Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Relevant Settings

Writing an essay about setting an FPS in Yugoslavia or Darfur on an international webzine is probably not going to go well for me. That, and the fact that there are tons of flash games coming out (which I realized before posting this last week) that are on these very topics.

Still, if you want a surefire way to get people from all walks of life informed about your cause...you know what I mean.

Monday, October 27, 2008


An article in Wired has convinced me that I need to find out what Twitter is if I'm going to stay relevant as a critic. Not that I even own an Xbox360 or PS3 but I've at least got to give the illusion.

Okay, so basically we all read each other's away messages? I guess I could see this developing in AIM back when I was in college and it's definitely prevalent with facebook. Nothing quite tops a witty away message or facebook comment but I guess the idea of this being a serious means of communication throws me for a loop. Maybe I'm just insecure though, considering my facebook feed can get to be a buzz kill. All I do is post weird comments and quotes from the mountains of law briefs and theories I read all day.

"Apparently, for everything else money works too."

"Plaintiffs seem to believe that a box labeled 'Blasting Caps' should come with a greater warning than merely indicating their explosive nature."

"The Michigan divorce judge who opened morning hearings in uncontested cases by intoning "Let the perjury begin" understood the strictly symbolic character of the courtroom rituals."

"Dr.Phillips accused his former lover of secretly keeping his sperm after oral sex and then using the sperm to become pregnant. She filed paternity suit for child support and Dr. Phillips was ordered to pay. Although theft and fraud claims were dismissed, the emotional distress claim was sustained because no reasonable person would expect such acts to result in pregnancy."

"If there is only one producer that can label their cake "Twinkie", then the consumer can rely on the producer's reputation for freshness and the Twinkie's reputation for creamy deliciousness."

"Thirty minutes after being released from prison, to which he had been sent on conviction of two bank robberies, Dwight Jackson robbed another bank. He was let out as part of a "work release program" and returned to his old line of work."

"Plaintiff's expert on marijuana has no formal education or training in the matter....instead, his qualifications come entirely from "the experience of being around a great deal and smoking it."

"During the time away, the father spent fourteen months away from his family pursuing buried gold in New Mexico on a treasure hunt. One month upon his return, his spouse asked for a divorce."

I realize I come across as cynical but you get to a point psychologically where you have to start laughing about this stuff or you go mad. That and play a lot of video games. Soooo many video games.

Art Style: Orbient

Man...you'd think a review about a 6 dollar Wii Ware game that only has 2 buttons would be a little bit shorter.

In which I go off on creating a metric for gauging the quality of a puzzle by having 2 different values and deciding how the puzzle juggles these two. Based on the number of people who cuss me out or lack thereof, I'll be continuing on with this standard.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Console War

You know, I've actually written several different takes on making fun of gamers fighting over which console is better. Every time it just never cut deep enough, it never quite got the thwack of metal on bone that I expect out of my satires. I've always said that a satire is a joke without a punchline, and that means it had better be one helluva delivery before the rug gets yanked out from under the reader.

I have finally written that satire. Brace yourself.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The New E3

I make a hobby of saying incredibly weird crap combined with criticisms on games and business commentary on 'The Escapist'. I guess that's true anywhere, but this one got a laugh out of me.

In response to G4's announcement concerning a new E3:

I already know the announcement. They're going to say that I've been hired to run E3 from here on out.

Opening ceremonies this year will consist of a Machinima rendition of 'Henry the V', done in Unreal Tournament 3, and be closely followed by a long line of people in black robes smacking themselves with issues of GameInformer. All voice acting will be provided by me and this homeless guy who hangs out on King & Calhoun. Plays a mean fiddle.

Booths will be limited to one person, who must dress as a person in their game, and act like they are a real character from it. Think historical re-enactors. Anytime someone breaks character they will be banned from E3 for as long as I'm in control.

Games will be displayed on a rolling cart that randomly gets launched through the E3 area at unpredictable intervals. Journalists will be required to chase after the TV's and observe what they can. All games will only be previewed once OR they will be allowed to take a hammer and beat on a series of dead horses hidden around the arena. Whoever beats the dead horse the most, gets to view the game of their choice from inside the dead horse.

The final show will be the number one ranked Guitar Hero player walking around stage smashing Gibson Guitars and lighting them on fire while I chant, "Are you not entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!"

A Real American Hero

I realize that many people have little interest in economics or even American problems that flip through this site. One of the most interesting things about videogames is how much it's an international affair. You don't really need to care about any of those things to appreciate this letter.

Essentially, a hedge fund manager named Andrew Lahde made a macro bet that the entire subprime crisis was going to happen back in 2007. He based this bet on the realities of how corrupt and inept the system was being operated. As a consequence, he made an 866% return on all of his funds (the average last year was 10%). Given his cut off the profits from this bet, he now has enough money to retire and die with change to spare.

His resignation letter, however, did not lose the opportunity to tell his investors and fellow workers what he really thought about them.

Bonus: the final section involves legalizing marijuana.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Banana Pepper Martinis

I changed the blog name to its original form. I hope no one minds. The banner above was the crazed thing above my website for 3 years before I got sick of writing HTML and paying for bandwidth and switched back to blogger. I'm not going to republish that stuff because most of it doesn't involve video games but...lets face it, when you're posting a rant about giving a tarot card reading you've crossed a threshold. Popmatters will always be about video games, but a personal blog descends into its own personal melodrama. It's not quite the one-man vaudeville show I used to run, but nothing is these days. If anyone knows how to get rid of that green thing and make the insane old banner the standard one, I'm all ears.

Oh, and in case you're crazy enough to try it, the drink is not half bad provided you use good booze and have a healthy desire to break the ice by talking about it. I've also been told its the most awful thing on Earth but I consider that a good thing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Question for the Readers

In 4 years of writing for the interwebs and using photocomics, I've never heard a single response about them except one or two times someone thinking they were funny. Personally, I have no clue how funny they are. Most of them make me smile or laugh the first time, but after 2 months of revising and re-reading an article before posting any chance of a synaptic nerve firing is gone.

The basic idea is for them to be a dumb show of the idea in the paragraph. It's a different way of expressing the basic question or idea. They acknowledge that most people reading online have short attention spans and enjoy changing gears by looking at an image and puzzling it out before diving into yet another paragraph.

But, in regards to the feedback issue, I have no idea if this actually works. It works for me personally, but I also think the best album of 2007 is Iron Horse's Bluegrass Tribute to Modest Mouse. Some people may differ on this and other opinions.

So...are they working for you? Offending you? At this point I'd either like to get better at writing them or figure out a new method. Thanks for any thoughts you may have.

ZA Critique: Silent Hill 2

The peak of the series, in my opinion. You can only eat an apple like a Silent Hill game once, after that you're just pining for the first hit.

I think it was Leigh Alexander's review for SH 5 that said something like, "and yes, all the vagina zombies are back for you longtime fans". Reading that gave me this weird image of a universe where David Lynch's 'Eraserhead' was wildly financially successful and spawned an entire genre of freakish, nightmare films that force reviewers to note, "and yes, the crying alien baby is back for all you long time fans."

Gads,enough rambling. I finally finished the Lester Bangs book and have started Pauline Kael's 'I Lost It At The Movies'. I'm enjoying it a lot (except having to wiki all these movies I've never heard of) but the huge shift in style is reminding me how old-fashioned and conservative my taste in art really is. Except, y'know, this whole video game thing...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Tarot Reading for Video Games

So I’m writing a research paper on video game copyright litigation. It’s a surprisingly interesting topic provided you’re obsessed with video games, intellectual property, and very confused Judges. I actually read a case brief where one judge put every phrase in quotation marks,”video game” or “joystick”. My professor is a Biotech man and when I told him I planned on writing something batshit and highly theoretical he said it was cool as long as he understood any of it. I’ll spare you the gory details but essentially this is how video game copyrights work: you can’t patent a game design. You can patent the audiovisual display and the software in its entirety. You can’t hold someone in violation of a software patent unless it’s a nigh blatant copy. In terms of mods and new levels, several districts have ruled those aren’t protected by copyright and the person can do whatever. My paper then outlines the growth of online games made with one engine, such as the upcoming metaplace or Xbox Live’s Popfly. So…if you can’t copyright game design and you can’t copyright mods and levels made with your game’s engine, something very significant occurs. Everyone can rip everyone off and just change up the audiovisual component to cover their tracks and keep it legal. I can make the exact same game you just made provided it's with different software and artwork. On a sidenote, culturally I’m all for this: people will start including better plots and art in their games to stand above the crowd. Legally however, this will be a glorious and unprecedented legal warzone of destruction. You have to remember that the philosophical idea the Founding Fathers of America had when they wrote the patent concept into the constitution was to encourage smart people to distribute smart stuff into society. So to rephrase what this means, a grand storm approaches in the name of preserving that right.

But I think tonight I’m going to do something slightly different, I’m going to bust out the tarot cards and do a reading. Not for me or even you, but rather for the medium of video games itself. What the hell, right? Video games, I am going to tell your fortune. The way this works is that I use the Celtic Cross. There are 6 categories: the conflict, two possible futures, factors influencing your choice, and outside forces at work. Let’s begin.

In the center is the conflict, you have three trumps. That’s impressive, that’s the highest house of cards and each one has a very independent significance. The card in the middle: The Devil while The Lovers and The Aeon are on either side. Being in the middle means The Devil takes on the central aspect: the card does not involve Christianity so much as a symbol for recklessness, ambition, ruthless creation without any regard for the result. A divine being who is being irresponsible with his work on the mortal plain. To the left is the Lovers, they represent an attraction, youthful in nature, that inspires and draws people in. To the right is the Aeon, it is the harbinger of a new age, a new current for the future. This conflict, this dilemma confronting video games, is that a new time period of attraction, of people being excited, draws near and yet at its core it is reckless and thoughtless in its creation.

Two possible futures lie to the left and right of the central conflict. We’ll start with the right, possible future. It is harsh. The prince of cups and knight of cups encircle the central fate while in the middle is the Ten of Wands: Oppression. Cups by their nature mean emotion, like sadness and happiness our emotions fill us and yet can also leave us empty. They are liquid. Princes and Knights generally represent people, but of an attractive yet shallow sort when ruled by Cups. The Knight of Cups is a person of great charm and enthusiasm but little personal depth. The Prince of Cups is a man of masked emotions, calm on the outside but full of turmoil and ambition on the inside. Not bad people mind you…but you know the type. Wands represent energy but Oppression means…what it says. Somehow these two types of people will engender an era of ill will, deceit, and selfishness for video games should it make that choice when confronting this current conflict.

On the left, the opposing future, is a better fate. At the middle is the three of cups, meaning abudance. To the left is the trump card The Sun and to the right is the Knight of Wands. As with the cups in the other future, this represents emotions both in that this card is about happy feelings yet also reminds us of their temporary nature. Still, abundance is wonderful. Plenty for all, joy, hospitality, and passive success. The Sun is the card for glory, gain, recovery, a great and powerful destiny. To the right is a person or type of personas with the other fate, though the Knight of Wands is a different beast. He represents a fiery energy, full of activity and generosity yet prideful and too quick. This is a good fate but there is little detail to it. A wild person is the only clue to two other cards that together mean great times but have little influence outside of their relationship with energy, wild activity instigating it. We must look to the influencing factors and outside variables.

I’m legitimately doing this, by the way. Shuffled the deck, dealt the cards, and am now reading them like I would if you were a chick I’d invited up to play Wii Sports. Best pick-up line ever. Just so I don’t sound egotistical it backfires all the time. I’ve told several fortunes that basically predicted that a bizarre and strange man was entering their lives who would cause them a lot of trouble and it would be better off if they held out for the right guy. Hilarity then ensues. You can’t really lie that much when it comes to Tarot, if people feel like you’re not at least reciting from some kind of external logic or formula, you just sound like an ass. That’s actually true of most things, now that I think about it. It always looks better in an essay if you quote a few other people, it definitely does in law briefs anyhow. Anytime I write something critical or blog about a think-tank piece I try to quote a few people. Technically, they’re just as much winging it and about as qualified as I am to be making these bold declarations and theories about video games, but people ease up if you can be like, “Hey, one other person agrees with me on this.” Anyways, on with the influencing factors.

The outside influences: The Hanged Man at middle, The Moon and Prince of Wands on either side. This is an intense set of influencing factors. Most people don’t get this many trumps (there are only a few in a deck of 72), two to three on average I’d say. The larger hands of fate and conflict do touch individuals, but in smaller or, perhaps said better, on a different scale. In this hand, there are huge forces of fate and destiny at work. The Hanged Man is one of redemption through suffering. He is the crucified martyr. Through his pain comes great spiritual rebirth, a new life springing forth from pain. His hands and left foot are nailed down but the right is attached to an Ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life, while a snake clasps him to it, the traditional sign of rebirth. The Moon is a complex card, it can mean awaking from a dream to reality or breaking an awful delusion for a more powerful truth. An illusion coming or going, though judging by its relation to the Hanged Man it would seem this illusion’s destruction will involve sacrifice while it also brings forth a new era. These are the influencing forces, so connections to the original conflict are normal. The Hanged Man coincides with the Aeon, both indicate a new era are coming forth though mixed together they now represent a harsher change, yet still new. The Prince of Wands is like the other Wand persona, full of energy. Swift, prideful, and known for being lively with people in jest. How these correlate is hard to say, he could be a specific person influencing this painful change or merely the kind of person affected by it. Whatever the case, this is still a matter of energetic people being involved in the destruction of one fantasy for the beginning of a new era. The continued involvement of the House of Wands with this destiny seems to be the only correlating sign.

It’s funny how exciting I’ve been finding this copyright problem. It’s the first time a legal issue has actually interested me on a personal level. I mean, this is interesting stuff if you love video games and can read legal babble. The fact that the Federal Courts realized that denying copyrights on game design is impressive considering these folks had barely any notion of what an Atari was at the time. It’s always an interesting moment when a subject or topic seizes your interest. I mean really grab it, not just be curiously interesting or entertaining. Suddenly, your brain HAS TO KNOW something. And then naturally, once it has that bit of information, it has to share it with others. Let’s see…the first book I ever felt that for, the first time I was genuinely excited about writing an English paper…was for the play Julius Caesar. Freshmen year of highschool, I had no idea what I was doing and no idea how to express all the wild ideas in my head. It’s an interesting Shakespeare play if you’ve never read it, by college I fondly referred to it as Shakespeare’s literary “Fuck off, this is how smart I am, observe my writing powers” play. Every writer has a book like this. Faulkner wrote ‘The Sound & The Fury’. George Eliot (who is technically a chick but I can’t remember her real name) wrote ‘Middlemarch’. Joyce wrote ‘Finnegan’s Wake’. These are people who spent a lifetime writing books for the masses and making their living off it. Like all artists, game designer or painter, once they achieve sufficient comfort they decide to perform one of the greatest acts an artist can do: they make a work of art for themselves.

ANYWAYS, the reason Julius Caesar is Shakespeare’s “I’m Really Smart and Fuck Off” play is because it’s impossible to write about it. That’s the key sign that you’re dealing with an artist’s “Fuck Off” piece of work: everything you write about it doesn’t quite cut it. You never get it right. The entire thing essentially pulls a ‘Twin Peaks’ doppelganger after the third act. Everyone, everyone, changes drastically. Now as a play, it’s absolutely brilliant. In terms of writing about it, every theory you propose is going to have to flip upside down to deal with the second half. Caesar’s assassination changes Rome so much that Brutus, Mark Antony, and Cassidus literally change with them. The villain becomes the voice of reason, the hero becomes the agent of doom, and the secondary character has the best speech in the play. Oh, here was a play, people! Not only does the narrative depict the death of a man which causes the world to turn upside down, the structural and thematic elements of the characters themselves turn upside down with it. There have been a couple of essays floating around on the internet recently about how a lot of T.V. shows use mystery and obscured facts to create a kind-of detective game. We try to piece together the X-Files, Lost as both participants and audience members. Which, if I didn’t think it was rude, I’d post a giant “No Shit, Sherlock” under each comment section. Agatha Christie? Murder Mystery Novels? Encyclopedia Brown? The Sound and the Fury? Blood Meridian? The Iliad? Every single author, film maker, actor, or poet is playing a game with their audience. They are controlling variables, depicting changes and shifts that keep them guessing, and finding ways to engage them by finding ways for them to relate. Ways to keep them turning the page to find out more. Video games may be the most advanced manifestation of this art by allowing direct influence and participation, but it is still based on an older art. The one art, really, of communicating ideas to others and making sure they pay attention while you do it.

The final set, cards outside of video game’s control to keep in mind. It is a strange group. At the center is the nine of disks, Gain. On the left is the seven of swords: Futility and on the right is the eight of swords: interference. Disks represent the material world such as wealth while the swords represent cold logic, math, and reasoning. The two houses of cards do not typically get along, in the sense that the two are philosophically opposed to one another in application. In a logical universe all things important are equal and in a world of disks all things important are heaviest, most valuable. At the center, the message is simple: material gain is occurring now. Good fortune in business and money. On the right is interference, the logical argument that something will go wrong eventually. A great deal of energy being expelled on ideas doomed to fail, for a profit that was never going to work out. On the left is Futility, the vain struggle against an opposing force that far outpowers those fighting against it. It links to the Moon card and the Devil in the central conflict based on their mutual theme of dreams ending due to a vain pursuit of some goal, some blind ambition.

It is an okay fate, I’ve seen better ones but also much worse. There are so many trumps in play that there is honestly little to advise, which is fine since I’m doing the fortune for all video games in general. Destiny is at work, a new era is dawning, and powerful people are going to shape the fate to come. That’s quite obvious without a deck of cards announcing it. In my experience, there are people whom fate has dumped a wide variety of tasks on their shoulders and some only one or two. Some people lead lives where luck has no play whatsoever, others live and die by their freakish capacity to win or lose consistently. I’m not trying to sound mystical, I’m just saying I don’t know what to make of all the variability I see sometimes. Here we are talking about a series of abstract symbols on a set of cards. To some, this makes absolute sense and they see all the things I’m talking about. To others, they see gibberish and laugh at this waste of digital ink. One of my Aunts recently got into that self-help book, The Secret or the Magic or something like that. The whole concept is if you just project an idea, if you focus on something hard enough and think positive thoughts, it will become true. That’s a Hindu concept, by the way, Aitareya Upanishad or something like that. That’s the one that talked about how souls are spiders weaving out their existence and then they just walk around the web they’ve created. That we design our dreams and then live inside of them. My Aunt wasn’t really happy when I told her she’d just wasted twenty bucks on a recycled philosophical concept but it does draw one back to the original question. If the cards are projecting a future, one that some people believe in, will they not subconsciously act that future out? Which somewhat begs the question of what the video game itself is doing, is it providing the dream or the dreamer? Does the spider walk on their web, or is the web walked by a strange spider? If all great art is in some way a game between author and audience, as I said above, what meaning does the dream have when the dreamer is in control? Perhaps none at all.

Were a girl sitting in front of me and I’d just read this fortune, I’d tell her that whatever she was doing now was going to turn out to be a dead end, that despite all her supporters this was all going downhill. I’d then say that this wasn’t a big deal, because provided enough sacrifice and humorous energy to keep things going through the end of the delusion occurred, she would do wonderfully. The oppression and futility that constantly governed the great gains she was currently making now would change. The fates before her though are complex ones. On the one hand, superficial and emotionally vapid people could take over. It could lead to an oppression that inhibited joy or happiness among those attracted to her. On the other hand, with enough energy and perseverance, with enough bold people being a bit arrogant and willing to take risks, then everyone will win. Everyone will get some chunk of joy or happiness. Then I’d ask her if she needed another drink.

Ah me, it’s all turned obvious again, hasn’t it? I’ve taken a bunch of random symbols and cards and turned it into what any rational person would’ve said if you’d just asked them to think about it for a while. One has to believe there is merit in conduct like that. I do, anyways. That paper on Julius Caesar I wrote? About the epicness of that amazing play, whose brilliance awed me and I loved so much? I got a C- on it. The teacher said it didn’t make a bit of sense and that I just jumped from topic to topic without any real thesis or explanation. So damn long ago… but I try to remind myself that being excited about an idea does not necessarily imply a capacity to communicate why that idea is exciting. That there is an art in selling what everyone knows already, they just haven’t seen it yet. Constructing the dream for them to dream, I guess. It’s easy for some artists to lose track of how that relationship works, that we are the dream makers and not the dreamers. Was that Willy Wonka who said that? Damn, I’m quoting children’s films now. Miles Davis said it better: when the jive motherfucker starts believing in his own bullshit, that’s when you know he isn’t a musician anymore.

Political Machine redux

I think my disgust for the election process seeped in a little bit too much in this one...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wii Fit Update

I did a review on Wii Fit a while back but I thought I'd give an update. Not on my appearance mind you, I'm still the exact same weight. I do think my stomach and love handles have molded into this...if you've ever seen the 'Ren & Stimpy' where Ren injects fat into his body so that it looks like muscle you'd get an understanding of the shift. Still...it looks good. I'm praying another game will explore the cardio-vascular end of things since I can't afford a gym membership.

Anyways, the thing I wanted to point out was how the game's little tweaks are becoming increasingly bizarre. After hitting about 60 hours, the Wii Fit girl undid her pony tail. All my exercises with her are now with her hair down and I swear she smiles more often. The game has also blissfully stopped trying to make me work out with the male instructor. There's no way in Hell I'm going to look at a generic video game guy's ass while I'm standing in downward dog. Equally strange are the moments where Wii Fit Girl walks into the gym yawning and complaining about staying out too late last night. Personalizing the characters in a game are one thing...but creating virtual sexual tension with your gym instructor is quite another.

Now that Wii Fit girl's hair is down...one has to wonder what else the game is going to do in terms of incentives. What happens when the clock hits 100? And when, oh when, am I going to work up the courage to ask her out for a drink?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

ZA Critique: Ico

I think it was Ben Abraham who pointed out during the Zarathustran thing that if I was going to write a new method of critiquing games, the most important part would be actually using it to write about games. Curse him.

It's time for the long haul to start. Picked Ico to begin with just cause, y'know, it's Ico. I'll try to break these up with more topical essays and humorous stuff but since video games take so damn long this is tough to keep up.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More Ranting

*I varied up the method this time. Wrote this in chunks, pieced them together, and revised the piece a few times. I'm not sure if I consider it a better method...I'm going to stew on the next one of these for a while.*

I’ve always felt bad for writers that were ahead of their time. Take William Blake. Great poet, puts Joyce to shame on a lot of levels. Helluva painter too. The dude invented an entire mythos that incorporated the author, the epic journey, prophecy, the apocalypse, a figure of love and a demonic god of order. You know how many centuries went by before another artist had the balls to create a genuine modern fantasy? Not set in present day, I mean advance the medium in terms of the philosophical next step after Tolkein. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. He did the same thing as Blake, right down to his earlier books alluding to it until he finally organized it into an entire epic fantasy. True, Blake’s books don’t really make sense except to the author himself, but what the hell. And the Dark Tower series is a perfect, refined, and comprehendible version of Blake’s original vision. Which, in contrast to Lester Bangs, is quite interesting. One, it proposes that a person could potentially be writing ahead of a “correct” time. King wrote that epic at the proper time, Blake did not. Two, that implies that a person could be potentially writing in a style both behind their time and at precisely the right time. I’ll give one thing to Bangs, he was writing at just the right moment.

There was a really interesting NPR piece the other day talking about how video games might be this generation’s nickel dime theater. That was considered a cheap and fun placebo back in the day for people suffering through the Great Depression. With ten and fifteen dollar video games blowing up on consoles and Captain Obvious finally kicking down the door at Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, people are now realizing that downloadable indie games are way more interesting and fun than AAA, highly controlled, and super expensive games. I’m not saying those games are bad, I love my console and play on it plenty. But you gotta admit, at least ONE indie game has really gotten you excited this year. I bought Audiosurf after playing one song on the demo. I still fire it up. Man, it has been freaking ages since I bought something that stone cold. Same with Everyday Shooter, Wadjet Eye adventure games, Immortal Defense (PLAY THIS GAME, GOOGLE IT, THE DEMO IS FREE) and Braid. Did not bat an eye at dropping a couple of bucks for something that was hot and new. I even remember the first indie game I downloaded. It was waaaay back in 2006, it was Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. I still play it. It’s basically what would happen if Master of Orion and Solitaire had a baby, and if that sounds awesome that’s because it is. A ten minute round of Master of Orion is the ultimate way to kill time. Believe me. Plus there’s user mods.

Which reminds me, ya’ll are going to need agents to handle this stuff. It’s rockstar time folks, it’s famous writers time. The age of the auteur is upon us once again and I, for one, am excited. The economy is about to eat shit and if you’re like me you stopped talking to your stock broker and started begging random strangers for jobs. You need a distraction from all this. A lot of people are going to need distractions from all this. And that means making interesting and fun games. That means selling that stuff to distributors who own consoles or websites that have a lot of members. That means licensing, contracts, that means the boring stuff I do all day. I have a friend who used to be an agent for an L.A. firm, he has this ridiculous Keifer Sutherland story but I’m finding out these are pretty normal, anyways. I asked him what the agent business was like. I’d watched Entourage a few times and thought it looked interesting. He said the only downside to being an agent is that you have to live in L.A. I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment, since the last time I was in that city I felt like my skin was on fire metaphysically. But who knows, maybe they’ll setup something in North Carolina, there’s some kind of job conference going on in November. I’ll have the law degree in 1.6 years and counting. I’ve been reviewing games long enough that I know when something is badass and when it’s just another game. I could spot a blow-up project before the actual blowing up part. Hell, I was writing about video games like there was a stick shoved up my ass way before it was cool. Well, 2 years ago, so I guess about 5 minutes before it got cool, but whatever. That was actually back when I decided to start calling myself L.B. Jeffries and write about video games the way I wish other people would write about them.

Lets see...that's actually an interesting story. The name came from a course on pseudonym culture in the 18th and 19th century I was teaching. It was fairly common for people to write under fake names to protect their identity and careers in case their book or poem offended people. Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders of America used them to communicate their ideas. George Orwell was a fake name used to write against fascism. And each one has a special symbolic meaning as well. Mark Twain, for example, is the river boat term for when a steamship is at neutral depth: the boat is neither safe nor in danger, any changes in depth could be good or bad. It ended up becoming something of a motto for Samuel Clemens as he used the name Mark Twain to write a wide array of satires and stories.

Anywho, L.B. Jeffries was one of the names I told the class would be a brilliant fake name because of its loaded meanings. On the surface it's a reference to a famous Alfred Hitchcock film. The character himself is a voyeur, a person who is inhibited from participating in the very culture he observes and comments on. I'd decided to start using a fake name when I made the decision to go to law school just to avoid any bad drama that might happen (this was 2 years ago when gamers were falling under a very critical lense). After I got in, I'd already been writing under that name for a while and it seemed like too much trouble to correct it. The more progress I make with being a game critic though...the more it seems like an apt analogy for me. I'm not much of a game journalist and I'm generally more interested in older games than new ones. It's an odd sales pitch for any writer to make in this field, but at least the name accounts for me somewhat. I try to spend time focusing on the elements of game culture that don’t get mentioned too often though, like machinima or an interview with a video ranter that’s coming up soon.

Which brings me to the point of this rant. Honestly, I think this is what Jackson Pollock must’ve felt like when he was splattering crap all over a blank canvas. I try to lock it down into a coherent message but my capacity to just babble when I take the leash off is sorta becoming a theme in of itself. One of the realities about this medium’s problems with intellectual discourse: it can seem like it’s all just about violence. I was reading that several groups have begun complaining about the latest GTA DS game as being irresponsible and crude because it has a drug dealing game. There’s two problems with that statement. One, it presumes that the only people who play video games are children and two, it is judging the game like you would a book or film. Now I highly doubt any profound or even-handed commentary on drugs is going to occur, this isn’t The Wire we’re talking about here. But I can rattle off dozens of movies that depicted drugs, from Bad Boys 2 to the fantastic Big Lebowski. And people back off because it has an R rating and it’s presumed adults are mostly going to be the ones watching it. But video games? Oh no, these assholes still presume nothing but kids play these things. There’s an age rating on there for a reason. And the thing about when an adult is playing GTA as opposed to a child is that it isn’t about violence anymore. It’s about competition. The game isn’t making a statement about drug dealing, it’s acting like mirror and showing the player how he’d behave when given those options in an unrealistic setting. It’s not a matter of “what’s my take on drugs” but rather “these are your options to succeed in this scenario”. Contrast that to an FPS game. Blasting people on Call of Duty 4 is the enjoyment of skill in an online match through a mock-up of modern warfare, not a celebration of shooting people. I realize there’s an inherent contradiction in this argument but you’re not going to see why that’s mostly superficial unless you play a game that actually is about violence. Take the Manhunt series. That’s about violence, that’s a disturbing celebration of torture and hurting people. It’s a horror game mind you, except in the end you find out that you’re the monster. It also makes some disturbing allusions to the overlap between sexual pornography and the violence porn going on in the game. But then, we’re back at Tom Wolfe’s point about inhibited cultural vices becoming our outlet. For most people? We’re going to be working tough jobs or feeling incredibly worthless while we wait in the unemployment line. That means that the sensation we’re all going to be craving is accomplishment, fulfillment. The idea that we’re good at something. You think World of Warcraft is some kind of a fluke? A game where anybody can become one of the most powerful players and become an integral member of a team no matter what? Yeah…keep laughing at the symptom and ignoring the cause.

Which even raises the question of whether that’s actually a problem. It beats the pissing matches and wars people get into when they get to feeling unfulfilled. One of the blog novels is actually about this. I had this weird idea occur to me while I was watching the Matrix years ago that it would technically be stupid for the machines to have this giant war. This giant lie. People would do it voluntarily and then you could subjugate the race peacefully. I went into a lot of different stuff with the story, it’s about a guy being banned from his online game and trying to find identity in other virtual worlds and eventually reality. It’s pretty depressing, come to think of it most of those blog novels are, and I also made the photo comics really vulgar to create a duality that I thought existed in a lot of gamer culture. You have this guy cussing you out on Xbox Live but underneath that is this massive, insecure story. It’s a parody of Brave New World, ergo the whole Brave New Console title, with the rather sad observation that the human spirit itself will become a console. A place to install games that become us. It was meant to be my take on a dystopian future where the only place people can find personal meaning and identity is controlled by giant super A.I. but…as one generous friend who read the whole thing commented, “I’m scared to even watch T.V. after reading that goddamn thing”.

But enough of that sad bastard stuff, this is about Lester Bangs, video games, my generation, his generation, why people love games, why they loved rock ‘n’ roll, and the lewd reminder that I’d love a job if anyone is hiring. The best essay I’ve read so far (I’m about 100 pages from done) was about the Stooges. It helps that I’m an enormous fan of the band. It’s…odd though, Bangs is actually really hard to quote. All of his stuff works in such conjunction with the other elements that clipping out an individual sentence renders it incoherent, it is a part of a sum total as opposed to independent units. That’s something I don’t think I quite manage when I’m doing this stuff, my brain operates in clips and individual notions being combined. Bangs…maybe through a combination of speed and booze, is able to sustain one gigantic thought with the individual images and analogies acting subservient instead of as city-states like mine do. I could push myself harder but…I’ve always been fond of adapting oneself to their surroundings instead of changing oneself. Mostly because I don’t think it’s possible to change who you are, but that’s another story. The Stooges essay is amazing because Bangs makes the argument for simplicity as a good thing. Now to me, I take this concept for granted. I just assume everyone knows that punk is as legit as classic rock provided it still communicates a good message. So…there was a period of time where someone had to sit down and say, “Hey, this music is still badass.”? Geez, it makes you wonder what people in twenty or thirty years are going to be scratching their heads at. Probably the console wars, if I had to guess, but that goes back to my theory about downloadable content.

Or maybe they’ll be busy talking about Black Monday round 2. Christ, I read that the run they made on Wachovia, the actual assets of that bank in terms of how much money they had in accounts, was 1.2 billion. It was eventually purchased for 2 billion. WACHOVIA. Freaking Wachovia. I don’t even know why I read this stuff anymore. Did I mention I’d kill for a job? Seriously, I’ll work for anyone this summer. Moving is not a problem. I’ve lived in New York, I’ve lived in California, Utah, Vermont, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Now if I got to have all my wishes come true I’d love to live in the Appalachian Mountains. If I make it to retirement age (what is that now? 75?) that’s where I plan on pulling my final act. But that’s ages from now and I think of it more as a goal than I do some kind of living requirement. Get to a point where I can go live in the mountains and do fulfilling work out there as opposed to whatever city or obscure town I have to cut a living on. Besides, one of the toughest lessons any person has to learn in life is that the people are what make the place, not the place itself. The friends and relatives who inhabit a room, the way jokes bounce off them, off you, the topics you love to talk about again and again. That only exists once, that song only plays when just the right instruments, room, people all come together. You can’t force it, and you can only make so many solo albums before it gets sad.

Which is one of the things that really make the Wii so interesting to me. Take the guy bitching about GTA on the DS. That console exists and he’s probably going to play it. He’s going to have to say he played a video game and had fun (how can you not?). I remember Cliffy B once calling the Wii a virus full of games that got old eventually and laughing my ass off. He kept phrasing it like this was a bad thing and to me, it sounded brilliant. Of course the damn games get old, we’ve learned how to play simple concept games and enjoy more advanced stuff. Like Gears of War, for example. This dude Maelstrom wrote a really good essay about how people didn’t really comprehend what a casual game actually was. It’s the modern day equivalent of Pong. Think about the games you first played, the ones you learned how to play before going on to more advanced stuff. They have 2 distinct elements: they were fun and they were quick to learn. Pong is quick to learn. Mario Brothers is quick to learn. They’re also really well designed and fun games. The point of a casual game isn’t to make things easier, it’s to make intermediate and low skill games for people to learn how to play on. You want to know why beginners don’t like playing Xbox360? Because most of those games are complex as hell. What’s an inventory, how do I crouch, what’s run, whoops dead. How do I reload, what’s the sniper rifle, oops dead. It’s a great game once you’re competent at gaming but you’ve got to cut people some slack and give them something with freaking training wheels to start on. That’s why Nintendo cleaned house this generation. They featured the gaming equivalent of Super Mario Brothers in Wii Sports, made a controller that can be used for both really complex games or be reduced to very simple ones, and found out that millions of people REALLY want to play video games but they’re too hard. You can’t expect someone to read a complex author before they’ve read simpler fare.

That’s why I wrote “This Console Kills Fascists” on my Wii. It’s a reference to Woody Guthrie, who wrote it on his guitar while he was singing folk music during the Depression. Given the recession we’re about to dive into, it seemed appropriate to me. But it’s also a protest against people bitching about the little white box. Why the Hell should video games all conform to some pre-defined cultural notion? The people who bitch about the Wii being just for kids or casual games are just as bad as the people who think GTA for DS having drug dealing subsets is a bad thing. You’re making the exact same assumption, you’re believing in the exact same principle. Video games are about this and anything that falls outside of that is irresponsible or wrong. They don’t always need a plot, they don’t always need a good game design, and they don’t always need to have great graphics. Mega Man 9 is living proof of that. Let the damn game do its thing and just play it. Gaynor’s wager is going to end up true if all we do is keep demanding that video games conform. If publishers just keep feeding an audience the same thing and they keep merrily gobbling it up. His wager was that we’ll end up like comic books, just feeding the same macho-bullshit or puzzle block noise over and over again. Anytime somebody pushes people outside their comfort zone, in this damn medium, you’ve got to stand up for it. That means games about violence or drug dealing just as much as it does games that involve saving a princess.

And hopefully the downloadable game scene can do that, provided people talk about it enough on the blogs and in the magazines. People who say game journalism and criticism needs some kind of boost or better writers drive me nuts. It’s fine. We’re not going to agree on how to gauge a game. Plenty of people bothering to read this rant are not going to agree with me that the Wii kills fascists. You think Destructoid cares about the magic 8-ball the people at the NYT shake before reviewing a game? The number of standards in a medium is a sign of growth and life. How many Latin critics are there? How many of their opinions vary? Hardly at all. They’re but a few voices debating now. Books in a more modern language have many more…but the number has dwindled since the sensationalism of the first famous books and pamphlets. After the damn printing press ANYBODY could write a book. Music is still going strong but its population of varying opinions has been taking hits lately and movies are dwindling even faster. But with video games, there are new ones sprouting up every day. Bickering about all kinds of batshit stuff you never even thought of. The fact that I choose to write about video games in a complex, intellectual tone is not because I take myself seriously. I do it because no one else was back when I started and I still think it has a long way to go. There’s plenty of drunken ranting about games going on…but sitting down and doing serious critical analysis still needs people just chucking essay after essay until a foundation is laid out. And even those don’t need to agree on anything. Hell, there are people who think really hard games are fun. That blows my mind. You enjoy Ikaruga? Really? Dude…that’s going to take me years of deep thinking to figure out. Ages to empathize with and even absorb. I like online play because it’s more engaging personally but that also stems from that I only play with friends anyways. Don’t have any console except a Wii. Don’t take it personally, I’d get one if I had the cash and I play on my friend’s PS3 and Xbox360 all the time. Did I mention the job problem? My friends are good sports about me doing single-player stuff provided I give them beer. And watching those guys argue about whose console is better is still astounding, because I know they really enjoy certain games on each other’s consoles. Halo 3 is great when you’re sick of Call of Duty 4’s constant drudge matches. And WarHawk? WarHawk is awesome. Every Xbox360 owner should play that game and admit they wish it was on their console. It’s not a deal breaker, we know, but that game is great.

It just isn’t a proper rant without some statistics and what better way to cruise out on this post than with some statistics that could be broadly interpreted to mean anything? 97% of kids in America play games, that’s across both gender and race. That’s intense. That’s an extremely massive adjustment in terms of consumer habits. The billions that the game industry is raking in now is going to get much larger once they start diversifying. Now, I’ve given my 2 cents on why we’re all so into it. That’s not a generational exclusion, a lot of people feel this way about video games. And we’re not really all that different, whether we play video games for personal fulfillment, challenge, feeling warm inside, or whatever other goofy word people attach to it. Shit, you should see the looks on people’s faces when I say I mostly enjoy games for their plot. But I don’t mind hollering at my artsy friends because I’ve read the same books they have and I’m not convinced anything particularly superior is going on there. Honestly, don’t ever take bullshit from people arguing about video games anymore. We’ve all still accidentally gotten shit on our hands while learning to wipe. Their inability to grasp the change coming is their own problem.

You know, I don’t think I’ll end on that note. For obvious reasons. I take back what I said about Lester Bangs not being quotable, that’s not true. He just doesn’t break down into bullet points or neat sentences. There was a comment he made about why people love ‘The Clash’ in one of his essays that I really loved. But to quote it, you gotta do a whole big chunk. The whole big picture. I think it sums up why people listen to rock and why they play video games now far better than I did:

“The politics of rock ‘n’ roll, in England or America or anywhere else, is that a whole lot of kids want to be fried out of their skins by the most scalding propulsion they can find, for a night they can pretend is the rest of their lives, and whether the next day they go back to work in shops or boredom on the dole or American TV doldrums in Mom ‘n’ Daddy’s living room nothing can cancel the reality of that night in the revivifying flames when for once if only then in your life you were blasted outside of yourself and the monotony which defines most life anywhere at any time, when you supped on lightning and nothing else in the realms of the living or dead mattered at all.”