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2019: Nerd Endings

2019: Nerd Endings

This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. Today we have a look back at the nerdy things that came to a close by Taylor Cassell & Taylor Katcher.

Having three major franchises end in the same year brings a lot of societal excitement that engages even the initially un-engaged. My girlfriend, Taylor, being one of those initially un-engaged folks feeling the nerd zeitgeist (and my non-stop jabbering about Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars) was a gateway into wanting to be a part of all three as they ended in 2019. This is not an easy task – We’re talking about catching up on 8 seasons of Game of Thrones, 23 Marvel Movies, and 10 Star Wars Films in a matter of months. Below is the result of all three and how we both felt about them. We are listed as our initials, since we’re both named Taylor, and it’s more confusing in writing than in our daily lives. Taylor Katcher will be referred to as TK, while Taylor Cassell will be TC.

Game Of Thrones

[TK] There was a lot to like in the first half of the final season of Game Of Thrones (Arya being “The Prince That Was Promised” being a highlight), but man did they fumble the ball in the very end. A definite bummer for all those who had been watching for ~eight years, but it doesn’t take away from the journey. It just left a bad taste in my mouth. 

To be honest, we used the “The Long Night” episode from this last season––the part where it pans past each character so that you, the viewer, were reminded that no one is safe––to pause and explain what happened to that character since season 1 and then watched the remaining episodes together. But it was perfect for Taylor since she hadn’t seen an episode since Season 1, so Winterfell was a known locale and most characters were back together again for the first time since Season 1.

[TC] I have a knack for avoiding spoiler culture by avoiding…culture. When I started dating Taylor, I noticed my ability to get spoiled increase. Now, my brain registers words like “tesseract,” “vibranium,” and “OLED.”

I fell off the GoT train after one season. After season 1, episode 10, the next episode I watched was season 8’s, “The Long Night” and, for me, it was like no time had passed since we were in Winterfell. 

Taylor got to catch me up on about 70 episodes worth of TV in a 45 minute span. (I didn’t have to ask––I could tell it was the best date he’s ever been on.)

Here is a live look at TK in that moment. Source: HBO

A brief recap of my thoughts, questions, and exclamations: 

  • Bran’s alive?
  • The dragons are all grown up.
  • What’s the red wedding? (There was a purple wedding?)
  • Do you agree with Sansa Stark’s rape or was it gratuitous?
  • Holyfuck, WINTER HASN’T COME?!

I was a part of the GoT zeitgeist for about three weeks, speculating if a woman would take the throne and unpacking fan theories with my coworkers. It was a blast and I could have taken eight more years of this feeling.

Final thoughts: I feel bad for all the people who named their kid “Daenerys” and got a six-episode final season with an accidental Starbucks commercial. 

The infamous Starbucks scene. Source: HBO

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

[TK] Seeing Avengers: Endgame in theaters opening night was one of the best theater experiences I have ever had. We gasped, cried, and exclaimed together in harmony. Leave it to the biggest media franchise of all time to gift its fanbase with the biggest fan payoff of all time. I know this isn’t “the end” of the MCU but it was the end of the first 10 year Phase that began with Iron Man in 2008, which is a significant chunk of lifetime for most viewers.

Without enough time before the theatrical release of Endgame, Taylor and I started her journey with the intention of watching Endgame upon home release. From May through October, we watched every single MCU movie (except The Incredible Hulk) so that Endgame would be as impactful as possible. And it was––Taylor gasped, cried, felt the impact of The Snap, and the death of Tony Stark. Watching all of these movies again really showed how inviting they were and was a great time for both of us (and the occasional friend popping in to see Chris Evans bicep curl a helicopter). I would recommend both a rewatch for seasoned fans and the full series for newcomers as Disney/Marvel really knows how to make fun films.

[TC] I knew Iron Man was cool because I knew Robert Downey Jr. was cool. The marketing agency I worked for had even snagged RDJ for a Microsoft OneNote campaign called The Collective Project, awarding us our first-ever Cannes Gold Lion as an agency. I bragged to Taylor about this on our first date, probably failing to mention that I had no idea who or what Iron Man was.

Man oh man, did Iron Man live up to his Robert Downey Jr. affiliation. Iron Man ended up being my favorite, with a three-way second place tie of: Bruce Banner (boring but Mark Ruffalo), Captain America, and T’Challa.

My favorite part of our journey through the MCU was how much it united my best friend and roommate, Lauren, and Taylor. In addition to bonding over encroaching on her roommate/best friend territory, soon we could all bond over a missed dance with Peggy Carter, Bruce Banner’s secret, and ON YOUR LEFT jokes (just kidding, only Taylor makes those jokes).

At a Wonder Woman 5K Run recently, the MC said “I love you 3,000” to the lone man dressed as Iron Man and I smiled dopily; I was officially a part of the fandom.

from Marvel’s The Avengers. Source: Marvel/Disney

Star Wars

[TK] Let’s be clear – I love Star Wars. I think that rewatching all ten movies before The Rise Of Skywalker only solidified how much I truly love Star Wars. However,  it also made me come to terms with how much I kinda dislike most of the numbered films. I found that I was annoyed that I had to watch any of them in full to get Taylor caught up––especially the Original Trilogy. If anything, only Taylor wanted (needed?) to watch them, and me getting upset every time she fell asleep during a space battle only solidified my dislike of the films because I wasn’t as happy to lead her through them the way I was with the MCU, and it showed in an ugly way. It turns out I like the idea and lore of Star Wars, as The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Madalorian are the best of Star Wars IMO. Although, I LOVE rewatching my favorite scenes and quoting them from the films, I never need to watch them in full because, in reality, the world George Lucas created is better than the world he wrote most of the time.

The Rise of Skywalker (TROS) was THE MOST Star Wars, but only because it was done as safely as possible. Say what you will about The Last Jedi (a personal favorite film), but at least it tried to say something and make a stand about elements of Star Wars––mainly who can use The Force. TROS walked a lot of that back but seemingly to only not upset anyone. But again, this isn’t about me or you, it’s about Taylor enjoying the shit Reddit argues about for the thousandth time…for the first time.

[TC] In my world, I was the first to ship Reylo. I was the only one aware of how sexy Princess Leia is in a gold bikini. Jar Jar was un-ironically my favorite character and my dad liked Yoda, not yours.

First we tried watching them in release date order. I fell asleep for long stretches throughout. So did Taylor. At one point, we took a break from the viewings for a few months. Every so often, Taylor hinted: “We don’t have to watch them, babe.”

Some things play better in memory than in real time. From Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. Source: Lucasfilm.

Then, as we got dangerously close to the Episode IX release, we tried again, starting with Rogue One and ending with Solo for fun. Here’s Taylor’s prescribed watch-order (in case you’re wondering):

  • Rogue One
  • Episode IV
  • Episode V
  • Episode I
  • Episode II
  • Episode III
  • Episode VI
  • Episode VII
  • Episode VIII
  • Episode IX
  • Solo

After Solo, The Last Jedi was my favorite. When Rey moonbeams her saber to Kylo, I literally gasped. I could have watched an entire film of just Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver’s sexual tension.

I don’t remember this but apparently, after we finished the MCU, I said to Taylor, “How could Star Wars be half as good?” Now, I love you 3,000, Star Wars.

From Avengers: Endgame. Source: Marvel/Disney

(I think it’s important to note that while we were binge-watching the Skywalker Saga, we were also watching The Mandalorian in parallel. And if Taylor Katcher can’t make you love Star Wars, baby Yoda sure can.)

[TK] What we are trying to say is, don’t get too intimidated to start watching and enjoying these universes. Fans of these franchises want to share these universes with you, and whether you’ve watched them for 42 years or 3 months, you’ll become a fan as well.

2019: No Time To Play

2019: No Time To Play

This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. Today we have our other co-host, Andrew Asplund, looking at the 2019 that was (to him).

For all intents and purposes, 2019 was a big year for all things nerdy and geeky. There were big movies, big video games, big TV shows, and big just about everything. When I looked back on the year, something stood out to me and it is encapsulated pretty well by my experience at PAX West back in September: despite being at one of the biggest game conventions in the United States, my notable memory from that event was my experience at the nearby parallel event, the Seattle Indies Expo.

What I realized was that 2019 became the year in which I began actively seeking out small studio and independent video game titles in lieu of more standard, big studio content. This isn’t mean to suggest that I never really played indie games before or that I entirely eschew big studio content. It’s more that my overall preference (at least with respect to video games) has changed enough that I noticed.

The (AAA) World Is Not Enough

It is important to begin this retrospective on 2019 with where it started: in January 2019, I was still excited to see where Bethesda Game Studios intended to go with theiruhhh, masterpieceFallout 76. But, shortly thereafter, I fell into the sublime oceans of Unknown Worlds’ Subnautica. Two months later, I discovered Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky. As the year went on, other small studio and indie titles made their way into my hands. It’s not that I stopped playing other games: July saw me finally pick up Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 and in August, I spent a little bit of time with EA’s The Sims 4. And, to be honest, I still managed to find time to play some of the Bethesada Game Studios “classics,” which is to say Fallout 4 and Skyrim. But, by the time PAX West came to town, it felt like I couldn’t even be bothered to look at the big studio content.

A picture of a friend and me, tired of overgrown, AAA studio content.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t write this to dismiss or deny the value of a well done AAA publisher title. Just a month or so ago, I was talking about my experience playing Hideo Kojima’s … masterpiece? … Death Stranding. I also spent time with FarCry Primal, a game I still consider one of the only pre-historic RPGs on the market.

Exceptions aside, it’s hard not to see the AAA video game market as a testament to … playing it safe. It’s a place where companies are willing to spend millions (or tens of millions) of dollars on a game title, which means their willingness to deviate from the standard of “what works” is minimal, to say the least.

From Indies With Love

In contrast, my interest in indie content, whether it be small studios of one or two developers or larger “triple-I” studios, has increased significantly. This year, I have dedicated seemingly countless hours to playing indie games. And, to an extent, I feel like that’s what has come to define my memory of 2019, at least insomuch as it relates to nerdy and geeky content.

I’m not necessarily looking for games that are this indie. Image source: 3909 LLC.

It’s not that I’m on some adventure to play especially bizarre video games. I’m far from somebody who is looking for video games that are #hashtag #edgy. As important and envelope-pushing as a game like Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please is, it’s not the kind of game I want to spend hundreds or even tens of hours playing. But, there’s something about a lot of these indie titles that I engage with. So often, these are games that a small group of people put a lot of work and feeling into. Not to say that big budget AAA games don’t have work and feeling. It just resonates with me that indie titles feel more less like a million dollar dog-pile and more like something that I could do with my friends.

It helps that 2019 was also the year that I completed a certificate in web development. What I originally started as something that might help me build a cool cooking website turned into something else entirely. An in-class assignment putting together a basic adventure game opened my eyes to the web as a tool for delivering game content; this eventually took me down a path of extremely amateurish game development. I started to really relate to the … allure of indie game development.

This is the kind of stuff big AAA studios just don’t do much anymore. Image Source: Picklefeet Games

Perhaps, for all intents and purposes, that’s why the Seattle Indies Expo became such a benchmark for my 2019 and a reflection of something that had been going on for me since the year began. Getting to actually meet the developers of games like Wildfire Swap, The Wind and Wilting Blossom, or Monster Jaunt really gave it all perspective. Maybe it’s just a little dose of childhood fantasy given perspective. As a young person I always dreamt of making games “when I grow up.” In a sense, 2019 was the year that I finally remembered that.

In the end, my look back on 2019 is a personal one. I have been playing a lot more indie games than I used to. I have started following more indie developers on Twitter and other social media. Honestly, I’m just trying to pay more attention to all of the creative people out there making their mark on gaming. And, as we move into 2020, I hope to start getting more involved in those communities as well.

2019: Blue Dick, Blue Team, and Blue, Navy

2019: Blue Dick, Blue Team, and Blue, Navy

This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. Today we have fellow nerd lawyer and tabletop RPG writer, André La Roche, share the things that stood out to him this year. NOTE: This contains spoilers for the season finale of HBO’s Watchmen and DC Comics’ Doomsday Clock.


Wow. Wow, wow, wow. 2019 was a banner year for geekery. When D. Bethel asked me to contribute this year-end review, I had many options to choose from in my corner of geekery. In particular, I had to resist talking about the following honorable mentions: the release of Avengers: Endgame, the controversial ending of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the drama regarding Sony reclaiming the rights to Spider-Man from Marvel, before ultimately agreeing to share custody (Sony gets weekends and holidays), and the sky-is-falling hubbub around the release of Joker. (To be fair, I already wrote about that one here).

While I’m sure these events and many others will also be a part of others’ 2019 year-end discussions, the next three represent the highlights of my own particular year in geek.

Both HBO’s Watchmen series and DC’s sequel, Doomsday Clock, radically confront the original Watchmen‘s themes in their own ways. Source: (L-R) HBO, DC Comics.

Fixing Boomer Comics: Or, the Story of How Doctor Manhattan’s Heart Grew Three Sizes that Day

Earlier this year, an amusing story emerged regarding the hashtag “#fixingboomercomics.” In it, several artists identified problematic comic strips written and illustrated by Baby Boomer creators. These comics often depicted straight white middle class men puzzling and chortling over issues faced by their wives and children. Independent creators “fixed” these comics by adding a panel depicting the Boomer male protagonist, instead of making fun of others, engaging in the issues that interested them with good-natured curiosity. However, I don’t think the artists behind this movement predicted the highest profile incidence of this: not one, but two “fixes” of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

December 2019 showed the conclusion of not one, but two sequels to Watchmen. The first being the similarly-titled HBO television series, and the second being the comic book Doomsday Clock published by DC Comics. A proper analysis of each of these works independently, or even comparatively, would take more room than I have here. However, for our purposes the following suffices: both works end with a complete and tidying ordering of the moral universe which includes Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) being apprehended for his act of terrorism in the original graphic novel, and the stoically amoral Doctor Manhattan dying after being overcome with feelings of love and hope (respective to the show and novel).

via GIPHY

This is one of the few instances where I side with Alan Moore’s notorious hostility towards adaptations of his works. Watchmen, by design, was supposed to be a rejection of the white hats vs. black hats style of comic books. The bad guy killed millions, and got away, and the heroes turned a blind eye for the greater good. Both sequels saw fit to “fix” this carefully considered ending. To my great disappointment. The willingness to defy conventional superheroic storytelling was a large part of why this work stood out, and influenced a generation of comics to come after it. Though I enjoy hopeful and optimistic stories, I also at times enjoy those that end on darker notes. After all, I live in a world where Augusto Pinochet died peacefully in bed in his 90s after killing or disappearing thousands of political dissidents. This is the same world where members of the Bush administration are not presently in jail for waging a preventative war in Iraq, nor likely ever will be. It’s a world where children are being separated from their parents, held in cages along the U.S.-Mexican border, and in some cases reportedly experiencing sexual assault.

Works like the original Watchmen offer the following consolation: “Yes, the world can be a terrible place where justice is fleeting. You’re not alone in recognizing this, and yet, you can still carry on with grace and dignity.”

In the original Watchmen, the Boomer got it right.

This promo image for HoX and PoTen begs as many questions as the entirety of the event itself. Art by Mark Brooks. Source: Marvel

HoX and PoTen

The X-Men franchise was my first true obsessive-compulsive venture into geekery as a child. Sure, I loved Transformers, Thundercats, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when it came to X-Men, I became an encyclopedia of useless knowledge—down to the characters’ heights and weights gleaned from their 1993 Skybox trading cards. After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the X-Men assumed a less-prominent role in Marvel Comics—that is, until Marvel regained the movie rights to the property.
This year, Marvel published an ambitious relaunch of the X-franchise with the intertwined miniseries House of X (“X” as in the letter) and Powers of X (“X” as in the Roman numeral for “ten”). Or, as I like to call them, “HoX and PoTen.” D. Bethel has already discussed what HoX/PoX meant for him, but hey—when you have two X-fans contributing to a website, you’re bound to get some redundancy when X-Issues pop up.

This relaunch completely overhauled the high concept of the X-Franchise—all of mutant kind, including villains, find themselves united and creating their own island nation of Krakoa (the villain from the very first reboot of the franchise in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1), and their own unique culture which includes their own language. On top of this, mutants no longer need fear death, due to the implementation of so-called “resurrection protocols.” Whether Krakoa’s inhabitants are truly able to cheat death isn’t something I’m convinced of.

In HoX and PoTen, Charles Xavier found a way for mutants to avoid––or at the very least, invalidate––the threat of death. From House of X #5, by Jonathan Hickman (words), Pepe Larraz (lines), and Marte Gracia (colors). Source: Marvel

HoX and PoTen and the “Dawn of X” phase that followed them, have all been imperfect. Despite this, though, the ambition behind this wide-ranging relaunch is undeniable. And in the hands of skilled storytellers, those gaps in the premise will no doubt meet with eventual patching. Overall, it’s good to see Marvel’s Merry Mutants receiving some tender love and care.

Patent drawings of the (L-R) “Craft Using an Intertial Mass Reduction Device” and the “High-Frequency Gravitational Wave Generator.” Source: TheDrive.com/USPTO.GOV

Technology is More Advanced Than You Know

“Technology is more advanced than you know.” This enigmatic statement, devoid of any other context, was uttered to me many years ago by a contact in the defense sector. At the time, I found this statement incredibly curious. After all, I consider myself reasonably well-informed. I get my news from a variety of sources with a variety of political and world views. I have friends who are researchers in many fields or employees at leading tech companies and ask them about the work that seems interesting and daring. I always had a rough sense of what was coming down the pike. Or so I thought.

2019 was the year where reports of credible UFO sightings made the news. The most noteworthy of which was the U.S. Navy confirmation of video from 2004 depicting a UFO—now rebranded as Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) that reportedly broke the known laws of physics: hovering in mid-air, and accelerating from a dead stop to a speed of approximately 2,400 miles per hour.

Now, as much as I wish this were evidence of extraterrestrial life, I can’t claim that it is. What it is evidence of, is a technology so radically advanced that it defies conventional wisdom of the known laws of physics and their mechanical applications, and represents a quantum leap (not the Bakula kind) between current understandings of what is scientifically possible, and what science can actually achieve.

After the story of the 2004 video broke, my curiosity was piqued and I continued to do research into the subject of UAPs. What I found was equally as shocking as the Navy-corroborated video.

Earlier this year, the Navy filed a series of patents that, if accurate, could mean that we are on the precipice of attaining Star Trek-like levels of technological development.

These patents were developed by a Naval scientist, researcher, and aerospace engineer named Salvatore Cezar Pais located at the United States Navy’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Dr. Pais’s patent applications are for the following devices: an “electromagnetic field generator and method to generate an electromagnetic field” with the principal stated application of deflecting asteroids that may hit Earth; a “craft using an inertial mass reduction device” that could be a high speed “hybrid aerospace/undersea craft” that could “engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level”; a “room temperature semiconductor” that would enable “the transmission of electrical power with no losses”; a “high frequency gravitational wave generator” used for the purposes of “advanced propulsion, asteroid disruption and/or deflection, and communications through solid objects”; and a “plasma compression fusion device” that would effectively represent the holy grail of energy sciences—nuclear fusion.

Of interesting note, was that the Navy’s patent application for the craft using an inertial mass reduction device was originally rejected by the patent examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office as being scientifically impossible. It was then that the Navy appealed the patent officer’s determination with the Chief Technical Officer Dr. James Sheehy testifying that not only was the patent application operable or near operable (the requirements for a patent being granted), but that the Chinese Government was close to perfecting such technology. Similar appeals were filed by the Navy in response to other patent rejections.

Many commentators were unconvinced that the Navy was actually close to implementing the described technologies. Some believed that this was actually an elaborate disinformation campaign, designed to trick rival governments into wasting resources pursuing impossible technologies. That may very well be the case. But I also wonder how many of these commentators were being held back by their own possibly imperfect perceptions of what is scientifically possible—the nay-saying old guard to Dr. Pais’s modern-day Galileo. The technologies described in Dr. Pais’s patents are definitely the stuff of Star Trek—but so too were cloning, gene editing, hand-held mobile communications devices, tablet computing, augmented reality gaming, and real-time high definition video-conferencing. All of those technologies have since come to fruition.

If you’re interested in reading about Dr. Pais and the Navy’s patents in greater detail, www.TheDrive.com has been dogged in publishing a fantastic series of articles with each new development over the past year. Each of these patents and the stories and commentary around them far exceed the scope of this year-end review’s ability to do them justice, and are worth spending a lazy Saturday afternoon reading. Who knows—alongside the credible reports of UAPs, they may convince you, as they did me, that there’s hope that technology is more advanced than you know.

In Conclusion

For me, 2019 had two great highlights—a return to prominence of my first geeky love, and a renewed hope for realizing technological marvels that I once thought were limited to the world of fiction. It also brought with it some disappointment, as the custodians of the one of the most influential graphic novels repudiated the moral ambivalence that was its most important artistic legacy. On the whole though, these developments of 2019 have left me more than eager to see what 2020 will bring us beyond perfect hindsight.

2019: Reigniting Geekdom

2019: Reigniting Geekdom

This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. Today we hear from indie comic creator, friend-of-the-show, and Con Artists co-host, Kyrun Silva (from Taurus Comics), talk about what 2019 meant to him.


2019 was an interesting year of nerd and geek culture for me. The year came with a lot of highs and lows, but for the sake of this retrospective I’ve decided to stick with the highs. This year brought a lot of change for me and my family when it came to our geekdom. I continued to find that my love for comics keeps changing; in a sense, I was reintroduced to a medium that had been almost forgotten to me for awhile and my childhood dreams finally were able to come true and assemble.

INDIE COMICS

Though it started in 2018, in 2019 I really started to notice that my love for comics had started to shift. This year I noticed my tastes for books going away from the mainstream things that Marvel and DC brought to the table and turning more towards indie publishers. This change solidified in the trimming of my saver list at my local comic book shop. Where once I had fifteen to twenty books that my shop saved for me each month, I now maybe five are saved.

A sampling of Taurus Comics characters: (clockwise from top left) Starcore, Malik from Shaman’s Destiny, Xob the Lightning Wielder, and Ruby. Art by Michael Dorman (lines) and Anthony D. Lee (colors).

Part of this is the ability to watch Marvel and DC’s characters on the big and small screen. The ability to regularly see the Flash, X-Men, and others took away a bit for my need to read their ongoing comic book exploits. The major reason, though, is that I’m so engrossed in the indie comic book culture. I know and follow so many amazing creators that I want to support and buy their books as much as possible. This has left me with little funds to support big name publishers.

I enjoy indie books so much that I find myself supporting and advocating for them when someone asks me about comics; I even mention indie books before I mention any from the big publishers. With books that range from standard superhero lore to horror comics to anything and everything else, the indie community truly has something for everyone. Yes, you will find some duds here and there, but overall the indie community produces hit after hit at every turn.

ANIME

2019 also brought back an old friend to me and my family: anime.

Though I have been watching anime since the ’80s and ’90s, I haven’t been able to appreciate all the available books, shows, and movies. With comic books, sports, and family obligations, I just haven’t been able to watch anime like I had before. That seemed to change in 2019, not just for me but for my family.

It actually started with the series One Punch Man. My oldest son had been watching the series before any of us and asked if we could watch it while we ate dinner one night. From that point on, my family was hooked. My wife, my 3 boys and I watched One Punch Man every week when new episodes came out. But we had a problem, we had binged all the episodes and the next season wasn’t out yet. We needed a fix and fast.

(R-L) One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, Naruto, and Demon Slayer Source: (L-R) Viz Media, Funimation, Viz Media, Aniplex of America.

In came My Hero Academia, and it blew our minds. The action, the storylines, the character development. It was everything we had wanted and more. So, again as a family, we started binging another series.

But that wasn’t enough for us.

My wife and other son started watching Naruto and it’s 600+ episodes and I started getting into the series, Demon Slayer. Anime had become so important to us, we started contemplating if we should dress up as anime characters for Halloween––that is still up in the air. However, it is nice to have something that we all enjoy, something that we can talk about and look forward to as a family of fans.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Avengers: Endgame was not only a milestone for 2019, but for the last ten years of Marvel movies. Source: Marvel Studios

“AVENGERS…..ASSEMBLE!” Those two words, exclaimed by Chris Evans playing Captain America in Avengers: Endgame was the highlight of 2019 for me.

As the culmination of 10 years of Marvel movies, I’m sure I’m not the only person to think this was one of the highlights of 2019, but for me it was a dream that 13 year old Kyrun never would have imagined possible. The idea that theatres would be packed to see a comic book movie was unthinkable in the ’80s and ’90s, but today it’s the norm. With what Marvel has done we almost expect them to be massive hits.

‘Nuff Said. Source: Marvel Studios

Endgame also brought an end to an era. Seeing these heroes come to life and die was like watching a friend leave. I’m not going to lie, I shed a couple tears during Endgame the first few times I saw it. I for sure screamed and cheered when Cap wielded Mjolnir. I cheered when Thanos was defeated. I was there when Iron Man first donned his suit on the big screen in 2008, and I’ll be there for whatever they bring in the future.

So, that’s my 2019. It was a great year. There are more I could have mentioned, but I felt these were the biggest ones for me.


Sacramento native, Kyrun Silva, broke onto the comic creation scene in 2015 launching his first independent title, Shaman’s Destiny. 2017 saw the beginning of Taurus Comics, a new solo small press line dedicated to the many worlds Kyrun is bringing to life, including Shaman’s Destiny, Xob the Lightning Wielder, Ruby From Planet Oz, Pathfinders, Starcore, Donner Lane, and more to come. Kyrun has also been the co-host to the spin-off podcast, Con Artists, with D. Bethel.

2019: Eulogy for the X-Men

2019: Eulogy for the X-Men

This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. We start by having co-host, D. Bethel, talk about––of course––the X-Men.


Many people view 2019 as the coda for the entire decade, wiping away the expectation and skepticism that has built up over the last nine years as we head into the twenties. I don’t usually subscribe to such notions because time is ever and always a series of causal relationships, but––stepping back from the year as December ends––the evidence certainly points to this year closing a lot of doors. With Game of Thrones coming to a close, Avengers: Endgame definitively ending the first era of the MCU, and even Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker concluding a supposed nine-movie arc, 2019 does actually seem to be not only winding down the year but, in some cases, doing so for decades-long cultural monuments.

However, 2019’s sense of closure and finality landed nowhere more––across multiple mediums––than on the house that Charles Xavier built. At least to me.

Of course, the X-Men aren’t dead nor are they going anywhere; in fact, many look at the events of 2019 that Marvel’s merry mutants went through––20th Century Fox’s purchase by Disney and Jonathan Hickman’s takeover of the comics––and anticipate the beginning of a promising new age.

To me, however, the theatrical release of Dark Phoenix and the comic book reboot with House of X and Powers of X marked a definitive end to eras of the team that mean so much to me.

Source: 20th Century Fox and/or Disney, now…I guess.

DARK PHOENIX

The much derided Dark Phoenix landed with a thud, but more importantly (and as unwarranted as the derision was) it marked the last main installment in the 20th Century Fox-owned X-films. Its finality (and finale) hit me hard as I realized that this series I followed since it redefined superhero cinema in 2000 actually kind of became “my” X-Men.

Through the ’90s, I developed a codified portrait of what this superhero team meant to me in an intense and focused consumption of this property––mostly built upon the triptych of X-Men #1 (1991), X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, and X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men––and, with that done, it kind of went dormant in my mind as I grew up and started absorbing other things.

And then these movies came around.

For all of their successes and flaws, they wove a tone and ethos that very much aligned with “my” X-Men, and I appreciated and eagerly supported each film released (except for X-Men Origins: Wolverine; that movie is hot garbage).

Again, whether you like them or not, Dark Phoenix ended this era (though we still wait for New Mutants to find a way out of the vault). I very much liked these movies––especially Dark Phoenix––and think that it handled its own mortality (though unknown at the time) with grace, maturity, and one hell of a good movie. In a summer where Avengers: Endgame became a powerfully emotional moment for the folks who are longtime Marvel Universe readers as well as those who literally grew up with the MCU (starting with 2008’s Iron Man), Dark Phoenix stands as an astonishing and powerful goodbye for me and my superheroes. Yes, in terms of emotional resonance, Dark Phoenix is my Avengers: Endgame. Don’t @ me.

Dark Phoenix portrays a nuanced study of––for all intents and purposes *ding*––an abused superhero. Source: 20th Century Fox

The movie affected me profoundly, made worse by the vitriolic discourse around a movie that is, at the very least, perfectly fine or, by my estimation, very good. Because of how much I enjoyed it, I expected myself to go to the mat for it in discussion; however, because it so infuriated me how people treated this movie, I realized exactly how much emotion I had invested in it.

It got to the point where I had to disengage from any conversation around it because I just assumed everyone was on the offensive. So, Dark Phoenix became a very personal movie for me, one for me to enjoy on my own and quietly. That’s okay; I gladly place it on the “just for me” shelf with my other beloved films like Willow, The Postman, and Highlander––movies people love to insult but have a profound and private meaning (while fully aware of their flaws).

Although, I eagerly await the Dark Phoenix retrospectives five or ten years from now when nerdy critics reconsider their stance after the hot takes have cooled and just appreciate it on its own merits.

The year Jack from Jack in the Box joined the team. Art by Pepe Larraz (lines) and Marte Gracia (colors). Source: Marvel Comics

HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X

When Marvel announced that fan-favorite writer, Jonathan Hickman, would be revamping the mutant sector of its universe, the speculation became a non-stop hype train. Before the books even released, Marvel was proudly declaring that the dual titles that launched this reboot––House of X and Powers of X (HoX/PoX), the latter pronounced “Powers of Ten”––already earned a place on the shelf with the other important moments in X-history: the first reboot, Giant-Sized X-Men #1; the industry-shifting story The Dark Phoenix Saga; 1991’s record-breaking X-Men #1; and Grant Morrison’s daring revamp with New X-Men in 2000. HoX/PoX was that important. The hubris of it made me skeptical but intrigued if only because I wanted to get excited about the X-Men comics again. I wanted to jump in at a clean start like I had years ago with X-Men #1. I wanted to become an X-Men comics super-fan again.

Marvel published HoX/PoX weekly as interweaving limited series, bouncing back and forth between the two very oblique and mystery-laden books, I had a lot of fun diving into this new premise populated with familiar characters. Hickman’s story was big and the sheer scope across the globe and millennia was striking in its boldness.

Things got very weird (dude with the helmet is Charles Xavier, for what it’s worth; the blue dude is Apocalypse, a classic and very dangerous villain of the X-Men). From House of X #5, art by Larraz & Gracia. Source: Marvel Comics

Whether Hickman’s HoX/PoX becomes the paradigm shift Marvel and Hickman touted it as being, I noticed I slowly slid off of it the further it went on throughout the year, especially as HoX/PoX came to a close and the “Dawn of X” (DoX) titles (the disparate titles spun out of the events of the HoX/PoX limited series) started getting published. HoX/PoX definitely lived up to its promise of building a new status-quo from the ground up, but I realized that meant burning down what came before, echoing what will surely be done on the movie side of things when that happens.

While not wholly ignoring the fifty-six years of continuity, Hickman certainly subverted it, making the comic’s printed history merely a series of “things that happened” while the actual, more important story was going on underneath. To that end, HoX/PoX effectively closed the book on the epic socially-conscious soap opera that started in September of 1963, a wave I jumped in on mid-way through but had fun learning about what came before as I rode the wave forward at the same time.

That, however, has been freeing as the HoX/PoX run and the subsequent DoX books feel like a brand new series cast with actors I know––the same faces in a new context. So, there’s no catch-up the reader needs to do. As the prominent anti-continuity voice on the show, that’s only a good thing and it’s amazing that Hickman was able to pull it off not only with the readers, but with Marvel. Admittedly, it’s much smarter than arbitrarily slapping “#1” on the cover and hoping for a sales spike.

At the very least, we got this amazing connecting cover out of the whole event. From House of X #4 and Powers of X #4. Art by Jorge Molina. Source: Marvel Comics

HoX/PoX fundamentally turned the idea of the X-Men on its ear from my holy texts of X-Men #1, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, and Pryde of the X-Men. Instead of being a thinly veiled and often problematic metaphor for social injustice set in a superhero world, it is now an eco-sci-fi-utopian-political experiment, and maybe that’s what mutants need to be in 2019, 2020, and onward.

I don’t expect franchises to grow with me and my tastes, but part of the excitement of hopping on HoX/PoX was to get in the ground floor and, with hope, be a part of the audience for whom this becomes “my” X-Men. But it hasn’t done that, and it’s likely because my nostalgia got in the way and not a fault of HoX/PoX. And that realization, combined with my powerful reaction to Dark Phoenix, forced me to fully examine my fandom for the X-Men. It showed me what it means to me, and––more importantly––how I want to interact with it.

That’s important going into 2020 when Hickman’s plans gain more steam and continue to define and refine what the X-Men are now. It’s also important as we get closer to whenever Marvel Studios does what it decides to do with these characters in the MCU. I’m incredibly excited to see where both of these things go, but as I get older such excitement becomes academic rather than gleeful appreciation.

Spotlight: The Joke’s On Us

Spotlight: The Joke’s On Us

Friend of the show, André La Roche, shines a light on the controversy surrounding the release of Warner Bros.’ Joker.

The story surrounding Joker‘s release is often as problematic and disturbing as the movie itself. Image source: Warner Bros.

By now, it’s safe to say that the movie Joker is unlikely to incite self-professed incels to violence—a fear that’s been well documented across the internet. What interests me is the question of why, when so little was known of the movie, was the fear amongst certain individuals so strong and so palpable? And now that the movie has been in theatres for three weeks, and the threat of violence diminished, what value can its skeptics find upon viewing it?

The teaser trailer for Joker. Source: Warner Bros./YouTube

It’s always difficult to enter a discussion on a topic when emotions have run high, hot, and intense. The emotions themselves that people felt leading up to Joker’s release—fear, anger, revulsion—are all obviously real and experienced, especially in light of the potential for politicized real world violence such as the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. There is no arguing with the fact that those emotions were validly felt. However, there is plenty to gain in evaluating why we had those emotional reactions to this particular movie in the first place.

I remember first seeing this narrative of “Joker as inciting violence” when the first trailer dropped. Scenes of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck sitting heavy with defeat in therapy or walking around the squalid streets of Gotham City. This contrasts with his voice-over telling the therapist how his mother thought that his purpose was to bring laughter and joy to the world. Fleck is presented as a man relentlessly abused by society and takes it with a quiet restraint: a victim. A wordless montage set to the crooning vocals of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” depicts him dancing with his mother, on a date with a young woman, at Arkham State Hospital (or Arkham Asylum for the cool comics readers in the back of the room) before the chaos escalates. “I used to think my life was a tragedy,” he informs the viewer, as the montage cuts between scenes of his own personal deterioration and adoption of the Joker persona, and Gotham City’s wider descent into lawlessness. “But now I realize it’s a comedy,” he concludes, as he strides confidently down a white hallway, fully clad in clown face paint, green hair, and a purple suit, exuding a confidence that we can assume is only gained by fighting back.

The legal act of inciting violence essentially requires a specific call to violent action against specific targets in a specific manner…something that a movie about a fictional character living in an early 1980s fictional city is unlikely to do.

One of my friends wondered via Facebook posting, “Is this the right time for a movie about a loner white male out to get revenge on society?” From there, I only began to see more and more individuals pose the same or similar questions. All from just a trailer and description of a movie.

There were fears about a repeat of the Aurora, Colorado shooting conducted by an individual who was (erroneously) reported as having dressed as the Joker. But there were no concrete threats. At least not until after the narrative had gained traction and taken root in the public consciousness. But for the majority of time leading up to the film’s release. . . nothing. Much ado about that.

“Well,” some might say, “This film could have incited violence.” But again––“could”, devoid of any actionable evidence or credible threats seems like a large leap to make. Moreover, the legal act of inciting violence essentially requires a specific call to violent action against specific targets in a specific manner—such as saying, “I implore my listeners to find local attorney Joe Smith as he’s on his way from home and kick the living tar out of him.” This is something that a movie about a fictional character living in an early 1980s fictional city is unlikely to do.

The film’s focus was untethered to any single ideology, but rather promised an ur-mythology regarding a fall from grace of a favored son set against the backdrop of revolution. A paradise lost, if you will.

So, in the absence of evidence of a credible threat, or of incitement, why so much fear about a movie that was yet to be seen? Why so much fear about the mere artistic treatment of notions of alienation, loneliness, and violent reprisal? I’m honestly unable to provide an answer to that, because I didn’t count myself among those concerned about the film’s influence on society. For one, I simply didn’t see anything in the trailer that inclined me to think this movie was going to have a message that resonated with incel culture. Instead, its focus on personal deterioration, and a vague implication of social upheaval were untethered to any single ideology, but (as is the nature of comic books) rather promised an ur-mythology regarding a fall from grace of a favored son set against the backdrop of revolution. A paradise lost, if you will. These themes can be found in any and all political or religious doctrines. In short, I saw this film as promising to deliver tantalizingly dark cinema. By the time it arrived in theaters, I was not disappointed.

Joker is a movie of juxtapositions applicable to any number of real-world scenarios. Image source: Warner Bros.

So why the initial outrage? Instead of trying to answer the question, I’ll turn it back on those who were the most concerned about Joker’s impact. Why did the mere idea of this movie unsettle you so much? What was it about the vague descriptions and trailers of its themes and contents that caused this movie to register as politicized agitprop that would inspire alt-right and incel mass shooters as opposed to just being about a violent and nihilistic madman?

And dare I make the suggestion that the best, most honest way to answer the above question for yourself is by sitting down and just watching the movie. Now that Joker’s out, you know you won’t merely be consuming political propaganda that you disagree with. Observe how it depicts its fictional reality and characters, observing within yourself the moods that those depictions stir, and how they impact your worldview? And then maybe, just maybe, after walking away from the movie fully informed, reflect upon why you reacted as you originally did. Perhaps the answers and insights that you derive will surprise you.

Otherwise, if the reaction that was directed at Joker is indicative of what future “dangerous movies” can expect, it’d be enough to make an individual wonder whether it was just them, or if it was getting crazier out there.

Now Streaming on Spotify

Now Streaming on Spotify

Broadening our podcast’s availability has been a fairly constant ask since some of the more popular audio streaming services started opening up their doors to the medium.

Currently, you can stream our show on this very website, on the host site at Libsyn (though I wouldn’t recommend that, it’s not a pretty site to go to), or through a service like the Apple Podcast app or other similar apps.

But now, we’ve started to broaden our scope by adding the show to Spotify.

Obviously, you can click the link in the last sentence to get there, but you can also find the link on the frontpage of the website, with an icon in the right column that looks like this:

So, if that’s your preferred method of listening to audio content generally, know now that you can stay where you are to listen to our glorious weekly content as well.

If there are any other services you would like to see us add to, let us know in the comments!

Five Years [ , ] For All Intents and Purposes

Five Years [ , ] For All Intents and Purposes

We’re taking a quick minute to take notice that today––March 29th––is the five year anniversary of the show’s first episode.

For five years this show has proudly never missed an update. Sure, to accommodate that we created formats like the Shortcast, Guestcast, and even an honest-to-god clip show––but we’ve always brought you weekly audio as your reliable 14th source for nerdy and geeky news and discussion.

During this time, we tried out a lot of things––not the least of which was this very website. Dan had his “Boast of Bethel” segment and column from the start before having to abandon it after getting full time teaching work. He also shared (and pontificated on) the quality writing that exists out there about nerdy and geeky stuff with his “Worth a Look” columns. This site also allowed him to expand the audio offerings of the brand with the well-regarded talks about reading, making, and selling comics in Con Artists.

Andrew spearheaded our takes on news releases with the “News Blast” articles, as well as starting the “Spotlight” features and our occasional deep-dives into a host’s “Week in Geek.” And though both hosts got incredibly busy with their day jobs and haven’t been able to write as much on the site in awhile, they continue to bring their unique perspectives from these exercises to the weekly podcast.

We can’t forget all the friends that have helped us out along the way, including the ostensible third host, Taylor Katcher. Includ ed among the ranks of folks who have helped us stick around are Josh Tobey, André La Roche, Jason Tudor (check out his new podcast, Dollar Box Reads), Elijah Kaine, Mary Travers, The Nerdhole, Luke Turpeinen and Nicole Jekich from AcrossTheBoardGames.net, Jake Waltier, Jacqueline Nolis, and Jesse Shepherd.

We also can’t forget the time they recorded the first part of a likely never-to-be-finished audio drama––editing and mixing audio dramas turns out to be very hard.

As we ended rounded the corner on our fifth year, we realized that breaking up the show into a variety of formats and categories was really just indicative of what our mood and interests were from week to week. In earnest, variety is the show; so, at the beginning of 2019, we shucked episode numbers and categories to just bring you A Podcast [ , ] For All Intents and Purposes every week no matter the form it took and we think we’re heading into our sixth year a bit more confident of what the identity of the show is with less fear about taking chances.

We hope you stick around for the future chances we take. We would, of course, like to thank all the listeners new, old, and intermittent. It’s nice to know that you all continue to enjoy two over-educated old friends talk about these things week after week. We look forward to bringing you more audio––and more surprises––in the weeks, months, and years to come!

via GIPHY

Spotlight: Games at E3

Spotlight: Games at E3

E3 tends to throw a lot of information––and games––at the public. D. Bethel has thoughts on a few of them.

Having been a console-first gamer my entire gaming life, I tend to pay close attention to the news and videos coming out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). At this point, I don’t get particularly hyped about the games that get announced (I hear people that hit social media after a press conference exclaiming, seemingly in earnest, “I NEED THIS GAME NOW!” Chill, dude) especially since few games shown at E3 anymore are surprises, having been announced months or years earlier. If anything, being a guy who is way into process, I’m excited to see what state these previously announced games are in and what kind of games they actually end up being. It’s like a big public presentation of the middle portion of the transition from idea to final product.

With that in mind, there a few games really stood out to me, with a few that may have slipped under the larger coverage of the show.

Ghost of Tsushima – Sucker Punch Studios (PS4) – Release TBA

The games I discuss in Shortcast 59 are only from the Sony press conference. Though I’ll be broadening my scope for this Spotlight, there was one game from Sony’s exhibition really got its hooks in me.

Sucker Punch is a studio with whom I’m nominally familiar. I never played the Infamous series of games, having been an Xbox 360 owner at the time of their release, but the idea intrigued me enough and the general response to the series was always positive, nor had I touched a Sly Cooper game as 3D platformers never really appealed to me despite the series’ general good regard among the community. With that said, I hold neither Sucker Punch nor their upcoming game, Ghost of Tsushima, to any metric aside from what they show of the game itself.

And what they showed of Ghost is fire.

In fact, it seems like a game made specifically for D. Bethel. According to Sucker Punch creative director, Nate Fox, Ghost is a wholly linear, narrative-focused game that takes the player through 13th century Japan in the midst of a war with the Mongols. With that, teenaged Dan, the Japanese history nerd, perked up. Additionally, it’s a historical samurai action game with no supernatural elements whatsoever as Sucker Punch aimed for “a grounded game.” Comicker D. Bethel, who’s making a western webcomic with no supernatural elements, perked up as well. Combined with the deliberate combat that looked similar (though let’s hope it’s not too similar) to Bushido Blade and Way of the Samurai, super gamer nerd Dan became invested.

Like with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption before it, the idea of a AAA grounded historical game that isn’t simply a tactical war game nor an RPG seems like an avenue less explored by big studios; so to see Sucker Punch tackle it (and with Red Dead Redemption 2 out this October!), I’m definitely keeping my eye on this one where, before, it wasn’t in my field of vision at all.

Sable – Shedworks (PC only at the time of this announcement) – Late 2019

Here’s where I walk back my console cred and mention a PC game. E3 held what it called its “PC Gaming Show” that showcased upcoming PC games in the same manner that other press conferences showcased console-focused games. Tucked among those games was Sable, and I can’t believe it’s real.

Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract.

I’ve watched the trailer a few times and I know it’s a game, but I couldn’t tell you what kind of game it is yet. The visuals stunned me. Surely a lot of people are going to be calling this a “hand-drawn” game, which it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s doing some high-level and artistic cell shading that eerily––EERILY––evokes the work of French cartoonist, Jean Giraud (aka Mœbius). Most accurately, it seems to be an homage to his long-running Métal hurlant (a magazine Giraud co-created and was published in the US as Heavy Metal) strip, Arzach.

Pages from the first appearance of Arzach in the pages of Métal hurlant (1975). Source: Humanoids Publishing.

An image from Mœbius’ Voyage d’Hermés series (2011), created for boutique clothing company, Hermés. source: Hermés

Created by the two-person UK developer, Shedworks, their main source of inspiration seems to be from the strides in open-world development that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made than directly trying to interpret the work of Giraud into a video game space. Instead, the game apparently focuses more on the exploration and interaction with this breathtaking landscape rather than on RPG-like character growth and battle. Apparently, there’s no combat at all in the game, which is an intriguing proposition (No combat?! How is that even possible?!?!) that brought with it, to an extent, an internal sigh of relief. Finally, something different aside from just the visuals.

My joy doesn’t come from gleefully pointing out that this game seems to ape Mœbius’ style or comic at all––there’s no joy in that––but that this game vivifies his aesthetic perfectly. This must look like what the artist had in his head from which he could only capture still frames and arrange them on a page. Of all the games being written about, Sable genuinely gave me pause.

Sea of Solitude – Jo-Mei (PS4, XBox One, PC) – Early 2019

As an academic English person––albeit one who specialized in Composition and Rhetoric––whenever popular culture reveals a literary depth to it, it draws my attention with laser precision.

I heard on a podcast––sadly, I don’t remember which one, but probably Waypoint Radio––about a game shown during EA’s press conference that caught people off guard because Cornelia Geppert, the creative director of German indie studio, Jo-Mei, got surprisingly emotional and thoughtful when presenting the game, Sea of Solitude.

While “getting emotional” seems to be a highly subjective term––Geppert comes across as more nervous and genuinely excited to show off her game at the largest gaming trade show in the United States––her candor with the game’s themes and what they are trying to say with the game surprised me more.

A major argument in the discourse around games is that they are superficial entertainment, escapist power-fantasy exercises and that’s the baseline level of appreciation for them. Some even argue that such an angle should be our only appreciation of them (“Keep politics out of games!” “Keep your X agenda out of games!” “Games should be more like they were before!” etc.).

The problem with that is games are made by people who think very hard about their games. Like with any creative product (or any product), the consumer doesn’t usually see the majority of effort that went into making it. That’s part of why we are so quick to offer hot takes on games, movies, comics, toys, videos, etc. We are reacting to the product put in front of us, not seeing the complex web of thought, ability, and troubleshooting behind the shiny veneer. To an extent, good games look effortlessly made.

Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract. This has become more visible as creators have been more vocal with their process. From Hideo Kojima’s thematic and increasingly abstract approach to his Metal Gear Solid series to the small and decisively personal games like Brothers and Papo y Yo, consumers are seeing the level of critical and artistic effort creators put into their games.

Usually we hear these things after a game’s release. That Jo-Mei presented their literary ambition first, before the trailer, partly illustrates why I liked their segment of the press conference so much. This seems like a huge step forward for the developer whose previous games don’t seem like anything that really broke through to the larger critical discussion.

Luckily, the game looks stylish and fun––like LIMBO or INSIDE crossed with a post-apocalyptic anime––I’m excited because it piqued my academic interests while also being a game that––superficially––looks like it’ll be a fun time.

––––

E3 has been particularly exciting this year. After a year or two of the industry being hit hard by extreme successes (2017 was an outstanding year for games) and existential dilemmas (voice actor strike, labor issues, continuing GamerGate behavior), seeing good games at the show as well as developers tackling some of these issues (both positively and negatively) head on puts this E3 ahead in a lot of ways. At the very least, we get good games out of the static as developers, journalists, and players try to move the medium forward and upward.

Spotlight: ‘Masterpieces’ Are Better With Flaws

Spotlight: ‘Masterpieces’ Are Better With Flaws

Far Cry 5‘s muddled political message is better for gaming than a perfect one.

The announcement events and imagery set up Far Cry 5 to be a game with a lot to say about modern American politics. Image source: Ubisoft.

Upon its announcement last year, Far Cry 5‘s political promise attracted the liberal gamer base (and disconcerted conservative gamers) as it seemed to be aiming strictly at the American Christian fundamentalism and rural conservatism that have been at the front and center of the country’s political discourse since the last presidential election. With the game’s release and the reviews rolling out, it’s clear that while it is, mechanically, a fun game to play, it doesn’t stick the landing in terms of cultural political commentary.

Instead of taking a hard stance on the current political climate, it tries to straddle the fence, to not take sides and, instead, treat the threat of fundamentalist conservatism as an exaggerated skin draped over the ludic need for opposing forces to attack the player. In this game, the cannon fodder is simply “crazy cult member”,  similar to the shift Resident Evil made away from zombies to Othered, uneducated, Spanish, feral, rural villagers in the fourth game (which they doubled-down on in the fifth game by moving out of Spain and into Africa). They may have a different story and context, but they were basically just zombies to shoot down––targets to hit for a “higher score.” Despite oblique references to modern political situations (including a mission built around obtaining a “pee tape”), Far Cry 5 seems to play the politics off as a joke when it pops up at all.

The last few years have really seen an effort to fold political commentary into game narratives and, as it stands now, the results seem to be less than effective albeit provocative. From the nuanced existential dread of the indie darling, Papers, Please, to the hyperbolic but consistent Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, the efforts have been teaching us that developers, at the very least, are ready to tackle such subjects even if their hold on the language, narrative agility, or tools to effectively enact such commentary remains debatable.

This static speaks to the point that how to tell a good story in a game is nebulous at best as gaming is not––unlike books, movies, comics, and tv––a one-sided narrative act. Games are by their very nature interactive and, therefore, the success of the narrative quite literally falls into the hands of the players, be it their attention to the story as they play or the choices they make in-game and how they line up with the intent of the developers. Narrative is still a messy, complex, and delicate aspect of video games.

Papers, Please largely succeeds with its politics, though its retro aesthetics, somewhat limited availability, and esoteric gameplay could keep it from a larger audience. Image source: 3909 LLC.

This results in a lot of “flawed masterpieces”––good games like Far Cry 5 that don’t quite stick the landing. The aforementioned Wolfenstein II offers distinct answers to the political problems it confronts, but can be undermined by its wildly shifting tone from the touchingly serious to cartoonish absurdity. Watchdogs 2 (also from Far Cry‘s developer, Ubisoft) was largely a success but dropped the ball in crucial instances that harmed the efficacy of its thesis. Most publicly, Bioshock Infinite had a huge backlash to its initial critical success as people ruminated on its message after playing the game and found a lot to be troubling. Mafia III, in contrast, seemed to have a strong, clear, and evocative stance on race in the sixties, but the game part kind of faltered. Similarly, Papers, Please had a strong emergent political statement that was powerful for those who played it, but its indie status and, perhaps, esoteric retro aesthetics (as well as limited availability) probably kept it out of the hands of many potential gamers.

Arguably, no game has hit the landing when it comes to political commentary. Something always comes along and taints the potential and lays the game down as a “flawed masterpiece.” If it were to happen, no doubt it would most likely be out of accident than design. Video game narrative is arguably still in a fledgling state, with detractors even stating that story is not wholly useful to the medium (which Andrew and I talked about in Episode 133). So, it’s important to keep in mind that the  growth of the medium (of any medium) includes heavy-footed attempts and stumbles.

Narrative is still a messy, complex, and delicate aspect of video games.

As a whole, we are still learning how to tell stories in games. It’s problematic because the technology for game development continues to surge forward as well and the bouncing between the two often feels like a scrimmage rather than a handshake. However, the key word there is “learning.” The way we generally learn is through metacognitive reflection of what we have already done, examining our past missteps in order to make the next attempt better.

And that is where these flawed masterpieces are actually helping the community rather than harming the medium. When Far Cry 5, in this case, so overtly stated that it would be a game with something to say at its announcement, only to walk that back as quickly as possible, the final product’s failure to live up to that promise got the community talking about politics in games, much as games––flawed as they are––like Wolfenstein II, Papers, Please, and Bioshock Infinite did before. This conversation exposes the nuance in the medium and actually helps to establish a baseline of what the community wants, expects, and hopes for in the future. These missteps encourage the audience (gamers, critics, and journalists) to become part of the process instead of simply waiting for the developers to simply say what they want to say (or say what they think we want to hear) and wait with gritted teeth to hear if they got it wrong. While that very scenario was the impetus here, the resulting conversation seems productive rather than agonistic.

That the community is talking about how to tell a political story in a game narrative is generative and progressive for the medium and the culture. Even among gamers themselves, having a game act as the discursive crux around politics, gaming, and narrative shines a light of hope on a community that has done more than its share to darken the skies on those topics. Our culture has evolved us to a point where political discussion mimics sports fandom––picking a team and shouting at the competition. Productive conversation is less about right and wrong and more about looking at the successes and failures of an idea, pointing them out, and making decisions based on them.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus may have been over the top at times, but it inspired genuine conversation about politics in gaming. Image source: Bethesda Softworks

More importantly, the community needs to have these conversations with itself more than it needs an effective political statement in a game. If a flawed game gets us to not only intelligently critique and what-if a game but also examine ourselves as a community––to reflect on our goals and diversity––then I would rather have that than The West Wing of video games.

The fallout from Far Cry 5‘s narrative failure will fuel more nuanced and interesting attempts (that will no doubt fail in their own ways) in the future, but the point is that those attempts will be better. What effect does a “perfect” statement have? What benefit comes from the community just sitting back in admiration? What happens to the knowledge we gained from the experience if we treat it as something that has been checked off of a list?

Perfection is boring. Gaming, like politics, always changes as time moves forward. The conversation about the successes, failures, and potential of a game serves as inspiration to be and do better next time be it from Ubisoft, a competitor, or an independent developer––as long as it keeps us talking.