THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE MANDALORIAN:A brief check-in to the release of Disney+ this week as Andrew reacts to the first episode of their original, Star Wars show, The Mandalorian. He is surprised more at how much it pulls from Westerns than Star Wars.
A LONG TIME AGO, WE USED TO BE FRIENDS:Veronica Mars was always a show that hovered just below wide popularity, but its fans were devoted and supportive. From the original three seasons that aired on UPN/the CW to its Kickstarted movie, to Hulu’s revival with a fourth season, Andrew and D. Bethel did a rewatch of the show and have some thoughts on what it has been, what it is now, and what it could be in the future.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew learns about the seedy underbelly of LEGO knock-offs while Dan preps for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie by watching the 2009 animated film.
DOCTOR WHO KNEW?: Dan and Andrew discuss their skeptical praise for the current series of Doctor Who. Five episodes in and all episodes have been undeniably good so far. Should they be waiting with baited breath for the show to stumble as it has done for the last five series? Or should they let their freak flag fly once again?
WAKING LIFE: Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 sleeper hit, Alan Wake, was summarily pulled from all digital storefronts last weekend due to the lapsing of the licenses paid for music featured in the game. It’s a strange situation considering exactly how many games––even those released before Alan Wake––use licensed music and are still available for purchase.
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Part of my goal as an academic-slash-nerdy-stuff enthusiast is to be a person that helps build the bridge between those two tentpoles that, as time moves forward, seem to be pushed further apart. In truth, criticism evolved as a genre from the world of popular culture. Without going too deep into the history of literary criticism, what academics view as critical writing––examining texts through specific lenses and discussing the positive and negative results of such investigations––was birthed by popular thinkers arguing back and forth in newspapers, mostly people like Samuel Johnson and Matthew Arnold yelling at other people. What criticism brings to its readers––and why it should be much more present in popular culture––is new ways to look at familiar things. You can agree with them or disagree, that’s fine; in critical discourse, if you disagree, you respond with your own critical analysis.
Criticism operates on the assumption that there is no one right way to read a text, so for people who have concrete definitions they’ve crafted or inherited about what a specific movie means or what a certain writer of a comic book is trying to say and they don’t want to budge because they know they’re right, then the critical investigation can’t move forward because a conversation can’t be had.
This is what is happening in the world of video game criticism right now, especially with the entire fracas that formed around Anita Sarkeesian’s videos and GamerGate’s reaction to them (among other sundry instances). Could Sarkeesian maybe have had more tact or been less forward in her presentation of her analysis? Sure. Because of that, did she deserve the response she got? Absolutely not. She was engaging in a critical discussion to not necessarily change the games we love but to bring these readings of the medium to the table for developers and players to use them as they will.
In their book for Boss Fight Books, Metal Gear Solid, the Burch siblings do an admirable job bringing critical investigation to a popular audience. As I mentioned in Episode 117 – Five Minutes to Funny, their approach was unorthodox for me who is more used to “classical” critical prose––i.e., very academic, argumentative, essayistic format––but it actually worked quite well. In more traditional co-written criticism (or most collaboratively written works, for that matter), no effort is made to distinguish between the contributions of each writer. In Metal Gear Solid (their book), the chapters are divided into sections with headings of either “Ashly” or “Anthony” to let the reader know who is speaking. This is ultimately effective for a few reasons. First, there is a slight difference in age between the two and the difference is enough to be notable; specifically, their initial comprehension of the game and what it was trying to do provides interesting juxtapositions. Second, and more importantly, the gender difference yielded very different reactions to the game and how it impacted their lives overall both in their youths and as adults, which would be lost or depersonalized if they had to neutralize the more dialectical (not a transcribed dialogue) format.
With that in mind, their book brings a lot of interesting aspects of the game to light that should be discussed, but usually aren’t. The standout for me is the excellent analysis of characters and their arcs––and the missed opportunities therein (their section on Otacon is outstanding)––which balances the “it’s complex stuff for the time” and “it’s really not as progressive as it appears to be” arguments fairly. This balance is a source of the schism in the greater video game culture; too many people don’t realize that you can criticize a game and still love it, which is exactly what the Burches do. They point out issues within Metal Gear Solid that, in a modern environment, can seem backwards and sometimes unforgivable. Snake, to a teenager or child (as Anthony and Ashly were, respectively, when they first played the game), is an uncompromising badass; however, upon reflection, it is clear he is a bully and sadist, especially to women. Meryl is presented as a tough woman who is every bit a soldier as the men on Shadow Moses Island, but with the way the camera, Snake, and the gameplay treat her, she is woefully underserved by the game that otherwise wants to present her as a progressive take on female characters in video games. A lot of this comes down to the apparent conflict within the series creator, Hideo Kojima, himself. I’ll quote here what I read aloud in the episode:
There are two Hideo Kojimas.
One Kojima injects every Metal Gear Solid game with earnest if overbearing discussions of nuclear disarmament, the morality of genetic experimentation, the nature of warfare, and the difference between patriotism and terrorism.
The other Kojima lets you call Rose in Metal Gear Solid 4 and shake your SIXAXIS controller to make her boobs jiggle (21-22).
Part of accepting Metal Gear Solid as an artistic entry is to accept that, yes, it is thematically earnest and powerful and its characters are remarkably well-rounded, but for every two steps forward it––as a game and as a series––takes at least one step back. But that is also the nature of art. If any thing was perfect, there would be nothing to talk about.
Another fascinating aspect the book investigates is how Kojima openly and freely manipulates the relationship between the player and Solid Snake, arguing that Kojima willingly draws Snake and the player together at times and forcibly separates them at other times for a purposeful, emotional, and narrative purpose. It opened up a through-line for critical investigation into games as power fantasies, so that the conversation doesn’t just stop at “video games are power fantasies.” The Burches delve into how Kojima uses that fact to both make the player feel powerful (like most games do) and also use that trope to make the player feel detached, weak, and helpless. If anything, for both the criticism and the praise, the book showed me the art that goes into game design and how mindful Kojima is with his games despite his own severely problematic flaws as a creative.
For all the good that this book does at managing the intersection between criticism and popular culture, it is clear they have the events of GamerGate on their minds, which is smart considering that a co-author is female and, by the virtue of that simple fact, she, her brother, and the book are automatically painted with targets. Their apology takes the form of the concluding chapter, titled “The End?”, in which Ashly takes the lead with a passioned defense that, I would argue, comes dangerously close to diminishing the very poignant and important arguments she and her brother make in the book to that point:
So, Anthony and I shit on Metal Gear Solid for about half of this book. If you’re a fan of MGS1, you might be kind of pissed. But despite the amount of acid we spit at the game and its various baffling choices, despite the inordinately long cutscenes, the convoluted plot, and the awkward dialogue, we do love this game (159).
This is problematic because 1. they surely don’t “shit on Metal Gear Solid” at all. They critically engage with it and because they are able to do that with detailed and thorough arguments it 2. proves, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they love the game. In that instant, this concluding chapter felt a bit reductive and unnecessary. What’s impressive is that despite being couched in a chapter-long ass-covering thesis, Ashly does an admirable job teaching not only what criticism is, but why it’s important for the industry as well as for fans:
[W]hen we hear a complaint…about a game we love, we have to stop that little seed of defensiveness from spilling over into anger. We have to recognize that a critic’s concern doesn’t say anything about us, and it doesn’t make us wrong for liking the game. We’re all on the same team, and we’re all just trying to make this medium the best it can be. For everyone (161-2).
This chapter was an eye-opening moment for me as a reader, gamer, and wannabe critic, perhaps because I audibly scoffed when I read this chapter, saying something akin to, “You didn’t have to do this, catering to those people.” The D. Bethel that said that was Professor Bethel, the academic, the person whose workplace and occupation don’t have to apologize––among colleagues at least––for challenging arguments. In fact, they are expected.
However, in the pop culture nerd world that Podcast Co-Host, Comicker, and Website Curator (and straight white male) D. Bethel operates, you have to do this, especially if you’re a woman or minority. And while it’s atrocious and insulting that anybody would have to write this chapter, it shows why this book is successful at building that bridge I longingly want to help construct.
I want more good, challenging gaming criticism. I want to buy books of it. And though some exist and continue to get published, such a desire may be self-defeating in the end. If we’re looking to bridge that gap between pop and academic cultures, it won’t be through book stores. Instead, it is happening online in the form of podcasts and videos and, occasionally, articles. However, if we’re looking to make this a two-way connection, from the halls of academia to reddit and back again, in order to legitimize games as critical texts in the eyes of PhDs, books should be made as well as journals and panels at conferences. The Burches’ Metal Gear Solid definitely offers the academic handshake toward the people who love and care and talk about video games on the internet with confident airs and cries for legitimacy. I just hope pop culture is willing to accept and return it.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew spends some time with Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror: The Card Game while Dan reads Boss Fight Books’ Metal Gear Solid by sibling team, Ashly and Anthony Burch (a book Dan may actually finish!).
GONNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE: Sony had it’s most recent Playstation Experience event which unveiled a lot of new games, most Sony exclusives, but amid that they announce the new installment of the previously-thought-dead franchise with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
Plus, an extended gameplay trailer has been released since the segment was recorded, confirming both Captain America’s and Darkstalkers‘ Morrigan’s presence in the game.
REBOOTING FRANCHISES: With the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Dan and Andrew investigate the approach to legacy franchises. Should we reboot and start from scratch, or keep pushing the continuity forward or leave it be and fill in the “cracks”?
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For all intents and purposes, that was a podcast recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Player Select” by Mitsuhiko Takano (from Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes)
-“Rey’s Theme” by John Williams (from Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
WEEK IN GEEK: To celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, Andrew and Dan share their recent happenings. Andrew plays more of The Trail while Dan reads through his new copy of The Art of Metal Gear Solid V and reads the Metal Gear fan comic, “Yellowcake,” by millionfish.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap. And Happy Thanksgiving!
-“Thunder Busters” by Wax Audio
-“You’re My Best Friend” by Queen
-“Thank You” by High Spirits
Week in Geek: Andrew nearly swims between the polar ends of Final Fantasy by watching Final Fantasy X HD Remaster and playing for himself Final Fantasy for iOS. Dan, on the other hand, has been playing The Swindle on PS4.
Dungeon Master’s Guild: Dan and Andrew discuss a few of the facets involved with Wizards of the Coast’s and Dungeon & Dragon’s news about the newly opened “Dungeon Master’s Guild” whereby user-created DnD content can be sold without worry of legal repercussion.
Starman: Andrew and Dan spend some time to talk about the death of David Bowie, despite the fact that their exposure to his work was tangential and limited at best. However, it must be said that his work and impact was hard to ignore.
If you would like to share your thoughts on any of this week’s topics, please leave a comment at forall.libsyn.com. Be sure to join the official Facebook and Google+ pages for updates and conversations among listeners. E-mail the show at forallpod [at] gmail [dot] com. The best way to help the show would be to leave a review on iTunes to help spread the word to new potential listeners.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
Games With Feels: Based on a specific experience Andrew had while playing through Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dan and Andrew discuss video games that have created in them strong emotional responses based on more than just a cutscene and plot point, but when actually playing the game elicits emotional reactions and why that is an important development of the medium.
A Sad Game About Nuclear Disarmament: Andrew and Dan discuss a hidden cutscene found in the files of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain‘s (that were confirmed by Konami) that will only play if, in the online portion of the game, players decide to lay down their nuclear weapons and employ a digital peace. Based around this Ars Technica article by Kyle Orland, this seems to be the culmination of Hideo Kojima’s goals with the Metal Gear Solid series.
If you have any thoughts or responses to the topics discussed in this week’s episode, leave a comment at forall.libsyn.com. Please join the official Facebook and Google+ pages for exclusive comment and listener discussion. You may also e-mail the show at forallpod [at] gmail [dot] com.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Sins of the Father” by Donna Burke (from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)
-“A Phantom Pain” by Ludvig Forssell (from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)
The world can’t keep up with Dan and Andrew as they tear through all things geeky and nerdy.
The Week in Geek: Before getting into individual accomplishments, they discuss the recently released trailer for Doctor Who Series 8! Andrew then discusses his preparation for UnPub in Seattle, while Dan discusses about Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and the Veronica Mars movie.
Boasts of Bethel: In this week’s boast, Dan gets psychological and ponders the connection between nerds and ironic/meta-humor and asks whether it’s a good thing or not. SPOILER: He has no answers.
Discussion: Inspired by the satirical-cum-blindingly-successful Potato Salad Kickstarter that made the rounds in this week’s news cycle, Dan and Andrew examine what, exactly, Kickstarter is, could be, and should be and how it has been a benefit or detriment to geek culture.
Andrew Objects: Hot on the heels of news that Marvel’s Thor will now be a woman, Andrew decides to object to…those who object.
Geek Thoughts: Big thanks to Walter Phippeny, Liz Geisser, Jason Morgan, Ruben Hanson-Rojas, and Brittney Farrand for responding to last week’s question! Your answers were insightful and fun to talk about. However, we must keep moving forward, so we ask:
What is a nerdy/geeky thing you’ve been doing recently that you want more people to know about?
Leave a comment on the episode’s post at forall.libsyn.com, or on either Andrew’s or Dan’s Facebook/Google+/Twitter posts (Dan’s Twitter and Andrew’s Twitter). You can also leave a comment on iTunes or e-mail us at forallpod [at] gmail.com.
Until next week, for all intents and purposes, this is an episode breakdown.
Even in the face of a near disastrous behind the scenes technical glitch, it turns out that Andrew and Dan can’t be stopped. Again, they bring you another outstanding episode that covers a straight-up plethora of topics, including:
Week in Geek: Andrew plays the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game while Dan watches How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Looper and also finds time to play a few hours of Metal Gear Solid 3 in the wake of last week’s episode.
Boasts of Bethel: This week, Dan ruminates on how animated films are marginalized by modern American society and wonders what we can do to move it forward.
Discussion: Nintendo guru, Shigeru Miyamoto, makes a startlingly bold claim that video games are in a state of “creative immaturity.” Andrew and Dan discuss what this means and what it may take to get out of it.
Who Cares: Going back to the well, they discuss not an episode or story but a villain! This time they venture into the mind of Davros, the creator of the Daleks.
Geek Thoughts: After going over last week’s very debated question, this week they ask:
What is a game/movie/tv show/comic/book/album/etc. that you feel helped move its medium forward? Why and how?
Leave a comment on the episode’s post at forall.libsyn.com, or on either Andrew’s or Dan’s Facebook/Google+/Twitter posts. You can also leave a comment on iTunes or e-mail us at forallpod [at] gmail.com
Until next week, for all intents and purposes, that was an episode breakdown.
The guys are back and push it to 11! Because Dan lives in Sacramento, and it is summer, you’ll hear his floor fan humming along throughout the episode––you’ve been warned! In a very energetic episode, Andrew and Dan discuss the following:
Week in Geek: Andrew continues to play X-Com, but not before also playing some 13th Age. Dan plays the demo for Valiant Hearts and nearly cries while doing so.
Andrew Objects: Breaking into our regularly scheduled Boasts of Bethel, Andrew addresses the idea that your role-playing game is better (or worse) than anybody elses…and why that might be a problem.
Nerd Debate: Dan sees Transformers: Age of Extinction which gets the guys to ponder the role of 80s nostalgia in popular culture. Then Dan tells Michael Bay how to make Transformers movies.
Games That Matter: Andrew and Dan discuss the importance and impact of Konami’s (more appropriately, Hideo Kojima’s) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Last Call: After reviewing listener responses to last week’s question, Dan and Andrew get into a semantic debate, which must be resolved by you:
Which term is most appropriate to describe our culture: nerd or geek (other?)? Why?
Leave a comment on the episode’s post at forall.libsyn.com, or on either Dan or Andrew’s Facebook/Google+/Twitter posts, leave a comment on iTunes, or email us at forallpod [at] gmail.com
Until next week, for all intents and purposes, this is an episode breakdown.