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.
I can’t recall exactly when I subscribed to H. Bomberguy. Looking back, I can recall the first video I was aware of. It was one of the earliest that resembled his current format. The video details the two figures in the Gamergate movement and mocks them heavily. The part that perhaps made me laugh the hardest is how H. Bomb completely loses his shit over the skull that appears in nearly every shot of one of the figures he is mocking. While almost crying from laughing, he wonders if there are multiple skulls or if he moves the one between shots, suggesting either a pathological love of toy skulls or a deliberate placing of the skull in the mise-en-scene. Either way, H. Bomb through mockery makes these two and their points not worth listening to. Mocking them showed me, a person who without much thought in 2014 might have fallen to the movement of Gamergate. I was exactly the angry little gamer boy that that movement could recruit and drive further right. H. Bomberguy in one of his first videos showed me that ‘all you can do is laugh’.
My next encounter with H. Bomb’s content came a few years later. He had developed as a creator. I had developed (hopefully) into a less garbage human being. His next video that I encountered was about the body standards of men and women in games. Years earlier, I would have made the false equivalence that this video disputes. I would have compared the beauty standards of male and female heroes and gone ‘job done, this idea merits no further exploration’. The video does explain pretty extensively the idea that male avatars in games are power fantasies and female NPCs or avatars are often objectified. It’s pretty straight forward but if you don’t do a deep analysis of your thoughts on these matters like I didn’t, you can miss these concepts and make a false equivalence. This video, perhaps more than the previous video I mentioned, taught me to reconsider some pretty misogynistic ideas I had by appealing to my love of video games and then explaining pretty basic literary concepts to me. Now, what video appealed to my interests and broadened my understanding next? If you know me, you will not be surprised.
Perhaps one of H. Bomb’s most popular videos is on the subject of Sherlock. The video details how the fourth series of Sherlock getting drunk and then shitting in an alleyway was not some unforeseen circumstance but was based on the very foundations of the way that Stephen Moffat tells stories. I’ve been very critical of Moffat in the past. Of how he ruined Doctor Who after I so enjoyed his early episodes under Russell T. Davies (which H. Bomb dissects in his video on the 2017 Christmas special of Doctor Who). My basic critique of Moffat is simple (kind of). He only knows how to tell one type of story (things happen in unusual order because time travel) and he never finishes a story arc satisfyingly. There is always another question to be answered that results from the previous season finale and it feels exhausting. Because there is never a satisfying conclusion. H. Bomb’s video on the subject traverses Moffat’s whole career and shows how they inform the contemporary stories we get from Moffat. It also lays bare how unsatisfying it can be to subvert audience expectations if that subversion has no weight behind it. The video showcases completely my frustrations with one of the most famous TV writers of the early-2010s. That’s probably why it’s so popular because it is comprehensive and cathartic.
Which brings us to H. Bomb’s more contemporary stuff. I’ve spoken before about his video on the internet meme Loss before in my Best of YouTube 2018 post. Earlier in 2018, H. Bomb released a video in his Measured Response series. A series that began with his discussion of those two Internet weirdos I mentioned earlier. In this video on the insult Soy Boy, he does what he threatened to do in his earlier videos and does a 40-minute rebuttal. The benefit of this is that he examines in detail the claim that soy contains phytoestrogens which must be feminising because estrogen. He debunks this pretty thoroughly, looking at sheep and the shape of chemicals. In a later video, H. Bomb dissects the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He talks of adaptation and speaks about his past as a smarter-than-thou figure who devoured Lovecraft and his transition away from that. Perhaps that’s why I connected with H. Bomberguy. We have somewhat similar origin stories.
I’ve often worried that I come off as condescending in my worst moments and people extrapolate that to my whole personality. As I begin to reassess my former days as the worst kind of person, it does sort of have an opposite effect. Perhaps my 2018 could be summed up as me dealing with my own mediocrity. I mean, this website, is a way for me to have my own sort of vanity. To pretend that my opinions matter any more than the next person because I write 1000 words of them on the Internet each week. This is probably getting away from the point. The reason I wrote this thing was pretty simple. This website wouldn’t exist without H. Bomberguy. You can see the influence in the way that both our platforms sprawl across an amalgam of topics and get vaguely more political as time goes on. In fact, there is a cadence to my words that was probably influenced in part by H. Bomb. All of this is to say two simple things, really. First is that if we want to engage people on serious issues, it can help to go where the people are. Talk about interests and the ideas they convey subtextually. Like with my Thanos and Elon Musk piece. I wanted to talk about the weird way in which we frame overpopulation and how you can’t convince ideologues that they’re wrong because their worldview is complete to them. Second, is that we mustn’t forget to laugh at the monsters. Chances are, the Ben Shapiro’s and Charlie Kirk’s of the world will do something ridiculous. Just people in laughing at these fools because sometimes it helps to think of these terrible figures as something to be laughed at.
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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.