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My End of the Decade Thank You’s

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s the end of the decade, since everyone is saying goodbye to the first decade of the new millenium already waxing nostalgic about a decade that Time dubbed, “The decade from hell (yes that was the actual title of the article)” we can all look forward to 2012 when the apocalypse comes. No, not the bullshit Mayan prophecy (or is it Aztec because even the theorists don’t seem to be able to keep that straight) but the Apocalypse that happens when VH1 runs a continual never ending loop of a show called “I love the 00s” which will have a segment focusing on the development of their “I love the [whatever decade]” shows. Some burnt out comedian fresh off his recovery from pills after being subjected to endless reruns of Flava of Love will crack jokes about how odd it was that VH1 invited Kathy Griffin to make jokes about glow worms since no one can remember why anyone thought she was funny to begin with. Instead of going over my experience with this decade (as one attempt failed utterly) I thought I would just list the things that I appreciated from the last ten years.

So thank you

…Black Eyed Peas for releasing “My Humps” proving in 2005 that a song called “Holla Back Girl” didn’t have to be the worst song of the year.

…Republican National Convention Protesters, and every left winger I knew/met/or bumped into for convincing me that I should not vote for Bush in 2004 and then getting really really pissed off at me when I did just that.

…Right Wing Conservative Christians (or whoever the GOP base is supposed to be) for informing me that Janet Jackson’s boob would do more harm to children in three frames of tape (about 1/10 of a second) than the three hours of grown men running into each other or the eight years of war we have endured. My priorities have always been messed up.

…The Labatt Blue Marketing department for pushing the envelope in beer commercials so that only Canadians/border cities got to see this commercial on regular television.

…CBC for leaving in the nudity, violence, and language of the Tudors and the Sopranos during Primetime for those of us who didn’t have HBO or Showtime.

…to the FCC for constantly reminding us that in this world of 300 channels we don’t need your enforcement anymore.

…to the 9/11 “truth” Movement for showing us how to hold on to a belief even when all of the evidence is against you isn’t the sole domain of Creationism.

…to Britney Spears whose second CD contained the lyrics “I’m not that innocent” and then we were supposed to be surprised when you bit off kilter, had two kids, three marriages, and then came back singing songs about threesomes. I guess we should have just listened to you in the first place.

…Social Networking sites because the internet just wasn’t crowded enough with attention whores and strippers in 2001.

…To Osama Bin Laden for ruining what should have been a purely academic experience of going to Graduate School but then you had to wake the dragon.

…To all of Hollywood for further reinforcing the fact that the third movie in a trilogy is always the shittiest one.

…To Jameson and Guiness because I love nothing more than the fact that my two favorite drinks are older than the country I live in.

…To my former Graduate school that prompted so much of the above.

…To most of my students for reminding me why I love Philosophy in the first place (for ECC students read that seriously, for the other ones read that sarcastically).

…To the corruption in New Orleans that ignored the levies that were overcome by a level 3 (yes Al Gore it was a three) hurricane for giving me a timely example of why exactly Thomas Hobbes knew what he was talking about.

…To Sony and later Microsoft for video game consoles that tested and then failed my ability to manage time.

…To the internet for making everyone think that their voice is important.

…To Twitter for making people think that voice can expressed in 250 characters.

…To Ohio for providing me with so many memories, and some of them good as well.

…To politics in the last ten years for showing everyone why Machiavelli is just right, no exceptions.

…To Free ethernet plug ins, Free WiFi, G3 networks for existing. Because i really don’t have work to do.

…To the blackberry because no matter how important that discussion I am having really is, it pales in comparison to the potential importance of that incoming email.

…To text messaging because I scoffed at you in 2001, but by 2009 I know that I AM NEVER FREEKIN’ ALONE.

…To all the nights out, all of the friends and enemies I have made, all the parties, the games, and playing for making life worth it and the morning after questionable.

Well I think that about does it for the last ten years. I hope the next ten are as…uh, interesting.

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Categories: daily observations

Succumbing to List Fever: The end of the decade in culture.

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

 

Everyone else is doing it so I might as well too. I hereby offer not the best, as we shall see, and but certainly the most prominent of the first of the millennium. A letter signed “From Hell” read that, “truly I am the birth of the 20th century,” more than likely this was a hoax letter that was sent in during the “Jack the Ripper” murders, but what truly defined the first decade of the 21st?

 

Movies: For a decade that began with Enron, WorldCom, and Martha Stewart and ended with the global financial collapse brought on by banking institutions making money by selling fictional* “products” I think the movie of the decade has to be Ocean’s Eleven. The movie itself is about a bunch of guys, who didn’t need the money stealing from a legitimate business. It offered its own Ponzi scheme in the form of a horrid immediate sequel and third that was only tolerable because it wasn’t the second.

 

The Lord of the Rings: A movie series that trotted out a story that, even though it has a running time of over 12 hours, can still be watched back to back. This decade showed us no shortage of trilogies, finishing off the Star Wars prequels, Spiderman, the final two Matrix movies, the end of the X-Men, Pirates of the Carribean; so there was a lot of movie series to nominate. However the Lord of the Rings was unique in the fact that there isn’t one movie that isn’t any worse than the others. Randall from Clerks 2 was right, there is a lot of walking, but not only did this movie keep the readers engaged it also launched the appeal toward niche fanbase groups, mainstreaming them as they never had before. Honorable mention: The Bourne series that was unique in the fact that it retained both a coherent story arc, and top notch filmmaking over three movies two of which were unplanned.

 

Television: The rise of political commentary masquerading as news. No, this isn’t a veiled attack on Fox News, it’s an overt attack on Fox and MSNBC primarily, with CNN as intended collateral damage. Olberman, and O’Reilly don’t report the news, they report their opinion and then make you think that it is news. CNN’s constant sycophantic relationship with candidate Obama, Fox News’ love affair with Dick Cheney, and MSNBC’s uncomfortable love of President Obama as well as their hate for President Bush made searching for news a political choice. Thanks assholes, I thank you for polarizing the country in a way that hasn’t been seen since the run up to the Civil War. The BBC thanks you too, because they have one more viewer.

 

Reality shows: I was going to try and boil it down to one series but it’s impossible. Lost is a good candidate, but then again so is 24 (even though I am not a fan). That being said, the decade began with the rise of “Reality” television which sought to make celebrities out of anyone vain enough to be on the show in the first place. For every Desperate Housewives there are three “Real housewives of…” as if people were that curious about the Teri Hatcher vehicle that they needed to know what Wisperia lane really was like. For all the time that is put into a Dr. Who episode, they can crank out six of Survivor for half the cost. This of course is understandable because it doesn’t cost anything but time and tape (later memory). This again is another symptom of the greed of the decade: producing nothing and then getting a whole bunch of people to  buy into it. It appealed to the little person in all of us that wants to be famous but doesn’t actually want to do any work for it.

 

Sports: You can gripe, argue, and fight all you want about how this was the decade of the New York Yankees, or of New England dominance in other sports. For me the defining sports event of the decade was the Detroit Pistons of 2004. A team with almost no superstars, upsets and sweeps the highest paid team in the NBA Finals, the L.A. Lakers. The Lakers had all of the press because Kobe had the whole rape trial going on, there was the Shaq/Kobe friction on the team and this underdog shut them down. In America we like our underdogs almost as much as we like our winners (when the two are exclusive categories), and the Pistons showed us that stars don’t mean anything if they aren’t going to play the game. That money doesn’t buy a ring, and confirms what Napoleon once observed about how spirit is worth twice of material.

 

Politics:

 

People: President Bush, his detractors hate him so much they still laugh when someone makes a joke at his expense, his supporters still defend his actions. But who can really deny that this decade was his? The liberals call him the worst president in the history of the United States, and that is so patently false that it makes me laugh every time I hear it (it’s a tie between Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce). He certainly wasn’t the worst, and he wasn’t the best either but I think we can accurately place him above average. He was predictable in the sense that you knew what he was going to do. He wanted war in Iraq, we got war, he wanted Social Security Reform and the ball started rolling on that too, this is the President who did more for AIDs in Africa than any other but all of that gets glossed over because his detractors won’t stop talking about 2000. Which brings us to…

 

Events: (Non-violent): The 2000 Presidential Election: Don’t even consider 2004, Kerry was never going to win that election. The 2000 election not only elected President Bush to office, but it gave conspiracy theorists so much ground to run with that they seemed to overlook how the electoral process actually works (hint: like it did). They ignored the fact that popular vote lost the presidency three previous times in American history, and ignored the fact that Al Gore couldn’t even carry his home state of Tennessee. They made it seem as though the system failed when people couldn’t read their ballot correctly and thus gave them an excuse when their candidate lost in 2004. This election finally returned to the forefront a serious conversation about how American politics works, and whether we need the electoral college.

 

Events (Violent): 9/11 and if I have to explain why…

 

Music

 

The whole slew of pop music for the last ten years can get this nomination. Music is not my strong point in writing, in fact it is harder than even the sports post so this is difficult. When I mean pop music, I don’t mean new music, or even good music. I mean the likes of N*SYNC, the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, etc. You showed us that pop music is pop music, it’s not supposed to be deep or profound it’s supposed to be fun. Even if I don’t like it, I can appreciate the fact that others do and as artistically bereft though it may be it’s will pass on like all other fads in the past from the tri-chord (once condemned as the devil’s music), the lounge crooner, the British Invasion, and the synthesizer we may want talent now but we don’t need it.

IPOD: It’s impact on the music world was two-fold. On the one hand it allows you to carry your music library in your pocket, a feat that would normally take a person a suitcase (or in my case a medium size backpack). It eliminated the need for actual hard copies of media and even though MP3 players existed before the IPOD no one really had them. My cell phone has all the albums that I own, some that I borrowed from the library, and some that…well, you know. On the other hand, people do blame it for the lack of quality in recent albums. Since you can buy albums without needing a CD, people could just pick one or two songs and buy those. Music critics (re: pretentious music snobs) think this is what caused the death of the album. No, my young friends it is not. The single has been around for a long time, it is used to make people want to buy an album from being aired on the radio, to clubs, to anywhere it’s a marketing ploy. Often times people aren’t buying the single, just one or two songs they really like. Seriously the best song on “The Warrior’s Code” by the Dropkick Murphys isn’t the one you heard in the Departed.

 

Video Game: If any one thing redefined an entire industry it would have to be Grand Theft Auto III. The third (actually the fourth) in a series where you play the criminal, GTA III redefined what is known as the Sandbox game. Instead of a world like Zelda where you could go wherever you please but still were constricted by the needs of the plot, GTA III gave us a real world. The star of the game was the living breathing Liberty City. This was a world where NPCs didn’t wait around to tell you where the next castle was, the people on the street had places to go and things to do. Getting hit by a car on a street wasn’t necessarily a plot point in the game, it could have just been one of those things that happen. The real radio stations added a new immersive character to the game as well as providing a biting satire on the pre-9/11 world. Copies of the game were perpetually sold out and the imitators came almost immediately but none can hold a candle to it or its sequels.

 

Tomorrow a special thanks to all of my favorite people from the last ten years (yeah it’s an extended rant).   

 

*Fictional in the sense that they are only real in the fact that they are constructs of words and not actually real in the sense that the computer you are reading this on is real.

Not Disappointed Enough (Twilight Walkthrough pg. 17-21)

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The Germans have a word for being disappointed at not being disappointed enough. It has no direct English translation and I also can’t remember the word, but it is one of those words that seems uniquely German. It also perfectly describes the feeling that I had when I read this section of Twilight, Bella is in the lunch hall feeling morose at the fact that no one sees her as the delicate snowflake that she obviously thinks that she is while at the same time ignoring all of the other people that so far seem to be attempting to make nice with the new girl. She looks over and sees a table full of people that are apart from everyone else, naturally it makes her curious.

It makes her curious because she wants to be at that table. She knows that everyone knows who they are, they are the subject of gossip and inquiry, and most importantly they are not mingling with everyone else. In college I used to sit by myself in the lunch hall too, but not because I had no friends but because my schedule was odd. I wasn’t the type of person, like Bella, who sat alone wondering who noticed that they were sitting alone. This, however, isn’t what failed to disappoint me. It’s her description of them, “The tall one was statuesque. She had a beautiful figure, the kind you saw on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, the kind that made every girl around her take a hit on her self-esteem just by being in the same room.”

Followed by: “But all this is not why I couldn’t look away. I stare [sic] because their faces, so different, so similar were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine or painted by an old master as the face of an angel. It was hard decide who was the most beautiful–maybe the perfect blonde girl, or the bronze haired boy.”

There is an X-Files episode from way back in season 5, “Bad Blood,” which had Agent Mulder kill a teenage boy whom he thought was a Vampire. In the Twilight Zone-esque ending, typical of the “Monster of the Week” episodes it turns out that not only was he a vampire but the whole town was as well. While the episode was an entertaining one, the relevance here is that the vampire itself was not attractive nor debonair nor aristocratic. He was a misfit that the others disdained for his ways. Part of me wants this in Vampire fiction, the vampire who is just a jerk, not evil, but what we would call a douchebag. I would also like to see the Vampires who are not drop dead gorgeous (Blade for example) nor the complete monster (the Nosferatu clan of the little known “Kindred: The Embraced” show) since pop-culture has since dropped all actual reference to Stoker’s book.

Vampires were never attractive nor sexy in appearance until Bela Lugosi donned the cape and medallion attempting to seduce Helen Chandler in 1931. Before that the physical deformities were omnipresent. They had to be because since the Elizabethan era (and probably before but I wasn’t a literature major) evil had to be represented physically. Look at Shakespeare, Richard III had a hump back; Professor Moriarty had an over pronounced forehead (but not too overpronounced as Holmes observes) even the Vampyre of Polidori wasn’t portrayed as being beautiful, but merely an aristocrat, although he was sexually effective.*

We can blame Polidori/Byron (since the story was falsely attributed to Byron when it was first published) for the alluring Vampire, but more accurately we must drop it on Lugosi since his film portrayal was so iconic that over seventy years later you can still buy his costume around Halloween. In this book, do we have an excuse?

Well, I don’t want to read about ugly people do you? Aristotle said that in order to be happy one must be on the better end of the attractiveness spectrum. It sounds superficial, but we are wired this way. The more attractive the easier a person is going to have of it. Plus, we have already seen Bella shun aside the greasy overweight guy in her class so she needs some other group of loners that she must be drawn to. That is why I am probably not disappointed enough, I understand Bella’s character to be superficial and since in the long run we know she’s going to be drawn to one of the Vampires then I don’t really want the story to be about how she falls in love with the ugly kid who happens to also be a Vampire.

One final note: I love this, “…from somewhere in Alaska.” I asked for it last entry and I got it. The Vampire clan, it is explained came from Alaska originally. It was pointed out to me that one of the problems with living in Alaska is that for every month of night, you do get that much time of day as well. The cloud cover of Washington state makes more and more sense.

*And this probably has more to do with Polidori being jealous of Lord Byron’s way with women viewing him more as a predator than anyone of true worth.

Modern Warfare 2: The place where the truck goes

December 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Part 2 of the Modern Warfare 2 review.

The truck goes in the various plot holes, and complete lack of motivation for the villain’s primary motivation. I should warn right now that this is going to contain spoilers if you haven’t played the game or haven’t finished it and, yadda yadda, then don’t continue reading this.

The game single player campaign takes place five years after the previous game. The antagonist from the first game, Imran Zakhaev’s ultra nationalist party has taken over Russia despite the efforts of the player from the first game. Zakhaev has been declared a national hero in Russia and a statue in his honor has been erected in the middle of Moscow. Now one of his followers Markarov, which is too close to “Markov” who was your ally in the first game, has taken over. The plot runs several different parallel stories concentrating on an SAS Soldier “Roach,” an Army Ranger named James Ramirez, another Ranger Joseph Allen, and finally SOAP McTavish (the main character from the first game).

It leads off with the player as Roach attempting to retrieve a spy satellite component from a Russian Airfield, which is pretty derivative of the opening scene in the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies,” all with a very Bondish escape on snowmobiles. The game then deviates to Allen and a patrol in Afghanistan that comes under ambush. Then there is the controversial level that I have explained at length. The point of the controversial level is that Allen, is undercover in Markarov’s organization the issue is that Markarov knows about this and frames Allen for committing the massacre. This prompts the Russian government to invade the United States Red Dawn style setting up the remaining missions of Ranger Ramirez.

At the same time that Ramirez is fighting off the Russians; Roach, Soap, and the counter terrorist task force 141, are hunting Markarov. This is under American General Sheperd, who initially sent Allen undercover in the first place. Roach, and Soap rescue the one prize that Markarov cannot resist, Captain Price, the team leader from the first game out of a Russian prison. Once rescued Price, who just assumes command once more, leads the team to a Russian Submarine Base, hijacks a Sub and launches an ICBM at Washington DC. He detonates it in the upper atmosphere which releases an EMP frying all electronics and slowing down the invasion to a crawl.

That settled, the hunt for Markarov continues as Group 141 searches for his location. They track him down to two possibilities: one, a safe house in the Caucasus Mountains where some valuable intelligence is recovered and General Sheperd awaits you for pick up. However Sheperd betrays you, killing Roach and stealing the intelligence. It seems that Sheperd was behind the whole thing in the first place, angry over the loss of 30,000 troops in the nuclear explosion from the first game so he arranged for the invasion to take place in order to get a blank check to hunt Markarov. Soap, and Price escaping track down Sheperd in Afghanistan, killing him while escaping as the most hunted after fugitives in world history.

I’m not going to discuss the game technically, because it is outstanding in every respect. The weather, weapons, and game control obviously have a lot of care involved in their crafting. Initially the control was a little slow, but that was adjustable. The missions themselves are very well crafted, showing a lot of creativity in design as well as some rather breathtaking views. The entire Washington DC level paid great attention to the layout of the city as well as what it might possibly look like while a battle was being fought around the Washington Monument and inside the White House.

The biggest gripe though is the overall story, which makes almost no sense. Sheperd, the final antagonist, has no plausible motive. Sure, it is a tragedy to have lost 30,000 troops, but the person responsible was dealt with along with the country that harbored him. Why spark an invasion of the United States, when he was already in control of Black Operations group 141? If he has that much authority why not just murder Markarov to begin with and call it a day, he goes to way too much trouble to set the whole thing up. Markarov doesn’t like nor trust Sheperd but for some reason he allows one of his agents into his organization and lets him hold a machine gun while walking behind him.

Furthermore Markarov as a character makes some sense. If he was Zakhaev’s second in command we can understand that perhaps Zakhaev was Markarov’s leash. This was an argument I heard post 1991 Gulf War, that Saddam kept someone worse from being in power (probably one of his sons–the sociopath one…Qusay?). However, it’s unclear what Markarov’s position is and why in the midst of the invasion of the United States is he fighting Sheperd in Afghanistan? Furthermore, why is their even a US presence in Afghanistan when DC is being fought over? One might think that if the US was invaded that the military would drop everything and begin a counterstrike immediately.

The other question concerns the rescuing of Captain Price. The mission is great, but the remaining question is why is Price still alive? Zakhaev’s party took over the government and Price is one of the two people responsible for killing him, unless in the game’s world, the Russians don’t have the death penalty.

The game was enjoyable, and a technical marvel. But like all technicians and engineers that I know they just can’t tell a good story. The story feels like the first draft of a bad spy novel, where the twists don’t make as much sense thereby eliminating their impact. It simply doesn’t live up to the first game.

Categories: reviews, video game review

Hypocrisy Now (Twilight Walkthrough pg. 12-17)

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Lionel Hutz once said that there was the truth and then there was the truth. I would like to add to his truths a third “truth.” The accidental truth, and while shaking the head and nodding the head accompanied the previous two, my truth would be given with a shrug of the shoulders. My truth is the one that isn’t meant to be the truth, it’s entirely accidental revealing more than the speaker intended. In today’s section, our narrator/author has revealed something about herself that maybe she didn’t intend. She’s a hypocrite.

Or she’s really, really insightful into the mind of a 16-18 year old girl without actually having been this girl. In our previous entry I discussed the self-deprecation of young Isabella as she felt insecure in her own pale skin even though she lived in the sunshine state.* Nothing really different or revealing here, show me ten 16 year old girls and I’ll show you ten people who think everyone else is the most attractive person in the room.

For the most part this second part of chapter 1, is still about setting the stage. While the school and the location get most of the words the whole thing is about Bella’s difficulty fitting in. Here’s where the hypocrisy sets in: it’s not that she doesn’t fit in it’s that she doesn’t want to fit in. Purposely she sets herself apart and then blames everything but herself for not being able to do it. And no, this isn’t the type of complaint akin to saying that depressed people should just “get over it and be happy.”

Most the description is bland, not in the writing but in the actual description. Forks is a bland place full of grey and rain. Bella’s worry over her complexion becomes a moot point. Her pale face only stands out because she thinks it ought to, probably why she has it in the first place. What does stand out though is her supreme intellect: “I kept my eyes down on the reading list the teacher had given me. It was fairl basic: Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner. I’d already read everything.”

The only thing missing from the end of that sentence is the phrase, “on my own time.” Or perhaps even some literary commentary from our academic intellectual, “I’d doubt we would read Chaucer in the original English as the modern language doesn’t suffice for his nuance, though I would keep my mouth shut about that I didn’t want to alienate myself more.” I’ve dealt with this type of student before and they are always infuriating because you simply don’t know what do with them.

Not because they are so smart, like an actual talented writer/philosopher/historian, but because they think they are. They think they are smarter than everyone else, which is probably true, but they also think they are smarter than the teacher, which is not true. One of these individuals actually asked me if I thought I was smarter than they, I replied “no, I didn’t think that.” This individual was flabbergasted because no one ever dared question them. Bella is that student and most of the time I was happy to have someone who actually had an opinion, did the reading, and participated. So you have to walk a line with her and dealing with intellectual snobbery is tough, especially when the student is just wrong. Since when is Shakespeare and Chaucer considered “basic?”

Then comes the aesthetic discrimination, “When the bell rang, a nasal buzzing sound, a gangly boy with skin problems and hair black as an oil slick leaned across the aisle to talk to me.” Bella is real good at making friends isn’t she? I feel like I should cut her some slack, I know this type of person and all the description is missing is a remark about his tee-shirt either contains a large dragon image or Japanese writing on it. The thing is that the guy is already a stalker, he just doesn’t know it yet, perhaps Bella is reading this into the guy and millions of years of evolutionary memory are just screaming at her, “Don’t touch.” Still the attitude in the writing doesn’t need her snideness.

It’s not like Bella is even trying anymore, so it’s hard for me to feel sympathy, “We sat at the end of a full table with several of her friends, who she introduced to me. I forgot all of their names as soon as she spoke them. They seemed impressed by her bravery in speaking to me.” Ever notice how prison movies and high school movies have certain things in common? In prison movies the cafeteria is always the place where status is determined, if you have a place to sit and a gang to sit with it meant that everything couldn’t be all bad. Now think about the first time you walked alone into the lunch room in high school? See what I mean. Bella has her gang, she isn’t a super alien but she makes no effort. The other girls at the table are meaningless to her as she omits even the slightest hint of what they look like. Are they attractive? Are they fat? How are they dressed? These superficial details matter because if our character is going to be an outcast, the look of the first table she sits at determines how much of an outcast.

The sweaty greasy guy will wave at her from across the hall. That’s the only clue we have, she’s not at the bottom of the ladder. She’s somewhere in the middle, the forgotten middle–a little above where I was. Without Vampires, she would probably end up as a theater major spiraling into the pit of despair that will either lead her to Rocky Horror Picture Show or, even worse, getting into arguments about Buffy at Denny’s around 3am. She is, though, making the mistake of dissing her newest friends in the lunchroom and if Oz taught me anything it’s that she’s got a shank headed her way.

*Well not really, but compared to Washington Arizona might as well be. Technorati Tags:

Modern Warfare 2: Review Part I

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Call of Duty as a series primarily relied upon the standard, and never dull/rote, idea of putting the player in the eyes of a WWII soldier. A concept that has beaten to death so many times that it is doubtful the horse’s skeleton even remains (just where the hell is a WWI shooter anyway?). The fourth game in the series decided to skip that in favor of a modern story that was critically acclaimed by all for both the engaging storyline in the campaign setting and a very unique take on the multiplayer that caused many players to abandon the tried and true Halo series on the XBOX. It was a given that the game would have a sequel, because the closer to movie the video game industry gets the more practices of the film industry they adopt (i.e. reliance on sequels and established intellectual property as opposed to original ideas).

So the sequel, released a month ago, was received with nothing short of accolade. If there was a statue for this game it would have wreathes laid at its feet. This review will take place in three parts, the single player, the multiplayer, and this post: the controversy.

Unfortunately I can’t talk about this game without talking about the “controversial” level “No Russian.” In the level the player takes the role of an operative within the highly clandestine “Task Force 141,” and is forced to participate in the massacre of civilians at a Russian Airport. This isn’t like the massacres a player can perform in a Grand Theft Auto game. In those games it is entirely optional to just start shooting people, plus the GTA series has always had a cartoonish, satirical edge to it that mitigates actions done by the player. GTA has never relied on realism, while the Call of Duty series prides itself on it.

I should say this in the game’s defense, the level is optional–it can be entirely skipped without penalty to the player and the story goes on as normal. However, the controversy surrounding the level is entirely valid as this is, in no uncertain terms, a massacre of unarmed civilians who are not in a warzone or any place where risk should be expected.

The gaming media has come to the defense of the game almost universally. Saying that it is not done for shock value, it is not done tastelessly or gratuitously. Which I deem as complete and utter bullshit. For the story, the level does exist as a critical point. It’s the catalyst that drives the greater part of the story, but if, as the player, you can skip it then the question must be asked, why is it in there? Why is it not just a cut scene? Or why does the player not play one of the Russian security forces who come to try and stop it?

If the game’s maker, Infinity Ward, didn’t do this for the publicity then why is the level portrayed in the very first teaser trailer for the game? Certainly the shock value for the level played some part. This is the minority opinion as the only the usual suspects have spoken out against the game. For the gaming media to simply disregard the level as being important because it speaks to the often grey morality in espionage/warfare isn’t enough. While it is true that games portraying war don’t try and draw the player into an ethical quandary this goes beyond it.

One of the more rousing defenses has been that scenes like this take place in movies and books, and the controversy doesn’t exist so why should it in games? There is a huge difference between the two. That being the immersion of the viewer into the story. We might watch a terrorist kill innocent people, or read about a serial killer, but those characters doing these actions aren’t “us.” This level compels us to perform the action, making us party to something that even in fiction we may find abhorrent.

Although, maybe I am wrong. Perhaps this represents a turning point in the literary value of video games since it is prompting at least the question in my mind. What bothers me the most is the fact that no one in the various gaming magazines, or television shows is bothering to have a serious discussion about it. It seems as if they are merely advertising the game in order to get advance peaks at whatever sequels the game will most likely generate. Prompting universal acceptance of a game that is not up to the standard that the previous Modern Warfare set.

I’m not calling for a ban on the game or censorship, I would never do that. But I’m calling it what it is: pure shock value. There are subtler and more nuanced ways to bring in ethical discussions of wartime morality, especially with the way that the single player story turned out.

Categories: reviews, video game review

Cliche and not Cliche (the Twilight Walkthrough) Pgs. 1-11

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

The beginning of any book is mostly exposition. We need to be introduced to both the main character(s) and the setting, the tone needs to be set and all of this needs to be done well so that we can immerse ourselves in the world the author has generated. Most novels don’t have much of an issue in doing this, being set in the real world with one or two minor changes that we can quickly accept. Twilight is going to be this way as well, it’s a novel about a teenage girl but it has vampires. We just have to learn to accept this to move on. So Meyer’s only real goal in the first chapter is to set up our main character…whose name is “Isabella Swan.”

Ugh, this is trite beyond trite as she prefers to be called “Bella,” “Bella Swan.” In Italian “Bella” roughly means “Beautiful,” so her name essentially means “Beautiful Swan.” This sets up the obvious analogy to the fairy tale of the ugly duckling and we see one of the main story arcs already. Bella is going to be shy, pretty (but not too pretty–we get to that later), and most importantly–an outcast. She needs to be an outcast because of both the typical audience of a vampire book and because the story would have to be vastly different if she were the popular girl, although that would make for an interesting work itself–a popular girl who exiles herself.

We can place Bella’s age between 16-18 given the information that we have. She’s a junior in highschool so she could have an early birthday or a late birthday which would have given her the odd phenomenon of the late start which would undoubtedly make her very popular in college when she is the first girl that can legally buy booze. Until then, she must remain a pariah. Why is she a pariah? Well it seems that her mom and dad have divorced, not that uncommon anymore but we also know that her mom has some mental issues. This pushed Bella into the role of child adult. She’s an outcast not through any fault of her own but because her mom would forget to buy food, pay bills, etc. Bella had to shoulder these burdens on her own.

Again, this makes all of Bella’s social incompetence not her fault. She doesn’t relate to people her age because she’s been an adult. While her contemporaries were watching cartoons, playing sports, and goofing off with each other she was busy figuring out W-4 forms, telephone bills, and grocery lists. This again is a nod to the intended audience who are typically socially awkward themselves and never believe it’s their own fault. So far, it would seem that I have dated this woman before. It’s not simply a matter of finding the courage to just enjoy life or people your own age, it is impossible for them…well not really. They just consider it impossible. At the same time they both look down on their peers for being immature while at the same time wishing that they could be like that, but the fates will not allow it for them.

Her appearance roughly reflects this as well: “But physically, I’d never fit in anywhere. I should be tan, sporty, blond–a volleyball player or cheerleader, perhaps–all the things that go with living under the sun.

Instead I was ivory skinned, without even the excuse of blue eyes or red hair, despite the constant sunshine. I had always been slender, but soft somehow, obviously not an athlete; I didn’t have the hand eye coordination to play sports without humiliatin–myself–and harming both myself and anyone else who stood too close.”

We can couple the physical description with her lamentations about her social skills as well, “And if I couldn’t find a niche in a school with three thousand people, what were my chances here?”

All of this is very important because the character has to be two things: an outcast but with the material to not be. This is why she is named “Beautiful Swan” in a non-vampire story she would find a connection with the high-school star male and they would live happily ever after. However the more outcast she is, the more the vampires are going to notice her. It’s a simply rule, look at Mina Harker: she was a feminist before the days of feminism and the Vampire took notice of her. The thing about her character type, and the type of person it most closely resembles is that they are, at worst, phantoms in social settings. You sort of remember something about their presence but that’s where it ends. They simply aren’t noticed unless they choose to be and that almost always ends badly for them. This is our character.

Our setting if the real town of Forks, Washington which exists under “a near constant cover of clouds.” This is not so cliche and I like it. A great place for a vampire because the direct sunlight never exists. While most modern vampire stories take place in L.A., New York, or some other huge metropolis the climate isn’t right for predators that either abhor the sunlight or are destroyed by it. I’m not sure what we are establishing for this particular breed of undead: are they killed by it, does it lessen their powers, does the difference between sunlight and daylight make a difference? But the setting establishes that these are some of the smarter creatures that appear in fiction. They have sought out a place where the hated sun is hidden. I give Meyer credit on this one, the only thing that would make more sense is if this story took place North of the Arctic circle.

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