That Dragon, Let’s Play Videos

You should read this well-reasoned comment from the developers of That Dragon, Cancer about the fact that they’ve not earned any money for their title yet. (They’ve paid off debt, so they have made sales–we’re talking net income.)

The defense I see people throwing around for the Let’s Play videos that have most certainly damaged (not in whole, but in part) the sales for That Dragon, Cancer is that the reason the game has not done well is because it’s the opposite of escapism–“it’s woefully depressing,” writes one commenter on Polygon. “Only a very small percentage of people want to be enveloped in the very real emotional agony and despair associated with what cancer does to somebody’s life.”

But if that’s true, then why would anybody want to watch a Let’s Play of the same thing? Why would someone involved in so-called “mixed media” want to show this game (in full) to other people? Wouldn’t that make them sadomasochists, to subject others to something they suffered through?

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#OscarsSo Statistically Accurate, Unfortunately

I won’t for a moment suggest that there’s not a problem with the Academy being overwhelmingly white, or that it’s not a shame that for the second year in a row, there haven’t been any minority actors recognized in the twenty slots available to actors. But I will suggest, as Whoopi Goldberg does, that we ought to redirect our boycotts to where they rightly belong: on the studios that do not deign to fill their major dramatic pictures (or even their smaller indie flicks) with a more diverse and representative cast of actors. As Viola Davis said, while accepting her Emmy Award–and I’m paraphrasing slightly–you can’t win an award (much less be nominated) for roles that don’t exist. Given that the Oscars have no control over the quality or casting of the films that come out in a given year, it seems naive to blame them for not doing a better job recognizing minority actors. It’s that whole correlation/causation issue: yes, these results indicate the results of years of systemic racism (not only because the easiest way to become an Academy voter is to be nominated for one of its awards), but they don’t demonstrate that the Academy is to blame for the lack of nominees, even if you can name one or two subjective choices who just had to have been snubbed purely out of sinister spite.

Assuming that no legal bylaws about new inductees or the loss of membership rights existed and we could correct for the makeup of the Academy overnight to reflect, say, 2010 values (basically 63% white, 12% Black, 5% Asian, and 16% Hispanic or Latino), this means that to balance the existing 6,000 or so voters, 94% of whom are white, you’d need roughly 3,000 new members, all of whom are minorities. And because I doubt that you can name that many film-industry professionals who qualify, you’d have to expand the scope beyond those who are in Hollywood, at which point, what even are the Academy Awards celebrating? It’s meant to be an insular, self-congratulatory affair–we’re the ones who assign it a value by tuning in to the awards, as if they actually matter to anybody. (At least the Golden Globes are honest about how subjective and meaningless they really are.)

But let’s ignore that. Continue reading

True Art Will Never Die: “Lazarus”

A minefield of black balloons, knifed in the dark by ninjas. A slow ebb of liquid latex, seeping out of a wound like so much milk. Aerial cameras to provide the illusion of flight even as they amplify the earthbound nature of their subject. A trio of blue-haired nymphs: the real, the imagined, and the digital. The dissonant overlap between the present, on-stage action and the pre-taped and projected future (or subtextual) actions. Classic Bowie songs (and a few new ones), reinterpreted to fit the mood of his final work, the experimental rock musical Lazarus. Above all else, passion.

The plot of Lazarus, a follow-up to The Man Who Fell to Earth, is bare-boned, and that’s fine, because the animalistic director Ivo van Hove only needs a concept to work from, and in this case, it is the isolation of Thomas Jerome Newton (Michael C. Hall), an alien who has lived amongst us for forty years, unable to return to his home, his family, and haunted by the loss of those he–an immortal man–has loved. The curtains, screens, and glass windows that separate Newton from the backgrounded band are intention: they shut the world out, yes, but also cage him in with the screed of foreign (to him) media.

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Crime Is Sexy, or When You’re Too Paranoid To Play

Satire walks a fine, fine line in Jallooligan’s Crime Is Sexy. Enter your credit card information, sign away your rights in perpetuity to a rather extreme EULA, and then complete a user profile that includes your Facebook profile. I can’t tell you any more than that, however, because these faux data-collection fields are more than enough to make me flinch. Granted, you can fill in dummy information (and I shouldn’t have to tell you that), but these first few data-phishing screens are so accurate that the game, or at least the prelude to the game, made me genuinely uncomfortable, far more than anything understandably feigned, like Amnesia or even PT, which I have trouble forcing myself to march through, even with friends around. The concept simply hits too close to home for comfort, and while that’s not to say that a game needs to (or should be) built for the player’s convenience, especially when it’s trying to make a different point (see QWOP), I think it’s also fair for the user to opt out of such an experience. In my view, the best sort of art-game or statement sneaks in under the radar, rather than hammering you over the head with it, so whatever other surprises Crime Is Sexy has in store for me, I’ll have to read about them later. For now, it’s a bit as if Jonathan Swift were convincing me of his modest proposal not with his hypothetical essay, but with an actual bowl of baby soup–a much scarier sell.

You Got My Attention, Now What (Bite-Sized Games)

With the rise of new platforms for games–especially in the mobile circuit–some developers are actually taking several steps backward, moving away from a more expansive, immersive type of game and toward an miniature, addictive one. It reminds me of the old Game ‘n’ Watch model, or the Tiger Electronics version of, say, Double Dragon–when time is the commodity, something short and sweet sometimes wins. The problem is that the market is glutted with sour products; the deep freemium titles are all knock-offs of one another, meant to suck in new users before they realize that, say, Spellstone is basically Tyrant Unlimited with a Hearthstone aesthetic, or that Bond: World of Espionage is a reskinned Underworld Empire, and that all of these games are designed around an unfair PvP mechanic that forces players to pay to win.

As I work to compile a best-of list for 2015, then, I wonder about what sort of unspoken rules, preferences, or conventions dictate the type of game that actually deserves to be nominated, let alone chosen. And today, my attention rests on Terry Cavanagh’s Grab Them By The Eyes Continue reading

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