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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+11:0013th October, 2019|Tags: culture, gaming, pop culture, video games|

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+11:0010th October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture, video games|

It’s older than some of you, probably.

So my parents are cleaning up their house preparing to downsize, which involves going through all the junk I left there when I moved out.

And one of the things they found? My ex’s old OG edition GameBoy,1 that she gave to me so I could play Pokémon; it still has a copy of Pokémon Blue slotted into the back.

To this day, I still give away my old laptops/computers/tablets/phones/consoles/etc. to friends, to pay forward the fact Ex gave me this way back when we were like sixteen and I desperately wanted, yet couldn’t afford, my own…

  1. I assume my parents have meticulously returned this to me because the last time they moved house they threw out our family’s One Console, an original ColecoVision, and I’ve whinged at them about it ever since… []
2019-10-01T09:01:28+11:0030th September, 2019|Tags: gaming, tech, video games|

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|

*screams in dragon*

So that took me… two weeks? Of grinding and egg hunts. Plus another two days to level all the masteries (I already had the points saved up, thankfully).

Now that I can basically fly around indefinitely1 at will, it’s time to go collect all those other jumping-related mastery points I missed out on the first time around! Whee!

  1. Not qui-ii-ite, but between the wall launch thing and that mount stamina restore ability—which is finally actually useful—it’s close enough for most maps. []
2019-07-29T08:54:14+11:0027th July, 2019|Tags: gaming, guild wars 2, video games|

Narrative will.

The reason that letting the audience choose its own story keeps failing when the entertainment industry tries it is that it’s a bad idea. It’s the author’s job to write the story. They can then choose a way to convey that story that gives the reader freedom in how they experience it. But if the story itself is merely a loose collection of different options, each in a different genre and with a completely different tone, then what they’ve created isn’t a coherent work, but a self-indulgent mess.

Abigail Nussbaum on story.

This is from a really, really good comparative look between Black Mirror‘s “Bandersnatch” and the “walking simulator” video game genre which, among other things, really nails why I can’t fucking stand Black Mirror‘s smug, lukewarm, late-to-the-fucking-party takes on things. Also Firewatch was a fantastic game, so was Gone Home, and while I didn’t love Night in the Woods I can see why people do.

Also related thought: the tension in tabletop RPGs between “the GM designs the game and the players experience it” versus “the players make-up the game and the GM facilitates” it. I’ve mentioned before I am… not particularly a fan of the latter approach and, again, I think this article well-articulates why.

2019-02-04T10:01:28+11:005th July, 2019|Tags: gaming, pop culture, tabletop rpgs, video games, writing|