So recently I’ve been playing Sunset Overdrive, a game I have been itching to play since the early days of the Xbox One. Well, it finally made its way to PC and I finally had a bit of money to spend on it. The core concept of the game is that the launch of a new energy drink has caused people who drink it to turn into mutants who run amok through the city. FizzCo, the company who sells the energy drink, puts the city on lockdown and hides the drink’s failure from the rest of the world. FizzCo also sends robots into the city to clean up the evidence, i.e. any survivors. That’s a lot of power for a corporation to hold over an entire city. So I started thinking about evil corporations in games, especially when these games are made under publishers who do some dirty things in the name of making more money.
Bandits are a staple of fantasy. Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur, Fable, Dungeons and Dragons. All these games feature bandits in some capacity. If we look beyond the fantasy genre, Red Dead Redemption and Sunset Overdrive also feature bandits. Bandits tend to low-level enemies. They wear cobbled together armour and usually carry basic weapons. Every now and then, you might encounter one who has a magic item. Usually, more powerful bandits are chiefs or captains. Most bandits are aggressive on sight. However, do we ever really stop to consider the bandit? Why are they there? What are they doing?
Depending on how you came to this piece, you may or may not be familiar with Critical Role. So, I’ll explain all this briefly. Dungeons and Dragons, let’s start there. Tabletop roleplaying game. Started in the 70s, big in the 80s, satanic panic, and so on. In 2013, Wizards of the Coast who own D&D released the 5th Edition of the game. Generally, editions are like sequels in games. They iterate in their own way with specific goals in mind. People still enjoy the previous entries and may prefer them. Based on comments by the design team of this edition it seems the purpose of this version of the game was to be welcoming enough for new players and robust enough for veterans. So, how does this relate to Critical Role?
Critical Role is a weekly live stream on Twitch where, as Matt Mercer explains, “a bunch of us nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons”. The show started in 2015 and has been running ever since. Critical is perhaps the most popular live play of Dungeons and Dragons. Between the accessibility of 5th edition and the eminently watchable nature of Critical Role, many new people have been exposed to Dungeons and Dragons through this show and other shows like it, including me. Now, as part of this, some online discourse has held Matt Mercer up as the DM standard that people are compared to. So, let’s look at this comparison.
We need to change the way we depict love in media. Some disclaimers. I’m mostly talking about hetero love. I’m no expert on queer representation except to say that we could do with some more of it. Today I wanted to talk about the way we depict hetero romances. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Guy pines over a girl, guy continues to pine for an unhealthy amount of time, he asks the woman out, end of story. Maybe the story is complicated by a boyfriend who just isn’t right for her. Maybe the girl hates the guy because a miscommunication caused the guy to say the wrong thing. There are some even worse examples. Examples were the guy follows the girl until romance happens, as seen in two separate episodes of Doctor Who penned by Stephen Moffat (Blink and the Christmas Special based on CS Lewis’ most famous book because god forbid you write your own goddamn story, Stephen). Apparently I still have some issues to work out with Stephen Moffat’s time on Doctor Who. I just have to remind myself. He’s gone now. He can’t hurt me. Anyway, another dodgy expansion of this horror show is where the girl repeatedly rejects the guy until he wears her down. Chances are if you’re on the same wavelength as me right now you can think of some examples. You might even get a sense of what’s wrong with telling this narrative repeatedly. Well, it’s time for another round of Zach had to unlearn some problematic shit and continues to regret his life choices.
So, a couple of weeks ago this thing happened. The stream was this spontaneous outpouring of support for a community and a charity that was targeted by a cadre of journalists, concerned parents, and one culturally irrelevant comedy writer. To sum up, YouTuber H. Bomberguy streamed the game Donkey Kong 64 to completion while raising money for Mermaids, a UK-based charity which offers support systems to trans kids. What followed was a 54-hour stream which included appearances from folks like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, John Romero, Grant Kirkhope and other notable folks from around the internet. Beyond being just this great weekend in support of those who need it, the stream also gave me hope. Full disclosure, I’m a cis straight white dude. I won the privilege game so I don’t want to make it all about me. There have been some excellent Twitter threads about the stream and what it meant to the charity it was for and the community it supported. (@CaseyExplosion on Twitter is a good source for these, as she was a moderator for the stream and shared some good stuff post-stream). When I say it gave me hope, I’ve never hidden my politics particularly well. As time goes by, I tend to be pulled further to the left. Anyway, the stream was 100 times the success that H. Bomberguy anticipated as success. The stream was a group of people coming together to support a cause over an old video game. A spontaneous outcry of positivity and love in the face of those who would have us go back in terms of rights. It gave me hope that we fight the darkness as the climate apocalypse approaches. What I did want to talk about was the fellow behind the stream. H. Bomberguy.
So I’ve been thinking about the film Bohemian Rhapsody recently. It’s a film that I have complicated feelings over. My review might read: a film of good acting and subpar to decent filmmaking. It also reminded me how fond I am of the music of Queen, which was surely part of the impetus behind the film’s creation. There’s also the worrying stink of Bryan Singer and all the sexual assault allegations against him. All that aside, there was an interesting thought that occurred to me. The film seems to be pushing and pulling between two instincts. Is this a biopic of Freddie Mercury or Queen? The two might seem to be synonymous in some ways. The story of Queen is the story of Freddie Mercury, right? The film follows Freddie as the protagonist. From his quiet family life to his meteoric rise, to his attempts to break away from Queen, to their reunion for Live Aid. However, the film from a thematic standpoint is about the band as a family with Freddie as the wayward rock star son. It has been pointed out that the other members of Queen get to be the level-headed paternalistic members of the band while Mercury plays to the standard rock star tropes. Also, noteworthy is that the still-living members of Queen got some significant power over the film by virtue of licencing all their songs and being creative voices in the room. This no doubt led to the push and pull of the film’s narrative vs themes. With this in mind, can pop culture ever truly eulogise the dead?
Over the Christmas period, I went to go see Wreck-It Ralph 2 known as Ralph Breaks the Internet. Generally, I enjoyed the first film. The message about being constrained by society’s expectations of you is an interesting one and all the pieces fit together cohesively. The central theme of the second film is pretty solid too and one that spoke to me. It is, in essence, a story about not being possessive of your friends as they pursue their dreams. All in all, the film is pretty harmless. However, the representation of the Internet kept throwing me for a loop. Before the film, I generally expected the cringy adoption of internet culture by the film in a skin that would feel as hollow as the Emoji movie. While I watched the movie, I got a sense that there could be a darker, more caustic movie behind the movie. However, the fact that this was a big budget Disney affair meant that they had to play it safe. So, let’s take a look at the Internet. Before heading into this piece, obviously spoilers ahead.
We, as a society, tend to give women the short end of the stick. Right now, you might be thinking ‘duh’ or crying misandry right now. If you’re in that second group, I can’t help you with this piece. Sometime last year I was listening to the Slow Burn podcast about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. I had complicated thoughts about the whole thing. As someone who grew up in the 90s, I was distantly aware of the scandals. Bill Clinton mainly figured into my worldview via re-aired episodes of the Simpsons. Episodes were he appeared as a cool saxophone-playing guy, was replaced by an alien in their attempts to take over the Earth, and uh, flirted with Marge Simpson. Generally, as I learned more, there were a few conclusions I came to. What Clinton did was wrong, regardless of whether the relationship was consensual or not. The power imbalance between the middle-aged President and his twenty-year-old White House intern was always going to be fraught. Might we view Clinton in a different light in the wake of the #MeToo movement? Absolutely. However, at the time, it was clearly a partisan hack job. Those condemning the President weren’t about moral standards. You know why I think that? One of Clinton’s detractors was a fellow named Brett Kavanagh and we know what his track record with sexual assault is. There was only one person in the whole scandal who I thought was pretty blameless in all this. Monica Lewinsky herself.
I’m tired of modern life. It feels like being caught in a loop. I want to talk about the ever-present nature of content. Content is in effect, internet stuff. Online video, online writing, social media activity. It’s all branched under content. I might classify myself as a content creator. Of course, there’s a lot of content creators in our current era. Pewdiepie is a content creator. Some of my favourite YouTube personalities (influencers?) are content creators. I am a content creator. In that comparsion, I feel like a bit of phytoplankton as compared to the whale of an influencer that Pewdiepie is. Maybe even that is an ill-served metaphor. When whales shift, the ocean isn’t hugely affected. I am a content creator. Most of us are in the digital age. We have podcasts, or social media presence, or livestreams. I don’t think everyone gets into this game to be Pewdiepie. However, I think that we there is the hope that we can scratch out a middle class living this way. We are all content creators fighting over scraps.
I’ve been playing a lot of Civilization VI recently. Civ VI just recently announced its second large expansion for the game. Since Civ IV, each entry in the series has had two major expansions. So, what did Civ VI’s two expansions bring to this entry in the series? The first expansion is known as Rise and Fall and added two major game systems to play with. City Loyalty, which means that cities who become unhappy will rebel and become free cities. After that, they can be reconquered or succumb to foreign influence. The second mechanic is ages. Depending on your achievements within a historical era will determine positive or negative effects on your nation’s growth. So Rise and Fall is all about the internal struggles of a civilisation, obliquely about those who live under the rule of an empire. The second big update, known as Gathering Storm Gathering Storm makes the world more alive with natural disasters affecting your civilization. So, first I want to look at what that could mean for the series and then look at who has been invited for the latest entry in the series.