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Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 4

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 4

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This fourth part of a multi-part series looks at Chroma SquadRogue Legacy, and Steamworld Dig. Take a look at the third part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-3/.

Chroma Squad

Chroma Squad by Behold Studios is one of those games that I never would have guessed I would have wanted: a tactical RPG themed around the production of a Super Sentai style show. Or, as one reviewer described it, “Power Rangers crossed with XCOM with a dash of Game Dev Story.” Yet, somehow, the theme works really well, resulting in a fun game that scratches that tactical RPG itch with a lighthearted sense of humor.

You have to defeat those Putties, Power Rangers! Source: Behold Studios

Perhaps one of the stranger aspects of the game is the meta narrative: the player controls a group of stunt actors who decide to create their own Super Sentai show. The game is divided between turn based battles, in which the cast acts out an episode of the show, and the time between episodes, where you create new costumes and upgrade the production equipment. This creates a unique spin on the RPG aspect of the game, with character improvement being tied to things like upgraded costumes. The battles are important insomuch that success and achieving bonus goals reflects on the show’s popularity with fans. It’s not enough that you win battles; there are goals that you have to meat in order to keep viewers happy and engaged. Do poorly and you may even find your show getting cancelled.

Buying new props for your team makes them more effective in battle. Source: Behold Studios

You can hear me discuss Chroma Squad back in Episode 131 – A Magical Failure. Since then, the game has expanded to include a new “Director’s Cut” free update which adds some new game modes and tweaks some of the play experience. The game is also available on other platforms, including iOS and Android, so you can take the excitement of Super Sentai with you wherever you go.

Check out Chroma Squad for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/251130/Chroma_Squad/.

Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy was the breakthrough hit Rogue-lite platform action-adventure game by Cellar Door Games, developer of a number of free Flash games like Don’t Shit Your Pants. Basically, it combines the difficulty and random generation of Roguelike games with the platform action-adventure of Metroidvania style games in a unique combination.

Action platformer craziness! Source: Cellar Door Games

The story of Rogue Legacy is relatively straight-forward: you play as a line of royal descendants entering a castle to find a great treasure. Every time your character dies (which is inevitable, given the nature of the game), you choose a new descendant to take his or her place. You have three options, each with their own combination of abilities and disabilities that will make that next play-through unique. You keep the gold and other items that you find through each expedition into the castle. These can be used to make further generations more powerful, either through purchasing new equipment or upgrading your castle (which, in turn, makes your heroes more powerful). Although the game can be frustratingly difficult at times, it still makes for a really fun game that captures the feel of a Roguelike without being too punishing.

After many collecting many treasures, you too can be this powerful. Source: Cellar Door Games

Rogue Legacy has actually come up in the show multiple times, back in 2014-2015. Andrew first mentioned the game back in Episode 27 – Super Sleep Mode. Dan started playing in Episode 53 – With Space Hands and continues discussing his experience in Episode 54 – Noun the Adjective. The game is available on Steam but also available for consoles (PS4, XBox One).

Check out Rogue Legacy for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/241600/Rogue_Legacy/.

Steamworld Dig

Steamworld Dig, by Image & Form Games, is the second entry in the “Steamworld” series of games that includes Steamworld Heist. Part platform mining game, part Metroidvania, the game follows the adventure of a steam powered robot named Rusty who inherits his uncle’s ore mine. Most of the game focuses on carefully digging through the mine, collecting valuable ore while making sure you don’t dig too much and get stuck.

A combination of steampunk, westerns, and … digging. Source: Image and Form Games

I will admit (again) that I am always a sucker for games that have that Metroidvania feel and Steamworld Dig did a very good job of capturing the essence of what I liked from a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In a way, what it brings together is the best of platform action-adventure games with a reasonable dose of RPG gameplay. The game doesn’t do as much for exploring as some of the classic Metroidvania games, as most of the exploring is going further down the mine, but it manages to be a lot of fun. Perhaps, the only real complaint I had was that I was done with it so quickly; I sat down to play the game on a day off and found myself at the end before I even realized it.

Between descents into the mine, you get to go shopping. Source: Image and Form Games

For whatever reason, I never actually talked about playing through Steamworld Dig on the show. It probably has something to do with the fact that I finished it quickly enough that it didn’t make its way into my Week in Geek. However, it’s worth mentioning that since I played it, they’ve actually released a sequel to the game, Steamworld Dig 2.

Check out Steamworld Dig for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/252410/SteamWorld_Dig/

 

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 3

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 3

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This third part of a multi-part series looks at Stardew Valley, Renowned Explorers: International Society, and Project Highrise. Take a look at part two of the series here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-2/.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is one of those games where the designer wanted to make the very best version of a classic game. In this case, the game in question was Harvest Moon, first released for the Super Nintendo in the late 1990s. The premise is simple: after getting fed up with your big corporate job, you open a letter left to you by your grandfather and discover that you’ve inherited a farm in a quiet little town called Stardew Valley. From there, you… well, you farm. You plant crops. You water crops. You harvest crops. You make enough money to buy more crops. Go fishing in the local river. Or at the pier. Maybe build a chicken coop. Raise chickens. Harvest eggs. Make mayonnaise. Expand your house. Go adventuring in the local mine. Fight some monsters. Help rebuild the local community center. Make new friends. Maybe meet the man or woman of your dreams.

Farming takes work. And organization. And patience. Source: ConcernedApe

When I started playing Stardew Valley, I didn’t really have a lot of experience with farming simulation RPGs. I played Harvest Moon for about an hour back in 2007 and didn’t quite figure it out. But Stardew Valley became the game I spent most of my winter holiday playing last year. By the time the calendar hit New Year’s Day 2017, I had put more than 100 hours into the game. All in the course of about two weeks time. Say what you will about farming simulation RPGs, but this one is pretty great.

The people of Stardew Valley add a lot of character to the game. Source: ConcernedApe

I mentioned Stardew Valley in Shortcast 21 – Love the Stank. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about new content. The primary focus has been on the fabled multiplayer support, debuting soon (-ish) on the Nintendo Switch and later on other platforms. But, they’ve also mentioned a few new pieces of content that they intend to add to the game.

Check out Stardew Valley for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/413150/Stardew_Valley/

Renowned Explorers: International Society

Renowned Explorers: International Society by Abbey Games is a strategy game with a fair number of RPG elements. You choose a group of explorers from the collection of possible characters and then proceed on adventures. You’re in search of treasures and renown in an effort to be the best explorer in the International Society. Each adventure involves exploring the local area, having encounters with the local residents, and sometimes engaging in battles. You have a fixed number of resources, so you need to decide how to best use them to succeed in the adventure. Many of the encounters involve story prompts where you have to choose what option to go with. Some require greater skill or sacrifice but yield potentially greater reward.

Exploring the local environment is a big part of the game. Source: Abbey Games

Battles shift to a hex based battle map, where characters take turns making attacks and using abilities. A lot of combat is based on a paper-rock-scissor mechanic of attitudes: devious, friendly, and aggressive. Not only do you choose an overall attitude for every battle but characters have individual abilities that are keyed to the difference attitudes. Learning how to best utilize these different attitudes is the key to succeeding in battle. Because the actions in battle can range from actual violence to talking (whether it be devious or friendly), it ends up being much sillier than one might think at the onset. But silly in a fun way.

To Battle! Agatha von Brunswick lectures the local farmers. Source: Abbey Games

You can hear about my experience with Renowned Explorers: International Society in Episode 133 – We’re on a Track. At the time, there was already one small expansion, aptly named More to Explore, available for the game. Since then, they’ve released an additional expansion, The Emperor’s Challenge, which includes four new characters and a variety of new East Asian themed adventures.

Check out Renowned Explorers: International Society for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/296970/Renowned_Explorers_International_Society/

Project Highrise

Back in the 1990s, Maxis, the company known for SimCity and its rather peculiar progeny, published a slightly different game created by Japanese developer OpenBook Co., Ltd.: SimTower. It was a sort of weird game where you build and manage a highrise tower. Twenty years later, Kasedo Games decided that the highrise simulation genre needed a new entry. With that, Project Highrise was born.

You’re in charge of all the stuff a bustling office tower might need. Source: Kasedo Games

In Project Highrise, you build and develop a building. This means everything from the structure itself, including elevators, utilities, and services, to the tenants that live or work in it. When you start, you only have a limited number of options for tenants; most of what you’ll be filling your building with will be small legal and accounting offices. But, as you get better and better at managing the building, your prestige will grow and so will your options. The focus of the game is managing your tenants needs while keeping your building profitable.

Nobody said your building had to make sense. Source: Kasedo Games

Project Highrise was one of the first games I got from the Humble Bundle Monthly. I talked about it back in Episode 125 – Hot Sauce Box. There have been a few expansions since then, adding some new types of businesses to your highrise, although the game is still a solid play experience without any new stuff.

Check out Project Highrise for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/423580/Project_Highrise/

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 2

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 2

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This second part of a multi-part series looks at Game Dev Tycoon, Starbound, and Turmoil. Take a look at the first part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-1/.

Game Dev Tycoon

Ever wanted to run your own game development studio? Well, that takes work. And you’ll probably face loads of failure. But, if you just wanted to SIMULATE running your own game development studio, Game Dev Tycoon, by Greenheart Games, is here for you. It’s a pretty straightforward indie game from 2013 that has a surprising amount of mechanical depth.

Every good game company starts out in a garage. With a DeLorean. Source: Greenheart Games

The bulk of the game focuses on developing games. It’s relatively straightforward: you pick a topic (like Virtual Pet, Pirate, or Hacking); pick a genre (like Strategy, Casual, or RPG); and select a system to develop it on (like the Ninvento TES 64, PC, or the Vena Oasis). For each game, you have to decide how to prioritize different elements of the game. Will you choose to emphasize World Design or Graphics? Engine or Story? Every type of game has different priorities, so part of the game is learning what works and what doesn’t.

It’s tough to know what makes a good Medieval RPG. Source: Greenheart Games

As your games are successful, your company grows. You move out of the garage and into an office. As you grow, you develop bigger games and build a larger fan base. You eventually get to go to the big trade show, G3. Get big enough and maybe you can even develop your own console. Or maybe a MMO. Eventually, you reach the end of the game (after about 30-35 years) and you get ranked based on your performance. Well, that’s assuming you don’t go bankrupt along the way.

This is a bit of a cheat because I just talked about Game Dev Tycoon in Shortcast 39 – Holidaycast 01, but I was specifically talking about the recently released iOS version. However, as it ends up, the Steam version is currently on sale! Although it hasn’t been updated with the new content from the iOS version as of this writing, the developers say that they’ve moved their timetable for it forward, meaning that the content should be available soon.

Check out Game Dev Tycoon for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/239820/Game_Dev_Tycoon/

Starbound

Starbound is a good example where I showed up to a type of game pretty late. I never played Minecraft. Or Terraria. I never got caught up in the sandbox building and crafting games when they first hit the scene. But Starbound, by Chucklefish, was my chance to not only get into this kind of thing but also to spend far too much time playing around with it.

Create a character from a variety of different appearances and playable races. Source: A. J. Asplund

Starbound, considered by some a sort of spiritual successor to Terraria, is a 2D sandbox building game with a light overlay of adventure and exploration. When you start your game, an entire procedurally generated universe is created that you will explore. Ostensibly, you are one of the last surviving members of a galactic federation. You escape just as a terrible monster destroys the headquarters of the federation. All you have is a broken down ship and a matter manipulator, a tool that lets you construct and deconstruct matter. From there, you get to explore the wide open universe located on your hard drive.

There is a lot of procedurally generated galaxy to explore. Source: A. J. Asplund

There’s a story to follow, but there’s also a lot to do on your own. Go mining for resources. Build your own house. Or city. Construct an underground empire. Go searching for fossils. Capture strange creatures. Build a space station. Raid pirate ships. To a certain extent, Starbound is what you make of it. On my home server, I built a small colony on an ocean planet. Shopkeepers and soldiers lived in peace on the surface. Hidden in the main structure was an elevator leading deep down into the ocean below, where I had constructed a giant underwater farming colony, growing exotic plants from across the galaxy. Eventually, I added a museum to showcase all the fossils I had discovered in my adventures. Starbound is what you make of it.

Building your own structures is a big part of the game. Here’s my museum. Source: A. J. Asplund

I actually talked about Starbound twice: once, in Episode 122- It’s a Fake, where I first picked up the game but didn’t quite get it, and again in Episode 136 – Make it So, when I set up a Starbound server at home for some friends to play around with. It’s worth mentioning that the game continues to get updated, so there’s seems to always be something new around the corner.

Check out Starbound for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/211820/Starbound/

Turmoil

Turmoil, by Gamious, is a lighthearted simulation game set in 19th century North America. It’s about OIL. You play a young entrepreneur that starts into the oil drilling business. Each level focuses on a single plot of land, precious black gold buried somewhere underneath the surface. Through a combination of using sounders and effective drilling, you try your best to pull as much of the oil as you can to the surface, where your oil delivery men then haul it to sell. And you have exactly one year to do it. Of course, there are challenges. Sometimes, the market price for oil dips, so maybe it’s better to stockpile your oil. Or maybe the pocket of oil you found has gone dry and you need to dig deeper. As you continue through the game, things get complicated.

Drilling for oil never seemed this entertaining in the movies. Source: Gamious

Between levels, you go to town, where you have the opportunity to spend your money on all sorts of things. New technology. Improved sounders. Better drills. All the sorts of upgrades you need as things get more difficult. You also have to compete against three other oil tycoons, each trying to be the best oil tycoon around. And, like any game about rich oil tycoons trying to make it big, you also have the opportunity to buy and sell stock in each other’s oil companies. It may be that the easiest way to beat Ricardo is to buy out his oil company.

Fred the Factory guy wants to upgrade your drills and pipes. Source: Gamious

I first mentioned this game back in Episode 128 – His Curry Name. There have been a few minor tweaks and patches since then. But, perhaps the most important thing is that they’ve announced new DLC that is coming soon, sometime in the first quarter of 2018. Maybe it’s time you take a chance at being an oil tycoon.

Check out Turmoil for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/361280/Turmoil/

 

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 1

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 1

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). With it being a day of giving/commerce for a lot of people, it seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This first part of a multi-part series looks at Punch Club, Steamworld Heist, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Punch Club

Role-playing. Boxing. Street fighting. Pizza delivery. Punch Club, by Lazy Bear Games, might be one of the stranger games I played this year. Perhaps the strangeness of the game is best summarized in its description on Steam: “Train hard, fight crocodiles and find love. Earn your place in the Punch Club ranks, and discover who brutally murdered your father, in this choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.” That’s right. Choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.

You have to choose the right skills and moves before every battle. Source: A. J. Asplund

The game is divided between fights, where you select which moves and abilities your character will use in battle and then watch it play through the fight, and the rest of the game, where you wander around the city performing odd jobs, training to be a better fighter, and signing up for tournaments.  The story starts simply enough, but quickly goes into unexpected directions depending on what you do and where you go. After a few days of play, I was going into the sewer fighting ninja crocodiles where a friend of mine had become an enforcer for the local mafia. There’s a lot of strange content in this one.

There are a lot of places to go in Punch Club, each with its own challenge. Source: A. J. Asplund

You can hear my initial thoughts on Punch Club in Shortcast 28 – Linguistic Bravado. Since that recording, I can say that the game only gets more strange. With a skill-tree character upgrade system more complicated than a majority of RPGs out there, this game sits in that weird place that so many indie games do. Part RPG, part management game, part simulation… a little bit of everything.

Check out Punch Club for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/394310/Punch_Club/

Steamworld Heist

Steamworld Heist, part of the “Steamworld” family of games by Image & Form, is a turn based strategy platform game. At least I think that’s the best way to describe it. You control a crew of space pirate robots that go from destination to destination, looking for salvage. Each character has a different combination of weapon, abilities, and hats that result in different play styles and uses within any specific level. As you explore the different locations in the game, you typically find yourself engaged in battle with a variety of different bad robots out to stop you. Different missions have different goals (whether it be defeating all the enemies, collecting all the treasures, or just escaping alive). Think of it a bit like a cross between XCOM and Worms.

Sometimes, all it takes to defeat the bad guy is a well-aimed shot. Source: Image & Form Games

Between missions, you navigate your steam ship through space to different mission locations. You can also visit shops throughout space that let you buy better equipment and weapons using the scrap that you find. This makes your robot space pirates more capable on missions, from better weapons to improved abilities. It’s a dash of role-playing style character advancement in the middle of a turn-based platform shooting game.

Oh, the grim looking places you’ll go! Source: Image & Form Games

When I talked about Steamworld Heist in Shortcast 31 – The Secret was the Clap, I had actually just downloaded the version on the PS4/PS Vita. What I didn’t realize was that I had picked up the game on Steam some time earlier (and forgotten). Like a lot of these indie games, they find their way to consoles in one form or another.

Check out Steamworld Heist on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/322190/SteamWorld_Heist/

Sentinels of the Multiverse

Anybody that listens to the show knows I’m a big fan of Greater Than Games superhero cooperative card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse. The virtual version, created by Handelabra Games, captures the fun of the card game with the convenience of not having to lug around a giant box full of cards. As in the tabletop game, everything begins with the setup: you choose a one of the four villains to battle and one of the four environments to do battle in. In addition, you choose three to five heroes to control from the available ten. This means that the base game has a lot of different possible combinations of play available. Expansions (of which there are many) add additional villains, environments, heroes, and even new ways to play the game.

So many heroic options to choose from! Source: A. J. Asplund

Once you’ve selected your villain, heroes, and environment, it’s time to start the actual game. Gameplay is identical to the tabletop card game, although the game engine prevents you from making rules mistakes (or, as some people like to call it, cheating). The system correctly plays through the villain and environment turns, making sure you don’t miss anything. On hero turns, you have to determine what cards and powers to use to defeat your opponent. When playing by yourself, you control all of the heroes in the battle. However, the game also allows for cross-platform multiplayer, so you can play with your friends on iOS or Android, each of you controlling your own hero (like the card game).

America’s Finest Legacy faces off against the villainous Baron Blade. Source: A. J. Asplund

Between the card version and the computer version, Sentinels of the Multiverse has come up quite a bit on the show. Dan played the Steam version back in Episode 87 – Thunder and Lightning. I mentioned it during our discussion of virtual versions of tabletop games in Episode 94 – The Garbleflangers. Either way, the whole line of Sentinels of the Multiverse products are currently on sale on Steam, but the base game is only $1.99 right now so if you haven’t given it a try, I recommend it.

Check out Sentinels of the Multiverse for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/337150/Sentinels_of_the_Multiverse/

Worth a Look: Video Game Criticism Edition

Worth a Look: Video Game Criticism Edition

Mass Effect: Andromeda stands as one of the most derided games of this generation. It’s to the point that Bioware said publicly that it’s no longer supporting it a mere five months after the game’s release. While I think the game is, indeed, very different from the previous Mass Effect games and, without a doubt, needed a few more drafts with the script, it was by no means a terrible game. If separated from the Mass Effect context––and when considered with all of its animation/texture/gameplay patches––it suffers from the deadliest of video game diseases: it ended up being a game that was just “fine.” Nothing stellar, nothing terrible, things that make it forgettable in the sea of games to get either quite excited about or quite angry about.

Pathfinder Sara Ryder from Mass Effect: Andromeda, a perfectly fine game. Screenshot courtesy of Bioware.

Though I may be biased because I enjoyed the game (aware of all of its flaws), I think Park’s ostensible defense of the game makes a very strong point not only about Mass Effect: Andromeda, but also about criticism in general. For those participating in the conversation around video games, both professional and amateur (though this line is blurring more than ever), a general agreement seems to be that to be “critical” means to look for what’s bad and point it out. I’ll grant some leeway because a lot of professional critics are playing these games during abbreviated periods for review purposes, so the bad stuff stands out even more. With a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda, it has the added burden of being a new entry in a highly venerated video game series, so expectations for the game were set a bit higher than other games. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have qualities worth discussing, remembering, and celebrating, and part of that, at least as Park argues, is because of gaming criticism’s relative youth:

We don’t yet have a critical structure that supports or fosters an appreciation of the misapplication of game language that causes “messiness.” And this is a major problem.

With that in mind, there is a trend away from more traditional reviews into a more personal or culturally critical look at a game. These are more critic-friendly because they don’t really need to be ready by the game’s release (although such timeliness is beneficial for SEO purposes), and such investigations allow the critic to step back from the game and take a more holistic approach to judging a game. Whether Mass Effect: Andromeda deserves or will even get that chance is up to history. At the very least, I hope future games––be they new installments in venerated franchises or new IPs––get the chance to be examined with a genuinely critical eye rather than just a score disguised as a conversation.

Instead of an article, this is an episode from the generally fantastic critical podcast, Bullet Points, where (at least) three games journalists record their thoughts of a video game they all played to write about and talk about for their website. Each episode is accompanied by articles written by the contributors and they’re always very thoughtful and insightful.

However.

This episode, where they look back on Epic Games’ Gears of War (the first installment), is an absolute disaster in the best possible way. In the hour-and-a-quarter episode, they spend about fifteen minutes total discussing the game and, instead, slam critical views together like rams over a ewe. The conversation devolves into an argument about how to read the game, critically. One wants to look at the mechanics and render judgment based on those while another wants to look at the game’s place in a historical context. And, in this conversation, the twain never meet.

C.O.G.s in the Gears of War (from Gears of War). Screenshot courtesy of Epic Games.

Throughout the entire fight, I found myself talking out loud as I listened while walking my dog one morning, hoping my mediation would travel through my headphones, up the RSS feed, and back through time so they could actually realize what it was they were fighting about. While it seemed like they were disagreeing about the quality of the game, the discourse on display was actually a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to critical analysis. There is no one thing called “analysis” and that’s what everybody does. We have developed different ways to look at the same thing––be it Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Formalism, Feminism, Marxism, and so on. Look at something like Catcher in the Rye through a Structuralist lens will give you a very different argument than if you looked at it through a Feminist lens. And that’s okay. They all coexist. However, the static that can be caused by the lack of agreement on which one to use while looking at a text can lead to an actual halt to discourse and then nothing gets done, as is the case on this podcast episode.

The clashing ideologies between the two journalists was basically a fight between New Criticism vs. New Historicism, but the entire episode propels along a single question that, in itself, is quite interesting: can dumb texts be worth talking about critically? Also, can texts still be important when authorial intent is ignorant, dubious, or manufactured? I’d like to hear the podcast where they discuss that. Maybe more would get done.

Worth A Look

Worth A Look

I have always had too many hobbies, especially when I was younger. Like a lot of people, some of these fell away for awhile, some of them I picked back up for nostalgic reasons or with a new appreciation. Some have been left behind. For me, one passion remained constant throughout (aside from writing). With comic books, I stopped reading them for over a decade. Sure, there was the occasional trade paperback here and graphic novel there, but there was a long time where I checked out of the culture and community for good (until I was drawn back in, pardon the pun). With regard to other nerdy passions, I started playing music rather late and I basically stopped drawing for a long time before starting up my first webcomic in 2007.

But my oldest nerdy pastime––one that never went away––has been playing video games. I’ve always kept in touch, I’ve always had an ear to the discourse, and I’ve always followed the developments. It’s strange, then, that I never really thought about video games critically until relatively recently. Until I started using the tools I was practicing as a college student and graduate student, I never really absorbed games as statements on (or of a) culture.

However, there were a few times when I played a game and recognized that there was something more here, even if I couldn’t put my finger on it. Metal Gear Solid was one (as was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater after it). Another was Shadow of the Colossus. There was also Red Dead Redemption. When Red Dead was released, my excitement was tempered with shock because as a fan of its predecessor, the Playstation 2 game Red Dead Revolver, I had no idea that it garnered enough attention to warrant a sequel––not from the fans nor from the industry. But I greeted it with anticipation and my reaction to it was on par with most people who played it––I loved it.

Image Source: Bullet Points Monthly

It felt big and cinematic, the story felt important, but what it was trying to say eluded me if only because I wasn’t thinking about that with regard to games. More importantly, I wasn’t quite sure about how to analyze a text like this. My instinct when it comes to fiction is to be enveloped by its tone and characters. Though I had become more critically aware of movies and books (what with my English degrees), such skepticism never leapt the barrier into video games.

Now, as a neophyte pop culture critic, I would like to analyze this medium but worry if I could do so as objectively as I would like. It is one of those “special” games to me, a pane in a stained-glass assemblage that is my personality, nostalgia, and taste. Furthermore, so much time has passed since its release that I wonder––with all the developments in the technology and expectations––if I could go back to it without some immediate deconstruction of my love for what made this game great in 2010.

Furthermore, most of the conversation around the game has been cultural rather than critical. Most discussion I come across is done by those who love it like I do, so the talk is mostly about how it has become “the game of its generation” or how video games can have impactful, cinematic storytelling while also being good games. While I don’t disagree with those sentiments, I haven’t found any real conversation around the game that delves deeper than a nigh dilettantish affection for the game, so I let more time pass and the possibility of actually developing a thesis around it slip away.

And then I found the brilliant podcast, Bullet Points. In a way, linking to Jess Joho’s article is a slightly veiled excuse to gush about the Bullet Points podcast and its long-form criticism companion site, Bullet Points Monthly. The core of Bullet Points is the trio of critics Ed Smith, Reid McCarter, and Patrick Lindsey who all write freelance for a variety of different culture sites. Their monthly episodes bring in assorted guests (such as Joho) and, together, approach video games new and old with an intelligent, skeptical scalpel that makes for an engaging listen. Each episode focuses on one game (ostensibly their focus is games with shooting mechanics, hence the title) that they all play and come to the recording session with their individual critical takeaways from the experience. Bullet Points Monthly contains articles written by the hosts with one guest contributor to hone their experiences into deft and penetrative articles about the game to be discussed on the upcoming podcast episode.

Back to Red Dead Redemption, their talk about the game (Episode 24 of the podcast) immediately gave me what I was looking for, which also pointed to article Joho wrote for the discussion and is also a perfect example of what I hoped to see in the discussions about this game––an incisive dissection of what this game means:

Red Dead Redemption doesn’t just portray a revisionist western story. The game itself plays like it’s a revisionist western cowboy on a quest to erase the past misdeeds of its genre—only to perpetuate those same misdeeds under the guise of revisionism or redemption.

It gave me a place to start, critically, with which I can go back to the game without the worry of being dragged down by old controls or distracted by out-of-date graphics. A lot of times their discussions touch on cinematic criticism or literary criticism but never as a crutch. Instead, they are citing those critical fields as peers to the texts being discussed on the podcast, which is exactly a tenet Andrew and I yearn to do on this very website with a similar general theoretical approach. If Bullet Points continues to do more writing and discussion like this, then I am even more excited for not only what other games they turn their attention toward, but also what I will have to say about games in the future, because it’s one of the first times in a while where I’ve been inspired to go play a game with a critical eye. It’s as if hearing them do it––and do it so well––finally gave my brain the permission to hop the fence and give this thing called video game criticism more of a shot than before.

Canon has been an undercurrent of a lot of what Andrew and I talk about on the podcast lately, though not necessarily whether it’s good or bad, necessary or fanciful. There is no doubt that canonizing properties has been a long-standing tradition for a variety of reasons: first, a continuity helps keep future iterations and sequels in line so that the thematic or tonal essence of a property is preserved; second, that universal structure helps to also solidify, as Mike Chen notes, “the backbone of a community” as well. This has been put to the test in the last decade.

From the dissolution of the Star Wars Extended Universe by Disney to the increasingly interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, canonicity has become an important talking point in the nerdy-geeky world in some form or another. Both Marvel and DC, in their comics divisions, are struggling with it; it’s hard to decide whether the best move is to honor the canon established by including the upwards of seventy years of existing stories (for some) or to start anew and revised in a clean cut with the hopes of attracting new readers to old characters made relevant once more. Either way, our tendency towards canon development fosters in readers a deep attachment to the characters and their stories. While the emotional importance of canon among fans is undeniable, and is something that Mike Chen paints with affection in his article, he touches on what I think is the more damaging––and therefore more pertinent––side of canonicity: gatekeeping.

Grand Admiral Thrawn. Artist: Tony Foti (from Star Wars: The Card Game)

I am on the verge of arguing that gatekeeping mentalities are at the heart of the problems that are tearing the nerd world––and, by proxy, popular culture––apart. As these properties and franchises expand outward from the once niche pocket of fandom to greater cultural acceptance (something we all wanted in the first place), it is admittedly hard for some fans to accept that people that have only watched the Marvel movies can call themselves fans of Marvel.

But here’s a fact: they are.

But so many of us try to keep people like them out. Post-2005 Doctor Who fans. Fans who discovered Star Wars with the prequels. Abrams’ Star Trek fans. Mario fans whose first game was Super Mario Sunshine. For some fans, any of these people should have their fandom challenged and tested by their own twisted metric, but it means nothing. As much as we would like to––and as much as we already assume to––have ownership over the properties we have built the core of our personalities around, we simply do not. Passion and fervor, while important for the survival of a fiction, are not authors of it nor the metric for deciding who gets to like it. We cannot decide who gets to love movies, games, cartoons, comics, and television shows. Besides, what good does keeping people out do? If anything, Chen argues that it could even damage our identity within a culture:

[G]eeks often discover their passions while searching for some form of acceptance. With geek culture exploding into the mainstream over the past decade, it often becomes less about ‘are you a fan?’ and more about ‘how much of a fan are you?’ But fandom—the enjoyment of creativity and art—shouldn’t be placed on some finite metric to be analyzed and judged, as long as it’s being expressed positively.

Being a fan of the Marvel comics is not the same as being a mason, nor should it be, with tests to administer and rituals to memorize. They are meant to be enjoyed; again, what good does it do to actively damage a person’s enjoyment of something you or I enjoy so much? Instead, we need to look at things like canon as what it is: fiction. And fiction is meant to be fun. I don’t know about you, but even if someone comes to a fiction later than me or for different reasons than me, if we’re all enjoying it then it’s elevating not only the culture as a whole but, if I were to be honest, also my enjoyment of it.

Worth a Look

Worth a Look

Batman: The Animated Series has become a show whose perennial place in nerd culture is all but assumed and revered. Andrew and I discussed the show, albeit briefly, back in Episode 59 – BTAS, as a segue to talk about dreams and dreaming in fiction, but the show, obviously, has done a lot more than that throughout its 110 episodes across seven years of airing (I’m including The New Batman Adventures in the tally). When talking about the show, one conversation that must surface is its diversity of storytelling and the risks it took. What set the show apart from not only every other animated series on American television may also have set it apart from nearly any other television that aired at the time of its release. Namely, it’s willingness to have strange, experimental episodes that challenged the expectations of superhero fans and television viewers.

Sure, it will be remembered for its strong, more traditional, Batman stories like “Heart of Ice”, “The Demon’s Quest”, and “Robin’s Reckoning (Parts 1 and 2)”––the last of which won an Emmy––but it will also be remembered for its non-traditional, esoteric stories like “Perchance to Dream”, “Legends of the Dark Knight”, “Over the Edge”, and “Almost Got ‘Im.” It was a show that learned to take risks, and what’s fascinating is that, apparently, a lot of that ethos was there from the start.

Concept art from the BTAS Writer’s Bible. Art by Bruce Timm. Source: io9

One of my prized possessions, creatively, is a book written by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd called Batman: Animated which covers the history of the show and is filled with amazing photos of everything from concept art to marketing photos for Batman-branded soap. But a bit of space is devoted to the development of the idea of what Batman: The Animated Series would be, hinting at the thorough show bible that Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Mitch Brian put together. Basically, a show bible is a treatise on the characters, stories, tone, and plan for a tv show used to keep the studio on track as well as acting as a set of guidelines for artists and writers hired to work for the show. Somehow––and thankfully so––the show bible has gotten out there in pdf form and it is as glorious as I was hoping it would be.

The cover to Batman: Animated by Paul Dini & Chip Kidd, art by Bruce Timm.

Whitbrook points out in his article (which also has a link to the pdf) that the show bible takes firm stances in how the creators saw the show. Even if the show wiggled its way out of those chains a bit as it went on (you can’t not have a bat signal), its overall view of the character himself was carved from stone and rooted in change from the status quo:

One big emphasis throughout the bible is an ardent desire to tell darker Batman stories; after all, the last solo Batman TV series before this one was Batman ‘66. Like Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, The Animated Series sought to distance itself from that interpretation. Sometimes it did so subtly, with mentions like “no Bat Signal or hotline” to keep him separate from the Gotham police, or by making Robin an occasional partner rather than a full-time companion.

While the show worked its hardest to separate Batman from his previous televised iterations to make him into the brooding loner we all know and love, what Whitbrook’s article and its attached copy of the Batman: The Animated Series show bible illustrate (pardon the pun) is how something as important and groundbreaking as this show actually came together through an almost supernatural synchronicity of passionate, creative people who were willing to break the rules every now and then and try something new with, at the time, a forty year-old medium and a sixty year-old character.

Although I court a lot of pushback as soon as I say it, I feel pretty lucky to have grown up reading comic books when I did, in the early 1990s. For those with vehement dissenting positions to this opinion, I offer a truce by completely agreeing with you when you say the content of this point in comics history was rather lacking as creators felt the need to push good taste to its limits in many different ways. However, these comics were connecting with kids––with me––and while I can’t say their influence was all beneficial, they certainly stirred the imagination. With that in mind, a lot of choices made both narratively and, especially, artistically at the time are nigh inexcusable when held up against modern criteria.

In light of the speculator market and the inflated sense of worth the industry had of itself at the time, for a fan the early ’90s were quite exciting in spite of all of that. It was this excitement for not only the characters, stories (what there were of those, at least), and creators that drove us back to the shops every week, but it was also the industry as a whole during this time, especially during the flashpoint formation of Image Comics. I remember the creation of Image Comics happening. I remember thinking it was really weird. I remember being really excited for it, as well. (A good documentary about the formation of Image Comics exists, called Image Revolution, that is well worth the viewing.)

Cover from Youngblood #1 by Rob Liefeld, the first comic published by Image Comics. Source: Geek.com

As the ’90s faded away and the market crashed and Marvel went bankrupt and the industry and its fans actually had some time for critical self-reflection, Image Comics, as it had started out, became the pennant we could all point to and say, “That, right there, is what was wrong with comics in the ’90s.” In some ways, such assertions are very true. Fast-forward twenty years, though, and the “worst” in industry has become the outstanding front runner for thoughtful, challenging, and earnest comics above almost all other publishers. The about-face is astounding and couldn’t have been written better for fear of being too cliché and feel-good. But it all comes down to the principles that formed the bedrock (or badrock, harhar) of the company, as iterated by Jensen in his article:

Image had two rules: all comics were owned by their creators, and no Image creator would interfere with another’s business.

As it stands today, Image Comics is a beacon in the industry and is at the top of its game. I’m sure many people lament the 180-degree turn from its superheroic start––I experience light pangs as I think about it but shrug them off––but there’s no doubt that what Image is doing today aligns (at least in theory) with the concept that founded the company: complete independence. Because of that, Image books are bringing more attention to creators, more good to the industry, and better comics for readers, and I wouldn’t trade that for the gun-toting, veiny-muscled, blood-soaked comics of yore any day of the week.

Worth a Look

Worth a Look

Source: SAG-AFTRA

It may surprise some reading this that the voice actor’s strike against the video game industry is still in effect. We discussed it back in October on Episode 112, around when it started, and even though the media coverage around it has died down, many voice actors are still struggling to get their voices heard, pardon the pun. In fact, the loudest spike I’ve heard on the incident since that initial furor was at the beginning of December during the 2016 Video Game Awards. Video game voice actor monolith, Nolan North, won the award for Best Performance through his work on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and had some choice words to say about the strike, albeit in vague––and, perhaps, surprising––terms:

Ian William’s article highlights the major developments that have happened since the strike began, but a point relevant to North’s speech stuck out to me. This strike is not about voice actor vs. developer––let’s be honest, each needs the other. However, North sees it this way, as do many others, and it makes me wonder if this narrative is constructed by certain parties or one that organically surfaced due to the limited media attention as well as general reader ignorance of how games are made. Perhaps it’s both. Either way, this false conflict between developer and performer isn’t good for either side and, especially, for the creative side of the industry as a whole:

“I know who wins the battle between game developers and voice actors. It’s the game corporations.” -Keythe Farley, National Chair of the Interactive Negotiating Committee

While the plight of voice actors in video games have been only recently brought to light through the strike (and mostly forgotten), a highly visible topic over the last five years or so has been the rather horrible working conditions developers have to slog through to get games done. From the frightening revelations of the dying giant, Konami, to the recent issue of Crytek employees not getting paid for months only to have the company shut down a bunch of its studios once the news went public (which highly reeked of the almost immediate implosion that was 38 Studios). However, if the voice actors can get the deals they need to be able to do their best work, it could be the first step the industry needs to reconstruct as a whole. The squeaky wheels get the grease, but a smart mechanic realizes it may be indicative of a larger problem.

Not to get somber, but Bill Coberly’s article hits on something I think we’re only going to see more of as, especially, my generation extends into old(er) age. A big aspect of our parents’ culture that my culture (basically Generation X and Millennials) have rejected is the idea that the things which brought us joy as children must be abandoned to be successful or healthy as adults. Some people fully embrace all of nerd culture and plaster their homes and themselves completely in things that they loved as children (tattoos of cartoon characters, clothes patterned with triforces, or shelves lined with Marvel toys, for example), others have that one activity––playing video games, reading comic books, loving science fiction––that they bring with them into adulthood, expectations be damned. As time moves on, more and more people will have experiences like Coberly did with his father. “My Name is Ozymandias” is a touching piece about Coberly finding save files for Civilization IV on his father’s computer after his father died. His dad was a “normal” guy whose “quirk” (by old world standards, that is) was that he loved strategy games and RPGS, and apparently played Civ IV nigh obsessively. The piece is a powerful reflection on their relationship, how games unite father and son, and what to do with the digital data left behind for survivors.

This last aspect is incredibly interesting because save files are, in essence, verbs in stasis. They are records of us doing something and stopping so that we can come back later and pick up from where we left off to continue to do. In this case, the “do” is to play Civ IV.

Screenshot of Civilization IV. Source: Ontological Geek

Coberly inadvertently points to a larger cultural place video games (and other sundry nerdy things) will inevitably play in family relations. There may be, if not games, then franchises or love for a genre that may be passed on from parent to child. Or, perhaps, even save files. I think of games built around crafting and creation––can servers of Minecraft be part of a heritage? Can we inherit the hard drive with my mother’s Steam library downloaded on to it?

While not involving a death, I have had a moment where video games, in this case, played a particularly powerful role in my relationship with my father. My dad is decidedly “old school.” He does not dalliance with video games beyond Tetris or Spider Solitaire. When he was young, he buried himself in the science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ross Macdonald‘s world of crime and detection and expressed himself by drawing Martian vistas and alien women in gauzy veils that hugged their curves. But he abandoned most of that with maturity. By the time he was my father, he was an academic of philosophy and history, and was nerdy about them as long as they were huge books with full indices and academic references.

I took a chance one day as he was up visiting my wife and me for a weekend. As mentioned, my dad is a history buff, especially of California transportation––especially of Los Angeles, where he was born and raised. Having played through Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, and knowing how much effort they put into recreating late 1940s Los Angeles, I figured he would at least have fun tearing it apart as I drove around in old cars and showed him a digitized version of his former home.

My dad actually has memories of when L.A. actually looked like this. Source: Rockstar Games

The following was a comment I wrote on the defunct gaming website, Known Griefers, as a response to their question: What is a game that you have bonded with family over? It has been edited for grammar and accuracy.

My dad was born in 1940 in Hollywood, CA. Late 1940s & 1950s L.A. was his stomping ground and he remembers it fondly. He became a professor of philosophy and taught that for forty years before retiring to become a professional historian of none other than 1920s-1950s L.A. When he drives through L.A., he sees none of the modern desolation that has descended upon that city. Instead, he still sees bright trolley cars clanging their bells down the street and dudes who wear fedoras and three-piece suits while Duesenbergs and Hudsons grumble down the street in jet-black finishes.

Basically, my dad still imagines an L.A. Noire world. So, having played the game extensively, I nervously asked him if he wanted to see a video game I owned last time he visited. He begrudgingly agreed and as soon as the game loaded and the city opened up on my television, any hint of skepticism evaporated. We looked at as many cars as possible and he drove me around the city on memory alone. We wandered through the lobby of Union Station and even got up to the rail yards. We scoped out the Hall of Records and tried to get into the Roosevelt Hotel, but couldn’t. While it isn’t an exact replica of the city (we tried to find his aunt’s house, to no avail), it was pretty damned good, enough for an old man to nearly be brought to tears by it, as if he were looking out a younger pair of his own eyes at the city he once saw so clearly and now only sees in nostalgic visits. If I had any complaints about the game (which were very few), they lost any validity because of the game’s ability to make my dad experience something he never thought he’d get a chance to do again.

While not a lineage passed down from one generation to the next like Coberly experienced, this is an instance of a “new” technology, a “nerd” technology, one pushed off as “childish” and “immature” really helped strengthen the bond between father and son in a way––and I say this without hyperbole––no other medium could have done and it will be something I never forget.

Worth a Look

Worth a Look

It’s weird to think about, but video games didn’t officially become protected expressions of free speech until a 2011 Supreme Court case judged it so. I think what adds to the surrealism of that realization is how prevalent video games were as a topic of discussion in popular discourse leading up to that decision. Violent video games and their effects on children through to “hot coffee,” Grand Theft Auto, and the mercifully forgotten Jack Thompson were just bookends on a narrative full of ups and downs. According to Patrick Klepek’s article, however, the fight had been waged in the court system long before the Supreme Court ever got their hands on it.

Source: Waypoint
Source: Waypoint

By 2011, the video game scene was pretty much United States-centric as an industry with developers such as Rockstar being brought under the microscope to search for corroborating evidence that they were as bad as Camel using cartoons to sell cigarettes to children. In 1993, however, Nintendo was king. And, despite their stateside headquarters in Seattle (and, for a long time, a majority stake in the Mariners), it was very much a Japanese company. That’s why Klepek’s overview and interview of how Nintendo went under the gun to defend video games is well worth the read through, because I wonder if they would be as hearty today. Part of me thinks Nintendo would be excused simply because it’s a multigenerational institution at this point, and our culture is comfortable with its presence and practices (I think of John Denver being called in front of the PMRC in the mid-1980s to defend against censorship in music). However, another part of me wonders if they’d be excused because the company has become so divorced from modern gaming that it’s not even in the conversation for many people.

Either way, the company went to bat for the industry at a critical time, and Klepek’s interview and overview should be read and supported by all gamers. Also, a big welcome to Waypoint, the official gaming wing of Vice. They headhunted Austin Walker away from my favorite gaming site, Giant Bomb, to become editor-in-chief, and as sad as I was to hear that he was leaving, as soon as they said Vice had sniped him, it made total and complete sense. They already have a lot of thoughtful critical articles up at Waypoint, and I suggest you check it out regularly.

Worth a Listen:

This is the last I’ll mention it, possibly, but the recent election left a lot of people scratching their heads (as well as angry, horrified, and dreadful, for a variety of reasons). The last place I thought I’d find any decent, rational conversation about it would be a podcast associated with the humor website and listicle factory, Cracked. Editor-in-Chief, Jack O’Brien, sits down with Cracked.com‘s executive editor of humor and well-informed dude, Jason Pargin (aka David Wong), who wrote a widely-circulated article post-election titled, “Don’t Panic.”

ear_crackedpodcast_1600x1600_cover_final-1024x1024
source: Earwolf

While I will not say that what is discussed in this podcast is gospel and should be fully obeyed, they go out of their way to be as inclusive as possible while doing their best to recognize their own privilege and points of view. That said, it’s a great starting point for conversation about the election and what progressively-minded people can do in its aftermath.

Most importantly, I never thought I’d be pointing toward anything that had to do with Cracked. It was brought to my attention by friend of the show, Walter, and I thank him for doing so. I’d have to listen to the episode again to assess how much of it is simply two white guys calming each other down in the face of an open nativist being elected into office or if it actually has some salient points. At the very least, none of the topics or points of view are radical in the episode and serve as an excellent start to a conversation that we all could use to help balance the discourse and get people to start listening to each other rather than just yelling (though I’m not disparaging the yelling, either; sigh. It’s a complicated issue).

Worth a Look

Worth a Look

It’s no surprise by now that I’m a fervent X-Men apologist and proudly so. Such sentiments are only bolstered by their very strange treatment by Marvel over the last eight or so years. Most of my conspiratorial talk is just for fun, but there are some details that eke through and seem just a bit too shady to be mere coincidence. There was the omission of any mutants from the cover of Marvel’s 75th Anniversary magazine, which was given away for free (which Andrew and I discussed early in our show’s history). Since then, they have made Cyclops––the boy scout figurehead of the mutants (ostensibly the Superman of the X-Men)––a terrorist murderer (#cyclopswasright), they have legit killed the most famous mutant character, Wolverine, and now they are having the team nobody really knows about (but they really want people to know about) fight the team they want everyone to forget about in the “Inhumans vs. X-Men” event (but not before they have a prologue event literally called “The Death of X”).

source: marvel.com
source: marvel.com

Comicsverse are, admittedly, as apologetic about the X-Men as I am, but they approach this topic with a collectively cooler head. Jack Fisher’s article looks at what he describes as the problem with this fight beyond the obviously corporate undertones that poison the well. He sees this forced skirmish as a severely problematic one based on the origin of these teams and how these continuous “…vs. X-Men” storylines are doing more cultural damage in the long run even if books are being sold. Fisher boils it down beautifully:

Whatever the outcome and whatever the legal undertones, the concept between Inhumans vs. X-Men is flawed. On one side, you have a minority that has been forcibly sterilized twice in the past decade. On the other, you have a team with a tradition of racism, xenophobia, and slavery. It’s not a battle between heroes as much as it is an exercise in contrivance.

I don’t know much about the Inhumans, but it seems that in the cinematic universe they are building them from the ground up. On more than one occasion, it has been noted (especially by co-host Andrew) that they’re just trying to slot them in the empty socket where mutants normally go. But that exacerbates the problem, I would argue.

It’s not as the Den of Geek article linked to in the last paragraph argues that the Inhumans are “the same basic idea, but with the serial numbers filed off.” It’s worse than that. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mutants were created to represent the minorities of this country and to dramatize their plight and struggle to accomplish two things: first, it presents these otherwise uncomfortable and possibly unknown issues to the predominantly white readership; second, it gives minorities (be it color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation) a safe place to go in the world of comics. The X series of books is about showing what true prejudice, bias, and hate looks like and having the minority survive.

And what happens?

In 2005, editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada instructs the X-writers to kill off all mutants except for 198. Genocide. Narratively (and creatively), it made sense. Mutants work best when they are a minority. But they were also presented as being the next stage in human evolution. With so many mutants on the planet (by 2005, at least) it seemed that theory was correct––science wins again––until they were forcibly made a minority again. That, of course, was the big event. But the small things, such as the omission from the Marvel 75th Anniversary Magazine cover, killing off fan-favorite characters, pitting C-level characters against them, etc., when piled together that makes a pretty loud squeaky wheel. Holistically, it looks like corporate monkey-wrenching and favoritism and simple catering to what is popular right now. But that isn’t all of it.

When taken in as a whole with the knowledge of what the X-Men actually mean, it looks like the type of thing the scared majority does to keep a minority down, and, in this day and age, it’s rather sickening.

With Halloween behind us, a lot of Lovecraft-focused articles circulated around the internet in celebration of the ghastly day. Mostly well-trod biographies or overviews of his racism, these are valid and important conversations to have as they can add a lot to the knowledge of the casual consumer. Much like the Luke Cage article I shared before, the most interesting article that I saw this last week was a roundtable discussion of Lovecraft and his work by three writers whose works have been influenced by his mythos: Kij Johnson, Cassandra Khaw, and Ruthanna Emrys.

Cover image from The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, source: barnesandnoble.com
Cover image from The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, source: barnesandnoble.com

The conversation is important because, despite being short, it digs deeper than a normal roundtable usually goes. The interviewer gets right to the point and discusses Lovecraft’s racism and what his legacy should be in a modern context, and––even better––the writers don’t shy away from giving tough answers.

As a reader of both Lovecraft and Lovecraft criticism, I belong to a few Lovecraftian fan pages on Facebook in the hope that there will be discussion as found in Joel Cunningham’s article. However, on the whole it’s a rather soft engagement with the material. What frustrates, however, is whenever an article that addresses his racism or intolerance starts making its way around the internet, the claws come out and the hate speech––for lack of a better word––fills the subsequent comments. Just as bad is the insistence on apathy in many cases, and that is a tragedy.

To say anything about Lovecraft’s work requires an acknowledgement of his love for the sciences. Like, a capital-L Love. The scientific method is all about asking questions, not picking sides. Science seeks to find how things thread into their place within the context of the universe and to see how that weave is part of a larger puzzle, a puzzle getting larger all the time. Science does not reward partisanship or apathy, it rewards the explorer. The fact that most Lovecraft stories warn people away from the scientific method is because Lovecraft himself was intrigued by the seemingly infinite possibility that science could offer us and then turned it on its ear for dramatic purposes. Why? Because horror stories are fun.

Again, referring to that previous Luke Cage roundtable I previously linked to, this type of conversation that these writers have about Lovecraft are the types of conversations we should be having because they are new and interesting and the ultimate outcome of this discourse is not to decide whether Lovecraft should be banished from modern thought or not––far from it. If we did that, we would be unable to have some interesting conversations. If anything, it would actually more firmly establish his place in the canon as someone worth talking about. Simply brushing off his racism will only keep him from reaching that place where I, most certainly, and most Lovecraft fans feel he should be woven into.