On modern Star Wars

To choose one song from Star Wars movies that would encompass the motion that is Star Wars, would surprisingly the one you can hear above. It would not be the main theme, not Duel of Fates, not Imperial March, but this one. The reason for this selection is that depending on the context, this particular song can sound hopeful and romantic, all the while offering doors to mystic scapes, with a tinge of desperation in there.

That, and I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time reading through Star Wars: Behind the Magic discs to the point of my disc drive of the time breaking. The first section was used extensively early on in the discs. Needless to say, that interim time between 1998 and Phantom Menace‘s release was something special.

Thanks to circumstances, I’ve had to spend these few days doing pretty much nothing else but to indulge myself in nostalgia few times over, and due to a friend I fell into the pit of rewatching some Star Wars. Not just a movie, but going through radio drama bits, playing games and then some. Nothing major, but when you have a moment to relax thanks to Easter, take the chance.

Except when things came to The Last Jedi. To follow the idea of relaxation, I’ll spent this month’s opening to finally let loose some of the steam. Mostly because it’s modern Hollywood drivel and you can truly feel that it is a Disney movie through and through. It’s a sterile, by-the-books flick that doesn’t carry any of the spirit Star Wars, or the piece above, is supposed to have.

This is perhaps the best seen in the first ten minutes of the movie, where a character that died in the last movie (yet came back alive without any explanations) stalls time for the Resistance’s evacuation by making a prank call. Prank call to Last Order officer, who either has constipation troubles or the actor can’t pull the role. Either one of the two, or the director really asked him to act badly intentionally, which I wouldn’t put past him.

The thing about why The Last Jedi fails where The Empire Strikes Back succeeds is that it doesn’t treat the characters like pieces of shit. Each character that is in the movie gets treated like a meat to be tossed around and unmade. In Ray’s case, she’s just a lump of meat going whatever the plot demands of her, she has no agency. Empire doesn’t force humour into every scene. It has moments of levity, which stem naturally from the characters and scenes, whereas The Last Jedi‘s is incredibly intrusive and forced. Worst of all, attempted humour is tied to how the movie treats its characters. One of the best examples of this is when Luke is given his father’s lightsabre, and after at the dramatic music cue, we’re robbed the response. Luke tosses it over his shoulder. While you’d think this movie is build on letting your expectations down, it’s more about unmaking Star Wars as a phenomena through directly removing everything associated with these stories and character. Luke is no longer the most hopeful person in the galaxy despite the darkest hours he’s been through, traditions are trashed to hell to make room for the new and supposedly improved. Continuity is not held from previous movie for the sake of aesthetics.

All this to essentially destroy the old in the way of the new, just like how Disney unmade the old Expanded Universe in order to sell their new one.

While letting viewers’ expectations is something that can be done well, it is extremely hard to do well. You have to have a core reason, a strong narrative to do so. Not even Neon Genesis Evangelion, a series applauded for doing so, did it cleanly or even competently. A weak script like The Last Jedi‘s can’t possibly gain enough favours from the audience after it fails them in almost each scene. Hell, at this point I’m not sure if wast majority of the characters’ lines are intentionally made and delivered unfitting for a Star Wars movie, or if it was just incompetence. A scene with Snoke and Kylo Ren plays out like from a comedy, where Snoke asks how are Ren’s wound, to which he replies with extremely mundane tone “It’s nothing.” We’re then offered full scene of cartoony villain monologue that would find a better place in Star Wars parody.

I could go through the movie scene by scene and tear it a new one, but it’d be useless.

It’s all intentional, without a doubt. The end-goal doesn’t exactly matter, when that intention is to break. Cute things made to sell toys are turned into food. Even Tatooine, which used to be end of nowhere in the galaxy, has been replaced with Jakku. Hell, all the superweapons the franchise’s Expanded Universe had thus far has been made inept in the face of simple hyper drive. See, even in the movies hyper drive slid the ship into a pocket dimension of sorts, the hyperspace. It couldn’t physically interact with real-space objects, unless stellar objects with enough mass would pull them out, hence why Han mentions colliding with a star. Here, we see one ship tearing through an armada with its hyper drive, which makes the whole war in this setting stupid. By using a computer controlled ships, or even droid ships, you could use a hyper drive equipped ship to tear through anything, including the Death Stars and Starkiller. Incidentally, any company that produces hyper drive engines are now also the manufacturers of the most powerful weapons in the whole setting, aside the Force.

You’d think that after gaining one of the most important pop-culture franchises under your belt, you’d take care not to let it bloat. Disney and Abrams did not have planned anything beforehand, and it shows.

Star Wars is now effectively rebooted. Disney and whoever are charge of the franchise will ride on its thirty years of fame without any problems, all the while largely ignoring it. It might as well be a completely new franchise, which it effectively is. This is how Hollywood and so many other companies have treated their long-standing phenomena for two years now, taking the name recognition and making it something else entirely. It happened with Star Trek a well, twice over now.

This post ended up sounding It’s different so its bad, but that’s not what I’m saying. I tend to applaud things that try new things, however it’s extremely important to treat your property with respect and apply proper new things to it. As a story, and sequel to Lucas’ Star Wars, The Last Jedi is a boring, unintelligent and outright disrespectful story. Any merit it might rack is marred with Hollywood’s own disrespect towards the audience and unwillingness to step outside the usual plot writing formula, the same that Marvel movies suffer from.

Much like with other things, I don’t feel sympathy or willing to spend money on things that actively hate my.

Advertisements

On electronic games’ history and culture

This post is a collection of related subject, combined into easier access

A game is an interaction between at least two individuals under certain rules to achieve some sort of goal or achievement. These rules can be shared between the parties and can contradict one side. This idea has not changed with electronic games, and they are not the first ones to have a non-living party. Just like card games have a card deck as the opposing party alongside other human players, electronic games use their device as the party to oppose the human player. In the end, modern video and computer games use the same rules and point calculation methods used past games and plays, be it sports or card games. After all, Super Mario Bros. is just a continuation of our play culture.

Steve Russel’s famous By gosh, it’s a Pinball! is a good contrast how not even the first computer game was, in the end, nothing new. After the Second World War, game parlors had become the cradle of youth culture, and pinball game parlors (or game arcades) became the place where young men and their girlfriends could escape to from the world, essentially becoming their own little separate worlds from the oppressing reality. This world was from the reach of mainstream culture and its moral guardsmen, allowing the youths to let their suppressed side to blow out.

Originally released 1969, this song is iconic representation of the time

Pinball Wizard is an anti-hero, an abused young man who is shunned by the larger world. However, in the game parlors he is able to convey himself to his peers, becoming one with the machine.

As such, it should be no surprise that parents would be worried about these parlors. After all, penny arcades before had been seen as place of vagabonds and men with beaten past. A place where people with less fortune could come together and entertain themselves with cheap coin operated machines, while possibly making connections to the criminal world. Different leagues and mafias controlled these penny arcades at during the 1930’s America, and as such it’s understandable to see people shunning arcades well up to the 1980’s. That shadow never left these places where men could get together and play games. It could be argued that even the games we have nowadays are suffering from similar complains, where moral guardians blame games for ruining whatever they deem valuable. In this light it is interesting to note that it is more than probable that many parents bought computers and game consoles to keep their children out of the arcades later down the line to keep them away from entering the wayside paths of life.

While my text is largely based on American culture, it’s not to say that the rest of the world saw these parlors in any better light. In France, Jean-Claude Baudot banned all coin operated machines in 1937 to prevent the disease penny arcades were seen as. According to Baudot, this law was still in effect up to the early 1980’s, though the law had been eased and circumvented in all ways and manners. In 1981 Ferdinand Marcos, the president of Philippines,  banned all arcade video games. To enforce his rule he smashed arcade machines in public. This is the same man who banned Voltes V  and other similarly themed cartoons just before the series’ final episode. Both of these men echo events that had taken place during world history time and time again, and events like these would be repeated after them, like how Pokémon was seen as the tool of the Devil by some religious forces. In Colorado Springs, 1999, pastor Mark Juvera took a 30-inch sword to a Pikachu toy in front of 85 children and calling Pokémon poison, not to mention the claims of video and computer games causing players to be more violent. Neither of these points are anything special, they’re just continuing  the same backlash games and other media forms have experienced throughout the ages.

It is somewhat ironic to note that television was seen as one of the remedies to keep these rebelling young people at home, as the 1950’s saw it entering mass markets despite not many having the money to buy one. Television didn’t give solution to the problems parents saw game parlors to be, as the problem was social and parlors were not the originator. Turned out that these young people watched television and took themselves to play pinball with their mates. Basically everything that was seen a solution to a problem would later be deemed a problem in itself as well, as seen with books, movies, amateur radio and maybe some day with games too. The problems were real to an extent, they are always more about the stereotypical view the mass culture takes at them. Books, amateur radio, television and games share the same blame that they keep people, children and adults alike, inside rather than “allowing” them to go outside and play, or do something more worthwhile.

Arcades, as we now remember them, didn’t come from nowhere during the 1970’s. They are just those game parlors with a new name and new machines, just like penny arcades before them. We can trace these places back to the game events held before mechanical games existed. In Herrad von Landsberg’s manuscript from the 1100’s we can see a pair of knights fighting each other through controlled marionettes. While it would be easy to compare this to modern era Vs. fighting  game, that would be far too direct. We do not know whether this was a common event or not, nor whether or not this is a real depiction as intended.

Artikel_45890_bilder_value_1_augsburger_puppenkiste1[1]Street Fighter with dolls?

Nevertheless, the core idea of contest and games are still present, even in the physical games. In the same extension, cock-fighting has been compared to Pokémon and other similar games. This is not rare in any way, as all games have their roots in some form of other plays and games. Majority of first person shooters are based on war games, strategy games are war board games, platformers are adventures children have in forest and elsewhere and imitates jumping form rock to rock, fighting games are rooted in physical combat and so on. Plays and games the adults play do stem from the childhood games, and to certain extent adulthood work and politics are just grander, more serious form of these games. It should be noted that video games especially have stemmed from boy’s play culture (and still reside there due to the competitive nature of it), thou arcade games like Pac-Man and Breakout are more or less neutral in their approach.

But what are the original electronic or mechanic games that can be called as the firs physical grandfathers of modern computer and video games? Perhaps the first ancestral machines are the automata, with machines offering entertainment and awe to the audience. However, games require interactivity, and one of the first proto-interactive machines that allowed the user to dictate some elements of the entertainment was the mutoscope from the late 1800’s. It was deemed to cause moral decay and was blamed to corrupt the youths for the pennies they cost. Pornography was a thing, and mutoscope is most remembered for those kinds of movies. We shouldn’t forget shooting galleries and the like as one of the proto-interactive game machines, as Nintendo’s Zapper and the games it used are pretty much a straight continuation.

Perhaps the mutoscope’s history is closer to films overall. However, it’s slightly more interactive nature does make it a relative of playing

1900’s saw all these machines to become everyday objects, and despite the bad rap they got, they spread like wildfire throughout the world. UK created their own machines alongside Americans (a lot of mutoscope’s UK had were either destroyed or exported to the Denmark during coin change in 1971), France and Germany had their own similar history with coin operated machines and Japan had adult-only pachinko parlors in 1930’s Nagoya. It’s not a large step from these mechanical devices towards electronic games, and through that, into computer and video games.


While many of the fears from the late 1800’s and early-to-mid 1900’s still persist when it comes to electronic games, those who play games and are most enthralled by them has not changed too much since then. Things changed with the advent of Golden Era of games, especially with Pac-Man, a game that attracted both men and women to play. Pac-Man as a character was largely a non-descriptive blob despite the game’s and character’s name.

I’ve talked about Industrial revolution being the main dividing point between arts, crafts and design, but when it comes to games it also created a cultural point with boys’ and girls’ cultures. According to E. Anthony Rotundo (1994), the industrial revolution separated boys from their father’s work environment, leaving them for their mothers’ to take care of. Boys moved outside from there, as motherly care usually emphasised good morals, pampering and kindness. Boys’ games and plays often were almost the opposite of this with physical contact with surprising aggressive attitudes. Going against mother’s command was a way to show that you weren’t a momma’s boy, and building from that onwards is a sort of step towards independent manhood. Regardless of how wild these games were, boys would return home to their mothers. One could say that unlike the Freudian Oedipus complex, boys’ fight against their mothers’ culture.

Rotundo contrasts this against girls’ culture, which is tied to their mothers, which have lived in a sort of symbiosis with each other. While he boys’ “adventure island” had a confrontational setting, girls’ had their own place within the “secret gardens.” While girls tend to favour for more socially interactive game with less or not emphasize on competition and physical contact, the concept of secret garden, a secret place reserved only for them and their fantasies. It should be noted that a lot of books for girls are the opposite of this thinking, where their normal lives are broken by a fantastic individual of sorts and their lives see a change, often at the cost of that secluded place. The differences between classic boys’ and girls’ literature is that boys had the heroes travel far away, while the girls’ literature tended to emphasize on staying home. Through that the stakes were different; for boys the adventures were physical like their games, whereas girls’ adventures were more about the psychology and emotions.

It’s not hard to see why electronic games would end up seen as a boys’ hobby. It is far easier to create a game that’s based on competition and rules rather than a game that requires methodical interaction between characters. A game is easy to program to offer a direct challenge the player needs to achieve, like destroying alien invaders than it is to program to reply to inquiries in a naturalistic and sophisticated way to counter the player’s emotional state.

The question whether or not there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ is cultural at its core. American game developer Purple Moon was known for developing games aimed at girls of age 8-14, and their Secret Paths series could be used as an archetypical example of what is generally seen as a girls’ game.

Secret Path games showcases some traditional symbols and images associated with girls. The cursor in the example above is a heart or a ladybug, there is no physical conflict in itself, and whatever action there is leans on metaphysical than physical. Interestingly, despite Purple Moon’s games tend to be simplified in how things are presented, they still manage to make better use of progressive values than most games we have nowadays.

While Purple Moon’s games were designed to be more about places of relaxation, where girls could pour out their stress and observe things with their hearts, so to speak. Each character has their own secret, and it is up to the player to find the secret paths that are laden with gemstones and other artefacts that give social, emotional and psychological strength. These visuals and pathways are representative of the characters’ plight, and the stories these physical environments contain encourage the player to try things out in their own social life. It’s not hard to see why the founder Brenda Laurel called their games as friendship adventures.

Similarly, Theresa Duncan’s Zero Zero is another example of a game that ties to girls’ culture.

While Secret Paths can be regarded as a continuation to the secret garden idea, Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel Harriet the Spy, is about another sort of play space for girls; the city. Within the book, Harriet observes her city’s, her microworld’s she creates, citizens and their complex interactions and how she changed them as she sees fit. This idea of creating a world and having total control over it is similar to SimCity. The difference between the two is how SimCity is more about playing god and micro-manage everything. To Harriet, creating this world is just the first step, and moves towards spying on the individuals to the point of breaking in real world buildings to understand adult interactions. The same contrast repeats here; there is no physical confrontation like there would be in boys’ novel, all the challenge comes from the human interactions and gaining information on the interactions.

It wouldn’t be too hard to see Harriet the Spy as a stealth game that has no combat. Zero Zero is essentially a computer adventure game version of the novel, where the player goes through the city and similarly seeks people’s’ stories. Despite this innocent sounding setting, Zero Zero and other games from Theresa Duncan do not try to be sleek and pat down the reality. On the contrary, Zero Zero‘s French are bored and tend to insult the player in a stereotypical fashion, as do the flowers. Women with strong make-up smoke freely and tend to flash themselves, promising an event in the Red Lights district.  The Sims has a considerable female fanbase, and in a way can be seen as a modern example of a game that allows the player not only play dollhouse, but also play god and decide the interactions.

Secret Path games and Zero Zero are good examples of two strong sides of traditional girls’ games. Secret Path games are very balanced and encourages the player to feel, so to speak. Zero Zero is an example of a game that shows the misshapen world in a very caricature fashion and encourages the player to seek knowledge and information that is hidden from them. Both are about exploring a physical space, but in the end both are about the players’ inner worlds.

Games like Pac-Man and Nights into Dreams are in neither space as such. Pac-Man‘s design as a character and game had no points to either direction, and as such I personally consider Ms. Pac-Man a needles exercise in hindsight despite it becoming extremely popular. Nights into Dreams on the other hand was designed to be androgynous from the get go, both in gameplay and character designs. It even has a boy and a girl character, Elliot and Claris, who have very different dreams for their life.

As games have evolved, contact between the two cultures have become more frequent. One could argue that open world games that contain as much non-physical social confrontation as they do physical are mixing these cultures. MMORPG’s and other games that offer larger interaction with real life people also supports the idea of supportive interaction between girls while offering brotherly confrontation and rivalry boys’ culture has. This sort of neutral space in gaming requires both sides giving something in, and in real life this can cause some argumentation and fighting between children.

Stereotypical girls’ games tend not to be remembered. Purple Moon folded in 1999 and merged with Mattel, and their games were not without criticism. Their games were called to be called sexist, stereotyping the characters and themes, a thing that can be extended to a lot of other girls’ games, especially Barbie games. The space where these games were set in was another major factor.

Space is a keyword here. The pinball culture if the mid-1900’s was very masculine and based on long-standing tradition of penny arcades. When these games began to appear outside their initially designated areas, e.g. pinballs in restaurants and shopping centres, it was seen as a positive progress as anyone, women included, could now access these machines. As games moved away from spaces that were largely seen as dominated by men like universities’ IT-departments and penny arcades, the view on them changed. Pinball is not associated with violent rebels any more, but as a classic game everybody can play. Similarly, the advent of Japanese games in arcades and the renaissance of electronic gaming after the second Video game Crash introduced further colourful and fantastic creatures to the electronic game culture. Pac-Man, Mario Bros., and their like, despite being competitive, offered visuals that weren’t all about blowing shit up, but also attractive colours and challenges that weren’t just about the abstract.

It should be noted that games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and Abe’s Odyssey garnered players from both sexes, and both games shows that in the end, the player character doesn’t really matter as people don’t tend to see themselves in the character. If there is a character creation, sometimes people make themselves, but often it’s an admired, a fantasy version of themselves. They create a fantasy persona, and similarly each player character out there is a fantasy persona that the player doesn’t exactly identify with. After all, the player character is largely unimportant, the game world is what matters.

Perhaps the only truly neutral game between the spaces and cultures is Tetris. Tetris wasn’t just a game that can be described a perfect game and neutral, but a game that was everywhere. It was on home computer where anyone could play it and it was on the Game Boy where everyone could carry it with them. There is no true confrontation in the game, and despite the having a competitive goal in form of scoring, the gameplay is from neither side particularly.

Escalation of moral maturity from game to game

One aspect that’s been part of boys’ play culture for as long as we can go back in written history with records of children’s play is the moral play between good and evil. One of the modern classics that display an everyday battle between these two extremes would be Cops versus Robbers. As we grow up, the stark contrast between good and evil usually begins to dim to the point where we can accept that good and evil are subjective, at least on philosophical level. The contest between the perceived sides still persist into our adulthood, more often than not shaded to the point of the perceived evil being more justified than the opposing side.

The traditional pen and paper role playing games stem from the myths of antique and the knight plays. I don’t think there’s one child in the world who has no played a role of a knight in some play. The knight I’m referring here is more akin the idea of local protector, hence why black knights are the opposing, equal power. Perhaps an allegory for the fallen angel of sorts on some level. Nevertheless, the early computer RPGs were largely digitised forms of Dungeons & Dragons games these people used to have, with Ultima being an example of such. If you look in late 80’s and 1990’s Japanese fantasy light novels and series branched from them, like Slayers, they’re largely based on the author’s own D&D games. With the D&D crowd, at some point they stopped playing knights outside in the nature, and moved indoors. Of course, Live action role playing, or LARPing has become somewhat popular, and is effectively just people playing like kids with far more serious intent and costlier props.

The aforementioned paragraph may sound rather negative, though it’s more an argument of natural change. Whether or not theatrical plays predated children play acting is unknown, but the two have a linear connection between maturity and playing. Play acting became a profession, something done so good that it could be made money with. The adult life is strongly reflected in children’s plays, as playing is often the best form of education and learning for the future. Kids trading stones and sticks on the playfield essentially prepares for commerce. Pokémon TCG was largely panned by parents in its initial release years, but one thing they learned about it was how it taught children the value of goods and trading. Modern world simply allows certain aspects of immature play to be present more than with previous generations. The concept of something being childish and for children only has seen a silent paradigm shift.

Perhaps the example of this is electronic games. While computer games were seen somewhat more mature compared to console and arcade games in the 1970’s and 80’s, they’ve been accepted as a media for all ages since the late 1990’s, with some grudges here and there. It’s still not all that uncommon to see some parents from previous generations to describe game consoles and computers as toys, which often yields a rather negative response due to associated immature mental image it carries with it. While understandable, toys are means to play. Describing a game machine a toy in this sense isn’t wholly inaccurate, as all it exists for is to play.

However, electronic games and machines they run on prevent any creative forms of plays. They offer a statistic, controlled and extremely limited form of play, which is more akin to adult overseeing a children’s play. This is currently a technological issue, as we’ve yet to see completely dynamic world that allows the player to enact whatever possible they want. One can’t build a hut and live in there for the rest of the character’s natural life in a Final Fantasy game, because the game is not prepared for that. It’s limited to the story the game wants to tell. Playing often requires the player to follow the rules, after all. Not all toys allow all forms of play either, after all. While calling video and computer games as toys might sting your ear, the association with play is completely natural and such naming shouldn’t be deflected from the get go. After all, we have adult’s toys as well, which children shouldn’t have access to before they are mentally and physically mature enough.

The same applies to video games. Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim are both games we constantly see people of all ages playing, despite the age recommendations being there. Being a direct descendant of Cops VS Robbers and knight plays, both game simply take the basic core and expand on it. GTA may have you play as the Robber, but the moral hues you’re given are numerous. The same applies to Skyrim, where the player character is a figurative knight on his route to slay a dragon. The means and toys have just changed from a stick representing the baton or sword to a plastic controller and readily set digital world.

The question how much industrially prepared playing via toys has affected modern world’s play culture as a whole is a topic I’m not ready to touch on. However, some examples how things simply change drastically with a toy would be Barbie. The toy is not a doll for girls who play with it, it’s a Barbie. Singling out a toy like this outside all others has grown to the point of almost all toys have been made their own rather than for overall playing in general. Perhaps the largest reason for this change is the successful franchising, where the association with a toy and a character is made so much stronger. A child is not just buying a transforming robot toy, he’s buying Optimus Prime and all the mental images associated with the character.

While the contest between moral sides in boys’ games has escalated since the 1950’s, similar escalation has been lacing in electronic games. This is due to all the aforementioned; electronic games are just part of it. The age-old discussion about boys’ and girls’ games is valid, and while I’d argue that a well made game does cater to both sexes, the truth is that one has more interest towards certain kinds of games over the other. That is the nature of things. However, nothing exists in a vacuum, and games experience as much mixing of these two play cultures as real life does. The Sims is still the best example of girls’ play culture being completely accepted by both sexes (the game’s essentially playing Home), as is Super Mario. Super Mario just happens to be perceived more immature due to the design choices and lack moral greys over something like Halo, which is perceived a a “big boys game.”

This is a point, as not all games, electronic or not, are for all ages. It is up to the parents to decide whether or not Little Jimmy is ready to handle mature concepts like interrupted penetration, self-mutilation in the name of love, the absurdity of how pointless life is or the sheer sexual tension between a man and a machine. Something truly is for “big boys.” The core play doesn’t change with maturity, but the concepts and themes that frame the act do.

Sleep in the bed you made

Christopher Paul’s take on video games is an interesting one, to say the least. According to his book, The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture Is the Worst, games have a problem of focusing on the individual and promoting meritocracy. Which really isn’t a problem, considering competitive and single-player games all necessitate player to become at least good enough to stand a chance. It’s a natural continuation from the whole game culture thing video and computer games have to them.

Of course, Paul’s argument against this is that this competitive environment is that this prevents creation of positives spaces for interaction. This is bullshit, as these spaces are created by the people, not games. Whether or not you’re a sore loser  or a graceful winner matters more whether or not a game requires you to have enough skill to compete. Certainly certain game franchises attract specific types of people for whatever reason, as we’ve seen with the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom throughout the years, yet we have to give the individual weight on their life selections over blaming the game they like.

Paul mentions Mario Kart and Mario Party as examples of games where things are the opposite of supposedly toxic meritocracy. Which is a riot, considering both games can destroy friendships. Mario Kart may have some elements of randomness to it, but the player with the highest skill will always come at the top, as they he can make the best of his calculated risks and knows when and how to take certain positions. Being aware of the weapons in the game is important as well. The same applies with Mario Party, which while having some cooperative mini-games, is still all about the individual aiming to get Stars or whatever it is you collect them in the latest versions. These games still promote individuality and rewards the players with most skill. Their random element may add a layer of uncertainty, but that’s nothing new to video games at any point and only provide a challenge to beat the odds, rather than trying to level to playfield.

It’s an odd thing, really. Boys’ play culture has always had a competitive edge to it, mostly in form of adventure games and sports, so it’s not exactly a surprise that electronic game culture would mainly stem from that. Especially considering that it’s the men who generally love to tinker with mechanical stuff and mathematics. Trying to change this by force doesn’t exactly work, because you’d need to change the paradigm of what essentially is a result of thousands of years of evolution. What Paul seems to want to do is to change the paradigm toward girls’ play culture, which is more about peaceful interaction with each.

The two aren’t completely separate, of course. Nothing exists in a vacuum, despite certain sections of the population wanting to hole themselves into comforting bubbles. Boys’ and girls’ play cultures have their differences, but they mingle with each other to an extent. However, forcing one’s values towards the other has never really gone well. Just asking boys to play with girls’ dolls like girls would rarely goes as intended, which is why boys have action figures, not dolls, by name.

Paul’s assumption that meritocratic systems, the ones promoted by games according to him, are toxic by their nature is incorrect. People are individuals who have to strive for individual goals. At times, we combine out forces for a common goal, but we still stay as individuals with out own desires. Collectivising population into grey mass has never been successful without excessive force from the ruling party. Even then, nations like the Soviet Union no longer exist, despite brute forcing their way into power, keeping their power through terror and violence all the while subduing all forms of resistance. North Korea’s really the only place all people have been leveled down to the same field, except the ruling party. There, no matter how good you might be, you’ll be hammered down like a nail.

If we view video games from Paul’s perspective as a tool to promote individual achievements and rewarding merit, we soon come to a point where games are only a positive tool. If games affect their consumers like Paul seems to assume, then all who play games should be striving for high achievement in other fields in life. This should then yield highly educated and highly skilled set of workers, who would step into fields where people can contribute the most while raking in the most rewards. The STEM field would be one of these as would other similar fields of high degree of demand. The best workers would also deliver the best results, and without a doubt the person most fit for a job should always get it, as this would be seen in results across the board.

Natural order of things isn’t as forgiving though. People have different dispositions and there are biological differences between people, sex being one of them. Multiple elements affect us, but that does not prevent us from having the chance to strive and aim higher. Games, in that sense, offer a level playfield, as almost anyone can take part in them and learn. Hell, even people without arms can gain the same merit in video games than their more armed competitors.

If you choose not to put the time and effort to get to the level of gaining merit, nobody else but you yourself can be blamed on. That’s the decision you’ve made as an individual and that can’t be put on anyone else. If you didn’t take the chance, that’s on you.

Changing winds

While this blog has concentrated mostly on the earlier decades of video games and pre-Pong game culture now and then, I’ve intentionally neglected more recent electronic game culture. This hasn’t been by design, but more because there has been a need to showcase that video games overall have always been part of mainstream entertainment in a way or another. The world has changed significantly during the last forty years since games became a cultural phenomena, and like everything else, as you grow older the new stuff seems worse than it used to be.

The main demographic of electronic games we’re talking about follows the same lead the one’s pinball and penny arcades attracted the most; teens and college students. Before the advent and birth of mainstream video games, the 50’s and 60’s rough teenager culture flourished within these arcades, making their games more a showcase of rebellious attitudes. This market wasn’t just the only target group, as these arcades were enjoyed by everyone, it just depended on the arcade what sort of patrons it had. The first step towards the modern gamer and the computer game nerd happened with Pong and when home computers became a thing. The combination of people who played Dungeons & Dragons, science fiction fans like Trekkies and radio hobbyists sort of pack into video and computer games because the medium allows imagination to flourish, both as a developer and as a consumer. The problem largely was that it required mathematics and electronic knowhow, and thus the design and input devices were more or less completely bound to a one-button controller, a very specific controller, or a keyboard. While Pong and other consoles had intuitive controllers, a keyboard used to be rather scary device. To some, it still is.

This meant that people who put their time to either develop or play these games didn’t exactly fit the social norms of the time. Bullying people who play games at home, rather than on the field, in the arcades or in a dank gambling saloon was rather everyday event. However, if an industry doesn’t expand its market and renews itself, it has high chances of dying down. With Atari and arcades becoming an incredible force to be reckoned with, penetrating American culture like no other, driven by Japanese arcade games no less, followed by European micro-computers’ boom in the Old World. Despite the Video game crash of 1983, gaming had made its mark on the mainstream audience and culture, and when the NES hit around, video games became more mainstream than ever. At this time, computer games still managed to roll onward, and while their success is nothing to scoff at (just look at Ultima series!), computer games were for a more limited audience due to the price of the machines themselves and understanding of the technology itself. As said, European markets were rather different, with NES essentially screwed over due to mishandling, Sega Master System offering more and cheaper games, and micro-computers being the thing to have.

A third wave of market expansion (or fourth wave, depending how you’d like to count it) happened in segments during the 1990’s. While the SNES didn’t perhaps have the market expansion as Nintendo would’ve hoped, it did manage continue in the steps of its predecessors. While arcades saw their second golden age with Street Fighter II, PlayStation without a doubt had a significant market penetration and expansion, only comparative to Pong, arcades, Atari and the NES. While Super Mario had cereals and cartoons for younger audience to consumer, the PlayStation struck chord with the older audience, much like how the Mega Drive had previously. Wipeout is a prime example of this, as it became synonymous with the trance and dance club culture.


Have a few quick ones in the club, and then few lines at home while enjoying the the game and its music

Nothing else shows how much penetration PlayStation had as its successor being the most sold home console. However, after this point there games had less penetration with the overall culture. Video and computer games, despite being popular and selling massive amounts to the point of eclipsing Hollywood’s sales, had became mundane. An industry like video and computer games doesn’t change by itself forcefully, but has to grow according to consumer wants and needs. If it turns to be selfish and producing more trophy games, sales will lessen. However, most of these games throughout the ages have been deemed terrible and have seen low sales, despite the gaming media praising them at times.

To a person who grew up with video games in the 1980’s or 1990’s, the changes that took place in the 00’s and 10’s , may seem rather disappointing. For those who have read this blog for a long time already should know what this refers to. Games are not only story driven, but at times completely dependent on them. The cross-pollution of between consoles and computer games markets to the point of PC gaming being dead and replaced with a digital game console Steam. Games had become mainstream to the point of everyone being able to access them pretty much everywhere, and the previously set boundaries to develop or play them had been long since been taken down.

The Financial crisis of 2008 made a mark on the game industry. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 were rather expensive consoles to own, but the Wii had a balance of being cheaper and more arcade like games. Despite the market expanding and new people being introduced to games, certain style of games still were the most successful. Wii Sports is an example of this sort of game, which of we never really saw any other like on the Wii. Wii also became a Virtual Console machine for those who remembered NES from their childhood, and now had access to more games than ever on systems available on the VC. Much all other industries at the time, making your consumers spend money on products that they didn’t need was a challenge the least. It was at least at this point when the industry overall didn’t aim to expand and further concentrated on the core consumer group that had been there for a long time, with few exceptions about.

While the financial crisis still having slight effect a decade later, the monetary situation with many is very much different. Companies have introduced microtransactions as an industry standard to the point of multiple companies practicing predatory behaviour for higher profits. However, this would not be possible if the market’s actions would not allow that. While the game industry and market itself has been consumerist, it could be argued that microtransactions and lootboxes have taken things to an overdrive. Corporation’s are very effective on capitalising consumer weaknesses, especially now that almost everyone has access to these games. All this, combined how the video gaming media is essentially just a huge engine for hype and advertisement, further solidifies how much the game industry has become an equally massive machine as its market is. With expansion and new generations entering the hobby, and overall tastes changing globally, some older consumers feel a distaste for what modern games are.

Political climate affects games as any, and games have become increasingly agenda driven at places, especially within certain indie scenes. I won’t go any deeper into this here, as I’ve discussed games as form of escapism first and foremost many times previously. However, ultimately it is the sales numbers that decide how the industry will act, as game industry has become completely reactionary just like Hollywood, and on the long term games that de-emphasize gaming will ultimately see less sales. Much like Hollwyood is all about the big cinematic universes and each movie has to be a billion dollar event, so has the game industry moved towards building massive spectacles in eSport (with Street Fighter V suffering this the most) with both having equally bankrupt creativity. Hell, the current state of both industries is the best argument why neither should be considered as art, but entertainment to the masses. That’s not a slight against either industry in a negative way, much like how visual novels aren’t games. A thing being its proper self is nothing to be worried about-

Games haven’t exactly changed in terms of quality of the titles. There has always been a large number lesser games on the market compared to the gems, that hasn’t changed. However, the sheer number of games has changed to the point of keeping up on all released games across all platforms is almost an impossible task without external help. Information technology, technology overall, ease of development and change in developer/publisher scene have changed the industry and the market. Whatever era of gaming you prefer the best, we’ll never be able to return to that form.  The only way to steer the game industry to a desired direction is doing two things I’ve talked often; wallet voting, and being an informed consumer.

The state of gaming as it is now will be a passing trend. In five years down the line, we’ll be able to look at the 10’s and hopefully laugh at all the things we consider important now.

Death of a World

I have been enjoying reading as of late. Not Visual Novels mind you, but books. I used to spend lot of time with books and used the library quite often, but nowadays I feel that I’d rather than something of my own in my hands, so I can do whatever I please with it. A creased page or cover (one of the many reasons I prefer hardcover) won’t bother when it’s fixed properly, something I couldn’t do to a loaned booked. While my bookshelf has its share of books outside comics, guides and other random assortments, I do have a wish to give something new a proper shot. This seems to be turning into a more personal post than intended, but hey, maybe that’s a good thing once in a while.

After some discussion with a book reviewer I across the pond I am familiar with, she came to a conclusion that I should go outside my field of preference, at least for a duration of few titles, and give Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books a go. I come to these things late, as usual. I can’t say I like Pratchett’s works, though the opposite is true as well. I simply have no relationship with Discworld to speak of, less anything to Pratchett himself. How I approach his works, or anyone else’s for the matter, is through neglect of the author. Pratchett doesn’t matter when it comes to his work, the works are enough on themselves. Just as I discourage idol worship with game developers, I extend this to directors, actors and writers. Though I must admit writers do gain a bit more respect from my part on how solitary their work is, but even then the best writers work with their editors or professionals in the field to build their book’s contents the best possible way. While pretty much all Pratchett fans I know have recommend to start elsewhere than from the beginning, I have always preferred to do so. The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, for better or worse, shall serve my entry to the Discworld.

World that has, for all intents and purposes, died with its author.

Pratchett’s daughter has no intention of continuing his father’s work in any way or form. Licensing existing works are another thing altogether, but no new stories are to be written. All this seems a terrible waste. Discworld has been such an influence that even someone like me, who has never opened a book in the series, knows something about the disc-shaped world through cultural osmosis. Things like the world sitting on top of four elephants (one of which has to lift his leg to allow the sun to continue its cycle due to how complex it is), which sit atop A’Tuin, a giant turtle that is swimming across the space. The world has its own rules and magic is much a thing as anything, and bananas don’t grow on trees.

It is of course understandable. A lifework like Discworld garners respect on its own and expectations for each entry were astronomical, from an outsider’s view. Sales numbers probably talk for themselves when it comes to the success and popularity of the Discworld novels, though this would where the argument that it has succeeded because the series just has been that good steps in (and would not be applied elsewhere due to dislike.) Pratchett probably had incredible load on his back with each entry to meet up with the expectations and (apparent) level of quality of his works in general, and we could assume that only he could write what many would consider a true Discworld novel. This, of course, would be bull, as the probability says there is a writer who could match his level and could deliver a proper Discworld title, perhaps even better. It would be a tall order and difficult any way you’d look at it, especially considering how harshly fans of any franchise  with singular creator treat outsiders. Pratchett as a creator will probably stay a a unique writer in the history fantasy novels, but all in all he isn’t the only one, nor he will be the last one of his caliber. It’s largely a matter of time before his niche is fulfilled, though that may not be anytime soon.

Whether or not a world should be laid to rest with its author is a debatable subject with no one true answer. Star Wars, for example, did find better stories when it was outside Lucas’ hands, though Disney’s run with the franchise has left me a cold turkey. Similarly, while the original Star Trek is still a superb show, it was other writers like D.C. Fontana who made Trek more what it became than Roddenberry himself in the end. Then again, Roddenberry and Lucas were able to create worlds, but not write in them very well. That didn’t seem to be the case with Pratchett.

To take this into direction games, just to keep things more in-line with the blog’s tone, using a game’s main director as a comparison point would do. Much like people expect writers to deliver great novels after another, a star director is expected to deliver high-quality games. The most recent example of a complete outsider beating the original creators at their own game would be Sonic Mania, which some have argued to be the best 2D Sonic to date, though I’d give it few years to set in before supporting or opposing such a claim. Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime is another example, where a third-party beat the original creators, and the latest Metroid II remake shows further how Nintendo does not understand the franchise.

Perhaps it would be better the leave Discworld at it is as a monument to its creator after all.

I may come late to popular things, but if the two first novels manage to caught my fancy, there are forty-five other books for me to read. I can understand my friend never wanting to finish the last book in the series, as then she would have to face that there is anywhere to go afterwards. She may read a page or two per year, but even that pace would slow down as she reads on. Indeed, it is a sad thing to see something you love coming to an end.

Same end goal, different method

Nintendo has a history of localisation, culturalisation and censorship. To some all these three terms are synonymous witch each other, as the end result is the same; modified or removed content to avoid offending someone. While you’d think this would be appropriate, the reality of it is that the Japanese developers don’t give a rat’s ass about it and mostly look at at the sales numbers.

Everybody who played games during the Third Generation remembers how NES had strict censorship rules across the board in order to maintain certain image. Sega used this to advertise themselves as a more mature option, with far more lax rules imposed to the developers, which ultimately ended in the birth of ESRB, the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Nintendo mainly caters and develops for Japan, and this applies to all Japanese developers across the board. There is nothing wrong in this, though the reality is that a game that has the strongest roots to Japanese culture will sell less in the West. It would make sense for a company to want to localise and culturalise their game for the Western market in order to make it more profitable, but there’s the rub.

As much as game developers may tell use the art when describing games, their actions betray the notion. Art has an untouchable sanctity to itself, where the work and author is required to be respected. This goes to all art. Games, however, are not art and can be modified to any degree the creators see fit in order to make it a more selling product. Certainly developers are willing to meet halfway through and modify things that may seem inappropriate (for some) while keeping the overall work intact, but this sort of approach is not needed for art.

It should also be mentioned that culturalisation is an incredibly half-assed method to localise or translate anything. American sensibilities do not meet up with various European nations to any degree. A chest-size slider from Xenoblade Chronicles may be somewhat eyebrow raising thing in a puritanical nation, yet most European nations would laugh it off and admire the extent of customisation the developers have provided. Yet Nintendo is listening and believing people who consider themselves the guardians of Western (American) culture by taking anything that would seem offensive. Though there’s another rub in there, as most of these offences seem to touch upon only on depiction of women. The aforementioned chest-size slider being a good example of this.

Nintendo’s approach how they culturalise is limited at best. According to an interview, staff from Nintendo Treehouse travel to Japan to discuss with the developers in order to affect development of a game. This effectively means that Nintendo has few selected guardians of morality that dictate what should be censored from a game for Western release. This is of course absolutely bullshit, as this without a doubt affects author’s vision and intent for the game. Staff from Nintendo may claim that they aim to have different region versions as close to each other as possible, though that’s beside the point; without exchange of ideas and contest of contents, cultures stagnate.

Nintendo can claim to disregard politics and concentrate on fun as much as they want. With the action of culturalisation, they are making a political statement about people, their culture and what sort of content they should be have available for consumption. Due to this, the only way to play a Nintendo game in the future in its original, unaltered form, is to play a Japanese original release with no modified or removed content.

Despite all this, Nintendo’s attempt to increase sales by catering to puritanical moral guardians fails to take notice how it’s not the chest-size sliders or the like that affect sales. As much as Japanese developers want to think otherwise, Japanese games don’t sell if they have anime look or otherwise. No matter of censorship won’t change the fact America and parts of Europe reject this look. There are numerous stigmas towards anime, starting with perversions and under-age girls in lingerie to hyperviolence. Often combinign the two no less.

If Nintendo would do culturalisation to its fullest extent, they’d completely rework the Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s visual design and story to step away from Japanese culture and anime visuals. However, Nintendo, like any other Japanese company, takes pride in their culture and its products and would consider this an impossible task. However, changing something that’s little and of no importance is OK, just to make sure it could sell a bit more.

Which is absurd.

A minor edit in a game’s options or visuals won’t change the fact that a game like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is inherently Japanese and this is its grand weakness on the market. It can’t be even properly contest on the market place on its own merits due to censorship applied to it from the Treehouse. Nintendo has an extremely small pool of data from which to make their decisions on, and their failure of following reports from sites like Kotaku and Polygon instead of following raw data that is the consumer trends means they will continue to censor their games for no good reason.

Video games may have eclipse Hollywood in terms of money flowing back and forth. However, unlike Hollywood, the game industry is spoiled like a baby. This media can’t mature any further if its ideas, methods and content is being suffocated for the sake of supposed American culture. The European nations suffer from this, as each nation has its own distinct culture and approach things from their own angles. No company would want to make around 53 different versions of a game for the Western world, counting American and Canada with the all the Old World countries and their transcontinental states.

The game industry needs to grow up into its teenage years and stop giving a shit about what people say about them and go their own way. Let the market decide what’s appropriate and what’s not. Culture can’t thrive if there is no open debate on presented ideas. All ideas exist to be tested, and so does a market test a game. However, as said, a game can’t be tested on its own merits if it already has been censored.

Vote with your wallets and make your stance known, as private consumers. The only way to say No to unnecessary censorship is through money.