Surprise…then Disappointment

Posted: February 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

HankReactionHype can be a ruinous force.

I think that we’ve all had an experience where everyone- the critics and our friends alike- tells us something is good. And then we check it out and it’s just not what we were expecting. Humans in general are bad about hyperbole. I’ve seen my share of Academy Award winners and played my share of Game of the Year titles that left me cold. Arguably, part of the problem is my admittedly high and occasionally arbitrary standards for what I think is good (in some cases there is a certain je ne sais quos where I’ll like something or dislike something, and I won’t really know why); but another part of the problem is that if people like something, there aren’t any grayscale tones, just “I love this and it’s the best thing invented since ever!” or “Oh my god, this is an atrocity!”.

Now, in gaming culture, this sort of thing has been fostered by many of the gaming sites that hand out 8/10 and 9/10 scores to games with even the barest quantum of polish, with anything getting a 7/10 or lower being cast into gaming’s unofficial Pit of Carkoon. Of course, it’s also not helped by gaming’s rampant fanboy contingent ready to rain down hell anytime the object of their fandom doesn’t get a passable score. Few games should qualify for those 80 and 90 percent scores. You buy one because you’re promised the next big thing…and you may not get it. There’s not really any accountability.

But I’m getting away from my topic. Which is disappointment due to overpraise.

In any case, this is why some things are “Overrated”. They’ve received so much praise that you’re expecting them to be life-changing, amazing pieces of work but…they turn out to be less than that. All of this thought comes after reading the aftermath of the DICE awards. The Last of Us swept the awards (which I don’t consider to be fair; if a game wins Game of the Year I believe that it ought to be disqualified for other awards to allow other titles a chance to shine), and I’ve been told by trusted friends that it’s a fantastic game in addition to all the critical acclaim. Yet since it’s built up so much- I’m hesitant to play it. When there’s that much hype behind something, there’s bound to be disappointment.

I’m not fond of that feeling. It’s rather alienating to see something that’s universally praised but you only thought it was mediocre, or worse yet, you thought it was awful. It makes me ask myself, what did I miss? What’s so wrong with me that I don’t understand why everyone else is gushing with praise for this work?

It is possible to over praise something. Sometimes it’s necessary to dial the enthusiasm back a few notches and just say “You should check it out.” instead of “It’s the greatest thing ever!”. Where it might be life-changing for you, it might be a diversion for someone else. I’ve grown leery of gushing praise. So many in my generation adore the Harry Potter books; I think they’re good entertainment but nothing more. I thought Portal was a fair if unimpressive game…after I’d heard all of its memes thousands of times before so much as booting up the game. I probably would have enjoyed these more if everyone hadn’t positively exploded with praise for them. Conversely, I may have never heard of either of them had they not been so universally popular with their audiences.

But remember, when you’re telling someone else how great something is- your experience with it is entirely subjective.  Remember, that though for you, Final Fantasy X was the most important game of your life…

For me, it was Tuesday.

For me it was Tuesday.

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I’ve Got Your Back

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

I guess I don’t talk much about my football days.

That surprises some people. I guess considering my hobbies and interests and the fact that I get antsy just watching sports, a lot of people don’t take me for a football player. Other people see the way I’m built (I’m a big dude- broad shoulders and all that) and don’t have too much difficulty accepting the fact.

So yes, I did play football, for one season, in my Freshman year of High School.

Anyway. It’s not like I was a star player or anything. Naw, I was solidly 4th string. I was only on the field during a game for two downs in the last quarter of the last game- when my intense lack of anything resembling skill or even knowledge of the game’s rules could no longer do any harm to our perfect 10 and 0 winning streak season. But still, I was part of the team. I was there for Hell Week. I was at almost every practice (barring this one time someone sent a kneecap into the meaty part of my thigh playing flag football during Phys Ed). And I was at every game, except for one up in L.A. or somewhere where the coaches were like, “You know, maybe we’ll just leave the 3rd and 4th string at home.

Anyway, prepare the inspiring music, here’s my uplifting sports story moment.

At the end of every practice we ran conditioning drills. This could be a variety of things- crabwalks, windsprints, but I think the one we dreaded most was the serpentine or something (I think that’s what we called it) where we all got in a big long line and jogged the field across the yard lines, and back, and it was just a pain in the ass. So anyway, one day I was a little more beat up than usual at the end of practice. And I literally collapsed during the run. I was lagging behind to begin with and then boom, faceplant. I was tired. I didn’t want to move. I would have been happy to turn in my pads and helmet right then and there. And then a few of the 1st stringers ran back and told me to get up.

Not in a harsh, “we’re going to upholster a bucket seat with the skin from your ass if you don’t get up” tone. But in a “come on, let’s finish this. Teammate.” sense. I mean, I meant nothing to the 1st string. I was just one of the 60 or so skill-deprived sons of bitches that showed up with no prior experience- I’d never watched a football game in its entirety or finished a game of Madden, even- who wanted to play football. But I was there day-in, day-out at practice, same as they were. I may not have been playing in the game or doing anything notable, but I was part of the team nonetheless.

I’ve always liked that kind of camaraderie. In football, on a team, it didn’t matter if you hung out with the 1st stringers at lunch. I didn’t. On the field, at practice, we’re all there, going through the same thing. We all weathered the sadistic whims of the coaches, we ran the same conditioning. It’s like that with the best teams I’ve worked with. It was like that with the BNBGaming team, as well. We may have been from different parts of the country and even world, but we had that camaraderie forged by being in the trenches of game journalism together. We all took a bite of the same shit sandwich.

If I may briefly quote from Henry V:

“For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;…”

It’s an overdramatic example, to be sure. But knowing you can depend on your teammates- it’s a good feeling.

 

HanWhen in the course of human events it becomes necessary to…pick a new theme and change your header.

So I think we can all agree that that “Horror in Gaming”, Haunted Pixels thing didn’t really pan out. It was a good idea, sure- but good ideas don’t always mean good execution. To be perfectly honest, I get kind of bored if I stick to one genre for too long. I drift between horror and fantasy and science fiction and all the combinations and subgenres in between them. It keeps me from getting Too Many Elves Syndrome or Slasher Fasciitis.

And frankly, I find it pretty constraining. Hell, even when I was keeping the Haunted Pixels name (it’s still the URL, but that’s only until I have the money to purchase the Morelock’s Lair domain and start selling t-shirts and snow globes with my ugly mug on them) I was drifting away from horror. It’s important to diversify sometimes.

So I’m sort of retooling the page into my personal blog. Not restricting myself to any one subject. So I might talk about video games or tabletop games, or what books I’m reading, or my frustrations with Algebra, or beautiful works of engineering (like cars). I’ll certainly talk about King of the Hill at some point. Maybe review Battlestar Galactica, which I’m currently in the process of watching (I’m only on the first season. Don’t spoil it for me.) I’ve got some projects in the works, too. It’s gonna be an interesting year.

In any case- it’s almost 5 AM. I’ve got a paper due at 11:00 PM and I could use a little shut eye before the Klendathu Drop.

Game Informer published a list of most memorable character voices in games. It was a terrible list that seemed to be under the belief that voice overs are a new thing in gaming (or the writer has only been playing games since around 2005, take your pick). It also seemed to assume that “memorable” was equal to “competent”, which isn’t necessarily the case at all. Memorably bad voice acting is still memorable. So I decided I should voice my own opinion on the matter. Also, voice actors who originated the role in another media are disqualified (Game Informer’s list included Mark Hammill as the Joker, and he originated the role on Batman: The Animated Series. That’s cheating.). I’m also not using live-action actors, which is why Joe Kucan as Kane is absent (but mentioned). Finally, this is just gonna be a list. I don’t have time right now to elaborate much on my reasons.  And here we go.

10.  Viconia DeVir (Grey DeLisle), Baldur’s Gate I and II

9.  Duke Nukem (Jon St. John), Duke Nukem 3D

8.  John Marston (Rob Wiethoff), Red Dead Redemption

7. Kain (Simon Templeman) , Legacy of Kain series

6. Max Payne (James McCaffery), Max Payne 1 and 2

5.  The Sniper (John Patrick Lowery), Team Fortress 2

4.  Electronic Video Agent (Martin Alper), Command & Conquer: Red Alert

3. Guybrush Threepwood (Dominic Armato), Monkey Island series

2. SHODAN (Teri Brosius), System Shock 2

1. Barry Burton (Barry Gjerde), Resident Evil

 

968full-pee--wee's-big-adventure-screenshotWe horror fans like to waste a lot of breath telling people what we’re not scared of, don’t we?

Most reviled of these is the jump scare. Just as the pun is considered the lowest form of humor, the jump scare is considered to be cheap, utilized by those that are either too lazy to utilize atmosphere and psychological fear or those that are unable to. And this, I think, is hardly fair.

The jump scare, for the sake of definition, is a scare that involves sudden movement and loud sound. Jumping out of a closet and saying BOO!, that’s the basic definition of the jump scare. Now, this does not necessarily give a value to the jump scare being justifiably frightening for the audience or for the characters in the work- for the sake of the discussion, we’re going to assume it’s an audiovisual media like film or a video game- it’s much harder to pull off a jump scare in prose (although jump scares do have a time honored tradition in scary tales told around the campfire.). Sometimes you’ll have what are sometimes called cat scares, due to the prevalence of cats popping out of lockers or other places, creating a “false” scare of sorts.

Part of what bothers most people about jump scares is that they’re “cheap”, and there can certainly be credence to this argument if they’re overused. Certainly if something is popping up every five minutes, there isn’t a whole lot to defend, since there’s no time spent building up those scares, which is precisely the point of a jump scare- you build up to it, then BOOM! there’s the shock, followed by the cathartic knowledge that what’s on that screen can’t really hurt you. It’s easy to forget that some of cinema’s classic scares are jump scares- they’re just particularly well built up jump scares.

Let’s take the 1925 Universal production of The Phantom of the Opera into consideration (before the character was watered down by decay and turned into a romantic lead). The entirety of the film’s first act builds toward the unmasking of the Phantom. We’re given contradictory reports to what he may look like, and we see him masked until that climactic moment.  Lon Chaney’s self-designed makeup was kept a closely guarded secret in the day, and audiences were genuinely shocked when Mary Philbin pulled the mask off him to reveal the living skull underneath. The unmasking scene itself is a microcosm of the buildup, enough so that with the right music, it plays as a pretty good shock scene by itself.

Another great scene that could qualify as a jump scare is (if this is a Spoiler, what are you doing reading THIS blog?) Marion Crane’s murder in Psycho. The sparse Hitchcock thriller and proto-slasher film plays as film noir for its own first act.  The film’s legendary shower scene, if you’re unaware of what’s coming next, plays almost as an envelope pushing (for a 1960 American film) piece of titillation- it is, after all, a beautiful woman in the shower, yes? And then, of course, Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under us, veers the direction of the film somewhere completely different as Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking strings signal this isn’t typical film noir, this is the grand shock of the decade.

I think that the jump scare gets something of a bad rap. Done right, it can be just as scary as the creeping fear and uneasiness one gets from the surreal atmosphere of Vampyr, or the visceral horror we experience contemplating the torments of the Cenobites in Hellraiser. The Facehugger attack in Alien, Jason attacking the canoe as the stinger of Friday the 13th, even Ghostbusters and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure have a couple of classics- just because it’s sudden and loud doesn’t meant that it’s not a scary, well-earned scare.

The 1970s were the golden age of possession films and the religious horror subgenre. The Conjuring seems to be a conscious throwback to that aesthetic, and if not for a noticeable lack of film grain, one could almost believe this was a recently uncovered film from that time that mysteriously stars a modern cast.

The Conjuring concerns the husband and wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren (a real-life couple of paranormal investigators of debatable authenticity; most famous for their own investigation into the supposed real-life events seen in The Amityville Horror) and their investigation of a seemingly haunted property owned by the Perron family. The family experiences a variety of phenomena that cause them to seek out the Warrens. The film purports to be based on true events, but as a horror fan I know from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to take this claim with a grain of salt.

As it stands, The Conjuring is pretty much by-the-numbers, as well-worn and comfortable as the bench seat in the Warrens’ AMC Ambassador. If there were a checklist for the tropes and cliches of this kind of movie, The Conjuring would tick most of them off. But my biggest issue with the film is that it lacks fangs. The demon possessing the Perron’s house doesn’t really do much of anything until the last ten minutes of the film. It manifests in some predictable ways- leaving marks, poltergeist phenomena, ghosts that only one person in the room can see, creepy prophetic toys. Other than that, there isn’t much to it. It’s quite a bit more tame than many films of this genre, but that doesn’t really work in its favor. There’s never a massive shock, no great and encompassing horror, and the jump scares (and false scares) too frequent to build a truly oppressive or chilling atmosphere.

The best part of the film is that the cast is quite well chosen. Patrick Wilson has a distinct and notable talent for delivering outlandish material in the most serious deadpan you can imagine, and this serves the film well. Vera Farmiga is also excellent as his seemingly on the edge of madness wife, and the Perron family all do passably well. Unfortunately, the film just isn’t that exciting or interesting.

While The Conjuring is a decent example of its genre, it does little to stand out. While the movie theaters aren’t exactly chock full of films worth seeing right now, I’d recommend renting one of the classics of the genre- something like The Exorcist or Poltergeist- if you’re looking for a good horror film. The Conjuring makes a good attempt, but a rather limp product.

By now, most web sites have comment sections. Usually they’re unmoderated. Comments don’t have to be approved before they’re posted. The comments section allows you to spout whatever’s on your mind after reading the article  (or even the headline, if you’ve decided it’s TL:DR). Instant feedback, instant gratification! Everything in the future moves fast!

And I don’t like it.

I was looking through some old (read: mid-1990’s) issues of Computer Gaming World and EGM, two of my favorite, now-defunct mags from back in the day. Things were different then. Print was still largely how we got our news, especially concerning our dorky niche hobbies. Oh, and video games were a dorky niche hobby back then, in case you can’t remember a time when Microsoft didn’t make consoles. Anyway, these magazines had mail sections where the editors would answer the mail that readers sent in. While mail sections and comments sections serve largely the same purpose- to express the reader’s thoughts on what they read- they function very differently.

A mail section is by its nature moderated. If you read something that is wrong, or pisses you off, or uses the incorrect pronoun, you used to have to send a letter. Now by the mid-1990’s many people were starting to get email addresses, but it was nowhere near as universal as it was today. College students might have one, an enthusiast with AOL or Earthlink or Prodigy might have one too, but the only people that reliably had any kind of email were computer geeks. It was email or snail mail. You had to write that letter, an editor had to read it, consider its contents and intention, and answer it. You couldn’t just fire off a knee-jerk response in a blank text box or start a flame war. Letters were moderated. They are by their nature more personal because you are speaking directly to someone rather than fishing with dynamite. You had to be civil. You had to be respectful of the editors and other readers- I know of at least one case where EGM printed a letter from an individual of questionable literacy who spent their entire letter insulting  for the pure reason of pointing and laughing at him.

Write an inconsiderate or off-the-cuff comment on a web site with a comments section on the other hand- very few moderate their comments or force you to wait while they’re approved. You can troll, flame, insult, and demean to your heart’s content. It was a pretty cool thing when a buddy of mine got his letter in Nintendo Power. Would you be proud if everyone could see your comment you penned incognito; if they knew it was you that wrote it? Or do you revel in the anonymity the internet provides, using it purely to childishly act out? Paradoxically, one can use a comments section to simultaneously seek attention and remain anonymous. You’ll most likely get a negative form of attention for your petty snark, but people will pay attention. And I think for some people, this is all that matters.

The internet has changed our discourse. Rather than having to think our response out and find a good way to express that, we can just let it flow without seining out the vitriol and irrational anger. Just an idea: see something you don’t like and that makes you feel like launching into a tirade? Close the window. Go play a video game or watch a movie or listen to some music. Get your mind off of it. You’ll be happier. The opinion (or engineered controversial opinion to get site hits- trust me, it’s a thing) isn’t worth blowing a gasket over. A lot of commenters are like dogs licking themselves- only concerned about their own happiness.

I’ll leave you now with an awesome piece of music from Star Control 2.