The continuing adventures of…

Imagine if they the Batman was taken out from his comics and replaced with someone who isn’t Batman. Sure, Francis there will say that’s happened multiple times and he’s right. Yet every single time we’ve always returned to read further adventures as Bruce Wayne as Batman. The status quo returns. Same with Peter Parker, who has been replaced by other Spider-Men for some time. Like by Ben Reilly, who happens to have the best iteration of the classical Spider-Man suit. Superman has died and has come back to life. In any given new entry to the Transformers with Optimus Prime, you can expect him to die. Hell, for Transformers to have the same basic cast with some changes to setting and characterisation, yet all the roles and core characters are the same. People make connections with characters and their stories and wish to continue follow their stories. It’s not just something to consume, it’s almost like following how an old friend is doing.

Comics have made introduction of new characters a finely tuned craft. You first have the original comic for character A that’s successful, in which you introduce character B. Character B makes an impact enough and gets spun out to his own comic book, now expanding both the world of the comic and the lineup. Valiant Comics in the 1990’s was well versed in this and managed to build an organic and cohesive world. Malibu Comics’ Ultraforce book, their version of The Avengers or Justice League, was planned year beforehand and every team member’s storyline would meld into the Ultraforce story. Best thing is, it was planned well enough that it’s only apparent in hindsight and the stories themselves weren’t hampered by this plan. To this day I find it sad that Ultraverse comics and characters are dead. Marvel bought Malibu Comics just to get their advanced colouring techniques in 1994, and after the comics were cancelled around a year later, none of the concepts or characters have made appearances, sitting in Marvel’s vault gathering dust. Still, new characters get introduced constantly, but not many stick around enough to get their own books. Some times it is the executive decision to drive in a new book based on a new character with no real connections established previously, though that doesn’t always go as hoped.

The same base concept applies to any entertainment media, be it books, movies or TV-shows. Take the show Cheers as an example. People loved and cared for these characters, and despite Frasier not being a main character initially, he proved popular enough to be spun out to his own namesake series for eleven seasons. James Bond movies have tried to spin some of the characters into their own movies, but there hasn’t been any luck in that for multiple reasons. Budget always being one of them. James Bond has seen more success with James Bond Jr. in book and in animated form, though that’s somewhat arguable as it seems majority of the current mainstream audience only knows Bond from the movies.

Nevertheless, the method of creating supplementary characters and expanding the world has proven to be both lucrative and consumer friendly. You can do whatever you want with a new character and his setting all the while keeping the originator intact. You can even make the same choice as Marvel did with the Ultimate Spider-Man ans introduce a new version of the classic character. What seems to be the opposite action of this is replacing old characters with completely new ones through whatever methods the writers employ. Sometimes its totally replacing these characters, sometimes its rewriting them to the extent that what made these characters themselves in the first place is no longer there.

There are of course examples when a total shift in a series works. Star Trek: The Next Generation is an example of this, despite it not appearing so at first. The discussion which series is better and which had the better cast is as old as the show itself, many considering it a worthwhile addition but never reaching the same cultural status as the original. After all, it’s the original cast people were attached to, not this new cast with a French bald guy as the captain. I would argue that time has proven that the TNG cast and their stories were worthwhile addition to Star Trek, which opened further possibilities to expand the franchise in much larger ways. While Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise are largely debated within their fandoms, the overall consumer doesn’t deem them as worthwhile. Star Trek hasn’t managed to capture the audience in the same manner since TNG went off the air. The rebooted Star Trek universe hasn’t reached the same level despite reusing old characters, but in these movies the characters were largely unrecognisable from their old selves and more like caricatures of themselves. It’s an example of using recognisable names and settings without taking advantage of them or telling further stories about these characters. They might as well be blank slates, something completely new.

Star Wars has of course always struggled with the old and new cast. The Golden Era of Star Wars comics was when Marvel originally licensed the comics, exploring all the adventures Luke, Leia and Han were having. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye largely falls into this category. Dark Horse began to expand the universe with new settings, cast and characters with little to no connection to the original cast, but nevertheless didn’t conflict with those characters. Even further, stories like the Shadows of the Empire were treated as if they were movie events without the movie. Nevertheless, new stories based on the universe were met with as much critical acclaim as stories based on the original cast of character. Whether or not Disney intentionally let down fan expectations is somewhat an open question. While it’s not uncommon to drastically change characters, it can backfire immensely if it’s not organic change and is completely untold. Disney Star Wars has the habbit of not expanding on events or reasons. Instead additional one-liners trying to function as exposition has been put in, which shows more how lacklustre the overall planning process and writing has been. Return of the Jedi left things off in a hopeful, bright manner, which was effectively killed by repeating A New Hope. Luke’s bright future was killed off by him becoming a murderous hermit, Han’s position as the husband of an heir of a dead planet was nulled and all the roles these characters had were removed in order to promote new characters. To lacking success, as Disney Star Wars has taken a profit plummet ever since their released their first entry. Incidentally, Mandalorian has been received in a better manner, mostly because it has expanded already familiar universe without infringing on the established characters, something the movies are at fault to a large degree.

Some writers will laugh at the audience for connecting with fiction. To some it’s a passionless job, something they do for money like any other office worker. Some creators do create a similar connection, while others simply come in to do whatever. Nowadays it’s not exactly a rarity for a recognised and already established brand to have a writer who want to do their own thing without any regards what’s already come. While we can argue over how much a writer needs to be slave to the past writing, what they can’t ignore is the customer expectations and wants. If they end up butchering the characters, the setting and overall overturn what the audience has come to love in a work, well, they can only take the heat. The continuity of these characters stories, even if they’re new stories with little connection, is the living flesh of the audience’s attention and love. Cut that away, and all you have is meat that can be consumed once, and all you’re left is bones and guts.

What are you going to do with a brand that is unrecognisable from what made it popular in the first place? Replace it with something completely new is the answer sometimes. Other times, the best method is just to reverse course and turn back.

Amazon’s digital book burning

So while I would like to rant about Star Trek Lower Decks, the last post was ranty enough. So why not, let’s talk how Amazon has been doing some digital book burning. That’s a hyperbole if I ever heard one, I hear Liam saying there in the background. While it certainly sounds like one at first, consider the end-goal of book burnings throughout the history, like the one the Chinese cultural revolution. The sad thin is that book burnings happen all the time, like how Zhenyuan in China saw a book burning of party banned books being thrown into the flames. Who knows what were in there. Sure, we know a Catholic priest was burning Harry Potter and Twilight novels alongside Hello Kitty stuff in Gdańsk, Poland, and some might even applaud to that, but the end goal was the same as with when burning New Testaments in Yehuda, Israel; make a statement about the books and limit their availability to the public. Don’t listen to the people who might want to read this garbage, listen to the people who are telling they’re bad for you and for everyone else.

What Amazon is doing is the exact same thing as the end goal. As reported by J-Novel club, Amazon has begin to limit the sales of some of their titles by cancelling customer orders and outright refusing products on their front. Products that already had been there, with both sales and pre-sales already been conducted. Even books that had been on sale of Amazon for three and a half years, namely Grimgar of Fantasy, has been refused. Considering Amazon sales apparently covered almost fifty percent of J-Novel Club’s sales at some point, limiting their product sales leaves rather significant impact, but also shows how dangerously close Amazon is to a certain kind of one-store-to-rule-them-all status. Almost everyone uses an Amazon storefront for something.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has done this to products originating from Japan, however. Recently they silently removed numerous statues and figures from their listings. It’s the sellers that had to step forwards and make statements you wouldn’t hear Amazon themselves making, because PR is precious. Certainly large numbers of these products are in sale at different sellers, which mostly means Amazon has either been bombed by some groups to get a specific item or seller off the site, or that they simply don’t have the time to apply the same decision power over the new listings. Not all goods under the same brand have been hit with the bans either when it comes to the figures, but the case with J-Novel Club is all about singular titles in English. The most probable reason for the blocking of sales of these goods is, as Amazon sees it, child exploitation.

No child was exploited in making these products, of course. Nor children have roles in the making, unless they’re being slaved in the Chinese factories there figures were assemble and painted, or in the presses where the books were printed. That’s a whole another thing altogether. No, it’s the perception of these characters, and the images found in these novels, being too young and in too risky for… whom? The question is not invalid in itself. I’ve discussed this when the topic has been about Sony’s censorship. We are able to recognise certain elements that repeat here; goods that had no true infringement are being actively purged based on perception. Something inside Amazon, or influencing them, has deemed these products as offensive either to morals and sensibilities to the extent of demanding removal, which has only lead to competition move in to fill in the niche even at Amazon Marketplace, or in worst case scenario Amazon has decided to follow some stricter lines found in some laws that determine these kind of figures and drawings as child porn and child exploitation. Overcareful laws that equate drawn characters and real photos do only harm on the long run, but considering how little sense there has been regarding who is considered an adult is mucky at best, because people mature differently. Perhaps being overtly careful with children is a net positive in the end, yet we’re talking as if teenagers were the same thing as six years olds. Applied to fictional characters no less.

This is the problem with yours truly. In the context of the writer’s persona I can admit to Amazon being its individual corporation and they have the freedom to choose what’s on their stores as long as they apply the reasoning and methods across the board without picking and choosing. That may impact their sales or fame, but that’s their choice. In the same breath, I can also admit that Amazon shouldn’t care what people are selling on their stores within the limits of law in an aim to maximise sales. They’re not doing either in this case, however. Their design here is whack and malformed. In person proper, I have to question the sanity of whoever considers these products infringing reality. You hear different groups with similar agendas tooting their horns about understanding other cultures and valuing them, yet here we are, having a digital bonfire of books and goods because they infringe another culture’s sensibility. The Japanese culture of cute does not carry the same meaning for cute as American. Be sure of it, Amazon’s bannings are based on certain Americans’ values and virtues. There are plenty of those who would rather see all these efforts put into ending slavery in Africa or shutting all those factories employing child labourers down. Major tech companies like Apple and Tesla are using cobalt mined from Congo, which relies heavily on child labour, and are being sued over knowingly enforcing child labour. Of course, what Amazon does is to ban books and lumps of plastic instead. It’s easy and relatively safe. You may claim that the two have nothing to do with each other and equating them with each other is false. Perhaps to some extent, but if the reasoning from Amazon is anywhere close to child exploitation, Amazon should take a damn good look how much of its products (and the products these major companies) employ said child exploitation. It’s easy to get brownie points from banning cartoon characters; it’s hard to make movements towards ending actual child exploitation.

You can say that, but a child in racy situations or positions is different than exploiting their livelihood. Which leads us back to one of the cruxes; these aren’t children, these are fiction. There is no true end benefit here, there is no actual exploitation done. Exploitation of material at best, but that applies to any product out there. Only true infringing someone’s standards and taste. Of course, these people who can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality have inserted their views in some of the laws around the globe under moral panic. Changing or challenging these laws would be scrutinised to an unmoral extent and would lead into unfavourable questioning, making it a nightmare to even consider taking actions to correct them to be more sensible.

What does Amazon’s bans hope to accomplish? As there is no exploitation of any kind, nothing will happen on that front. Maybe some people will find less offensive stuff on Amazon, but even that is negated when other sellers put similar items on. Hell, nothing prevents another seller listing their own copies of the banned books there and Amazon just so happens to miss said listing. It’ll impact some of the sales from these products even when they’re moved to other venues. You can still pick up J-Novel Club’s books from any other physical books store, for example. All this reeks of useless pandering with false morals to placate some group of people. As much as I hate personally hate it, at least the digital revolution has given providers like J-Novel Club a method to sell their products on their own digital stores without relying on Amazon, even if it would mean losing sales from Kindle. Nothing much a customer can do about Amazon’s practices, outside voicing their displeasure and voting with their wallet.

The war on difference of culture inside Sony

I’ve covered Sony’s and their censorious practices on the blog for some time now, for a good measure. While Sony themselves haven’t spoken much about their censorship they practice much in the public, outside on particular interview with The Wallstreet Journal, all the other information we have are from developers’ own words and actions. For example, Senran Kagura 7even has been significantly delayed due to the game needing to be be reworked because of Sony’s censorship wall. However, with the release of The Last of Us 2 their practices of censorship must be put under scrutiny. If Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Tifa had to go through a redesign, where her bosom and clothing was altered due to concerns of offence, how does a sex scene, where one of the participants is cheating, work under Sony’s internal rules over games’ content? While this seems to be double standards, that’s not the case from Sony’s end.

Let’s call the scene what it is; pornography. The porn scene in The Last of Us 2 is different from e.g. Omega Dungeon‘s titillation because it’s not overtly intended as fanservice, to use the term loosely. The difference between the two is that Omega Dungeon is wholly slightly naughty in content, but it’s treated with levity. It doesn’t take itself seriously and knows that it’s in good fun. The Last of Us 2 however takes itself completely seriously and tries to treat itself as a great work of drama and art, in which it fails when the developers introduced self-congratulatory scenes across the game and allowed the story to take precedence over the game. The porn scene itself is the developers masturbating over their characters and the setting they’ve built around them, what it implies of the characters’ actions and motivation in the same manner a teenager would usually do. This is a cultural divide how the United States and Japanese approach sex in their games. For the US, it can only be served in games in this manner of self-patting porn and in no other mean. For Japan, sexuality and cuteness are more tied to each other, and sex is fully explored across the board as porn. Rather than shying away from it, the Japanese media tends to have a healthier view on it, where different approaches are explored on multiple levels, from just having something as the background material to visibly explicit on the screen. Sometimes intended to arouse and titillate, sometimes just as a major part of the work itself. Visual novels are a great example how Japanese media can handle sexual content in all of its variations. Sure, the US has its share of porn games, yet the most people can cite is Custer’s Revenge and even then the rest of the whole US Cavalry Commander raping an Indian takes precedence. As the old saying goes, American media cuts away all the sex and leaves all the violence. This seems to be rather accurate when it comes to how Western games are seen in Japan, and how Sony’s current censorious practices are. Then again, Canada is to be blamed for the Harlequin novels, which is just porn in text.

Omega∆92 made an interesting supposition regarding Sony’s censorship reasoning, which isn’t all that far-fetched compared to Sony bending a knee to the Chinese censors as well as to gaming disorder. In short, it compares current Sony to Sega of America of 1996 to 1998, when Bernie Stolar was adamant not to allow Japanese titles on the Sega Saturn. He notes that during the first years of the 2000’s the PlayStation 2 saw success in visual novels, like Clannad and Tokimeki Memorial, though I’ll drop Kimi ga Nozomu Eien in there too, despite it being an All-Age port. The note that Japanese developers weren’t familiar how much development time the HD Twins, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, required rings true, as noted by developers of Final Fantasy XIII where they where overwhelmed how much more work HD consoles required. They ended up dropping the towns and making the game a corridor run. The rise of the mobile market was lucrative and required less work, something that still hits home (though games like Magicami put some console games to shame in multiple fronts, especially the DX version.) The rising cost of HD game development was noted, and the financial crisis at the turn of the decade did make a dent on what games got developed and localised. Japanese games didn’t sell or weren’t popular, but admittedly it was also a cultural gulf. Video games that the Japanese audience prefers aren’t the biggest sellers in the West, and vice versa. Many Western games are treated as overtly violent kusoge, shitgames of the worst kind with no other reason but to present ugly death and gore.

The global economy got better around 2015 and more games begun getting localised with bigger fanfares. While Yakuza had been a cult classic since its first game, it had gained momentum to punch through to the general audiences, similarly how Persona games had become successful alongside titles like Nier: Automata. Not to mention Monster Hunter making its first big Western breakthrough on the 3DS, which paved the way to the success of World. Japanese games, while always popular, saw niche titles getting attention from the general public. Cult classics were becoming true classics. This was the exact time when Sony moved PlayStation headquarters to California and installed their internal censorship. Omega∆92 makes the argument that Sony of America wants to humiliate Japanese games on the global stage after most Sony’s own Western IPs were flopping, while Japanese titles were gaining ground. This is also the reason why Sony wants to keep certain third party IPs and creators close to their heart, because that’s all they really got to entice people when it comes to top tier exclusives. While this connects lots of dots, as he puts it, this seems to be dismissive. Rather, this is Californian PlayStation HQ wanting to drive culture and politics.

We know that the Californian HQ is the one handling the assessment and censorship of games on PlayStation platforms, and that is causing issues not just in language, but in culture as well. The people who are spearheading Sony’s current censorious ship don’t have issues with nudity and sex, as they’ve given The Last of Us 2 free pass (though that scene was directly cut out from the Japanese release because it was against CERO rating system.) What they have issues with is when it’s not depicted the way these heads want it to be, and the way Japanese culture shows sexuality is very much different. You can’t have skinship mode in Senran Kagura RE:BURST, but that doesn’t mean it could have similarly blatant intercourse without censorship either. Arguably, shoving bare titties on the screen while being penetrated from the back in rough sex is worse than the player building digitally physical relation a game’s character. The politics of course is apparent in the situation, as The Last of Us 2 is rather clearly a political game, and the porn scene is part of it all. Naughty Dog got far more freedom to do whatever they wanted with their game and its supposed art than most Japanese developers for no real reason.

A game like The Last of Us 2 would not have been made a decade ago. Not because of its contents, but because of the financial state of the world. We are better off now than what we were ten years ago, though that might change soon. The game was in-development just at the right time and was released at the brink of economical uncertainty. Even entertainment goods are suffering. If we had similar macro-economics five years ago, The Last of Us 2 would not have entered production, and Star Trek Discovery or Disney Star Wars probably would’ve been in the same boat. At least not in the manner they are now, as positive economical climate allows businesses to give trophy-freedoms, allow their staff to create works that clearly wouldn’t sell any other time. Sony isn’t really concerned about this, not at this time, as the powers in California aren’t thinking in terms of game quality or sales, but what’s acceptable in current politics. Politics always change, and while I believe this era of California driven PlayStation will be pushed softly into the annals of history as end-page references, publishers and developers have made note of these policies and moved their titles slowly towards the Switch and Steam. The aforementioned Senran Kagura RE:BURST is fully uncensored on Steam, and only its Western PS4 release is censored. It managed to come out in Japan before Californian censors were at full throttle. The political pendulum has swung too far, everything is taken to its extreme to protect one side of the discussion while attempting, and sometimes succeeding, to drown the other. Sometimes it appears as taking over a district, sometimes as censorship of cartoon tiddies. Whatever standards Californians at Sony think they are enforcing aren’t global and barely even US-wide.

Escape from politics

Some hubbub pops up whenever you see someone saying they don’t politics in their video games or such. Naturally, there’s someone to point out that you have politics in these works by their nature as narratives. Especially in role playing games, where the framing device often sets the player in the thick of things. There is a false equivalency, as to what politics is being referred to is real politics. Video games is a method to escape the mundane life for a moment, and if it has a setting that’s interesting, the better. To say a product contains politics is not the same as to say that it is political. Even then, the best of these works tend to handle politics through the veneer of fiction and paint issues with different strokes in order to entertain ideas rather than force them down your throat.

Despite Star Trek not being a video game, the sentiment does extend to every field of entertainment media. It was said that Trek handled political matters of its time. Very rarely it ever pointed out at a topic in straightforward manner, but disguised with a veneer of science fiction, with alien races, androids and whatever situations were build from there. However, they never drove before the stories themselves, they were part of the whole work. Rather than say that Star Trek was political, it was about politics, often entertaining more than one view and exploring topics at hand. It didn’t just sit in one corner and preached about one singular truth over all others. Even in message shows, where things like racism or prejudice against homosexuals, where clearly the topic, the shows explored the topics under its guise. Sometimes with not exactly what you’d call a happy end, sometimes utterly failing. However, that’s not what modern Trek is, with showrunners and writers explicitly stating what their agenda is and what they intentions were. The franchise has become political and its lack of diversity in ideas and views makes extremely poor content.  In ST Picard, this has gone far enough that the show is completely unrecognisable, characters having been rewritten to be completely different. There is no more hope, only booze, darkness and death. Killing off characters in brutal ways just because their actor has different political views is degrading the franchise even further.

It’s understandable that many see comparative points in fiction related to real world events, more often where none has ever been intended. Humans like to recognise patterns, especially patterns we have a bias for and wish to find. This has gone to the point of some comparing politicians and events to characters and situations found in things like Harry Potter or whatever the current popular boom cartoon is. Hell, there are even those who can’t understand historical events or political intrigue without putting into a pop-culture context first, like putting one of those My Little Pony ponies into a photo about the Holocaust. Spending too much time on social media and the like will soon yield less faith in humanity the more you see any given leader compared to Voldemort or Emperor Palpatine. Not only it betrays how what media and how much these people consume, but also how limited their world views are. If you only consume media that are painted in strong black and white strokes, your world view won’t be much different.

While some might scoff at wanting to escape for a time being into video games, taking a break from all this that we have to face in our daily lives is ever-consuming. It eats away our hearts and minds if we can’t break from it every now and then. Our 24/7 news cycle keeps bombarding us constantly, often with clickbaits and with titles that aim to infuriate us. The more mad you are as you click, the more likely you’ll engage with the site more. Ragebait makes money, but only for the time until the we’re spent. Like a friend put it just now while I was writing this post, You can only take so much cancer in a day. When the media you want to consume to let your soul rest becomes about all the same stuff with as gentle message as a hammer blow to the head, you turn away from it. This can be see in the success of the product, and to use Star Trek as an example again, Discovery and Picard have been failed experiments that have done nothing but marred already patina tarnished franchise. Fixing this ship will take replacing parts of it, instead of just throwing some polishing agents at it.

Maybe getting off the grid for a while would do some good for all of us. Turn off your phone, go outside to take a walk in the forest or whatever you have near you, a park or something. Breaking the cycle of constantly having a screen present in your life, in your pocket or otherwise, builds better health. Thank God we can make educated choices and not consume media we don’t want to see, read or hear. They can be forced on us only so much.

Double the Fantasy

An element video and computer games have to them is the necessity for the player to suspend their disbelief twice. The first is, and the one players are most aware of, is within the game’s own setting. We can suspend our disbelief that Mario can jump as high as he can or run endlessly without exerting himself. Take any game and you can find any number of elements that we freely suspend our disbelief about, because they are games. Not many games overall, outside sports, have a need to adhere to the rules of reality. There is no magic, yet there are no issues of understanding and using magic in a given fantasy game. It’s part of the system. However, even before that we have to suspend out disbelief with the technology, on the matters that are not about the game itself. Things like having save slots, passwords to continue or even creating a character are separate entities from the game’s play itself. We expect these things to be part of the whole deal. We expect the games offer a fantasy world we can escape, but we’re still in need to use the tools that the games are built to function on.

While game worlds exhibit elements of different worlds, they’re tied to their social functions. Using somewhat old terminology, the fantasy of these games crosses with the necessity of cyberculture. The player, as part of the cyberculture, often demands elements that do not fit with the fantasy of the world, like Non-Player Characters directly talking to the player rather than to the player’s in-game avatar, like whether or not they would like to save their game. Players’ socialising is also completely apart from the game most of the time, though some players do play their role properly, not breaking their character in-game. The human brain is capable of handling two opposites as true, as players treat the fantasy the game offers as reality just as much as the true reality the game functions in. The fantasy of the world, while contradicting its necessity to be tied to being a software that can only be on a screen we control via input devices as dictated by the game’s rules, is no less is not broken by the necessity of reality.

To use Monster Hunter as an example, we know humans can’t wield the kinds of weapons the game shows. There is no in-game explanation either, it’s part of the deal. The same with monsters themselves and many of the fantastic elements the game has to offer. Controls is an example where the dualistic mindset steps in; we can’t simply do Action X, because the game’s design and code doesn’t allow us. This is part of the rules of the game, despite the games often showing movies how the hunts really look like within the context of the world itself. Items are part of the mechanical elements of the game, where you can carry only this many items in a given number of slots in your inventory, though nothing actually shows on your character that you have them. No backpack or the like on the character.

Some games aim to dissolve the distinction of the two layers. Rather than having the player save their game, the game makes the player write a diary entry and does not make references to the player’s own actions. It’s the player avatar writing the entry, keeping the layer of fantasy unbroken. Yet this is rarely done in favour of making clear to the player what function is what within the game’s rules. To use Ultima Online‘s saving as an example, the player could not open a menu and click Save Game, as that breaks the game’s fantasy. First the player must gather the necessary equipment to camp, like a tent and firewood. Then the player must find a fitting spot to camp and initiate camping procedures before he can log off from the server. The player can’t simply cut the connection at any time he wishes, as that gains him a penalty, where the player character is forced to lay still and possibly be mugged by thieves or mauled by wild animals. EverQuest handles this differently by the game announcing camp preparations with a countdown. The fantasy is not broken, instead it has been replaced with a narrative element in both examples. With games like Final Fantasy, there is no consideration for the fantasy itself. The game and its in-game external functions are treated as two different things.

Games like Baldur’s Gate allow breaking the game’s fantasy even further through constant renewing of the player’s party and character, being able to rewrite the backstories as many times as they want and renew pretty much everything about the party as much as they want. In online mode, a player can bring in a character from their single player campaign that might be significantly higher in levels and progression in the single-player campaign. The fantasy of the game requires moulding that sort of character back into proper spot in that online campaign’s progression, otherwise the fantasy of the game world is broken down by the game’s own in-game external functions. Baldur’s Gate treats itself as a hybrid of what it is, thus allowing its fantasy to be very easily broken by the necessities of its Dungeons and Dragons roots. The game doesn’t try to mask majority of its mechanical functions with its fantasy. Incidentally, while the aforementioned Monster Hunter doesn’t go its way out to include any real ways to keep its narrative functions, a lot has been discussed if the monsters’ Life energy and states should be shown to the player. The game’s design relies the player to further themselves into the fantasy and observe the behaviour and actions of the monsters to determine how badly they’re hurt or if they are enraged. While the game’s rules makes these very apparent by drastically changing the monsters’ actions and adding new elements to the monsters, like raised spikes or glowing eyes, it has moved an element of the technical into the fantasy.

The separation of the fantasy and its mechanics have become clear, and the two-layered fantasy is mostly gone. It has become more a meta subject for some of the developers and designed to toy with, with Metal Gear Solid being one of the best examples how a game’s world can intentionally break the fantasy by using the mechanics accessible to the players themselves, like reading contents of the Memory Card to enforce the idea of Psycho Mantis’ psychic powers and necessitating the player to use the second controller port to fight him. That, and using the controller’s vibrating function as a massage device. This kind of meta approach, while breaking the fantasy, also ties the two layers together, making it meta. However, in the same vain other developers have been chasing the cinematic and Hollywood presentation of Metal Gear Solid to the detriment of the medium, fracturing. the game’s fantasy further.

Video and computer games’ main narrative elements comes from the player’s actions. Each play, in themselves, is the story the game has, not the readily made framework the player progresses through the game. The play’s narrative can easily mask the necessities of the game’s rules and mechanics by giving them further narrative elements. While the players themselves will break the fantasy by meta-discussion about the game, the fantasy of the game world itself can be kept wholly cohesive. However, the wants of the players themselves often necessitate breaking the fantasy in order to offer them things like Quick Saves or the like. While we can argue that we’ve advanced in designing games and their interfaces, the modern electronic media and cyberculture is very much different from what it was ten, twenty years ago. Video and computer game designs reflect this, where the player driven narrative and story has been replaced with an emphasize on the pre-determined framework, despite modern technology allowing far more complex game progression to be designed and realised. The paradigm in current game design however wants to fight this, as it has been separated from the technological fantasy of controls, mechanics and rules. Rather than games being presented as a cohesive whole, with the layers being as melded as possible, the current paradigm in design wants to present the games as sectioned as possible. Perhaps it is because different teams are working different sections of the game, where the need to make clear-cut definitions betweens them becomes apparent. However, the consumers at large don’t see to mind this and are capable sidestepping the necessity to suspend their disbelief with fantasy due to simple nature of games running on rules.

A touch of medieval magic

During the last three to four decades the worldwide popular culture has enjoyed large amounts of content that hits itself back to the middle-ages with a touch of fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons is first on the tongue of many who play it and it would be dismissive not to mention the influence of Tolkien’s works played in part. Some of the largest video game franchises stem from these sources when traced back enough, while games like Ultima Online and EverQuest almost directly were inspired by. The influence of the The Lord of the Rings movies as well as Harry Potter, and even Shrek, the modern revisionist fantasy is strongly felt. We can go ever further back from the early 2000’s to the 1980’s as well, where titles like Dragonslayer and Conan the Barbarian were making ways in the genre. They all share the same fantasy tropes of castles, swords, dragons, fairies and magic ties them all together in one massive heap. Not only that, but IT books used to be full of lingo directly related to fantasy, with titles like Dreamwaver 4 Magic or The C Wizard’s Programming Reference. Hell, even when installing a program you might open up something called the Installation Wizard.

All these are tied to old stories about knights and dragons, fables and tales of lords and gods. Stories like King Arthur, Waltharius, Prose Edda and whatever story your countrymen tell as their national epochs all contribute to what we see in modern popular culture, especially in electronic gaming where games across the board freely borrow concepts, names and places from. While you have games like Valkyrie Profile that adapts Ragnarök as its background while exploring humanity and its effects on a divine Valkyrie, other titles simply take the names and drop them into a given setting like how Final Fantasy does with its Summon spells more often than not. While we lean back to these old tales to large extends, the modern world has allowed to continue telling stories in more effective ways. Movies, books, comics, animation and whatnot you have in the popular culture can be often put breast to breast with old epics and make comparisons between the characters and events. Captain America, in his own ways, is the United State’s very own Samson.

Using these names and concepts is an effective way to convey to the customer what are buying into at any given time. The aforementioned Installation Wizard works like magic, with the user not needing to concern themselves with the details in installing a program. It’s like magic, no need to explain how this works. It’s not always the classical terms or works that get referenced. Band names are often an example of this. Names like Shayol Ghul and Lanfear are both references to the Wheel of Time books, where both carry rather sinister and dark connotation. You wouldn’t be surprised the former is a Black Metal band while the latter plays Power Metal. Modern fantasy has played a major role as the inspiration for large amounts of rock and heavy metal. A game example to refer an idea through name alone would fall to Nihon Falcom’s Ys-series, as it is a direct reference to the city of Ys, or Kêr-Is in Breton, which sank in the ocean. Not much else was lifted from the original story other than a vanished city that had to pay for its foolishness.

While fantasy (especially the medieval fantasy that reaches well into the Renaissance) has been rising in popularity slowly but surely, works that could impact the cultural mind have become relatively rare. Not since Harry Potter have we seen a true fantasy work that turned people true believers of sorts. Perhaps the latest fantasy work that left a permanent impact was Dark Souls and its lieu of copycats and a forced genre naming Soulslike, which harkens well back to the day of Doomclone. As a piece of story, Dark Souls may not offer much and heavily leans on its own inspirations, one of which is the fan-favourite Berserk. However, as a game it offers one of the best modern examples of ways people share their own particular stories. The framework of Dark Souls is nothing special in itself, not even its method of leaving the player to tie the background story together through environment and item texts, something even Metroid Prime utilised through its logs. However, it offers one of the best examples where player actions is the bulk of the story. Sharing these stories, how an enemy was faced with a particular weapon, or how they were battling another player, is an essential part of the overall experience. Sometimes its shared through streaming, where the player effectively becomes a theatre performer and the game is his stage. Maybe they’ll just ragequit after Pinwheel kills them, ending that particular tale right there. Here lies the Hero Skarnix, yet another dead. Dark Souls took what was already there and mixed it all together to create something new from the old, though it must be mentioned that FromSoftware had already laid out the framework with Demons’ Souls and King’s Field series of games. However, Dark Souls is the one that truly broke through the cultural wall as a defining work.

Classic sword and sorcery fantasy seems to be a sort of thing that’s easily accessed by anyone. We understand the romance between a hero and the sword, the dream of heroic tasks we could undertake and overcome. Sometimes the twist is macabre and depressing, lacking in any hope, but even that we understand without much explanations. Life’s unfair and only we ourselves are in charge of our own lives. Make the best of it. Perhaps there’s a bit of nostalgia as well in there, as the World Wars tolled so many to the point of needing to invent Dada. Despite fantasy games offering complex mechanics and vast storylines, at the core there is simplicity that modern day doesn’t offer. Some prefer even historical stories prior to Renaissance due to lack of cannons and other similar projectile weapons, when all you had was steel and catapults.

While Science fiction had a similar rise as fantasy when we had the great writers, from Doc Smith’s Lensman and Asimov’s Foundation to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Arthur C. Clarke’s A Space Odyssey, modern science fiction hasn’t seen much success either on print, video games, films or television. Whether or not it is because of modern audiences simply being tired of science fiction, or that most modern writers can’t build a story that’s as entertaining and brain racking as the aforementioned authors’ works, the genre’s a passé. Fantasy, on the other hand, is ageless as it creates a false history to build upon. It doesn’t need to make guesses or assumptions what might be in the future or ask What if… Thus even science fiction weapons that have entered the general lexicon as most powerful are based on extensions of cultural history and fantasy, light sabre or laser sword being probably one of the best examples.

In time we’ll see new forms of media popping up and new ways to create content to tell stories of heroes, of might and magic, or wizardry and quests for glory. They’ll still stand on top of what we have now, just as the works we consume are standing on top even larger giants. After all, the culture of telling stories and playing games is ever-evolving.

Rebooting the honeymoon period

Before a franchise becomes a running success, it goes through golden days of sheer creativity. This lasts until certain unwritten rules become commonplace, which are largely determined by both success of entries in the franchise itself. Take Mobile Suit Gundam for example, where this period of exploring what Gundam as a franchise could be and how it was to be depicted lasted about a decade and arguably ended with Gaia Gear, a series of novels and audiodramas set into the far future of the original’s timeline. While the story and setting is very much what we could expect from a Gundam entry, it separated itself from the series by not having the title Gundam anywhere and its titular mech Gaia Gear had only a passing resemblance to mainline designs in the series.

On the left you can visually identify the mech as a Gundam-type. It has the distinct white-blue-yellow colours, the right type of structure with the cockpit in the chest/stomach region, vents on either side of the chest, a pronounced cockpiece and now-iconic Gundam head. Gaia Gear breaks basically every rule outside the vents on the chest. It could be argued that because it’s not a Gundam in name it doesn’t need to follow the conventions. However, most Mobile Suits in Gundam follow similar structure in body designs with only special cases deviating heavily from them. That is not to say that Gaia Gear didn’t get a repaint later on that matches with Gundam colours, but that’s really neither here or there. As a whole Gaia Gear was one of the last entries that broke with decade long exploration what Gundam was and what it could be, until Mobile Fighter G Gundam would present with the first alternative timeline on television, but the designs would still stick to the already established mould.

Sometimes this period lasts only one entry. Take the Halloween film franchise as an example, where the third movie veered off from the first two movies’ setting and characters in attempt to make the series different with each entry. With the backlash the movie got, the period of experimentation ended and all future films would stick to the first movie’ shtick, exploring only its characters and set-ups while not entertaining the idea of an anthology series. It could be argued that the two first movies already set the what the franchise as a whole would be in stone, and isn’t exactly comparable to changing designs in Gundam, but the gist is the same; Something is made in multiple entries and tries to find its sweet spot, and once it does, it sticks to it like glue.

When the honeymoon period with the franchise’s golden days ends, it leads to formulaic entries one after another. This doesn’t mean the quality drops automatically. Rather it means the consumers have certain expectations of the brand and creators behind the brand are expected to deliver. They can improve the formula bit by bit and explore it to some extent without majorly changing elements. Usually turning things completely on their sides of changing the core concepts massively is reserved for spin-offs, and ultimately for reboots when a franchise is considered to be too heavy on history and pre-established lore.

The Gold Key comics followed, or perhaps enforced, the standard Trek formula that DC and Marvel would break a bit more later down the line in manners TV couldn’t

Star Trek is probably a common example here, where majorly affected spin-offs were relegated to comics and games, while small but major tweaks to the formula were represented in Voyager and Deep Space Nine. With the J.J. Abram’s rebooting the franchise, and requesting only his take on Trek to maintain any presence, we’ve gone through the whole period of exploring the franchise again in the comics, while the movies stuck to the formula right after. We can see the reaction the studio and creators had to the receptions of the Abram’s Trek take in Discovery and Picard, where this new take on the series followed the modern action line it was restructured to be in place of exploring the human condition though guise of science fiction. Sometimes reboots are used as a way to gain a recognizable property to make business with while ignoring the existing wants and needs.

A franchise that has established itself builds up expectations with each successive entry, especially if there’s a series of entries that improve the core concepts one after another. This is best seen in video games, where styles of play and elements that exist in a franchise often are built up, and about just as often began to fall apart at some point for multitude of reasons. Take the Splinter Cell franchise as an example.

Those three green dots became a well recognised during the golden days of Splinter Cell. Not so much now

The Splinter Cell franchise was Ubisoft’s golden cow at one point with receptions like no other. Sure it came in the wake of Thief and Metal Gear Solid, but the franchise is most well known for its three first games, nowadays titled as the Splinter Cell Trilogy, while the rets of the games are more or less pushed aside. This mostly is because the first three games emphasised stealth as a play mechanics, especially using the shadows as the main point of play much like Thief did before it. The first three games expanded on the whole (relatively) open stages and ways the player could tackle mission specific targets in a stealthy manner. The first three games in the series build up the mechanics and laid down the core structure what could be expected of the franchise, but after that the most common criticism has been the franchise moving away from stealth and becoming a more generic action play with less freedom players has per stage, relying on a linear design. With lacklustre entries that fall between the cracks and not meeting with the expectations the franchise had already built up, UIbisoft hasn’t put out a new entry in a while.

Not that many teams would like to tackle Splinter Cell all that eagerly, as each new title is expected to return to the glory days of the franchise that would stand to the original tagline of the Splinter Cell, Stealth Action Redefined. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ubisoft would simply reboot the whole franchise, effectively nullifying expectations the franchise has, cleaning the slate for developers and riding a recognisable name all the while.

Kagawa prefecture’s gaming restrictions have weak scientific basis

Back in March, Japanese prefecture Kagawa announced their local assembly had passed an ordinance to limit the time children spend next to a screen, specifically stating that the excess usage of the Internet and playing video games lead to such results as socially reclusive behaviour and causing sleeping disorders. They admit that there are no ways to enforce the ruling properly and that it is more a recommendation of sorts. This of course comes in the wake of WHO classifying a gaming disorder without any proper evidence that such exist, something I’ve covered on the blog. While it seemingly has majority support, we have no real way of telling what sort of sample size there were that gave the over 80% positive support.

The ruling states that children are to have one hour of play time during weekdays and an hour and a half during weekends, as well as giving guidelines on the hours which devices can be used. Naoki Ogi, an educational pundit, praised the ruling as a way to give parents who are at loss to deal with their children’s smartphone usage. By giving specific guidelines parents are now able to create the proper household rules. This was echoed by a 43-year old mother of two children, who can’t stop her kids from playing games about two hours a day. At this glance, it would appear the ruling shows more support towards parents who can’t really handle their children, or know how to limit their screentime with games or phones. Kagawa’s ruling is about trying to curb the gaming disorder WHO has determined, and as such has an extremely weak leg to stand on as the scientific evidence ICD-11 stands on is weak at best, misinformed at worst.

This is why a teenager who goes by the name Wataru has decided to crowdfund a legal action against Kagawa and its ruling. He states that the government has no role to step in to rule over family matters such as these. Then again, this being Japan and the culture they have does rely rather heavily on pre-set rules and not wanting to rock the boat, so it is most likely a helpful thing for parents to have guidelines to work with in issues they have no real skill in. The generational gap between children and their parents when it comes to electronic entertainment and digital interactions is relatively strong, and parents who don’t understand why video games offer a way to release stress or entertain oneself most likely will only cause a negative impact. Some find solace in gaming as a hobby and thus belong to an extended world wide community. Argumentd that claim that gaming encourages anti-social behaviour is, to put it straight, horse shit. Gaming is one of the most social hobbies out there, connecting people through discussion groups or multiplayer sessions. People may not be meeting face to face in most cases, but people who share the same interests in the similar kind of games often find themselves forging new social ties. Of course there are children and adults who use gaming as a way to cope with their issues via escapism or such, in which case the issues isn’t the games. While there are cases where a person does end up being addicted to video games, the reasons have been less explored. It’s easy to blame the way these people have been coping rather than trying to deal with the underlying reasons.

Wataru argues that the guidelines Kagawa prefecture has put out have no scientific basis on the same grounds. He states that it is a false premise that gaming causes truancy and addition, when truancy is caused by external factors like issues in school and gaming is their way to find relief. Despite the ruling intended as general guidelines rather than solid law that should be enforced, Wataru has experienced being kicked off from servers after 22:00. It should be noted that 595 people signed a petition against the ruling when submitted, though now the count has growing towards 900. The petition is being still shared and supported. Wataru’s lawyer, Tomoshi Sakka, also sees the ruling to violate Japanese constitution, as it ensures a person’s right of self-determination. Taro Yamada, a House of Councilors member with experience and knowledge on the Internet’s usage and freedom of speech in Japan, has stated the ordinance to be nonsense and only targets time of usage and doesn’t account how integrated digital communication is in our, and our children’s, daily lives. This should be especially noted in Japan, which has a longer and richer history in usage of mobile phones as a form of daily interaction than in most countries, and why flip phones were a pop-cultural icon for almost twenty years (and in many ways, still are.) You can see Wataru’s interview on the topic and of his intentions on Youtube, but do note that it has no English subtitles.

Apparently, Japan has more rulings of this kind. Wataru noted that there has been an increase of rules to deter children’s right to have fun, citing an example how playgrounds have banned football, or the use of balls of any kind. Perhaps rulings like this are a symptom how Japanese population is growing older and considerations towards children are falling. The ageing population would find themselves passing rulings to support themselves first and foremost, but it might backfire and create a gulf between the generations. Kagawa’s ruling was the first of its kind Japan and the education board of Odate (Akita prefecture) intends to follow their blazing trail and introduce similar restrictions to combat video game addiction by submitting their own ordinance by March 2021. Not to say that an ordinance is all that unique. Back in 2014, Kariya of Aiichi prefecture banned children from using mobile devices after 21:00. Well back in 2009 the Japanese education ministry banned elementary and junior high school students from carrying phones at schools as they didn’t consider them a necessary part of education, but last year they revised their stance after ten years of technological advancements, noting that such devices had become essential in the classroom studies. The Education department of the Osaka Prefectural government had already allowed the aforementioned to carry phones into the classroom, mostly due to the earthquake that took place in northern part of Osaka in June 2018.

While it is uncertain if Wataru is able to sue Kagawa over its ruling, these past months, especially right after the ruling itself, social media has been buzzing about it. Politicians like Kenzo Fujisae of the independent Upper House lawmaker has opposed the ruling on his blog. He echoes statements the public and Wataru has made, questioning how valid is an ordinance that can’t be enforced or overseen as well as stating that combatting “gaming disorder” in this manner has no scientific basis. Fujisae also points out that by limiting the time of play like this retards the connections that can be through online games, which breaks connections between promising future partnerships. He notes that the interactions through the Internet and games can also save people, probably meaning that online intercourse may be some people’s only way to connect with the like-minded. Tokihiro Matsumoto of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward also questioned the ruling by pointing out how it would directly affect local eSports participants as well as how he thinks how old fashioned it is to apply such restrictions. While these are just two examples, the buzz did get a reaction from Keizo Hamada, stating that they’d be open to discuss the contents of the proposed regulations back in January, but seeing Watasru is crowdfunding his a case against Kagawa would be a sign that no significant changes were made. It is doubtful that anything comes from the lawsuit, if it even gets off the ground. However, Kagawa’s ordinance relying on WHO’s gaming disorder is a dangerous precedence, as now other cities and prefectures can apply similar reasoning on other weak cases.

Games are now more than entertainment, supposedly

The Finnish National General Broadcast News, or YLE news, recently had a piece about video and computer games being more than entertainment nowadays, that they now comment and depict social issues as well as touch upon hard philosophical as well as explain stories. This naturally is horse shit at its best, as this would imply the half century games have been around didn’t consist of wide variety of games that were exploring topics that other forms of media have. Ultima alone made its legacy of creating a game where the player’s Avatar creates rules and virtues to improve people’s lives and give them faith. The follow-up games was all about perverting those ideals and how they can be abused the worst way possible. That’s just one example, with the Japanese PC platforms also containing their own adventure games with even more exploration of culturally relevant topics. I don’t mean VNs, think more along the lines of Sierra adventure games and you’ll be on point. Then you had titles like E.V.O. The Theory of Evolution that still stands as unique simulation-RPG, that the SNES sequel doesn’t exactly stand up to.

The issue of course that entertainment was depicted as something that doesn’t handle topics that require the audience to think. Literature, music, all forms of games, films and television are all *just” entertainment. Something being entertainment doesn’t suddenly mean they wouldn’t be able to discuss topics that would make the audience’s head ratchets clatter. Some people find their entertainment to be all about the discussion about current topics and politics, where they are required to consider issues that oppose each other as well and weight on the benefits of unsavoury actions. Other people like bang band woosh flash kind of entertainment where you can watch Iron Man punching Hulk in the face for fifteen minutes. Both are as valid as entertainment, but they’re different kind of entertainment. Both offer their own thing for the audience and the audience consumes them at their own pace. The difference is, of course, that games are active entertainment. The player is required to make the decisions. This isn’t what the news meant, as it had the classical approach of pre-written narrative being the core. After all, that’s the narrative about video and computer game storytelling, rather than the significance of playing and player being the most significant part of the story by creating a unique tale through player’s own actions and decisions. It’s strange that there are no news or studies made how much decision making in any given game situation affects the play or the player’s current mind set.

Because games are a form of entertainment the player takes place, player’s actions and decisions have all the ramifications within the game’s world itself. Sure, most players will blow things up just for the fun of it because they can and there are no repercussions, but in the same breath we can say that the same actions wouldn’t be taken in real world. That’s why games don’t work as a training device for general population without being conditioned for it and help of external real-life devices, as games are played. It’s interesting to see how little the media discussed playing being the most essential part of games, with terms like gameplay, game-loop, designs and whatever is the current buzzword thrown around to describe the simple of the player taking in the game rules and acting on them both physically via the input device as well as playing in their mind the role the game is giving for them. While it’s quint to see papers wondering how people can relate themselves in the characters on screen and refer their actions and events in first person rather than referring to the character on the screen, it also tells that it is common to see video and computer games as a separate thing from usual playing. There is no difference in a player controlling Mario in Super Mario Bros., controlling the horseshoe in Monopoly, playing the role of mother in playing house, referring to yourself when playing with dolls or being the dwarf in Dungeons and Dragons. All these forms of play have the same point of putting the player in the actor’s role and being there. For whatever reason this is seen as a more juvenile form entertainment, and all the forms of entertainment that are passive and ask the viewer to be a non-participant in are the more elevated thing. Funny that, that was one of the arguments what separates art from video games, where art can only be observed and not interacted with, despite interactive art and instalments have always been a relatively common thing.

Is this art, or is this a toy?

Toys are some of the best of entertainment. The toys we play with changes as we grow up, but the act of playing with something doesn’t. It’s also interesting to notice that at some point we “grow up” from something, but much later in life we return to them. Action figures and model kits are an example of this, but the best example might be doll houses. For whatever reason, at some point doll houses become a passé to a teenage girl who abandons childish toys, but just as often she finds herself playing Sims on the PC to pass time. Later in her life doll houses become a thing again, but this time she might build everything herself. From readily made toys to serious hobby, but in the end, it is still playing around. Just with more gusto and more expensive toys.

Video and computer games, much like all the other forms of entertainment we consume, don’t suddenly evolve or step up from their lower-ranking or childish spots. Games are, have always been, entertainment that put the player into uncomfortable positions to make hard decisions due to their nature of play. Often through competition either against the machine or the other player. However, these are momentarily events and something we can’t pass to anyone else, just like all play is. It isn’t that people stop to look at the veneer on the surface, but rather the simple lack of understanding how electronic gaming is no different from the rest of the play cultures we have. The form may be the different, the underlying actions and intentions are the same. Despite we’ve had few generations that grew up with electronic games now, they’re still treated as a second or third tier entertainment compared to the more classical form of media. Then again, modern comics are about a century old now and the view on them haven’t changed despite multiple generations have passed and their status as a form of proper art and storytelling has been challenged every which way. Perhaps this is another form of classism, where we have to create hierarchies instead of accepting that one form is no better than the other, as they are intended to be consumed in different manners with different end-goals. What is expected from a challenging piece of media has been relatively common due to sheer lack interactive element before, and now that we do have a whole new media dimension in our hands due to the digital revolution, the expectations are all fucked up. Perhaps in order to justify our interests and hobbies we often prescribe already accepted nominations and expectations of others. That way if we love to eat a BigMac and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, we can describe it in the exact same manner as we would describe the most high calibre steak. This sort of reflection is sadly somewhat common, which forces arguments to lean on existing media and views rather than building new arguments and perceptions for the benefit of electronic gaming. Whatever the kids are into now can’t be better than the thing you grew up, after all.

Entertainment doesn’t need to be mindless and stupid. Some of us find it entertaining when the media challenges us to think, or in case of games, challenges to base and act our decisions that have ramifications larger than any other form fiction can depict directly with the inactive consumer. It only depends which game we are playing. We’ve always had games of all needs we’ve ever wanted.

The ever dying American comics

When Warner Brothers gained the ownership of Detective Comic, or just DC, they didn’t buy it for the comics. They bought it for the IPs and all the money that came with them. The comics were, and still are, just a side gig for the main purpose: to farm out the comics of their usable material and make proper bucks on television, movies and merch. Marvel has, ultimately, become the same kind of entity for Disney, though Marvel was this kind of IP farm well before in the 1990’s before Disney’s purchase was looming in the horizon. It’s a rare industry where it was intentionally screwed over my marketers and CEOs that had nothing do with the creation of the comics themselves. Then again, your normal comic writer and artist isn’t a jack-of-all-trades and often suck with the business side of things, which often can lead swift downfall of a label even if the books were well made.

Then again, the comic book industry has always been full of people who want to abuse others, steal someone else’s thunder for their own gain, stab people in the back to undermine deals and such. While this is somewhat common in every field, the American comic industry is marred with people and stories of someone effectively screwing their partner over because of money. One of the best examples is Bill Finger, the person who effectively created what is recognised as Batman nowadays, with Bob Kane’s original concept being trash and trashed. Another would be Todd McFarlane, who quit Marvel with other writer-editors to create Image Comics in order to fulfil the dream of creators owning their characters. McFarlane is a massive hypocrite for championing such cause, but then claiming that other writers and artists were only hired to create characters for him. The American comic book industry is full of stories of creators turned business, and they become the exact same kind of businessmen they hated while being under their heels. Some of the stories that float around or have been discussed to lengthy extends, like in SF Debris’ Rise and Fall of the Comic Empire series, are more fantastical than the comics themselves. It’s no surprise that an industry that carved itself into the American culture found itself loathed and shunned, only to be used like a cheap whore whenever their parent companies needed something to be squeezed out.

The sad thing is, the mainstream American comic industry deserves every bit of loathing and mocking it gets, if not for anything else but for essentially starting its own slow, painful death that’s still going on and only somewhat saved by the digital revolution. The single most destructive thing the American comic industry saw was the removal of comics from general grocery and drug stores and segregating themselves into specialised comic stores, which then became livelihood to some alongside the comic merch, card and board games and some such. Diamond, the distributor with a monopoly position, is the only lifeline these stores had for the longest time and the current world situation is rocking that fragile balance, especially now that Marvel seems to turn to digital more and more with their comics. It’s a situation that the industry and the very core customers have cultivated throughout the last decades, and now they have to face the fact that it isn’t all that viable. The best selling comics now have the same number of sales as most of the cancelled titles in the 1990’s or earlier.

It doesn’t help that the writers and artists themselves are unprofessional, to put it lightly. These are people who can steal someone’s life defining work for themselves because of money and (relative) fame, so it isn’t surprising these same people lash out at the general population and at their own fans. When a writer tells straight up not to buy their comic for whatever reason, the comic stores feel the hurt. Harassing your own consumers and raving on the social media falls into this category as well, and it’ll never end as soon as these people keep getting all that attention. It’s one of the reasons why, in general, both the American and global culture has deemed these mainstream American comics as not even worth the paper they are printed on.

Both the comics and its creators are the reason why American comics are regarded as low-tier entertainment with little intelligence to them. The mainline American comics had almost solid full century of laughable content. Yes, they had great stories and deep explorations of human psyche. Yes, they had absolutely marvelous artwork and broke ground and defined a whole visual style. At the same time these great stories were also extremely childish and directly made for kids, their exploration was weak at best. The artwork was still marvelous, and then co-opted by “real” artists to be actually defined and used. Andy Warhol being the best example of an artist who plagiarised comic panels by blowing them up in size and making millions on other peoples’ works. Nobody blinked at this, because at the time, and barely even now, comics were not considered art. The perception of comics being for children with their colourful pages and less-than stellar writing, hasn’t exactly changed, but it has morphed into that comics are for fat nerds who haven’t left their parents’ house and barely have any work. As inaccurate as that is, to a large extent, the comic book stores don’t help with this. On the contrary, it might’ve been the originator of this view as well as the continuing perpetrator. Just shower yourself before going to a comic or game store, please. That alone helps a lot.

The fall of the American comics in the late 1990’s and early 00’s were one of the reasons why Japanese media, both comics and cartoons, took so much hold of the new millennium’s ten’s. With a new generation seeking something new as well as offering an alternative to languishing American comics, which also had constant down spiral of quality to the point of breaking some of the characters completely, it’s no wonder the Eastern media managed to carve itself a niche. Of course, this wasn’t a new thing, Japanese media had been making its way to American mainstream for several decades at that point, but until then it was either relatively underground or heavily localised to the point of being unrecognisable from its source material.

The American mainstream comic book industry would have died few times already if not for the fervent support of its customers. Customers they constantly keep attacking nowadays. It’s an industry that’s not exactly what we could call healthy, but it is invaluable as an idea farm for the big companies. All the negative and stereotypical stuff that’s touted about these comics since, well, from the beginning, still applies to them. It’s and industry that should’ve died few times around only to be rebuild stronger, but rather it has been kept on life support, along all the comic book stores. As sad as it is, the characters we see in the comics are not the ones that are integral part of the American culture, and to see their more iconic visages, you have to go to the cinemas. (If all that wicked tongue’s are true, that’s not going to last long either.) After all, the cinema is the highest peak American media can reach. Comic books, on the other hand, is at the bottom of the barrel alongside video game journalism.