Category Archives: Other Media

It’s not about games so who cares?

Hey Kris watcha watchin’

So I’m back at my old moderator job. I’m not complaining because it’s better than being homeless, but even my manager will admit it’s very monotonous work that leads quickly to eyestrain and thoughts of despair.

I’ve coped with this in several ways in the past, including audiobooks and Star Trek. Lately, I’ve been on a horror bent. Netflix has a lot of decent stuff streaming right now and since people ask me for recs sometimes, I thought I might as well note them all down somewhere.

So here’s the stuff I recommend in Netflix’s horror section.

(Necessary caveat: I’m on a US IP and have no way of knowing which of these are available in other regions, or if they’ll be removed at a later date.)

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1. The Hellraiser series

This has some very strong entries and a few weak ones. They’re well known enough that I’ll just let you search them on your own. Chronologically, it’s best to watch 1-4 in order and then stop, forever, but personally my ranking goes: 1, 7, 3, 2, 5, 4, 9, 8. I also recommend reading Barker’s original novella.

(Another note of interest for game aficionados: the designer of the original puzzlebox featured in these films is Philip Lemarchand, the DJ stage name of Uncharted designer Richard Lemarchand and FEZ designer Phil Fish. I predict a themed concert in the duo’s future.)

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2. Ravenous

I described this on Twitter as “Brokeback Mountain with cannibals” and despite all protests no one was able to dispute this. Take one part bad Civil War-era drama, one part appropriated Native American mythology, and a whole heaping dose of homoeroticism. Not really scary but it gets a bit intense and also, cannibalism as a metaphor for gay sex, I am surprised how okay with this I am.

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3. Let the Right One In

Swedish vampire film involving an immortal non-binary vampire child and the little boy who loves them. Depressing, twisted, gorgeous.

(The original version of this blurb asserted Elly is a trans girl, and while that’s one valid reading, revisiting the film has me think Elly is intended as gender-fluid/non-binary.)

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4. Pontypool

A metaphor on cultural imperialism disguised cleverly as one very smart zombie movie. The crew of a remote Canadian radio station are beset by a deadly virus: the English language.

I promise it’s much scarier than I’m making it sound. The climax is really weak but most of everything to either side of that is pretty amazing.

…Except for the scene with the singers in brown face. That was not amazing.

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5. Silent House

Netflix hosts the American remake, though also has the original Uruguayan version (above) available as a disc rental. The main conceit of this film is that it is shot to look like one continuous take, watching a young woman be terrorized by extradimensional weirdness in real time. Of course, there’s A Twist, and I need to mention that this film (and the original) require a trigger warning for child sexual abuse.

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6. The Caller

A simple premise exquisitely executed: a woman moves into a new apartment and discovers her phone is connected to the same line several decades in the past, when the unit was occupied by a sinister old woman… who likes to call a lot and be generally menacing.

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7. House of the Devil

Ti West’s only good film? Maybe. I haven’t seen everything of his, but of everything I have seen, this is the only film of his I even remotely enjoy. The attraction of this film is the lengths it goes to to recreate a period feel right down to the grain of the film stock, and the results are fantastic, though it gets a bit conventional at the end.

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8. YellowBrickRoad

Now we get into the part of the list where the recommendations get a bit funky and idiosyncratic, either because they’re a slow burn or because they start off strong and crash headlong into a wall in the third act. This film is sort of both. It has an amazingly atmospheric build and some legitimately uncomfortable sound work that deserves some praise, but the ending is just dreadful, ugh, I don’t even want to think about it. Maybe just stop after it gets too weird, and pretend everyone here just died of exposure instead.

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9. Absentia

This is another slow burn without many scares but wins for sustained tension. The performances are well-drawn and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an indie horror with such pathos from its cast. Double points for drawing on slightly more unconventional source material.

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10. The Corridor

One of my favorites, honestly, even if I can’t really say why. Like Absentia the performances are very strong, at least in some places. In others… it gets really campy. BUT, it isn’t very often that I can get honestly interested in the feelings of sad white cis dudes and the sort of underlying coming-of-age narrative to this is really captivating, although it does so by way of a bit of ableism (sigh). Nevertheless, a few good scare moments and a very unconventional supernatural (extraterrestrial) conceit.

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11. The Blair Witch Project

Blair Witch did not invent found footage horror and it certainly isn’t the best example of the genre, especially 15 years after the hype’s worn off. However, there are still a couple clever touches in this to reward the attentive film nerd (especially while wearing headphones) such that I encourage you to give it a try, since it’s streaming anyway.

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12. The Bleeding House

A door-to-door salesman who is probably the devil shows up at a family’s house to methodically drain them all of blood. Not gore porn, very nice psychological bent to it, and probably of interest if you like the tone of Hannibal.

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13. Grave Encounters

Both the original and its sequel are currently streaming on Netflix in the US and they are both above-average found footage horror films. The first one is a fine example of the genre with a film crew being done in by their hubris (as is required by cosmic law), and the second one earns some points for film nerd geekery, although it breaks a few rules and is generally weaker over all. However, the opening to Grave Encounters 2 remains my favorite way to start a sequel pretty much ever and should be looked at in admiration.

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14. V/H/S

This and its sequel are great examples of horror anthologies done in a found footage style. Trigger warnings for sexual assault, rape, non-consensual videotaping of sex, and implied fetus harvesting. And Ti West warning for Ti West in the middle chapter.

The sequel is not as good, but has a couple choice chapters. It also doubles down on the misogynistic body horror, so uh, view with discretion.

(I wish more of these recommendations didn’t also come with these huge caveats.)

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15. Cabin in the Woods and Resolution

I rank Cabin in the Woods last here because it’s kind of a gimme, but if you haven’t seen it yet it’s at least worth a watch. Not a brilliant deconstruction of the genre and not above some sexist male gaze bullshit but the denouement deserves way more examination than it’s received.

I pair this with Resolution because all the critics did and because it’s sort of like Cabin‘s inverse: where Cabin was too transparent, Resolution is too opaque. Of the two, Resolution requires a bit more attention to parse and is a bit of a higher-order deconstruction in that it doesn’t ultimately seem interested in the viewer’s catharsis… which, ah, is part of the ‘monster’ embedded in the film. Like Blair Witch, Resolution s worth it for the film nerdery alone.

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Honorable Mention: The People Under the Stairs

I consider this squarely in the comedy category — not even dark comedy, just regular comedy using the trappings of the horror genre, a la Addams Family. However, this list is looking white as hell, and if this film portrays the horror of anything very well, it’s that there is nothing scarier than white people.

(Bonus points, of course, for casting Ed and Nadine Hurley as the villains in question. Wait, you have seen Twin Peaks, right? This was why Netflix was invented.)

Because if you can’t save yourself, how in the hell are you gonna save somebody else?

I’ve never been a big fan of male Commander Shepard for various reasons. He’s just not pretty enough! But if RuPaul’s Drag Race and Drag U have taught me anything, it’s there is no such thing as a face so homely a bit of contouring couldn’t help. You know what RuPaul would say to Mass Effect‘s character editor?

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And thus RuPaul Charles Shepard was born.

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Covergirl! Put that bass in your walk.

Covergirl! Put that bass in your walk.

If you want a RuPaul Shepard of your very own, here’s the Mass Effect 3 character ID: 111.17F.GGE.151.IHN.WBE.5H1.841.WH8.G98.223.6

Well played, Internet.

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That’s it. The Internet is officially over. We can all go home now.

Beyond Complete Freedom of Movement

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The title of this post refers to Henry Jenkins‘s “‘Complete Freedom of Movement': Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces,” which itself references the 1998 game Die by the Sword. The article, as well as the book in which it appears, is a valuable precursor to some of the recent discussions the ludodecahedron have engaged in regarding games as a virtual outdoors.

It’s been over two years since Roger Ebert enraged the hive, and despite the insistent hopping about from all corners that No One Damn Well Cares about the “are games art?” question, we still seem to keep trucking it out. The latest came from Guardian guy-with-a-blog Jonathan Jones, whose forays into the “but is it art?” arena are long documented, and about as neatly thought out as shoving stuff into a blender to see what happens.

He’s just a guy, though, and not a terribly interesting one at that. It’s the damned question itself that seems to take on a life of its own and clog up my reading agenda for TWIVGB every few weeks. As games blogging strawmen go, it’s probably right behind “can games tell stories?” and just before “are casual games games?” in terms of frequency on my RSS feed, and none of them are terribly fruitful lines of inquiry (if only because the obvious answers to the three are yes, yes and yes).

Given this, the last thing I should be doing is throwing my own two cents (more a haypenny) in here. But no matter how often this “are games art?” thing gets brought up, and no matter how many bloggers leap to defend the vidya, I always feel like the best argument is one they aren’t making. Where “but X is interactive, and it’s considered art” everyone is quick to mention participatory theatre, dance, and all the rest, and yet they neglect to mention the most glaring example of all:

Installation art.

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Men War Z

The so-called “War on Men” isn’t a war on men at all—it’s a war on inequality. Oh, you’re feeling marginalized and underrepresented? Complain to me after you’ve been marginalized and underrepresented for 200 years. You haven’t even made it a day (mainly because it’s not actually happening to you yet—you have always had and WILL always have representation). And we can tell that you aren’t really subjugated, because if you were you would be coming to us, the supposed dominant group, for help—just like we’re forced to come to you, groveling, and beg for our reproductive rights, marriage rights, and equal pay for equal work. Instead, you’re insulting and alienating us and trying to shove us back down where we “belong.” Women and people of color and LGBT Americans have the right to complain because we’ve fucking earned it.

-Lindy West, on Jezebel

Also worth reading: “The Distress of the Privileged” on The Weekly Sift.

Happy Carl Sagan Day

Those who know me know that I tend to replace religious-themed cursewords with references to science and astronomy. I do this because when you have a religious upbringing, and more importantly, a difficult-to-curb habit of taking the lord-you-don’t-believe-in-anymore’s name in vain, you need to fill that void in your vocabulary somehow.

Turns out I’m not the only one who likes to allude to Carl Sagan as a kind of Christ figure: the Fuck Yeah! Carl Sagan tumblr is stuffed to the gills with photos of “What Would Carl Sagan Do?” shirts and tattoos of the good man replacing Jesus in a religious tableau. Some would say it rather defeats the point of atheism to hold up a scientist as a sort of spiritual icon… but that’s exactly what Carl Sagan was, and continues to be.

I’ve written before about finding spiritual fulfillment through science and technology. If Sagan left us with anything, it is the reminder that there is enough around us in our natural world that can inspire a lifetime’s worth of awe. For me, the presiding message of Cosmos –that we are all connected, that we owe our existence to the spin of electrons and the bindings on amino acids, that there is a line to be drawn from the first single-celled organisms to us– is tremendously powerful and emotionally uplifting. So, yes, I think it’s appropriate to think of Carl Sagan as something on the order of a messenger from the stars.

And so, a Merry Saganmas to one and all. Go make some apple pie.

Visions of sugar plums

I’ve been having trouble sleeping.

There are a number of reasons for this. Chiefly: I still struggle at sticking to a mostly regular sleep schedule, so that one day I might turn in as soon as the sun tilts toward the horizon, and another I’ll stay up long enough to see the sunrise. Both such tendencies have their own motivators –depression and all-night FF7 binges, respectively– and a certain kitten-shaped constant who ensures that whenever I do decide to sleep, that is the time she’s most active.

There is another reason, in that whenever I do stretch out in bed I start thinking about setting again. Very particular settings: fortresses built into mountainsides with five compounds representing the five traditional elements; and the territory that fortress would oversee, and the taxes it would collect in exchange for protection from its militia. What is the attitude of the servant class within the fortress; are they from the region, or transplanted from the empire capital? How many are more loyal to the emperor than his son who manages this territory?

In other words, I’m writing again.

Or more precisely, preparing to write. I had another project in the pipelines for a while about war and aliens –you know, all-new literary territory– but after spending months neck deep in The Journey to the West and other Chinese and East Asian half historical/half mythological texts I decided the chances were slim of being able to suddenly change gears into some inverted Starship Troopers story. So, I gave in and went with the flow of my current interests.

(I’m making the SF project sound more banal than it is. It’s a narrative I believe in, or I wouldn’t have spent almost two years to date developing it. But SF is about politics and extrapolating from the present world’s circumstances, and right now I’d like some escapism.)

And since it’s that kind of fantasy novel, the sort about beds and the folks occupying them, the mind wanders to those before-and-after conversations that sound most authentic when you’re half-asleep when you come up with them. Except I then don’t sleep, largely because other things seep in: do I have time to think of frivolous things like novels when I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford rent next month? how will I ever find a way to sell off enough of this stuff to fund a move? how many of my books will I need to part with?

And then come the anxiety attacks, because my serotonin levels are low, and my new health insurance plan is very good at being expensive and little else, and then there’s the crippling debt I now face, and all the glib responses from well-meaning colleagues how it should be so easy to just pick up and go, change everything, choose life, get out of this country before the GOP turn it into a wasteland, did you hear Clint Eastwood got into an argument with an empty chair and lost?

So yes, fantasy novel, I choose thee. Of all the things giving me insomnia, you are the least unpleasant at the moment.

The other is Final Fantasy VII, which I mentioned I was replaying. That’s going well, except the problem with videogames for me at a time like this is their machine logic is precisely the opposite of what I need. Simon Parkin once wrote (and it’s still one of my favorite essays of his to date) that games (and especially JRPGs) “function how we want the real world to function”:

“Because, while the battles may be random, the war’s outcome is always predestined,” I continue. “You’re predestined to succeed. Just so long as you keep going. And jeez, that may be escapism or a gross oversimplification of the reality we live in, but isn’t that sense of… of justice the yearning of every human being? Are not JRPGs maps of perfect worlds where everything behaves how you expect it to.”

“Um…”

“Because, when your life turns to shit and people let you down, or when you study hard but still flunk your exams regardless, or when you work your ass off and your boss doesn’t notice…. Or, or even if he does but is too preoccupied with his own quests to congratulate you… I mean, that’s sort of a broken system. It certainly feels that way. That’s just not how things should be. JRPGs counter all that disappointment and unfairness with dependable justice. They reward you for your efforts with empirical, unflinching fairness. Work hard and you level up. Take the path that’s opened to you and persevere with it and you can save the world. You can fix the things that break…”

“Simon…”

“No, wait. They give you that power, sure. But more than that, they give you consistency. This world, and the people in it, do not. JRPGs are, well, er, I guess they’re sort of like heaven in that regard. Except with, like, improbably large swords and nuclear-grade hair gel.”

It’s one of my favorite heartbreaking little rambles in any piece of New Games Journalism to date, and 99% of the time, I agree with it.

Right now I just want all the numbers to go to hang themselves. I toil at leveling up these little masses of polygons, meeting all the necessary quotas to advance stats and limit breaks and fill out all the necessary check boxes on every unnecessary sidequest and the only persistent impression I get is that I’m fumbling to connect, that the virtual world on the other side of the screen isn’t ever going to come alive because of numbers or command combos. Its story is a dead thing unless you let the machinic part of it go. Otherwise it’s just… hell, it’s just Confucianism.

Because I really don’t want the world to be fair, just now. I want it to be extremely unfair in my favor. Not for very long; just to make it through the next month or two. That would be nice. FF7’s new PC version even accommodates that very kind of cheating, which throws Parkins’s “heaven” for a hell of a loop. Not that I could bring myself to partake in it if I did have the funds to spend juicing characters in a game I’d already beaten a half-dozen times. But I wouldn’t mind a Character Booster for my own life. Or even just something to let me sleep.

So I’m watching Star Trek: First Contact and this turned up.

Crossovers are Magic

Me: To leave, they need to gather the seven Elements of Exploration.
Friend: On their mission to the Horsehead Nebula.
Me: Ambition! Authority! Empathy! Honor! Curiosity! Compassion! Geekiness!
Friend: There they will summon the Great Bird of the Galaxy, which will return them home safely.

I had the most curious dream.

Now– before you start clicking away, this isn’t your usual recounting of some bemusingly vivid decoupage of pop culture and personal psychology that usually accompanies someone’s desire to tell you their dream.

It’s more about a certain tendency I’ve noticed within media studies. Something that started itching in the back of my brain when I was writing my thesis in 2008, and which emerged from my head fully formed a couple weeks ago during my MA exams.

In the dream I was browsing through a website that was participating in yesterday’s SOPA/PIPA blackout web protests. The website had left up most of its text articles but taken down most of its multimedia, such as embedded video, replacing them with a brief encyclopedic description of their function, development history, and appearance. Each format was given a Latin name with genus and species.

It was the perfect illustration of an argument I had made repeatedly in my MA exams, which is that we have a tendency to imagine all the various media -especially new media, but any time texts speak about media “in transition”- as on its way to becoming some particular thing, as if we know its destiny. On the contrary, history is full of examples of divergent yet coexisting media “species,” each adapted to the specific habitat in which it developed.

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