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Stomach this mournful tone.

You see where this is going, right?  Red Dead Redemption 2 came out in 2018.  And in 2018, you can’t talk about cons without talking about the con that is America.  With its conman president, enabled by the con that is conservatism, selling the con that is the American Dream.  It’s an old story, one that Red Dead thinks it’s in on.  The con of the frontier, the con of settlers, the con of whiteness, the con of exceptionalism.  Necessary violence as a path to freedom.  The con of freedom.

Defenders might say Red Dead Redemption 2 is about this very American con.  It’s not.  If it were, it wouldn’t center shitty white men.  It wouldn’t use Native characters as props for white plots.  It would have actual cogent criticism embedded in its structure rather than all this wasted extravagance.  It wouldn’t have dead eye.  It wouldn’t be a shooter at all.  It would explore alternative mechanics.  It would not mourn.

It is here, between its seeming subject and the actual experience of playing it, that we have the heart of Red Dead Redemption 2’s con.  We have white american outlaws and traditional gamers, both sick with empire.  We have collaborators with the systems that enable their delusions.  We have pain at the expense of everyone who is not them.  And in this particular moment, that makes RDR2 not only the worst game of the year, not only the worst game of this generation, but an active contributor to the all-consuming falseness eating our world.

Replace the cowboy hats with MAGA hats, and it becomes a little clearer.  This is a family not of outlaws but of reactionaries.  There’s nothing radical or courageous about them.  The entire tone of Red Dead reflects this current conservative moment, the con being perpetuated.  Your main man Arthur isn’t even a special case.  Sure the world has plenty of dumb loyalists like Bill and charming young dipshits like John, always claiming “I don’t have a choice”.  But there are just as many Arthurs out there in red caps as racist fucks like Micah.  Not true believers but sad sacks gone sour.  With more sulk than bile, longing for a past that never even existed.  And these Arthurs, like so many gamers, don’t even care anymore that it’s a lie.  They gave up responsibility for the truth a long time ago.

What does it mean to long for a lie?  Where does it end?  Especially when, at most, what you’re longing for is a feeling.  Well, what you remember of a feeling.  Hasn’t anyone told you the bad news, sweetheart?  It’s not coming back.  Not the old west, not your white stories of America, not frontier or freedom.  And not Soulcalibur or Far Cry 2 or Rockstar’s heyday either.  None of it’s ever coming back.  Certainly not your lost feeling.  It’s just as your conservative heart fears.  Nothing will be made great again.  Because past greatness is a con.  And there is no again.

tevis thompson on redemption.

This is a long quote from a long essay, but it’s something I think (along with its interlude) should be mandatory reading not just for everyone who plays videogames, but for everyone with any kind of investment in or fanishness over modern, specifically American,1 pop culture…

  1. Yes, endless flood of Marvel films. I’m looking at you. []
2019-05-15T08:54:40+10:0013th October, 2019|Tags: culture, gaming, pop culture, video games|

Soft power.

[T]here is one element missing in [recent commentary around China]: our (West’s) collective hypocrisy.

We in the West should very well know what and who we are dealing with — China might be decked out in Louis Vuitton, but underneath, it is still a single-party, quasi-communist nation. Knowing the Western desperation for growth and the insatiable needs of the stock markets, China also knows it can yank anyone’s chain.

Huawei isn’t a recent problem. It was a problem a decade ago. The dynamic in this spat between the NBA and China isn’t new — China gets what China wants, not the other way around. Why are we being outraged now? The West signed up for this.

[…]

Sitting in Delhi, it is fairly easy to be reminded of the time when most of the world felt the same way about the American influence on culture, economy and politics. Growing up in socialist India […] I read countless articles in newspapers and magazines that bemoaned American hegemony.

Now the shoe is on the other foot now, and China is doing the kicking with its way of governance, controlling speech and business.

Om Malik on hegemony.

I’ve cut out a quote here from someone else that essentially points out China and India were dictating global market norms for nearly two thousand years before the West (i.e. Europe and America) showed up in the last few hundred to mix things up a bit. But China in particular has been waiting and planning its resurgence, and with America so outwardly weak and internally fractured, well. Now’s the time.

Extreme Team No-one on this issue, but it is… definitely frustrating to constantly see the utter lack of self-awareness (or, at best, special pleading of the “but when we do it’s it’s Good!” variety) from American commentators. Not to mention some of the stuff China is getting blamed for1 is starting to smell a li-ii-ii-ittle bit like Yellow Peril 2.0, so… yeah. About that…

Edited to add:

For what it’s worth, I think Stoller is correct in his analysis and his proposed solutions… bu-uu-ut he’s also pretty much the Ur-example of the sort of hypocrisy Malik is talking about above. And, like, take a shot every time someone says “kowtowing to the Chinese” which… yi-ii-ikes. Can we not?

  1. Yeah, I’m looking at you, everyone who likes to point fingers at China because Disney and Marvel—the latter of which in particular is run by a Republican with a known history of conservative editorial interference—won’t make boys kiss in your Extruded Superhero Product Films. Like, don’t get me wrong; China is definitely shitty on this issue. But, like… America has hardly been better. So you’ll have to forgive a little skepticism on my part that this one is solely China’s “fault”. []
2019-10-11T09:14:15+11:0011th October, 2019|Tags: culture, economics, pop culture|

Ethical art.

If you’re speaking to an (essentially captive, given the marketing monies involved) audience of five million people you’d better be sure your ideas are, at least, not actively harmful, and in fact should ideally be improving – – fine. How about an audience of 50 people? Or an audience of 0? Does that mean this work is less moral than what speaks to a larger crowd – in effect, that it’s worse? And what about the relationship to audience that this kind of teaching implies? i can think of several occasions where people from different subcultures or minority groups were reprimanded because something in their own experience might read differently, or problematically, when presented to a presumably white/cis/affluent etc audience – which is of course the audience that matters, because what’s the value of presenting work from an alternative perspective to an audience already familiar with that perspective, to whom it has no automatic moral significance (might, in fact, merely be ‘aesthetic’)? Compare the complexity of a specific local audience which can think for itself to the easy win of the alternative:  a phantasm audience of moral blanks to whom rote lessons in hypothetical empathy can be tastefully and profitably imparted over and over, forever.

If the ethical act is that which we’d be willing to posit as universal law, perhaps we could say: the ethical artwork is that which we’d be willing to mass produce. Small or hobbyist developers are encouraged to work from the perspective of a mass-productive capacity they do not in fact possess; their successes and inevitable failures are hoovered up alike by the industry proper for later deployment in the form of cute dating sim or inspirational narrative with similar but sanitized tone or aesthetic. In essence a kind of moral QA testing, with all the job security and recompense that this implies.

myfriendpokey on audiences.

I think the line ethical artwork is that which we’d be willing to mass produce is probably the most scathing rebuttal to the ~comfy uwu~ brigade I’ve ever read.

See also this and and this… and you can tell this is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot recently, no?

2019-07-31T09:40:01+10:0010th October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture, video games|

Uncomfy.

BRB forcing all the “uwu no one should ever have to be ~uncomfy uwu” brigade to watch this.

(Also insert “… Clive Barker is  gay?” because… apparently I managed to miss that, somehow?)

2019-04-29T20:45:15+10:005th October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture|

The culture flood.

My frustration was for these overlooked artists, but also for the artists being overlooked now, the ones with interesting new ideas (if not necessarily revolutionary ones) that can inch the discourse forward in some way. We choose virality instead — repackaged, reshaped, shareable versions of what has come before — and equate it to quality because of its resonance. Which is itself resonant because the irony of the web is that even though everyone can have a voice, the ones that we project are projected over and over and over again. This isn’t quality, or real diversity; it’s familiarity. We model ourselves on fandom, where there is no sense of proportionality — there is everything, there is nothing, and there is little else — and the space between now and the future, the space in which critics used to sit, increasingly ceases to exist.

We need a mass realization that pulls us out of this flooding culture. That is: the acknowledgment by powerful organizations that we do in fact engage more with original stories — it’s a fact, look it up — that lasting conversations do not come out of Twitter trends, and that diversity means diversity — more that is different, not more of the same differences.

Soraya Roberts on drowning.

Another one of those long-quote-go-read-the-whole-piece articles.

2019-04-29T08:10:16+10:002nd October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture, social media|

Good boys.

If a bad person is hurting people in The Division 2, options to resolve the situation include A) shooting the enemy in the head until they die, B) deploying a turret to shoot them in the head until they die, or C) commanding a drone to shoot them in the head until they die. If a dog is in distress, there is no enactable solution. Like many loot games, rewards do not come in the form of emotional closure, but instead an incremental power bump. Gaining mastery over the world tops the list of priorities, and mastery does not include a genuine display of affection for an innocent living being.

On petting the dog.

From the creator of the Can You Pet the Dog? Twitter account, on the strong opinions people have about petting dogs in videogames.

Also, speaking of strong opinions on dog petting: apparently a large number of videogame animators have no idea how to actually pet dogs. Get some additional training for them on that, stat!

2019-04-05T09:32:13+11:0021st September, 2019|Tags: gaming, pop culture, video games|

Capitalism killed the flying car.

David Graeber on how capitalism (specifically, the boom of neoliberal capitalism in the ’80s and ’90s) has, contra popular opinion, ground “big idea” style technological innovation to a halt.

Also nice to see Graeber still using this essay as an excuse to bang his favorite drum, i.e. how much he hates doing academic administrative work (which is also something he covered extensively in his book), although to his credit he does link it into a broader criticism of how university adoption of neoliberal ideas like branding, competition, and marketing have ruined academic research.

2019-03-22T09:18:36+11:009th September, 2019|Tags: culture, economics, pop culture|

Displaced princes of diaspora.

Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, different in many ways […] share similarities.  Both follow the plight of a second-generation immigrant of modest means who wishes to claim a place in a world of opulence and wealth, a place that is imagined simultaneously as ‘foreign’ and as an ‘original homeland’. Rachel, the protagonist of Crazy Rich Asians, visits her boyfriend’s home in Singapore, to be confronted with a world of nearly unimaginable wealth, comfort and beauty. The film’s opening quote, ‘Let China sleep, for when she awakens she will shake the world’ does not represent a Singapore remotely representative of the country. Instead, it shows a world of the mega-wealthy Chinese, who seem to signify a kind of ‘authenticity’ and untaintedness; they refer to Rachel as a ‘banana’ – yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Similarly, Eric Killmonger in Black Panther goes to Wakanda to claim his rightful place. Wakanda signifies both original ‘Africa’ and a kind of futuristic utopia. It is populated by Africans who are rich, talented, beautiful, and comfortable in their own skin, as opposed to the African-American Eric, who is represented as being damaged, fearful, and full of rage.

This hierarchy and perspective essentially places the working-class diasporics in both films as the underdogs, while the elite inhabitants of the non-western nations are in a position of power and desirability.

Kavita Bhanot and Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi on colonial fantasy.

This is from a really interesting longer essay that looks at the intersection between race and class, specifically in media produced by American creators of color (and, more often than not, sold for the consumption of white audiences).

Also definitely worth reading the essay it cites critical of Afrofuturism—at least in the context of authors from Africa, as opposed to diasporic authors—from South African novelist Mohale Mashigo.1

  1. And good luck getting the song she references out of your head. []
2019-03-06T08:52:37+11:002nd September, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture, sff|