Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Prompt Thoughts...Srsly

Posted on August 27, 2014 at 3:50 AM


Over the past couple of days, I had put together a collection of articles I normally would put up on a Monday as I rounded up some interesting articles or videos that I enjoyed. Then I realized I was commenting on them extensively - far longer than usual, and they were a little more serious in content than your usual “16-bit Twin Peaks” or “T-Shirt art of the week.”

So here’s a handful of articles and videos that you should read and that I certainly had some things to say on.


The Dissolve: Nit Picking the Nit Pickers

Ok, let's start with something small and simple.

I wrote a blog a while ago about Nit Picking, but that was before Cinema Sins took it up as a basis for their entire existence and business strategy. This is a great piece from Matt Singer that shows how film criticism via the internet tend to a) focus on only the negative and b) pass of small, inconsequential things as actual critique. It’s only now made a serious issue because people see things like what Cinema Sins does as some sort of validation that you can do that and then link to their video to “back up the ccriticim.”

No, seriously, I’ve seen people say “oh yeah, well this guy who put this together is in agreement of this thing I don’t like” then link to an “Everything Wrong With” video.

I’ve long stopped trying to point out the problems with film criticism via hyperbole and nit-picking, but I’ll just say it’s still there and it’s growing and doesn't appear to be slowing down. I’m not some expert here, don’t get me wrong, but I can tell the difference between bullshit criticism and actual, meaningful criticism on something. The problem is - a lot of people can’t and just think that because someone took the time to edit together a video that it’s how things should be.

What's particularly sad is the reason I've stopped: it's futitle. You point out that someone isn't really cirtiquing something, they'll throw out "well it's my opinion so there" or "go fuck yourself" and not really learn anything. I suppose that's the saddest thing: the film community, at one point, was all about learning from each other and expanding new ideas and new thinking. Now everyone is trying to just make a buck off a youtube by being douches with not a lot to actually say - but boy do they make sure you hear them saying it.


Film Crit Hulk: Do the Right Thing

Amidst a lot of racial turmoil right now, Film Crit Hulk wrote a nice piece on the movie Do the Right Thing - easily Spike Lee’s masterpiece and one of the most important movies ever made. Why? Well, go see the movie, then read the news…not a lot has changed, and that’s sort of the point of Hulk’s piece, so do give it a read.

As I went through it, I suddenly remembered that Do the Right Thing was one of the first movies I saw in college that really made me want to gear towards studying cinema. It was that, Seven Samurai, The Third Man, Metropolis, Citizen Kane (obviously) and, I think, La Strada (it might have been Nights of Cabiria, though) - You know, those movies you watch first as a budding fan of film and learning about it. That’s a damn solid crop. It was also one of the first DVDs I remember picking up in the early days of the Criterion collection resurgence.

What was so interesting about Do the Right Thing was not merely its distinct voice and astounding cinematography, but the timelessness of its social issues and message and that’s simulteanously what kind of made me sad. This movie was already over twenty years old when I first saw it, and now here we are talking about it again even ten years after that. I suppose it’s because it encapsulates racial tensions better than anything else to come out. It paints a portrait of people divided by race that is long-rooted in our culture and within even small communities like the small street in Brooklyn depicted in the movie.

Its message is preachy, but for the subject matter it needs to be. This is less a subtle film and more a play where everything is played up big. No, not for mere melodrama, but because Lee wants you to pay attention to the words being spoken and the subtext it all brings. The things happening throughout the United States at the moment are strikingly and depressingly similar. Hulk has a great line in his final words:

“Always do the right thing? How can we expect that when society has the complete inability to recognize the wrong thing when it’s happening?"

Read the piece, see the movie, enjoy.


Depression is a Hell of a Thing

Yeah, this is a downer week, sorry. Race, depression, we have sexism coming up…good times all around... but the Emmys were on and there we have Billy Crystal, with just a few minutes, giving the best lines about Robin Williams you could ask for. There had been a lot of tributes from people that loved him…but there had also been a handful of complete pieces of shit that have no idea what they’r talking about. You know the ones, those that call suicide “selfish” and “a choice” or those claiming they “would never do that to the people I love.”

Yeah, no shit. But here’s the thing: those people are trying to shove logic into something that is illogical. In other words, depression completely shifts your view of just about everything and someone without that shift (and empathy of such a thing) can never understand. It’s not something that’s even all that identifiable. It happens and people struggle with it. You don’t tell someone to “cheer up” or “get over it” like it’s a soggy burrito that ruined your day and you should never, not once, say you know “you’d never do it” when you can’t even put yourself in that position to begin with. You don’t understand it, and every person, whether it’s a Rush Limbaugh or a Henry Rollins, simply throw their ignorance out there when they go off on it (and, so classily, less than a week after Williams died).

Depression isn’t “feeling sad” or “self-loathing” or "being moody.' It can stem from a number of things, so trying to find answers often results in more confusion, but in all the end result is the same: ones perspective is completely skewed. It’s illogical…but to them it all makes complete sense. To a person suffering from depression, suicide suddenly makes sense. Yes, that’s sounds absurd, but that’s the type of thing depression does to someone.

More importantly, though, is that each person is different and their symptoms and actions towards depression is different. Depression isn’t like poison ivy. It’s not like you look at your arm and see a red mark, go on WebMD, type in the symptoms and it pops up “poison ivy.” It’s not universal like that, the only thing you can do is accept that someone suffered greatly, you’ll never quite understand or know their thought process but you should still show compassion and maybe a little empathy towards that person.


Tropes vs Women: Women as Background Decoration Part 2

Another entry in the series, and Anita is really getting better and better as they've gone on. I wasn’t on board with the first couple of videos, only because I felt it lacked a focus and a solid argument, but I also knew that Anita is talented and smart and would grow as the series went on, which she did starting with the “Ms. Male” entries, which I loved, and now continuing on.

Of course, the people criticize her - I would think a vocal minority mostly, though I also think there’s a ton of apathic people as well who just don’t care. Some criticism on something put out there in a public space is right (and good) in many respects - for example I would love is she explored more of the “why” in terms of cultural significance and a reflection on societal trends that games reflect rather than bullet-pointing examples - but others just flat out miss the point in their haphazard and often mean-spirited "critiquing" of her work. In fact, most do, like the whole “well men are used as yadda yadda yadda” or “so no women can be in games then?"

I’ve always paralleled the evolution of gaming with that of film. It's easier for me to digest, so allow me to share some thing with you:

1) Both got off to small humble and simplistic starts, then grew to a massive entertainment empires. It took decades before film started to be taken really seriously as an art form. Games aren’t quite there mainly because the gamer culture, unlike the film culture of the 50s and 60s, really hasn’t “grown up” yet. Parks of the track are laid, but the train is still kind of at the station.

2) Women make up 47% of the gaming population, women also make up about 48% of the movie going audience. The "teenage boys are the biggest buyers" arguement is archaic - an argument used to say “they’re making games for the specific demo." Teenage boys also see the most movies, but there is more variety and inclusiveness in the film world towards women (though it's still not great - I’ll leave that for another time).

Perhaps this is also reflective of the lack of a female presence developing games as well, or at least given the opportunity to be heard by the developers (though, as of this writing, that is changing for the better thanks to Anita's work). At the end of the day, developers have an extremely narrow vision of game design and content, especially when a lot of games seem to be repeating the same style and gameplay design instead of pushing forward with something new. There’s a lack of unique voices all around, and I think it comes at the cost of representation of women, minorities and the LGBT communities.

3) Exceptions don’t disprove the rule, they prove it. Yes, The Last of Us has some very well written characters, a good chunk of them women, but that’s a rarity and the people that put that out there and say “see?” know it. It’s like going back to the 1930s or 40s depiction of women and saying “Well, Bette Davis always played strong female characters.” Yeah, and for every one there were hundreds of other female actresses of the time only used as props or sex objects. Just because one breaks the mold doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.

4) Right now, gaming is in that odd growing stage, and there are people trying to open the door, but some people really don’t want to listen. There’s no figurehead for this type of thought in gaming, unlike film’s evolution pushed along thanks to the likes of the Cashiers du Cinema crew or a James Agee or Pauline Kael or Andrew Sarris, or any main party pushing forward critical thought. All someone can do is make a video and write an article, but it’s lost in the noise of the internet. In the 60s, there were but a handful of outlets taking film seriously, looking at the elements that make it up and evolving critical analysis. People found them and listened and by the 70s people began to seriously look at film as an art form. Today, gaming is struggling to go through that same process, but it’s too scattered and unfocused and the voices trying to be heard get shot down.

Hell, isn’t that why Adam Sessler quit? There was a guy really having discussions about games and the elements within them - a guy who studied critical analysis of media and really seemed to push some elements forward in his analysis of games. But after a while, he just got tired of it. Nobody cared and the “business” side of gaming seemed to overtake any discussion of artistic merit. I don’t blame him.

5) If you want your medium to be taken seriously, you need to be aware of how others perceive it. Gaming isn’t in a bubble anymore, not like it was in the 80s or even the 90s where it was deemed a “toy” and you went into darkened arcades to play Galaga as though you’re ashamed. It has elements that need to be explored and commented on. Film grew out of its infancy. It took some time, but it did and suddenly you had people discussing its artistic merits, its allegories, its meaning, its auteaur theories and it’s reflection of societies and the cultures it came from.

So when there’s an entire segment in God of War III that’s all about shoving a half-naked woman along and then using her to just open a gate that ends with her mutilated corpse, I don’t just say “well that’s disturbing.” I say “somebody sat down and thought this out. It was planned, drawn, coded and then implemented into an interactive medium. This took time…” It’s that part that concerns me if anything. After all, when all your character ends up being is solely as a “key” to open a “door” then that’s unacceptable.

6) All Anita is doing is pointing things out. That's it. Is all the vitorial really necessary towards her? What is making someone so angry (other than insecurity) to lash out at her in such a manner? Even if you outright 100% disagree with her, the fact so many threaten violence and rape and name-calling and try to back-up their "arguements" with half-assed retorts that make no sense in relation to the points she's making. They go back to that trying to "disprove" her points by doing some sort of equivalency test of "see, this is this so your thing isn't that thing."

Visual approximation.

C'mon. It's not like her points are difficult to grasp. Truth be told, they're fairly broad and easy to digest (sort of the point of her series). There's no "secret" point being made here or undercurrent of malice. She points things out, shows why they're not all that good (if anything not good for games in lazy game design and writing which is pretty universal) and letting you do some thinking. Nothing complicated here, but people are trying to mishape it into something else and muddy the waters.

Film criticism seemed to be accepted gracefully and rapidly. Perhaps because there wasn't as much of that "noise" and those voices rose above and beyond. Perhaps it's because directors listened to those voices and implemented those ideas (the 70s surge of filmmakers were the first to actually "learn" about filmmaking). Maybe the industry itself of game development needs to speak out instead of a handful of people doing videos and blogs.

I would love to listen to some podcast with Sessler and Anita and maybe Devin Faraci talk about all this stuff. Something like that, put out for others to listen to and maybe take in and to have a group say “let’s discuss this stuff” rather than “OMG your stoopid” then it would be glorious. Unfortuantly, I think Devin recently noticed that gamers aren’t really people he wants to associate with:

Oh, and that mention of Zoe Quinn? I won't get into that, but honestly...who gives a shit if someone is sleeping with someone? That's nobody's business.

As I've said a number of times on here with my minimal readership or on twitter etc...if there's anything that's going to destroy the gaming industry, it will be the gamers themselves. In the end, people really need to just stop, listen and then converse towards each other with decency. But we all know that can't happen on the internet It's just unfortunate the reaction every time there's another one of these videos released is so damn predictable.

Also, late update, a great piece from Badass Digest about this very topic. Drop the mic, we're done here.


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