Feeld Report- Octobre 2187

27th Octobre 2187

Deere Officere Jackson,

Maye I begin by expressinge mye strongest approval for the Publishinge initiativ. The ONS’s recent reporte shows moral amongste the rural sectors to be at an annual lowe, and with paper ration supplies skyrocketinge this month, the initiativ seems a strok of geniuss. The boardd have decidede for a €400 prize for each winnere. It also gives in particularr the women somethinge to striv fore whilste annuall curfewe comes to an ende. We all knowe the domestication act drives them restles. Myn Angie does so wail att me! Me and the boys have done a sweepe of the Primary Sectors, and these two texts were shortlisted by the peopel for the prize.

The firste is ‘Thoughten ubut thas Werlt’ by a Brightoner Kraut callede Anthony Steiger (Sx104e#115). He’s a kraut-caste, farmer boy. Ration priority 2. You have to squinte and tilte your head a bit for us Londoners to understande it, it’s in Germinglish, but the Southerners seem to love it. My interpreterr described it as a ‘philosophical musing’. Enjoy!

*****

Thoughten ubut thas Werlt

Kame to heore lotto Sprech about buch shrieben so and so. I had a freund Mathias tell it ernst to me ubut the geld can becomen mit a wrily gut buch. Ist many shribers famous, they names hab on the posties nd thhre Mugs am tele. Wollen dat.

Nie bin in schule much. Guten marks becommen me, und matter alway sag ‘Anthony, klever boy! Goot son. Besser then oder Jung’. Matter alway lovv me so. Imma dah. When she is reading dies, hallo matter! Ih haven tald ydu I write woulden! Ah. Grohsmatters des mutters wasen Englisch lehrnerin. Es in bluud, klarly. Matter alway lesening. Hrre libe buke iss ‘Katcherin Das Rye’. I dank es is thie Name. Shie immer sag ubut et: ‘Is so wahr und so real’. Ja. Ichkan it not lesen, ahber. Shie wahnt me um Alt Englisch (odr ‘English’) to lern, bat et my slimsten subject im schul wars. Ets nikt so easyfacher. Grammatickly so. Tzu many Rulen.

Whann ydu lesen dis? Stoopid. Ydu kannikt sag! Fur Futurmannen (fur thee fahr fahr futurmannen, ist today yahr 2187), Sinz die Bombe, ‘English’ nikt so kommon ist. Es sprachen still am London, Ihthenke, aber nicht in Devon so much. Hiere, many Sausages kam nord durch Franz. Fatter ware a Sausij. Englische Mannen call Germanish mannen ‘Sausages’. Essa slur. Es is lotto tensionkeit nd ‘bad bluud’, as matter has sagd. Still today. Evenso Fatter a sausage waren, Matter lieben fatter till es geshotten waren in krieg. Ihglauben, shie lieben fatter still evenso. ‘Fur me, War is whar’ shie sagd ohnce. Dhey waren im 2127 geweden. Thann ihkam! Ichremember nikt so much ubut fatter. Fatter tzu olt tzu die Bombe rememberen.

Ichtalk tzu masch ubut kinderhoot. Many hab Spieriences, thass man Life changen kan. Ichthinke, thass Ichhad one juzt now! Ihwas down die Strass walken, nikt stressd, all kool, um mein Rations tzu becommen, und Ichhad die grossest Mann Ichhad eber sehen gesehen. Musceln fur Dayen. Beine like Bullen. Vasschular all uber. Veins achimbo. Streng like Bull. Ration priorichtee 1, Ich must thenke. Ahneway, Heware walken oder Direktion, nd a Frankie kam up and sagd ‘Excuzez-moi! Ces’t peepule-like-a-you-eh taking-ue all our-ue Rationz-eh!’, oder samthing vie dat. Big Frankie. Generazionen zwei, Ich must thenke. Gross Frankie voice. Very Nasel. Ich gess, heware ration type 4. Clyne man. Aneehoo, hewaren starten tzu thass Bull hitten! Mit his fisten. Bang bang bang, boom boom. Clyne Bomben all uber. Butt, the Bull juzt had es so. No flinchen.

Man, nie gessen wass nexte happenen. Die Bull-man pickend him nord, bei die Kollar! ‘What’s going on here?’ askden Offizier in der naher. Bull seh at er, angery Augen, sehen Rot. He sehim good and lang. Gess he fast gonna get hurten. Thann, Bull-man kry! Schrying all uber. Gesichter vee a See. Wett wett wett. Bull in dee raign. ‘Es ist nicht meine Schuld!’ erepeaten.

Das is my Roman. My Storybuch. It hab a art of Loyte, all Bull and Bombe. Dann, scratchen dee Surfas, Bull wet all uber. Hab a kind of Kind vee thass. Hab a kind of Bombe alway off gehen.

*****

The second is ‘Kutty-punch’ by ‘Fiddol’ (reele name Alex Butland, ration priority 6, NLxTUAh#006). He’s somewhatt of a socialite around the developmental areas of London. Officiallee unemployed as of last weeke but getss by well enouf. I suppose you coulde cal it a romantick tale of violence and sensitivitee bothe. 

*****

Kutty-Punch

Boys, peel yer ears and stook the fiyer, like. I always red in the Greekie plays they always had one of them choruses, I heard that I did. Not like in yer music, but in yer plays like. This is old toimes. Befor the bamb. This is me corussey part. Me blooder and chummo Jack-o say the korus ha’be ‘diedactic’. Nowe if there won thing I don’t erpreshiate in this Gord-givvon loife I have, it is a man using vokabulerry in a way that he arsumes he is abov me. Very paytronising and not at al deemocratic like. See, I donno whathefuck didactic sposed to mean. So a’much as I love me blooder Jack-o it was indede incumbent on me to punchim smack in his gobber, a’he were being a most disreespectful motherfocker. Mam always sedd reespect is the waye forwerd after the big-bamb. Reespect all we got. Becaus I no la-dee-da ration-1-er, I don’t know what diedactic focken means so as far as I concerend a korussey bit is just an intodckshion, which is reet helpfol. I were just ownlee previously pacing round me room troina figgur out how too start me little story and I had not a klew. Then I thot of Dottor Faustus, me Enlgisch teacher made me read tha backin 2182, but that year I got the rubble-sickness so I never lern or nothin, like. Tha had a Korus tho. Chorus. Those Greekies got it all figgur out. They know how to start a playe, they do. They made more’n a couple, I think they did.

For the perpos o pasing the chorus is now don, an we are in Act 1 I think. Wel, the chorussey bit wer quite lang, so acshlee we are in Act 2 I do think. Act 2 begins in pab. Pab in New Leverstock, in developments. Good chummos. Good biir. Lot o’laufter every noite. Pabkeeper name Grislock. Good old chum.

I fergat to set seen praperly, as oi were aboot to describe big chum Grislock but I fergat there is also other characters in seen. Okay, rewoind a lil bet. We in Grislock pab. Usuwolly Jack-o tharr too and usuwolly I ponch him in gobber bekas he has a way of patronoising pepal he shold not be patronising bekas they are his chummo, and require the atmost reespect. Love Jack-o very much, tho that be the case indede. Many character here my blooders. So ther jacko and Pigbank. Pigbank real name Vladdo, but Vladdo known by Pigbank and Piggo (or piggybank by is missus) bekas Vladdo keep collectin battlecaps. Loike, an battles. Sometime he shake so much widdem battlecaps he clinker like money in a piggybank. An he fat as shite too, tho that is not so democratic too say, it is not. So we have Piggo, Jack-0 n Grislock but anather krushial character mus be Flass. Flass real name Michal, but we call him Flass. Like Dennalflass, because we jest tha his cock so thin tha when he use it on a girlie they end up flassin with it. We got gales from tha one we did.

Act 3 I think now, as the storee is now establish mostly. Anyway, in pab, we drinkin lats and lats because ration day come in for all boys. It raining geld on us boys! Grislock tending to pab and we boys on the snook. I always teach my boys a think or two about the snook. Witha snooker-cue I’ma weapon. Life lot like a snook table. Some men fall in ther holes faster than others. Anyway, Grislock kam up to us n ha’the gall to ask ‘Boys, whados love mean to all yews?’.
‘Askin ferra chum?’ said I, bekas I was perplexed by his inquiree I was.
‘He ain’t got no chum’ said Jack-o, to which I replied,
‘Odious fellowe, do not patronise our deer chum, or I shall smite yew down old Chummo’
‘I forget moiself’ start Jack-o, ‘I did forget thee democratique nature of our exchanges in this here poblic forum of arr pab’
‘Yes deer Jack-o, we must be diplomatic in al things’
‘I am glad we have settled this, chummo Fiddol’

I fergat to say woi I is the Fiddol for the reeder who das nat know me as well as my deerest chummo Jack-o. In pab we all different sizes. Grislock big fellar. Ration prioritee 2 fer his size. He tha double bass. In arr own little pab cultur, we is high sosietee, I loike to think so I do. So we is fine and expensive and senseetive chums, all like the instruments of classecol music. Jack-o inch taller than me, so he the viola and Oi the Fiddle, Flass the chello.

Anyhoo, Flass come in an say
‘Lav is like a drog’
‘Loike it changes yer brane?’ askin Grislock
‘Nah, like it changes yer cock’ said Flass
‘That is so iredeemly volgar to say,’ startin Jack-o ‘and how would a man equippèd loike yerself be able to tell down tharr’
‘It is so very tru tho, Grislack,’ said Flass ‘Love is the great chummo of Sex. They are best chummos’
‘I disagree that they are best chummos’ Piggo interject, he do,
‘They are indede the best of chummos’ kontinue Flass
‘Please expand on this very here hypotheesees while I go and help moiself to another divine libation this heer eveninge’ said Piggo, and he go and do just tha
‘When yew lov a girl’ go Flass on, ‘yew lav her for what yew can look at an what yew can grab at with yer manclaws’
A nod o’consideration go around the pab, and Piggo got his gums around the biir tap and Grislock reprimand him so fierce
‘You love her for her coddlies’ sad Flass
And a toast to coddlies go around the room. Big ones, small ones, and unconventionals too, a moment were there dedicated to the coddlies of our lives
‘And her shapeleys’
And a wistful cheer go around pab for the shapeleys of the girlies of the world. Gad knows I pray for a werld o’ shapeleys when I go ap heaven-bound
‘An the way she wiggle and wolk. Lov is found in the hole and not the soul’
‘Buh tha is a sinical conclusion to’ and Piggo belch louder than the bamb ‘to draw heer this  verrey evening. Are we not then meerely feeld animals shagging arr way into the loam of death old chummo’
‘You are animal, Piggo, and you will oink yourself to death old chummo, because I believe you never get a shag, I do’ said Jack-o, patronizing as evver
‘Oh chum, Oh chum’, said Flass
‘Do you nat learn, Jack-o’, quod I, ‘This is not once’
‘Nat once’ repeating Grislock
‘Buh twice you do here betray the deemocratique nature of our here pub-forum by inspireeng animosity amongst us chummos. Piggo I trust,  I do, Is verrey hurt’
‘I am, Fiddol, I am most crest’ and he belch ‘crest fallen because of this here’
‘Chummos, please continue, perhaps it is the biire that does talk for me in absense of my here wits’ quod Jack-o, and we give a scalding look because we love chummo Jack-o an he must learn Deemocracy, he must.

‘Flass, this is much a valid position to have, it is, but is there not mare to lov than cuddlies and shapelies?’ askin Grislock again, and Piggo do a belch so fierce we think he shrink in his diamater he did
‘I, dearest Grislock, do think that Love is found in the soul, and not in the hole’ quod Piggo
An we all raise a glass to the hole, the bestest and dearest Chummo a man kan have, for it understand us best, it do
‘For there are pleasures in yer mind that love can bring, that yer member down tharr cannot, and they is different and there is indede a significant distinction, there is’
‘But yer mind don’t have feelers, like’ quod Flass
‘Yah, because yew feel em in yer brain in, like, neurological exchanges’ sad Piggo
‘Like a brain-cock?’ quod Flass
‘Yar, like a brain-cock that feels all the good brain feelings that love does inspire in the besotted individual’ quod Piggo
‘This is most interesting’ sad Grislock and he strokin his chin like ‘But can you have love of the soul without love of the hole, like?’
‘The hole is the goal, the hole makes us whole, it is undeniable’ sad Jack-o, and I had to strike him so rapturous in his goolies because this were clearly the third time he had threatened the democracy of the pab
‘Do nat be so animalistic, Jack-o’, quod I, bekas I love him so ‘we must first recognise that carnal pleasures are beneath us like, before we can begin to indulge them also like’
And a nod of agreement go around the pab and we raise a glas of biir to the recognition of carnal pleasures as beneath us like, bekas it keeps us human it does. While Jack-o incapacitated from goolie-smack, we all think about the nature of hole and soul.

Is a kind of issue to keep a chummo on his toes for his life, it is. It is a kind of absurd. Is a kutty-punch to the mind-goolies, the inquiree of lovve. We have most finished Act 5 I think now, anI think another Chorus bit comes after, but I thought Chorus was an introduction, so this much makes no sense. I am now to finish my tale, and I hope it was verily diedactic, to quod Jack-o, the bestest of chummos.

*****

Lett me know whatt you thinke, and I’ll contacte the boys.

Bestt wishes,

General Dir. Richard Havisham

‘The Collector’ And Absurd Love

In Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, Janet Malcolm interprets a part of Freud’s essay Observations On Transference-Love to read “Isn’t what we mean by ‘falling in love’ a kind of sickness and craziness, an illusion, a blindness to what the loved person is really like?”. Although it’s a paraphrasing of a material I’ve never read, it sounds as if it’s the closest thing to absolute truth Freud ever said. Similarly, Plato in his dialectic Phaedrus, discusses the nature of love and desire, with Socrates at one point concluding that ‘love is a madness’.

After reading Nabokov’s Lolita I needed something less orotund and mentally cumbersome to read on the come-down from that novel. Not yet jaded by tales of creepy men, I decided I’d give The Collector a go, a book I remembered being recommended by my English teacher. I’m very glad that I did. Although the author John Fowles is explicitly on record as saying the novel is about class and intellectual divisions within society increasingly dominated by a wealthy but responsibly impotent minority, there is also a more thorough investigation within the superficial narrative: that of bad love.

The concept of ‘bad love’ might seem an oxymoron, the idea of an elevated-self and spiritual bond being described as an affliction can easily be seen as an impossible contortion of the word ‘love’ itself. The usually-depicted situation wherein two people fall in love sees the two individuals involved as respectively causative of the other’s being ‘in love’. We are used to the idea of love between two people being caused by temporal and proximal factors. While there is no absolute criteria, we see love as a series of social inputs and outputs. If I spend x amount of months with this person, if I have y amount of intimate exchanges with this individual, love will be caused.

To give even an inch of credence to this idea has so many dangerous implications. Millions of non-heterosexual individuals are either persecuted or forced into self-repression because of the refractory nature of love. To believe that love can be caused by such interactions and formulas is to say that it can therefore be eluded by omission of these interactions. This is the same precept that fuels sexual correction camps and the wider homophobic institutions existing today. Love, who you and how you love, cannot be decided solely by these factors. It is a state of being that exists outside of your own agency. Instead of two individuals being the causative agents of each others’ love, it is more likely that two people in love with each other have experienced the same change simultaneously but independently. Laterally. Because the state of being in love is not down to our individual decision, to seek a fatalist ‘love’ is a defeating task.

This is exactly the task our protagonist Frederick Clegg suffers with. He kidnaps secondary protagonist Miranda and keeps her prisoner in his house so that she can learn to love him. This is what he believes to be his ultimate fulfilment.

To seek love from an individual you do not know enough about is worse than any regular love. Love entails obsession above anything else, it entails an insatiable fascination, and if this obsession and mental fervour cannot be channelled towards someone who can reciprocate the same satisfaction in sheer discovery, then acceptable obsession becomes unhealthy obsession. Frederick knows nothing about Miranda. He can wax lyrical about the way her hair looks and the way she carries herself, but knows nothing of her mind. This is a crucial idea. The kind of love Frederick exhibits is the love of her physical surface, which is only a slice of her identity. As such, he loves completely only that which she allows him to experience. Frederick loves an incomplete person, so has incomplete empathies for her.

In philosophy, ‘the Absurd’ refers to the human instinct to find purpose in life and the human inability to do so. It is an absurd struggle due to the fact that full knowledge and understanding of the life and universe we seek to comprehend is an impossibly vast ideal. The sheer amount of knowable entities atop the infinitely unknown dominates any attempt to find meaning in the life we inhabit. If this is ‘the Absurd’, then Frederick’s love for Miranda is an absurd love. To some extent, all love is absurd. We believe that we can love another person unendingly and entirely but in reality, surely the future and reality of the person we love is too vast to fully understand, and, therefore, love?

Frederick’s unwarranted love is deplorable, it is absurd, but it is also relatable. It is an unfortunate human pitfall, perhaps an unfortunate male pitfall, to at least one point in your life surrender your emotions to an individual you know not nearly well-enough. To surrender your thoughts to someone who is an imaginative extrapolation of their actual self. To deceive yourself into allowing someone you do not or cannot know to affect you.

Damn, boi. That shit’s real.

Co-operation and Escapism

Escapism is one of the primary functions of media. We do not pursue art or media which reflects back to us the processes and structures of the life we are accustomed to. Instead, we pursue that which offers us an alternative space of reality, a fantasy experience in which discovery is its own gratification, or at least we pursue art that offers us an exaggerated slice of the familiar that elicits in us sought-after emotions.

The nature of experience when it comes to art and media is, historically, a social one. The independent nature of reading is an exception to this general rule, but even then literature hopes to incite active discussion, it hopes to sow ideas that no author would hope die within the pages they inhabit. Reading is an individual activity but it is not tailored to the individual as a product, a book exists as a position of the writer’s ideas with no knowable recipient. As such, we see the popularity of book clubs, of slam poetry clubs and of literature forums. International religious communities have been born into history because of the social spheres and wider discussion kindled by individual texts. Even with reading, the experience cannot end with the individual.

The social nature of media and art is seen in other forms. Theatre is a prime example of this, where the expression is experienced in live performance. With theatre, you are invited to observe a kind of expression in the proximity of tens or hundreds of others, this experience being exclusive to those in attendance due to the varying nature of live performance. It is private and it is social simultaneously. Beyond that, and although today the personal appliance is commonplace, television and cinema used to be very social experiences. There was a point in modern history at which the television was a luxury household appliance and with only a handful of terrestrial channels. Programmes were scheduled events around which you had to organise you and your family’s time to watch.

Expression should not be an isolating thing for either the creator or consumer. Escapism is a social activity, it has to be, creators of media cannot align their creations with the tastes or expectations of any one individual, as they cannot know who it is they are providing for. Therefore, consuming the work of creators is an exchange of perceptions from many individuals, it is a discussion, an event and most importantly a social activity.

But perhaps, with the advent of videogames, the paradigm of escapism has shifted completely. Videogames as escapism, in the modern generation of gaming, surpass the boundaries of ‘social’ and in some cases enter ‘co-operative’. Co-operation is social, but ‘social’ does not mean ‘co-operative’. With other forms of media, an audience is preferred but not required as opposed to the individual. A book can still exist as both an expression and experience if only one person ever reads it, just as a play can still exist with one audience member ever seeing it and as a film still exist if only one person ever bought a ticket. But with videogames, two individuals are sometimes required for an escapist experience to exist at all.

awww

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a game I recently played with my best friend. It is also the most adorable and most lovable thing you will ever see (besides me, of course). It is the only game I have ever played with such an intrinsic emphasis on co-operation, teamwork, and ludic selflessness. The underlying escapist fantasy here, of being a darling little space captain in my own darling little spacepod, firing lasers at anti-love monsters in the hope of spreading cosmic love-beams across the galaxy, was in and of itself endearing. But with my co-pilot at my side in real life, this escapist fantasy was somehow made more immersive, the yearnings to progress were emphasised with the knowledge that this virtual world of space-love and cosmic storge was populated by truly autonomous beings. I would no longer have to play off of my own decisions, but I would have to observe and play off of his. It was made more real by the world being effected by someone other than me. Of course, the videogame as single-player experience should not be something that exists in-between worlds, and should suspend your disbelief, but somehow playing Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime with my friend at my side subconsciously immersed me deeper into the experience.

Co-operative escapism is a unique experience, and one that games such as Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime excel with.

Art Is…

A thinkypiece worth reading if you’ve ever thought about doing a music-based post

The Cinema Crunch

This post was slightly inspired by this one, if you’d like to journey on my train of thought and read a piece with a similar idea, but, you know, more of an idea.

I write a lot of reviews. I have no idea if I’m good at it, but I certainly know that I write them. They’re almost entirely of film and TV, two mediums which go hand in hand and require a skillset that’s functionally identical to criticise.

I also like music. I listen to a lot of it, and it takes up broadly the same time in my life as film and TV. But if you asked me, say, why Of Monsters and Men are my favourite band, I’d probably just tell you that they’re good, and mumble something about consistency. I certainly couldn’t articulate it in any remotely eloquent way.

And if you’re wondering what the point of…

View original post 478 more words

Reviewing Games As Creations

I assure you, dear reader, that this will indeed be a post about criticism in the abstract, a post that treads upon that discourse-ground I always seem to revert to: the nature of games as a distinct artistic medium. But, I will begin this post with something more rambling and anecdotal, so if you want to avert your already-rolling eyes from my banal and gauche personal life then the pseudo-intellectual meat of this post begins after the line of asterisks.

Moving on, I am proud to announce that I HAVE ABSOLUTELY GONE AND DONE IT, LADDY, that I have VERITABLY PULLED A MAD ONE in that York University have offered me a place on their Interactive Media course next year! I don’t want to jinx my chances before the requisite grades are achieved but, as I’m sure some of you will know, I have been besotted with the course since September and it’s a good feeling to have overcome the interview, the most anxiety-inspiring step along the path.

I don’t know what it is- I’m an A Level Drama student, by Jove!- but nerves just grab a hold of me sometimes. In the forum of the Drama classroom I am transformed: I am de-cocooned and my theatrical wings do soar far above trepidation and reservation, those emotions are known only to my twaterpillar self outside of the actor’s arena. My actor-duty asserts itself within my very marrow, it rumbles deeply. I shed all trace of self as I step upon that stage, and a blood-pact is drawn, I am its servant and it is mine. I can roar, twitter, screech, wiggle and writhe, all sorts of excitements that would never be drawn out of my usual faterpillar self outside of the heaven-quarantine that is the stage. All these things the stage kindles: the hot coals of anger, the heart-balm and potassium-flame of romance, these things that manifest themselves physically in the otherwise absurd, all are permitted in that soul-stadium of the stage. There, I am flesh malleable. I am actor-sand. I am thesp-putty.

Okay, I’m writing pratty (it’s a hobby of mine), but what I’m honestly trying to get at is that being or having been a drama student really has taught me what I believe to be an invaluable skill: forgetting yourself entirely. On the stage it is an absolute necessity to be able to forget yourself, not on a temporal or spatial basis, but of pure self-instruction. Otherwise I would not, say, be a character experiencing an apotheosis of purest anger, I would be a Drama student slapping one of my good friends in the face on a Thursday afternoon. I would not be a 20-something jaded writer indulging in romantic misconduct with my highschool sweetheart, I would be me, kissing the lips of another when I know full well I have a most gracious and aesthetically pleasing lady of my own (for privacy reasons I will not post a photo but she makes me look like a blobfish with acute acne)! People who don’t study theatre, or people who have never exhibited the otherwise insensitive on stage I would imagine don’t understand that there is a duty there. And that duty comes along with having to train your personality to suspend itself, lest you suffer the inner repercussions of otherwise morally irreconcilable and reprehensible acts. If you can’t learn to do that, to shed yourself and your reservations, then you’re just a cheating arsehole who happy-slaps his friends on a regular basis.

You’d be forgiven to think that this teachable skill would promote duplicity in real life more than anything else, and I can see why you’d think that, but in my experience the complete solipsistic inversion that is known through Drama has taught me how to summon up confidence in my own life more than anything else. Nerves have affected me less now that Drama has affected me more.

Alas! After I ascended those fateful steps to my interview at York University (project to present during interview: in backpack, sweater: tight, show them you’re an athletic nerd, face: not too many spots, body language: how do you shake hands again?, perspiration: soaking, phone: three good luck texts from Mum, self: 2 hours late (both trains cancelled!)), and after I opened the destiny-door that for months I had anticipated, I did a quick self-assessment and found that I had the constitution of a ziplock bag of cat urine.

Where had all that disciplined confidence gone? I must have shook my interviewer’s hand like it was a raw fillet steak. Had I eaten one of my preliminary Polos? That’s it, if my breath smells anything close to the Burger King (courtesy of York Old Railway Station) I had for lunch, then the gap year is upon me. I was very nervous. He was far too handsome for me not to be very nervous. A dashing man with perfect teeth teaching University modules on videogames like Dear Esther? What could possibly make me more nervous? The Gods- nay- the devils were conspiring against me. My voice quavered. I sounded like a rusty accordion.

Well, despite the initial nervousness that I felt betrayed the Drama student in me, my interviewer and I gradually developed a better rapport and we, at one point, touched upon the subject of games critique. I remember saying that the nature of games means that games critique is distinct from, particularly, critique of literature. There we go, 900 words and we’ve finally got to the point.

*****

Those who read my posts often (I really don’t understand you lot) will know that I’ve done posts on books before. I’ve looked at novels dear to me such as Birdsong, gob-smackingly intelligent but bewildering works such as Lolitaand even books I came to love through games, like Fables. I’ve always reflexively regarded literature and games as innately separate and so therefore incomparable, but recently I’ve been thinking about the differences between book and game reviews and how the book review is innately successful as an assessment where the game review cannot have the same kind of innate understanding of the work it is reviewing.

What is unique about the book review, as opposed to the film, music, or game review, is that the medium of expression in both the subject and object of the review is the same: words. To review a piece of literature the critic must demonstrably understand and manipulate the very same methods of expression as the author he is critiquing. You are using words to criticise the use of words. Granted, the reviewer is likely not using narrative devices to criticise narrative devices, but already by using words to tackle words, language to assess language, there is no such epistemic or critical gulf when it comes to the issue of the game review.

The main purpose of this post is to express how strange it is, as an active participant in games criticism, to mull over the fact that I use written language to assess media that deviates from using written language as expression. Games criticism, an important sector of the industry and social sphere of videogames as a whole, and a rapidly expanding one, is largely found within the written medium. Reviews of videogames express, through written language, the reviewer’s response to his experience, an experience translated to him through interaction. Much the same can be said of the book review, in which the reviewer uses written language to express his emotions gathered from the experience of reading the book. But what is different about the book review is that the reviewer, simply by virtue of writing the review, shows an understanding of the book as a creation as well as a piece of media. The game reviewer cannot show such an understanding of the game as a creation by writing.

There is so much more to a game as a creation than simply what is felt by the reviewer during his experience. There are complex systems of coding, aesthetic design and interface systems that the reviewer simply does not have to understand in order to express what he felt and took away from the product. What game review have you read recently that criticised intimately the net code or Unity code for the product?

I’m not writing this post to posit a serious problem with game reviews. I don’t know much code and I feel that this doesn’t inhibit my game reviews, but it’s to ask what degree of knowledge do we have to, as reviewers, have of the creative process for criticisms of products to be valid or at least valued? With criticism of books the understanding is innate, but with games it feels as though we sometimes barely scratch the surface.

‘Lolita’ And The Nature Of Language

I am thankful that throughout my time in Secondary Education I have studied German as a subject in itself, but also Middle English through learning Chaucer in The Wife of Bath’s Tale. The memories that strike me most immediately when I think back to my time learning German, in particular, are those in which I remember learning more about the English language obliquely through the other. These instances which actually informed me of my native language yielded more than a historical-linguistical interest to me, what imprinted them firmly into my memory was the reflections they inspired in which I realised I know so little about the language I have always used. These nuggets of lexical semantics did not present to me just the kind of pleasant or at least curious illumination of my language that might be expected on a surface level, but rather they overwhelmed me slightly, made me mentally recoil with the sudden realisation of that massive gulf of basic knowledge when it comes to the language I live in.

For example, in my AS German classroom sometime in early 2016 I remember reading the word ‘Ostern’, the German word for the festival of Easter, and seeing within the phrase the lexical stem of ‘Ost’, meaning ‘East’ in English. While the proto-Germanic root ‘Austrǭ’ has no semantic similarities to either ‘Ost’ or ‘East’ in ‘Ostern’ and ‘Easter’, it is the root of both prefixes and I was wholly dumbfounded, when I saw this in ‘Ostern’, that I had simply never seen the word ‘East’ in ‘Easter’. I have been on this planet 17 years. I have read, written, spoken and listened to the word ‘Easter’ probably thousands of times, and before that day I had never recognised one of the most rudimentary of English terms within that six-lettered expansion.

Sometimes I only need my own language to realise that I am a deplorable lexical philistine. Later in 2016, during a Religion lesson, I happened to by complete coincidence pronounce the word ‘disease’ with a hard medial ‘s’ instead of a soft ‘s’, so as to say in phonetics ‘diss-ees’ by accident. In this moment of unwarranted epiphany I knew at once: for my entire life I had never realised that the brilliant term ‘disease’ is a cohabitation of ‘dis-‘ and ‘ease’. A loss of ease.

It is almost scary how little we tend to know about our own native language unless we elect to study it linguistically, which is not readily available for most English schoolchildren until university level (in my experience). I have chosen to study English throughout the entirety of my time at Secondary school and I still know less about English linguistics than I do of German, I imagine. There is a crucial distinction between knowing language and using language. Although it is a universal principle that babies can express an understanding of language through speaking far before they can read (which would entail two separate understandings of two separate communicative systems), in Western cultures the phonetics and alphabet of a language are inextricably linked unlike in some Eastern cultures, so we tend to treat the written English language and spoken English language as one and the same when that isn’t necessarily correct. Living in a country that has an absolutely alphabetic principle to language has probably been the reason why I don’t know a thing about English linguistics.

Although this post is about reading Lolita, one of my regrets (which I’m successfully in the process of reversing) is that I really don’t read enough. I do love to read a good book, and I love the gratification that comes with finishing a good book and having processed its ideas. But, the majority of media I’ve consumed which could be considered formative or linguistically formative has undoubtedly been conveyed with screens and with speakers. As such, when I write, I write to reflect ideas which have been conveyed to me visually and aurally, and as such I can go 17 years on this planet reproducing the word ‘disease’ as the phonetic referent ‘dizease’, never realising that as a lexical entity ‘disease’ has a life of its own. For Centuries after the death of Christ written European languages simply weren’t standardised, and standardisation of written English is seen as late as the 16th Century. This does not mean that prior to the 16th Century the English language did not exist, only that it was known primarily through dialect. A standard of written English that is known by most English citizens, in the broader picture of history, is a new thing. This all just goes to show that native speakers of any language can maintain, impress and cultivate a language solely through dialect, and without knowledge or at least proper knowledge of its written forms or linguistics.

This idea might be a contributing factor as to why authors such as Vladimir Nabokov or Joseph Conrad (Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) penetrated the canon of English literature with such ease as they did. Learning a language through linguistics and lexical semantics, primarily through text and not speech, yields a far deeper and more robust knowledge of the language, evidently, than its native speakers tend to hold. Reading Nabokov has been a mammoth task that I’m not sure why, in retrospect, I ever felt compelled to undertake, and reading Conrad for my AS and A2 Level English exams has been a similarly bewildering experience with less of the reward of reading Nabokov. If I’m expressing a sense of frustration it’s only because a dictionary will need to be referred to every 2 minutes reading either Conrad or Nabokov.

Conrad, Polish, only learned English in his twenties and famously said of writing in that acquired language: “Ah… to write French you have to know it. English is so plastic—if you haven’t got a word you need you can make it, but to write French you have to be an artist like Anatole France”. As well as the ease of neologism which Conrad outlines, it seems that Conrad is suggesting complete knowledge of the English language isn’t necessary in order to convey ideas. I’ve already kind of looked at why this is true above but actually reading Conrad demonstrably exposes the truth of his statement just by the sheer range and depth of his vocabulary compared to his native English writers who are still successful. He has an aptitude only bettered by Nabokov (in my experience) to summon up descriptors so unpredictably creative and apt in his prose, his writing is not a stream of consciousness but a holistic manipulation of a language he has braved to adopt.

Reading Nabokov, a Russian author, is much the same, with a greater intensity of the above retention of vocabulary but also with a perpetual talent for, in his terms, “logodaedaly and logomancy”. Nabokov himself said in the afterword of Lolita:

“After Olympia Press, in Paris, published the book, an American critic suggested that Lolita was the record of my love affair with the romantic novel. The substitution “English language” for “romantic novel” would make this elegant formula more correct”

The text itself is a brilliant manifestation of Nabokov’s linguistic verve. I have read no other writer with such an ability to manipulate the English lexis, to dissect and rearrange words and subvert the native English reader’s knowledge with unparalleled sleight of hand. I do not think we will see another English linguist as skilled as Nabokov again. What surprises me, then, is that the magnum opus of the 20th Century’s most talented linguist, an explicit exercise in exploring the English language as seen above, a book sealed with Nabokov’s own words “Lolita has no moral in tow”, has been the source of so much conjecture.

I picked up Lolita on the basis that it is one of the 20th Century’s most controversial novels alongside Lady Chatterly’s Lover et al, and I came out of the experience having satisfied none of my original expectations but instead many others previously unknown. It was gripping, fantastic, a torrent of linguistic intelligence, but it was nothing of what I expected. I arrived with certain expectations I had gained from speaking with my friends and from seeing the novel mentioned in popular culture. It was suggested as many things, including an erotic novel. It is not an erotic novel, far from it, it is an awkward fictional memoir of a man who acknowledges his sordid hebephilia and is beside himself, constantly bombarding the reader with solipsistic regret, constantly in-between admiring and confounding his deviant “priap”. There is nothing erotic in protagonist Humbert Humbert’s self-destructive but inescapable desire, and the pitiful compromises it inspires, the “haggled-over handjobs” to give Craig Raine’s example in the Penguin Modern Classics afterword. To superimpose any meaning onto Lolita other than that which Nabokov has suggested, including speculations of allegory about Stalin and tyranny and deception, seems defeating.

I just think it’s interesting that the 20th Century’s greatest English linguist, immortalised in the intelligence and clarity of his prose, can be so wildly misinterpreted. With Conrad’s comments in mind, it calls into question the success of the English language as a communicative tool. If what is delivered by the author cannot be retrieved by the reader even in the case of Nabokov, perhaps the English language is “plastic” as Conrad suggests.

The Ethics Of Suspending Criticism

For the past week I’ve been housebound, unfortunately, with an infected kidney. In my lethargic state I thought it apropos to indulge myself in Arkane Studio’s Dishonoured, where my plague-addled kin roam wild all across the city of Dunwall.

I must give it to Microsoft, the Christmas sales on the Xbox One Marketplace last month offered a generous range of reputable titles, and I impulse-nabbed Dishonoured: Definitive Edition for a meagre £7.50 ($9.29) at the time. I remember my hesitation due to the game’s 35GB download size against my really quite flaccid internet speed, but I am glad that I relented, and on Christmas Day 2016 I commemorated the birth of Jesus Christ by electing to bask in the glory of throat-slitting and pistol-slinging that Arkane Studios has to offer.

That first week with Dishonoured, after the hefty download, was unprecedented. There was something so ineffably attractive about the game that it had unlocked in me that part of my imagination I thought only existed years ago, in that first week I would catch myself in reverie during schooltime, thoughts wandering, running, takedown-ing, exploring, revolting, revenging, all whilst the real world remained below and the forum of my A level English classroom commenced. I have not experienced this holistic capturing of my attention on-and-off the console since I was only a boy playing through the Assassin’s Creed series. It really did give me that childish sense of glee that even the most evocative titles, or even titles I can confidently distinguish as more artistically fulfilled than Dishonoured, fail to give me to this day. It provided me that very rare hankering, that feeling that you cannot wait to resume play and commence with your strategy.

I suppose it was because of Dishonoured‘s multiple-approach dynamic that I felt this kind of powerful satisfaction when playing through it. This is the first truly-sandbox FPS game I have played since Metro, and that agency to pursue whatever route is most pleasing offered me a sense of possibility that was truly exciting, and it was exciting just to regard the existence of that sense of possibility. As well as this, Dishonoured‘s dedication to its own universe can only be described as endearing. Reams and reams of discoverable text enriches its universe to an uncanny degree, with some of the writing having a level of authenticity that would suggest the authors care about each piece of the universe they are cultivating through each textual asset. Be it an excerpt from a fictional academic journal or a page of an antagonist’s diary, all words feel truly cared about.

As is always the case, the novelty of this excitement wore off with iteration of play, but that didn’t discourage me and I’ve gladly played over 30 hours and subdued 417 enemies in the process.

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I had a blast with Dishonoured and its two story DLC packages, so much so that I had no qualms about impulse-purchasing its recent successor on Amazon two days ago now.

I attempted to watch reviews from my trusted troupe before my purchase of the first title, but due to spoiler content I was naturally restricted. Having now completed the game I thought it appropriate to watch in retrospect, and to my surprise the critics that I trust the most tended to differ from the general consensus, criticising the game for narrow options of stealth and also for an unsuccessful gamification of ‘low chaos’ and ‘high chaos’ playstyle qualifiers, which determine the game’s ultimate ending.

I understood their criticisms but I still maintained reverence for the game unflinchingly. I could comprehend perfectly the reasons why my critics had a distaste for the game and yet I did not let that affect my opinion as I have in other instances, I could only regard them in apathy.

Now this might seem like an unreasonable question to draw from the subject at hand, but… does that me a dick?

Seeing genuine complaints about the flaws of a game not as reasoned expressions of deconstruction but rather as entirely dismissable statements of opinion is exactly the kind of thing I’m scared of as an amateur games critic. I understand that criticism about Dishonoured should impact my reverence, but I suspend my criticism so that I revere this evidently flawed work with a kind of unconditional admiration.

I’m being exactly the kind of person I hate. Look, if you’re a regular reader of mine you know I thought Virginia was more useless as a game than Dmitri Payet is a player for West Ham right now, and I couldn’t stand seeing positive review scores for this game where there was clearly an explanatory gulf between assessment and score. It is the biggest sin of a critic to claim that a game is good or abysmal without appropriately explaining why that is the case. On a similar level, I feel that Dishonoured is a great narrative and ludic achievement, but I couldn’t hope to explain to even myself, let alone somebody else, why exactly I feel that way. How can I then justifiably feel this way?

I believe in criticism as an evocative and influential tool that can both nourish interest and challenge established conceptions. If I didn’t believe in the latter element of it, I would only write about games and not against them. If someone read one of my reviews, fully understood the line of reasoning in which I criticise the game, and yet didn’t let that impact their own opinion at all, then what was the point of both me writing the review and them reading it?

I have wasted everybody’s time.

But is there a way I can make myself not like the game as much as I do? Should I cancel my order of Dishonoured 2? Should I shock myself every time I think about the game? Would that shorten the distance between what I know and what I feel? Should I feel bad about feeling good about something?

Dishonoured, I love you, but you’re bad for me.

HNNNGH: Batman, A Telltale Games Series

SPOILERS APPROACHING

Hello and welcome to a new series called HNNNGH, in which I talk about games that made me wince slightly and produce a sound that can only be contained within a phonetic translation of ‘hnnngh’. Today’s contender is Batman: A Telltale Games Series, a game I was much looking forward to as both a fan of Telltale’s take on Fables and as an avid Batman reader.

With Rocksteady’s trifecta ending with a squelch rather than a bang, a narrative-oriented title released from a developer too technically limited to produce anything other than an introspective tale could not have sounded better to me. Soon after its release I attempted a review of Rocksteady’s final fart and I cited its lacklustre plot as the main reason for my dismay, especially given its nature as a successor to two of Paul Dini’s best works.

I should have known that Paul Dini was much the reason for Asylum and City‘s narrative- and therefore general- success. You only need look at the roster of entirely anus DC films released in recent years to figure out that it takes a tested comics writer to write comics. Paul Dini is one such writer. As an author he is fascinating. This year Dini released Dark Night: A True Batman Story, a semi-autobiographical account detailing an event which happened in Dini’s real life during 1993, where he was subjected to an unprovoked viscous attack on the street. For Dini, Batman the character is more than a task or a concept but a reality which perpetually provides Dini fragments of the hope and shame that came about from his unfortunate event in 1993 whilst he was developing Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Perhaps for as long as I live I will never see a writer who has such an intimate connection with his characters as Dini, and this transcends the pale of comic books.

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It was always going to be a hard task following Dini’s double act with Rocksteady, for both Knight and the new Telltale series. What interested me most about the prospect of a Telltale Batman game was the inevitable stripping away of combat. Telltale have not altered their formula for years now (hey, if it ain’t broke…), and generally speaking, outside of QTEs the spectacular action sequences so familiar with Batman fans would not be possible inside of Telltale’s digital framework. We all know a Telltale episode upon release is going to be jank, we know as consumers that there will be inexplicable gameplay freezes and audiovisual lags that would be otherwise inexcusable, but we suspend irritation and criticism to make way for the stories they want to tell and we want to hear. It’s an interesting thing, suspension of disillusion, in his review of Fallout 4 George Weidman notes a similar dynamic between Bethesda and that company’s fans.

I wonder how long I can keep playing these Telltale games and turn a blind eye to obvious mechanical blunders. Good intentions cannot prevent me from seeing what is happening on the screen, especially if I do not have extremely good written material to distract me from this.

HNNNGH #1- The Penguin

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Look, I get that authors of Bob Kane’s apparently nacreous universe are constantly having to recreate characters in order to offer something new to familiar audiences. With ‘the New 52’ having ended in May of this year now, we can see the plethora of creative adaptations and reinventions that DC have given us since August of 2011. It was inevitable that Telltale would have to re-imagine our heroes and villains so as to avoid that tinge of fanfiction that we sometimes receive with DCs less inspired material.

They really took a gamble with this reinvention of penguin as a slim, dashing Brit who has known our hero since childhood. With that description, ostensibly there is much ground to cover here, and I invite these radical reinventions with open arms usually. However, Telltale couldn’t prevent me from ‘hnnngh’-ing with this one. I don’t know which facet of lurid cack turned me off this reinvention the most, perhaps it was the audibly askew London accent as a Brit myself, or perhaps it was the paralysingly awkward obviousness of his antagonising elements. I know that it seems rich to criticise a comic book character for their hyperbolic characterisation, but come on, there is a threshold of disbelief that this character absolutely shafts. This game was not made for younger audiences as the PEGI certificate asserts so we should not be treated as infants who need to be flaunted a character’s unlikeable qualities every time they open their out-of-sync mouths.

This version of Penguin is meant to have been Bruce’s childhood friend, supposedly to raise emotional stakes and establish some nuance in his character but this is revealed almost only through jarring impromptu exposition during exchanges between the two. The backstory feels extremely forced and a brief flashback to childhood in episode four or five comes too little too late, leaving this aspect of Penguin’s revision rather unjustified.

HNNNGH #2- Combat

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It eventually becomes impossible to ignore the fact that over a console generation and a gaining of over 200 employees, Telltale have not done anything to improve technical performance on consoles since 2011. A Parisian Dontnod, a company with a third of Telltale’s staff, showed us a high-performance episodic narrative with an arguably higher graphical fidelity that ran perfectly across all platforms on release. The fact that Telltale titles are still being released with 5-year-old performance issues from previous I.Ps is nothing short of embarrassing. It begs the question of what they are doing with their staff, and what are they doing to the Telltale Tool game engine, the same engine they were using for titles back in 2005. Have they even touched it since Vanaman and Rodkin’s departure?

The familiar lag of the Telltale Tool engine has never been appropriate for high-performance QTEs but as consumers we conceded this for titles such as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, as these QTEs never took precedence over narrative. They were endurable for the sake of progression. With this title, however, an importance is placed on QTE combat with a particular emphasis on perfect-streak combos giving players a payoff of a special move. The choreographed combat is wasted on an engine that can barely support the ideas superimposed onto it. On top of this, and I’m not kidding, there are entire audio clips missing from combat sequences. Impacts have no sounds in certain cases, and when this occurs it is of the worst examples of makeshift development I have ever seen with Telltale. You never quite know the chronological distance between development and release with Telltale due to the episodic nature of their content, but missing audio assets would be a glaring indication of developing to schedule rather than to completion.

I honestly don’t know why, on top of unquestionable technical limitation, Telltale even attempted to place such an emphasis on combat here. You cannot reasonably follow Rocksteady’s trilogy with combat that comes close to their standard. Why even attempt another Batman game with combat emphasis, especially as a company who are renowned for capturing the true essence of the graphic novel? This doesn’t feel comics, it doesn’t feel Batman, it feels incredibly forced.

HNNNGH #3- Vicki Vale?

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Vicki Vale? Vicki fffffffff… Vicki Vale???

In another attempt to reinvent a character already established in DC’s roster of supporting cast, Telltale have decided to reveal that the leader of the ‘Children of Arkham’, a villain plainly iterative of Snyder’s ‘The Architect’ from his book Gates of Gotham, is Gotham Gazette reporter Vicki Vale.

The villain who has the malevolent conviction to concoct their own scarecrow-toxin-like drug, the money to fund their own illicit organisations and the vendetta to call for the head of Bruce Wayne… is ffffff… is ffffffffffffffff… is VICKI VALE???

If that sounds stupid, it’s because it really, deeply is. They provide convenient exposition as to Vale’s motivation and past only at the beginning of the penultimate bloody episode, which admittedly is interesting but simply comes far too late. In Jeph Loeb’s seminal work Hush, the reveal of Hush’s identity was such a satisfying one because of the maintenance of multiple possible identities throughout the novel, but here we see a flop similar to Dontnod’s Life is Strange’s reveal. The inconsiderable option revealed as the reality fails to quench the intrigue goaded out of the player and only succeeds in infuriating them.

HNNNGH #4- Catwoman

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Finally, in a Telltale game, a contender in a line of games about forming and testing the strength of relationships, there is some actual romance. I mean, I get it, in The Walking Dead our protagonist Lee would obviously have had reservations about a budding new romance because he was married, and in The Wolf Among Us the writing team wanted to leave the romance of Snow and Bigby to the actual Fables canon due to the game’s nature as a prequel. But like… FINALLY. I feel like I’ve felt the elements of fantasy, tragedy, horror and comedy in Telltale titles, but never romance. This was refreshing, if not a little awkward due to sets of lips no-clipping into each other. But it was welcome, as Catwoman has always been a symbol of forbidden romance to many writers, notably Loeb. I was interested to see Telltale’s take on the character after Nolan’s iteration, arguably the character’s most popular exhibition in its history, which was kind of underwhelming not in a sense of romance but of general characterisation. I quite liked Catwoman in this series. I think she was clearly the most thought out character in the entire feature. There is something endearing in her mischievousness and pride in remaining a mystery to Bruce. Granting Catwoman knowledge of Batman’s identity early on in the game was also an interesting angle, giving her more power and capability than even the worst villains in the DC canon.

So why did a let out a little ‘hnnngh’? Well, it’s less a complaint about the writing, which in this particular instance I think was good, but it’s about how Catwoman is perceived. In Episode 3, before a combat sequence, when Catwoman is in an ostensibly trapped situation being taken as hostage, you can opt to surrender yourself to save her. If you take this option, which I did, Catwoman escapes the situation, turns to you and says ‘I’m not that sort of damsel’. I took this as a line which appropriately enriched Catwoman’s character as the anti-heroine who constantly beguiles Batman and subverts his expectations. It wasn’t until the evening where I thought of the words ‘I’m not that sort of damsel’ again, and I wondered, perhaps presumptuously, if this wasn’t something more… metafictional given that we live in a digital climate where Anita Sarkeesian is so unfortunately divisive.

I found a Mary Sue article praising Telltale for their apparently revolutionary representation of Catwoman, about how she owns her sexuality completely and how Telltale ‘refused’ to damsel her.

I don’t know… I mean… maybe? She’s not a damsel… I guess? But she’s still kind of… I mean… I get it… kind of… not really, though… hnnngh. I’m not sure how to explain why I feel this way. I guess I’ll start with the fact that Telltale didn’t really write Catwoman. In the loading screen of the game, artworks by Neal Adams and Jim Lee amongst others combine in order to form a batman logo.

This is the Catwoman that Lee and Adams knew. Telltale, in writing and designing any character here, are contributing and not purely creating. They take and add to the mounds of canon already existing in the DC universe. And, I mean… is Telltale’s edition really that innovative? If we ignore the external narrative and focus on the story here, Catwoman intrigues Bruce based on her sense of justice and vice versa, and this manifests also in sexual intrigue for both characters. Is this really so different than how it always has been? Again, I’m not criticising Telltale’s take on Catwoman, in fact I think it’s the best part of the story, but championing the character as a kind of clandestine feminist interpretation I feel is just kind of… incorrect. Hnnngh.

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Way back in 2011 when Judd Winnick was tasked with writing the first Catwoman volume for DC’s ‘The New 52’ initiative, he began his storyline with Catwoman having a creepy mask-on bash with our caped crusader. I read a Comics Alliance article on how awkward and fanfiction-esque the scene felt and I had to agree. I mean, how different is Telltale’s iteration to Winnick’s divisive issue? Two superheroes who are bound to have sexual chemistry actually do something about it. It’s important only in the sense that it’s a powerfully awkward moment, it doesn’t make any of them a champion or trope of either masculinity or femininity because the moment is a culmination of emotion and instinct for these two characters who are so removed from being typical men or women.

It just reminds me of when Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises came out, and articles everywhere were inferring commentary on capitalist ideals, and how Bane was a metaphor for Occupy Wall Street. Christ, Rush Limbaugh even came out saying the film was biased against Mitt Romney because Bane, a character created by Chuck Dixon in 1993, was a homophone for Bain Capital (I can’t believe I’m not kidding).

Are we incapable of reading something without also writing our own little story of who is writing and who is reading the material?

The fact I even have to talk about this makes me hnnngh. A well written Catwoman by Telltale now has to be affiliated, in my mind, with that external narrative that I always see surrounding masculinity and femininity and pretty much anything else in modern comic storylines. I just don’t think it’s necessary.

I’ve read what I’ve just written over a few times now, and I’m not advocating for authors or critics to leave their politics at the door. I’m just saying inferring anything about masculine or feminine commentary onto a videogame about Batman is a bit of a stretch.

HNNNGH #5- What Are Telltale Doing?

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This isn’t a rhetorical question. Telltale have not been advancing technically or narratively. Besides Telltale’s take on Catwoman it does not really feel as if Telltale had a proper idea with this series’  characters or its faithfulness to the canon, especially with their cringey take on Joker. Almost every single one of Telltale’s new series over the past few years has been a corporate acquisition. I’m worried Telltale are beginning to make these titles like Minecraft: Story Mode and The Walking Dead: Michonne because they’re being told to and not because they have an idea. Innovative ideas are what drove Telltale to success with their earlier titles, and with Telltale series being released to increasingly middling reviews, this is just another contender that truly does not bode well for the company.

Firewatch And The Unconventional Narrative

As always, spoilers ahoy!

Last night I saw a terrific GDC presentation from Richard Rouse III and Tom Abernathy entitled Death to the Three Act Structure!,  in which our two presenters contrast the narrative frameworks between interactive and non-interactive media. Whilst witnessing these diagrams of Aristotelian arcs and Freytagian triangles flash before my eyes, I could’t help but think how disconnected this all seemed from the narrative structures and frameworks I am used to, naturally, as a consumer of videogames. I’ve talked before about how consumer participation in videogames changes the nature of pacing and consumption, and of all the created material that is affected by this dynamic, it can be argued that such interactivity affects the narrative most.

For some perspective: imagine you are an author of books facing up to the challenge of videogame writing for the first time. Why would you even bother facing up to the challenge of perfecting any sense of pace, world-building, or character-enriching when you must concede half your sense of ownership and authorship to the player themselves? Your story is not so much told as it is experienced, and so all of what the player experiences is dictated by how the player chooses to progress, and so it is dictated by the consumer, all the while potentially half the written material goes undiscovered.

It is easy for a consumer of narrative-based games like Telltale’s ilk to forget how much of a mammoth task it is to write a multiple-eventuality narrative. The author of your game has not just written your experience, but the experience of everyone who has played the game who is not you.

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The I.P. that cemented the popularity and identity of the interactive narrative, as I’m sure many would agree, is Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1. A critical and consumer success, this title had an apparent interest in the sheer capabilities of multiple-eventuality and interactive narrative, with the all of its five episodes concluding with interfaces that show popularity of minor and major player choices as well as a disclaimer before every episode reminding us that choice will affect playstyle. While this title remains to date one of my favourites, and is a title that galvanised my faith in pursuing games as a study and career, I cannot help feel that Vanaman’s talent was somewhat stunted here.

Sean Vanaman was the lead writer for the series as well as co-director alongside Jake Rodkin and Sean Ainsworth. Vanaman’s writing was so good that not only did it have the power to achieve millions of fans (somewhere above 28 million, as of writing (Wikipedia)), but it had the power to make them weep. This is a hard feat with any medium and, for some inexplicable reason, I feel it is more so when it comes to videogames. It is the only game I have ever wept at, and although to suggest that a narrative which inspires tears is innately better than one which doesn’t is a false suggestion, weeping is a response undoubtedly desired by those writers who want to communicate pathos, and Vanaman’s masterpiece really did achieve that in this series.

It can be argued that Vanaman’s execution of pathos in this I.P is somewhat unconventional in itself. This was the pioneer series of Telltale’s new property acquired by Warner Bros alongside the Fables series, and this of all things reminds us that The Walking Dead: Season One was just as much a consumer product as much as it was its own tale. With the consumer being presented with alternative zombie game experiences, is it a wise move to pump the consumer with tears rather than the expected adrenaline? Of course, true narrative pathos from a zombie game was unprecedented in Telltale’s contemporary market, so this was by all means a risky piece of writing by Vanaman.

I praise the game, but I still feel that Vanaman’s efforts were stunted. I say this because I feel that Vanaman suffered in that series the way Kojima suffered in Ground Zeroes. His efforts to produce an interactive story that shows human horrors, errors and human sacrifices are (to me, at least) undermined by the fact that this story is also about flesh-eating zombies. There is a convergence of irreconcilable difference, at least in my opinion. Now, don’t get me wrong, the success of AMC’s television series of The Walking Dead may be a testament to the fact that A: exploration of the human condition and B: hordes of gut-chundering noggin-noshing zombies are, in fact, compatible. All I’m suggesting is that Vanaman’s room to explore the more human side of things, the side of things that makes us weep, was restricted if not prescribed by way of the story being set in Robert Kirkman’s universe. If Vanaman wanted to write about the loss of a loved one it would, probably, have to be in accordance with the genre trapping of a zombie-bite. I’m not trying to belittle the game’s success or narrative lustre, I am only saying that the potential for Vanaman to explore the bigger human ideas presented in his series was diminished.

look-at-the-pretty-woods

Perhaps I wouldn’t be saying any of this were it not for Vanaman’s later title Firewatch. After discussing with Rodkin, Vanaman and Rodkin left their positions in Telltale’s The Walking Dead in order to found an independent company, Campo Santo, alongside Mark Of The Ninja‘s designer Nels Anderson and British graphic artist Olly Moss. Firewatch is so unconventional, so subversive in its nature that I believe it is worth examining as a cultural icon in the growing roster of triple-A interactive narratives.

To begin with, Firewatch’s initial step in development took inspiration from something that is far removed from traditional narrative.

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A painting by Olly Moss, who had previously only experience with IGN as far as developmental qualification goes, was the first piece of material used as inspiration for Firewatch‘s development. Olly Moss’s signature style of painting is one of duality, as is evident in the above slideshow. I trust that this style influenced the heavily dualistic qualities of the game’s narrative which will be outlined later.

It is fitting that a game so interested in implicit storytelling began with inspiration from something so comparatively silent. A picture can tell a thousand words, and depending on the angle you look at Firewatch with, the game can easily be taken as a painting just as much as it can be taken as a story.

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The game is gorgeous by anyone’s standards. Olly Moss and Jane Ng have created an environment so true to the verdure of Wyoming, but one that is also arranged to verge on the numinous… I know, that sounds like bombast, but I don’t know how else to describe the fantastical and untouchable air that Firewatch‘s Wyoming evokes. My only regret playing, replaying, and replaying Firewatch is that I did not play it on a PC. Ben Burbank, programmer for Firewatch, explains that the environment is segmented into 120+ chunks that stream in to the system, and the limitation of my original Xbox One was sometimes vivid during play.

In the previous paragraph, I have deliberately hesitated to use the word ‘world’ in explaining Firewatch’s environment. I hesitate because to say that the environment exhibited in the game is ‘Firewatch‘s world’ in the sense of ownership, I feel, would be a major misnomer.

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Firewatch‘s environment largely belongs to the real-life Wyoming. Minus the game’s hyper-autumnal hues splashed across its digital cycloramas, you’d have an incredibly realistic depiction of the outback of Wyoming. This isn’t to diminish the achievements of Moss or Ng at all, in fact I think the pair struck a perfect balance between realism and artistic personality. However, it might reasonably be seen as unusual for Campo Santo to place their first I.P in such thoroughly unexplored territory.

I may have used language that gives the impression of Firewatch‘s environment being fantastical, but that is exactly what the environment is limited to by virtue of its realism, intimations of the fantastical. Noah Caldwell-Gervais says of Firewatch:

“Firewatch ignores quite a bit of what open world adventure fantasies have adopted as more or less standard features”

In saying this, Caldwell-Gervais is responding to criticism in the form of disapproval at a lack of environmental system in Firewatch. Going into Firewatch, the average player might expect a plethora of collectables, upgradeable equipment, myriad unlockable achievements and so forth simply by virtue of experience as a consumer. However, Caldwell-Gervais rightly points out that it is not correct to criticise a lack of system when there is not in fact a privation of it. As he says, we should not view Firewatch through the extremely myopic, criteria-laden lens of a consumer, the way a consumer looks at a product, since:

“[Firewatch is] a genuine work of fiction”

Just as Vanaman challenged the escapist consumer expectations with The Walking Dead, he does so here as well. At least The Walking Dead, for all its subversive qualities, was about zombies and had a title that could begin trending on social media in milliseconds. The same cannot be said of Firewatch, which fulfilled consumer expectations that did not exist. Trying to find success in incredibly grounded material can be hard for developers, but not impossible. Firewatch and Cart Life are examples of this. For some reason this is exclusive to videogames as a medium. In film and literature, it is not taboo to produce a solely introspective piece of work that fulfills nothing but the creator’s expectations. Perhaps this is because these media allow for more introspective tales through more prescriptive non-interactive storytelling, but even then the question still remains as to why not try with games? With the commercial wobbliness of Gone Home and Dear Esther behind Campo Santo, you have to give props to Vanaman, Remo (who created the score for the former) and Rodkin for even attempting a game arguably more grounded than these two divisive pioneers. There is nothing more unexpected, or oddly sobering in a videogame than a clear reflection of the realistic and feasible. Firewatch is undoubtedly one such reflection.

Nels Anderson, designer and gameplay programmer, explains the level of detail that went into establishing Firewatch’s realism. Anderson and Ng both acquired archived design schematics from lookout towers in Portland in order to design protagonist Henry’s Two Forks lookout tower. Additionally, many real-life influences are cited by developers, Moss and Sindre Opsahl Skaare state that Henry’s features were modelled on Louis C.K. and Moss also explains that Smoky Bear was used to create the in-game mascot of Forrest Byrnes. I could itemise to no end but you really need only to look at the characters to see how uncharacteristically (in terms of the pale of open-world genre) realistic and conventional the game’s foundations are.

louis CK.JPG

This is what Bioshock Infinite would look like with Louis C.K on the box art. Henry is a 40-something house husband (if my memory doesn’t fail me) who takes a job as a fire lookout in Wyoming in order to get away from the trauma of his life at home, wherein his wife has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. He communicates with his alcoholic boss Delilah through a walkie talkie. How do you sell that? I mean… actually, how do you sell that? Trailers and vertical slices take the conspiracy theory that the narrative props up and uses that element in order to reel in audiences. It might seem reductive of me to refer to the conspiracy as a narrative ‘element’ or to say that the narrative is ‘about’ the feasible and realistic. In fact, it might seem reductive of me to say that Firewatch is decidedly ‘about’ any one thing. You could argue that its interactive nature largely makes the experience of Firewatch subjective to a degree where criticism might be inapplicable.

Let me explain: in his video ‘Firewatch Is Mine‘, Satchell Drakes refutes criticism of Firewatch‘s ending being underwhelming by saying that an ending cannot actually be poor if you have had a hand in creating it, and, due to the interactive nature of the storyline, this is inevitably the case.

Drakes is not wrong when speaking of the level of fidelity in Firewatch‘s interactive narrative. Listening to Vanaman explain all the different variables really had me amazed. Vanaman and Ewing explain that if the drunken teens end up calling you a ‘creep’ in one gameplay eventuality, Henry will then use the term ‘creep’ to describe the flashlight-brandishing stranger later on in the story. Vanaman implemented this, he says, to mimic the ‘infectiousness of language’. It is a detail no one asked for, that might not even be noticed, but one that speaks volumes for the meticulous nature of Firewatch‘s branching pathways. Many branching paths are not explicitly gamified, either. During the scene of the intimate exchange between Delilah and Henry, when Delilah asks if you are looking at the forest fire, if you are in fact looking at her lookout tower instead, an alternate response is automatically triggered. There are subtle changes occurring without any indication, and this of course is not even speaking of the decisions you can make entirely separate to the game’s script or audio responses. For example, at least in my playthroughs, every morning Henry woke up in Two Forks the picture of him and his wife Julia was face down on the desk. I was presented with the option of propping it upright instead. Although this decision may not be qualified by an audio response or by any indication of recognition by the interface, it is still a decision nonetheless. A better example would be on the final day, where depending on your actions in Two Forks, you might not see Henry’s hand adorned with his wedding ring when grasping for the rescue team member’s hand aboard the helicopter. Do you take that ring with you or leave it to burn at Two Forks? This, upon some reflection, can change Henry’s character entirely.

Drakes is right to say that protestations of an unsatisfactory conclusions are not sound protests if the conclusions are brought about by the protesters themselves. But, I’m afraid I don’t agree with Drakes because I don’t think this is the case. ‘Interactivity’ does not entail a license for the player to create their own story, and for most players the ending of Firewatch will be remarkably similar to the extent that the developers will refer to the story as linear during audio commentary. Conclusions will differ, but what is being perceived does not change all that much. It is, as Caldwell-Gervais says, a work of fiction, and you can make footnotes but you cannot tear out the pages in the case of Firewatch.

The experience is more definite than I think Drakes makes it out to be, and I think that the game really is about one specific subject. This is not the superficial narrative of the conspiracy, which is engrossing and fascinating all at once upon first playthrough. However, this is what the game is perceived to be about by many, and the disillusionment arising from the ending’s relative indolence stems from this false perception. Chris Franklin describes the narrative structure as follows:

“The game sets itself up a series of Chekov’s guns, and then refuses to fire them”

He then explains that this is apropos for the larger story underneath. This is why I say Olly Moss was a perfect artist to have on board for this project, as the narrative clearly has his trademark dualism at play. By way of participating in Firewatch‘s narrative as a player, Vanaman, Rodkin and Remo expertly draw you into the game’s conspiracy. The writing team hoist you into this bizarre and yet exhilarating echo chamber of conspiracies in order to suspend your realisation that Firewatch is really rather… quiet. Henry and Delilah manage to encourage each others’ suspicious instincts in the societal vacuum of Wyoming to the point where their senses of their reality are pure fabrications, with only each other to validate them. You are encouraged to believe along with them by way of having no point of rational reference. After all, what is the considerable alternative? That both Delilah and Henry are wrong and there is no black ops government conspiracy against the two?

Well, that is largely the truth. There is someone out there listening to your conversations but by the end it is revealed that it was only Ned Goodwin who was presented as harmless as he was pathetic. I can understand that the simplicity of this revelation is irksome against the intrigue that the conspiracy inspires, but it is the fitting one.

The subject of the game’s narrative is one of hiding. Henry comes to Wyoming to hide from the responsibility of caring for his wife, as Delilah comes to Wyoming to hide from her regrets, as Ned comes to hide from his. All three delude themselves into conspiracy to distract themselves from responsibility, hiding behind walkie talkies and audio tapes as a barrier to the pain of real interaction and the reminding of the people they’ve lost. Ned acts as a potential Henry, failing to cope with himself after his son dies in an accident where Ned was powerless to prevent it in the moment just as Henry is powerless against the decline in his wife’s health. What the player feels in the cold and almost abrasive reality of the ending, where Henry can no longer participate in the convolutions that draw him away from his wife, is an echo of what Henry feels.

On a second playthrough the parallels begin to become obvious. Delilah’s protests of Ned upon discovering his son’s body, where she says “Not knowing what to do isn’t okay! You figure it out!”is an obvious double entendre given the wider context that you are coaxed into suspending by the conspiracy. As well as this, I believe it was Caldwell-Gervais who points out the teen girls as another parallel between Ned and Henry. The teen girls ended up not being found dead, but if they had been it would have been under Henry’s responsibility. The teens introduce the prospect of an irreconcilable guilt, which happens to be Ned’s reality.

This is not a conventional ending. For a game that inspires so many emotions, people expect an emotional payoff, but again Vanaman subverts the expectations. I only think that we should hesitate to say that Firewatch has an unsatisfactory ending, not because the experience is subjective, but because there is obviously a deeper intention than to deliver a conspiracy story that would end in a quenching and easily written coda. Would it have been better to have Henry, an overweight married man, to find romantic solace in his boss Delilah, a faceless alcoholic? Would it have been better for there to actually have been a sprawling government conspiracy, striking fear into the heart of a man already torn inside because of his wife’s illness?

People always seem to have to capacity to think a narrative over better than the authors have, and to know what should have been better than the creators do. You cannot mourn a story that does not exist. Vanaman says of the ending: “I wanted that feeling to go into the player, that level of disappointment”. It was a deliberate subversion rather than the unintentional narrative breakdown people perceive it to be. In fact, Remo even explains that he’s more pleased about the outcome of the game given its divisiveness. He says he wants players to ask the questions of “Why did any of it happen? Why does anything happen?” in the game’s universe. This is the blessing of ambiguous endings, despite protests, because I don’t think we should be prescribed our own explicit conclusions. With FirewatchThe Sopranos, and to a lesser extent Bioshock: Infinite we are free to take away from the game what we choose to.

Firewatch is not a groundbreaking human study, in fact I can sympathise with Weidman when he says that Firewatch fails as both an introspective and, well, extrospective narrative. However, it has my respect as a thoroughly original concept that hints at the potential that Campo Santo will hopefully fulfill in their future.

*****

I would like to apologise for this post taking as long as it did, with University application and a main role in my school play recently it’s been hard to find the time to game and write. It saddens me that I haven’t had the chance to respond to some award nominations and I haven’t been able to engage with the community as much as I have been, but hopefully that will get back to normal now.

The other main reason this has taken so long is that in order to research this post I wanted to complete the Firewatch Audio Tour mode (which all quotations are taken from) that the developers added, which is essentially a playthrough aided by developer commentary. I noted all that I could down but it ended up taking me hours upon hours to complete, with no available transcriptions online.

qualification

I’m also very pleased to say that I’ve got an interview at York University applying for the Interactive Media course. I won’t jinx myself yet but I’m proud to have gotten a step closer towards studying games full-time!

Thank you for your patience and Happy Holidays,

Vahrkalla xoxo

Called It

My dearest dudes,

I am taking a break from my cumbersome Firewatch post in order to announce something rather pressing:

I have called it my dudes

On the 27th of February 2016 I published a post entitled Let Us Get Hyped in which I outlined the plethora of reasons to get off of our collective nuts after intimations of a Kojima/Reedus coalition were dropping online.

I said that we should not be discouraged by the lurid lack of Del Toro’s likeness being attached to these hints from Kojima and Reedus, considering Kojima and Del Toro’s well-established friendship and shared passions and then lamentations for their wrongly aborted Silent Hills I.P, as it would be likely Del Toro would join the project later.

I am a prophet my dudes

With the new trailer dropping at the VGAs a few days ago, one simply cannot ignore Guillermo’s tasty mug at the centre of this beautifully eldritch trailer.

Sitting at my desk and typing out this post, I am eager to say that I am over the moon, that I am filled with a sensual euphoria that lifts me not only with blissful sensation but with divine purpose to boot, that I am veritably pinging off my nut. But, what I feel instead is an overwhelming sense of equitable justice. I have been so vocal about my disdain for Konami ever since SH‘s abortion, so supportive of Kojima and Del Toro since the first hints of this new I.P. dropped that I feel satisfaction without the vigor of anticipation. I have spent all my energy already.

Think about it: there is absolutely no reason at all why these two friends, two similarly stellar visionary directors should not go forth with a project like Death Stranding.

It is finally happening my dudes.

And I have called it my dudes