New York City (on which Liberty City is based). It’s craziness. I also used Amazon.com gift certificates to upgrade to Gold on Xbox Live, so I’m set for multiplayer, once I can tear myself away from the single-player campaign.
  • Socializing – It’s starting to hit me that I’m leaving here in like a month, and though I feel confident in the strength of the friendships I’ve made over the past two years (and the power of Facebook) that I’ll keep in contact with most of my friends, I have been trying to spend as much time as possible with them all before I leave. And I’m at that place where I’m glad to be almost done with school, and I’m very glad to be leaving Waco, but I’m not at all glad about leaving all the people here. I know everyone goes through that every time we change life situations, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

So that’s pretty much my life right now.

Fox News on Mass Effect; or, Play the Darn Game!

So, according to this clip from major news outlet Fox News (which I have no overarching gripe about), Mass Effect is chock-full of graphic violence and sex and should be rated Adults Only and kept out of the hands of most gamers, since virtually all gamers are prepubescent boys. And this they know because some psychologist who hasn’t played the game, who in fact laughs at the hinted suggestion that she might ought to play the game before she rails on it, says so. Geoff Keighley tried his best to counter these ludicrous claims, but kept getting cut off before he could fully make his point. Which is, of course, that these are absolutely untrue, ludicrous claims, as anyone who’d actually, like, played the game would know.

Yes, there is a sex scene in the game. It comes after about 30 hours of play and lasts less than a couple of minutes, as Keighley points out. And there is no graphic nudity in it. In fact, it’s rather tastefully done; so “tastefully” that it’s almost funny, in the bad ’80s movie sort of way. And it’s presented as part of a long story/relationship-arc that has to be handled in a certain way to even get to it. It’s quite possible to play the entire game multiple times and never see the sex scene. Oh, and the anchor at one point, while showing a clip of the beginning of said sex scene, says “the player gets to decide exactly what happens between these two characters, if you know what I mean,” her tone intimating that you’re controlling the sex act itself, which is utterly untrue. It’s a cinematic cut scene; you control the dialogue and relationship choices that may or may not lead up to the scene, but you do nothing during it.

There are so many other little things here mostly stemming from people talking about things they know nothing about. Talking about ESRB game ratings, the anchor says you have to pick up the box and read the back to find out the rating; not true–the ratings are ALWAYS prominently displayed on the front (much more prominently than MPAA ratings are displayed on DVD cases, for example); as if reading the back were such a chore anyway. One of the other panel members at the end mentions buying an inappropriate game for his daughter because he either didn’t see the rating or didn’t know what it meant. I don’t know about all game stores, but certainly the ones I’ve shopped at have the ratings and their meanings displayed all over the store. The psychologist states categorically that most gamers are teenage boys, but the average gaming age is over 30 now. My favorite is when one of the panelists says she doesn’t understand why Mass Effect isn’t rated AO (adults only, the equivalent of NC-17 for movies) instead of M (mature, the equivalent of R for movies). Well, if any of these people had bothered to play the game instead of just condemn it, they would know that had Mass Effect been a movie, with the exact same amount of violence and sexual content, it would almost certainly have been rated PG-13.

I think that’s what really gets me; I understand the principle of not wanting sex and violence in games, but I don’t understand the double standard whereby games are vilified for having shades of things in them that movies have had for ages and very few people get unduly up in arms about anymore. No one goes, OMG, Shakespeare in Love has a sex scene with nudity, without at least considering the rest of the film and whether there’s value in it. But that’s exactly what people do with video games; forget the fact that Mass Effect has a film-quality story and script, excellent acting, incredible graphics, and groundbreaking gameplay. Nope, it’s got one sorta sex scene that we’ll blow all out of proportion and thereby condemn the game entirely. (At least the anchor does attempt to be somewhat fair by pointing out how gorgeous the game is.) And believe me, when you finish Mass Effect, the thing you remember from it won’t be the fact that your character got laid. Unless the media continues to hype it this way to the point where you can’t remember anything else.

(via Joystiq.