Category: Media

I’m a media studies graduate and with that comes a raftload of tools that I’m repeatedly told aren’t actually useful for anything, to which I counter that I like using them and enjoy the experience of applying those tools to all the media around me I partake in and therefore my life is enriched and overflowing with wonderful experiences of interconnectivity. By this point the other person has usually wandered off. Anyway, this is the category for anything that I think of as being connected to ‘media’, whether it’s a type (like TV, music, movies or so on), a brand (like Disney! Hi Disney!). This category also covers my weekly critical engagement column-type-thing currently called Story Pile.

Story Pile: Iron Fist, Season 2 – Mary

Let’s get the bookkeeping out of the way. Here’s your spoiler warning, I discuss a character and their backstory and if you somehow wanted to go into Iron Fist for the surprise, then you want to skip out now. Mild content warning for mentioning traumagenic mental health issues.

Iron Fist has been cancelled, but I don’t really believe that. I think it’s much more likely that these shows have been shut down for a point of soft continuity with Netflix and Disney’s upcoming streaming service. There might not be any more of this Iron Fist but there almost certainly could be more if Disney decide it’s worth their return on investment.

The question that keeps coming up is why do this?

One might wonder why I feel the need, after consideration, to turn to the second Iron Fist season and engage with it critically. After all, the series has been cancelled; there will be no more of it. It’s gone, I’ve won. Right? That’s what critics do, they engage with media purely as part of a way of exerting their power on the object. Stop, stop, I won, it’s already dead! And what if someone out there really liked it? By criticising a thing they liked, am I not hurting them, am I not reflecting upon them and maybe making them feel bad, because my opinions and theirs disagree?

And here, I want to offer you comfort. Even if it was somehow meanspirited to kick this series while it was down, it is a multi-milion dollar project and everyone involved is doing fine. If you, personally, feel attacked by my talking about this series being bad, please, don’t read this article and go elsewhere. Live your life.

I want to talk about Iron Fist Season 2 because I like stories, I like this kind of story, and I want to talk about ways to do this kind of thing well. That means, when the time comes, recognising when something bad does something right. With that in mind, I want to talk about the best thing in Iron Fist, Season 2.

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Story Pile: Something YOU Make

Hey, there was meant to be an article here and there wasn’t, and so now you get this, which is me flying by the seat of my goddamn pants because reasons. Hey, no, you don’t get a big important Story Pile about Meaningful Themes because it’s NOVEMBER, which means people are doing NanoWriMo, and I wanted to take a moment to take you, and encourage you to make something.

I write Story Pile posts because I like looking at and thinking about the things stories tell us about ourselves and other people when we partake in them. I like stories, a lot, and I like it when a story does a good job of expressing itself, where the things that the story cares about are shown to matter to that story. It’s one of the most jarring things to watch a story that preaches nonviolence and truth to an ideal decide to chicken out and use a rules loophole, ala Avatar: The Last Airbender, or for a story to build itself around a central character who’s a Very Important Person that Everyone Cares About but the story presents that character as a thoughtless unlikable dick, like in Iron Fist.

What I want to encourage you to try instead is something that is thematically resonant, much smaller, and expresses something you want to exist. And I want you to make it despite the fact that there isn’t a big important genre legacy for it. I want you to make it despite the fact there aren’t millions of people taking part and getting mad at it and being insufferable to their friends. I don’t want you to spend November writing 50,000 words.

If you want a writing project this November, I want you to try out writing about 8,000 to 20,000 words, in the form of a Lite Novel, for Light Novelember 2018. But this isn’t the only thing you can make. You can offer to make illustrations for someone else’s story idea. You can make fake covers for books you want to see get made, but don’t know how to make. You can make the story for someone else’s cover! The point is not to get hung up on word counts and the novel as it is to express yourself in a way that means something to you. Something fun. Something indulgent.

Here are three basic reasons to do this instead of NanoWriMo.

1. NanoWriMo Encourages Volume

Hey, I may just be talking as someone who just marked 50,000 words of essays but do you know what’s really hard? Conveying good stories in small spaces. Know what’s comparatively easy? Waffling on and creating lots of excessive words while you watch a word counter go up because you can at least construct a coherent sentence while you’re following around this little buzzing bee in the back of your head.

The drive for word counts is the same thing as the drive for an aggressive update schedule, which is why Instagram hasn’t got any novels on it but it does have lots of boobs, and why Fifty Shades of Grey has so many pointless arguments between two people over nothing in spaces that are pretty much meaningless to the conversation. Once you get past the basics of how to commit to a story structure of beginning-middle-end, padding that word count gets easier and easier. Just introduce a new character. How about a twist and now it’s cyberpunk. Oh but now there are zombies!

This won’t get you a story. It’ll usually get you six or seven stories which individually, could be polished up into something pretty good, if you allowed yourself to leave them as small stories.

2. Small Stories Teach You

You may have a big epic trying to get out of you and that’s good. I don’t want to dissuade you. But big epic stories take a lot of time to make, and if you’ve never made anything else you’re going to make mistakes, mistakes that you won’t notice until you’re well along, and that may be too late to fix them, or it may make the whole project fall apart.

Small stories can change a lot. They can fix themselves. They can even be released, with their mistakes, because they didn’t take up months of your life. They can be learning experiences, and what’s more, when you make a small story, and share it, you’re sharing it with other people who may be scared to try stories too. They’ll see what you did, and recognise that it’s not so hard, and maybe they’ll make something as well.

If you think the first step to being a writer is writing a novel, you’re going to falter so many times before you can get there.

3. Nobody Will Make What You Make

There aren’t going to be people telling the stories that sing to you the same way as you do. Your stories may appeal to others in ways they weren’t expecting, but if you want to tell a story about nagas or tonberries or sentient talking strawberries or whatever, the easiest way to see that story come into existence is to make it yourself.

And I wouldn’t have thought of it.

It’s true!

You might find common ideas with other people, you might find inspiration in common, but in this space, there’s room for all sorts of oddball ideas, for your specific wants, to give voice to your specific desires for a story.

And it’s okay, because we’re here to tell stories and have fun. Make a story about smooching, or about rayguns, or about the bold trans dude biologist who saves the day by deducing the way to communicate with dragons through the bone structures of their jaws. This is a time to write something indulgent and not worry about if it’s serious enough or good enough or important enough to be treated ‘seriously.’

I have written about how to write a Lite Novel in the past. Here’s the guide to that. If you want to talk to me about this on Twitter, please do. This here is an unscheduled, off the cuff announcement, so I probably missed something.

Geanette, To Weebs

I’ve talked about Gerard Geanette, a French academic, who published books in the 1990s about a vision of media that we call structuralism. His idea was that you can divide media into different parts that all make up the experience, and the ways it change from person to person is a matter of changing parts of the structure while not necessarily changing parts of the text.

Also, Geanette? Looooved him some books.

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Story Pile: Monster

I’ve talked about the challenge of talking about big work in the past. I sometimes use the term mile wide pie, where some experiences are so time consuming or have some single facet engaging enough that you can’t really judge the work as a whole. All I can do, really, is talk to you about my experience of the thing, but how can I do that without simply sitting by your side as I recount the whole thing? I don’t think there’s an interest in me doing a Manga Reread Podcast or something like that. Monster is a big series – eighteen volumes of manga, filled with short stories and diversions that reinforce the central theme of the story, things I could leave out of the retelling but which still matter to the story. Then there’s an anime, a rare example of an almost perfectly faithful adaptation that does as little as possible to change the original work, yet highlights just how tightly the manga is devised.

What I can offer instead then is a sort of snapshot. A handful of moments, things that stand out to me in a work that resonated with me powerfully. Before we go on, though, two warnings. One, I will talk about some of the events in this series.

Two, this series gets a lot of content warnings. It is not a light series, it is not a breezy read. Without comprehensive review, the book features child endangerment (and how), suicide, depression, repressed memories, child abuse, enfant terrible, actual literal real neo-Nazis, Hitler Stuff and good old fashioned violence, but really it’s quite sedate there. This is not gory, it is terrible. It is a horror story. It is an extremely horrifying horror story. It is also uplifting, and humanising, and helped me feel whole.

I want to talk to you about Monster.

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Your Worst Fan

I’ve spoken in the past, about an old TISM song, Play Mistral For Me. For those unfamiliar, the lines of the chorus are

Each man kills the thing he loves
A fisherman caught in his own net
It’s frightening but you deserve
The audience that you get.

It’s meant to be a haunting meditation (like they’d call it that) on the idea that if you’re destined for an audience, your audience’s actions are part of your destiny. It’s something that I’ve mused about lately as I watch students talk about their takes, and as the world increasingly spins around people who have let’s say a not great take on the meaningful metaphors of works like The Matrix and Fight Club.

Spoilers for some movies I feel comfortable assuming you’d have seen by now or don’t care about ever seeing them unspoilered. Continue reading

Iron Fist Cancellation

I was planning on doing a Story Pile about Iron Fist season 2, talking about the problems it has, the reasons it doesn’t work, the reasons I hate it (Danny sucks) and all that.

Then I got the news, today, just out of the blue, after one week of being live on Netflix, that Season 3 of Iron Fist has been cancelled.

I don’t know how to feel about this in its entirety. Like, I was unhappy with the series, but it was a hate that came with a want for a good version of the thing. I wanted an Iron Fist series that was good. When Iron Fist season 1 was bad, I wanted the badness to inform season 2, and when season 2, I had it in me to hope that season 3 could be good, or at least interesting as a failure instead of the black hole of suck that season 2 wound up being.

And then, today, the abrupt news that Marvel and Netflix have decided to just kill Iron Fist season 3.

I mean, it wasn’t going to be good. The people who made Season 1 made a bad thing and the people who made Season 2 with fewer excuses for it being bad. Now I’m wondering if it’d be worth my time to even commentate on the series as a media object itself, or if it’s more of a closed circle. Is there a meaningful autopsy there? Is there a sincere, reasonable purpose to dismantling the terribleness of Iron Fist season 2? Would it be interesting, or edifying?

I’m not sure.

But it is pretty weird to sit back, watch a show on Netflix, say ‘this is garbage’ and then have the voice from on high agree with me.

Story Pile: Jennifer’s Body

hoo boy.

If you don’t remember this movie, I don’t blame you. The marketing for it sort of oriented itself around the selling point that Megan Fox is hot, and She makes out with Amanda Seyfried in this movie. The trailer even seemed to dedicate quite a bit of time to showing off that sequence, which had about it the waft of a movie that was trying very hard to make its 15 racy seconds feel like 30. A transgressive, raunchy, highschool-aimed horror movie, Jennifer’s Body showed up just long enough to make everyone I know roll their eyes and go ugh about it as they went on to talk about how horribly exploitive it probably was.

The thing that nobody seemed to know at the time was that Jennifer’s Body wasn’t a Species-style exploitative horror film with nothing going on, it was a Frankenstein-style exploitative horror film with nothing going on. By that, I mean that this movie is basically the mediocre bits of three other movies that were killed, stitched together into something that resembles a whole. Continue reading

The Fifty Two Flags Wrapup, Part 4

These are the final two rounds of voting, the top eight of flags. Now, thanks to the vagaries of the voting tournament, there are some flags here that do not belong in a top eight of US state flags. But them’s the breaks in a randomly seeded tournament.

I preserved the order of loss in my original thread, but let’s make no mistake: The original thread had some absolute turkeys last way too long. Texas, for example, probably belongs in the final eight, certainly. Really, a more refined version of this poll would be one where all the unforgivably bad flags are just dumped, but then there might be as few as sixteen options.

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Story Pile: Pacific Rim

Just as Game Pile has developed away from its roots of being a pure videogame review section of the website and instead developed into a house for me to talk about stuff in videogames, using videogames as ways to talk about anything else that interests me as well, I realised that one thing that paralysed me was a movie that I enjoyed but didn’t have anything super-meaningful to say about.

I mean, what am I gunna say about Pacific Rim? Just eight paragraphs of enthusiastic wibbling about big robots and big monsters with three pictures interspersed? Is it enough for me to just talk about disjointed stuff I liked in a movie without some greater, central thesis?

Let’s find out!

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The Fifty Two Flags Wrapup, Part 1

A month or two ago, in the lead-up to the United States Flag Day I made a twitter thread – and what a thread it was. Here’s a link. But Twitter threads break, and they sometimes lose information, and so, in the interest of preservation, here’s that chunk o’content, reproduced on my blog.

This thread got really big and it had some sass and comments, so I’m going to represent the rounds of voting, then the loser’s brackets. Continue reading

Story Pile: Aquaman, But Moreso

Alright, so if I’m not happy with the way Aquaman is being treated based on a trailer and the quite safe assumption that the DC Expanded universe is being made by a neverending stream of teapots that suffer from such fundamental failings as objectivism or being Joss Whedon, what would I do differently? Yes, it’s me jumping on a bandwagon of popular analysis form where because I’ve gotten your attention thanks to talking about media that exists, I think I can talk you into listening to my ideas about media that should exist.

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Shirt Highlight: Voregoisie

Inspired by a tumblr post, I made these designs.

What it says, in fancy font so fancy it’s hard to read, is Voregoisie: The Rich Are Made Of Meat.

Note, I do not recommend the literal eating of the literal rich. Consuming human beings is a good way to get yourself sick and run the risk of getting prions, which are all kinds of bad news.

Anyway, here’s the Voregoisie design in white and black.

Story Pile: Aquaman Trailer

I at some point in my life shifted from the kind of person who made fun of Aquaman, because he was a character you kind of knew about but it was easy to imagine making fun of him, to someone who spends his time arguing about how much interesting potential Aquaman has as a storytelling agent, frustrated at the previous group of people.

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Ways To Fail And Be Failed

Trying to be concise with a concept. This time, the concept is from Jesper Juul’s The Art of Failure: An Essay On The Pain Of Playing Video Games.

In this, he describes three different types of failure that you can encounter:

Failures of Execution. You messed up.

Failures of Motivation. You weren’t encouraged to do the right thing.

Failures of Function. You did the right thing, but it didn’t work.

As a player, what does it matter how you fail? You may have no idea why you’re failing, or what the type of failure is. Watching Lucy Morris play The Witcher 2, I watched all three happen in quick succession, without any indication that they were at all happening.

The section of the game is a stealth section in the mission The Search For Triss Merigold. First of all, the game has a failure of function – you can be stuck in a place where you can’t earn any money, and your only alternative to the stealth section is to spend a lot of money. This means you’re presented with a choice that can’t be a choice; you didn’t have any reason to turn up with your pockets bulging and you can’t go do anything else to earn money.

Then there was a failure of motivation. The correct course of action in the game was to sneak into a camp, avoid several guards, sneak to a location, dose a chef, then sneak out through a path that opens up. This particular sequence of events was so obscure, so utterly without, that Lucy didn’t even know she wasn’t doing the right thing. When she messed up in this stealth section, at all, she was killed without any recourse – which meant anything she tried that didn’t work was immediately discarded. She wasn’t getting a clear feedback on why she was failing, and that meant she had no idea what the right thing was to do.

Eventually, Lucy opted for a walkthrough, because what other alternative was there?

And then, then there were failures of execution. Lucy knew what she had to do, but still died a few times trying to get there. This was extremely frustrating, but the knowledge that she was working towards the correct plan was better than nothing.

Alright, fine, The Witcher 2′s stealth section sucks, but what does this mean for me and my life, you wonder?

Well, As a designer, what does it matter how a player fails?

First, failures of function are on you – the player can’t make the game behave right, you’re the one that does that.

A failure of motivation lies more on you than on them, too – because you want to induce them to do things in your game. A player might not care enough to pay attention, sure, and that’s not entirely on you, but you can do more to guide players than you think, and plenty of games have messed up letting players know what they should be doing.

And failures of execution, if they happen regularly, may be a sign that you’re expecting too much of a player. They’re also the kind of failure that players find the most satisfying to overcome. Succeeding despite a game failing is less satisfying than succeeding despite your own previous failures.

Western Canon

What with people, aka racists, talking about the importance of defending western values they’ll often tout the artistic importance of the west and how it’s resulted in transcendental things like Van Gogh and Leonardo Da Vinci and some other artist they primarily remember because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The thing about this thought that always rattles around is that the imperial world did indeed produce an enormous amount of art we can recognise as important, but that it was always as a byproduct of cultural states that had disproportionate wealth enough that thanks to sheer randomness and the precarious position of the people randomly bequeathed with ridiculous wealth, money got scattered down onto the people who make art. Look at the history of these artists, the people of this western canon, they’re all either paid for by some rich dickhead who was already getting more than his fair share of pies, and there were a lot of artists who failed to find an agreeable rich patron who supported them and the tended to live lives that were poor, short, and miserable, even if the ever did make something cool. It should really be seen as a stinging indictment of capitalism and western colonialism that it had to acquire something like half the wealth in the world at the time before it was able to produce twenty or thirty artists, when any kind of efficient system might be doing something like making sure everyone was well-fed enough that if they wanted to bung out some art they weren’t going to be hosed for trying it.

Still, what do I know, I’m not an expert in media creation oh wait hang on I might be by now, holy heck.

Anyway, the real lesson here is that when a racist wants to talk to you about the importance of colonialism to world art, the correct response is to tell them to go fuck themselves and to not bother arguing with them about the logical or rational reasons for rejecting their racism. They’re always lying.

Story Pile: Luke Cage, Season 2

There are challenges describing series that are part of the zeitgeist. When I talk about videogames it’s always as the Cool Take school of study, where nobody else is talking about the game and therefore whatever I’m saying is presenting to you a game you might not already know about, and giving you a reason to consider what the game is like or about, or some reason to care about it, or connect it to your life. When it comes to popular main-stream movies and series, though, that task is more difficult both because almost certainly someone else is giving that take, and there are some takes I don’t feel equipped to deliver.

Before I go on, though: I liked Luke Cage, Season 2, but it wasn’t a lot of fun. Good, grungy drama, and the time I can consciously think I had the most fun were sequences with Bushmaster being righteously angry.

I can’t speak to the values of blackness in Luke Cage. I can’t speak to what it’s like to be torn between two worlds, to have your identities – potential or otherwise – dictated to you by people who reject your humanity, not in this way. I don’t know the music. I don’t know the culture. I don’t know the life.

But.

There’s this moment.

Spoilers for Luke Cage Season 2 follow.
CW: Discussion of gendered violence, sexual abuse, biphobia

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PC Format And Pinball

Back before the internet, if your computer didn’t work, you didn’t have the same options we do today. If you wanted to work out why a game wasn’t loading or why it was slow, you’d often be left with no recourse but to ask someone, someone who was either a technician or, more often than you’d think, you’d mail into a magazine, like, mail in with an actual letter and hope they’d understand your question, try to answer it, and print it in their column.

These things existed, they were like agony aunt columns but the solution was almost always something to do with including -RAM or -NOEMS in your config.sys file.

In Doc Destructo’s Gamewrecks episode on Tattoo Assassin, he mentioned the differences between pinball machines and arcade cabinets, and it reminded me of the story from my youth from one of these tech support columns.

See, one bloke had written in about his attempts to install a new graphics card, he found that it didn’t fit the place he thought it should in his computer. No problem, he said, as he was experienced with computer hardware from his job managing pinball machines in an arcade. He said he’d found the part that connected to the main board, and, using some of his work tools, made sure the pins fit.

Anyone who has worked on the insides of a PC is, I hope, cringing as hard as I did.

The tech support column was surprisingly nice to the guy, explaining to him that maybe he didn’t quite understand how fragile a PC was compared to the more ‘sturdy’ arcade machines he was used to working with. I think it’s from there that the word ‘sturdy’ got emblazoned in my mind as the defining trait of a piece of hardware that was meant to survive being dropped downstairs once in its life.

They told him to buy a new one and maybe get a tech professional to install it for him.

Design Teleology

Today (when I’m writing this) was a Note Revision day. Basically the way I’m doing my PhD research is mostly reading things and taking notes, then one day a week I’m just crunching all those notes into something coherent. If I can’t explain it, I didn’t get it, so if my notes have a hole in it, I have to go back and re-examine them. This is in my opinion, a good practice to get myself in the habit of re-examining what I knew, and to treat this study as a marathon rather than a sprint. I can read a book and parrot back a few things in it from memory pretty easily, and, since my field of study is relatively obscure and even quite fragmented I can even make it look like I’m super smart just by wavering around on something I read and then give you a mangled explanation, but that’s not understanding it. The ACE system taught me to read a text and quote a few lines, after all, and anything I can do to annoy those miserable arse-wombles, I will do every chance I get.

Anyway, today’s notes were on a book I’ve mentiond before, called Game Research Methods, which was compiled and edited by Lankoski and Bjork, and it’s a book primarily about introducing some tools for researching videogames.

This is a solid book and it’s particularly solid because the opening chapters start with ideas like ‘what is research‘ and ‘how do we prove research,’ and by the end it’s talking about the idea of Grounded Theories where you start by gathering a heckton of data about game, then assemble your theories out of what interesting patterns you see in it. That’s different from conventional research where you start with a hypothesis and then try to gather data that will prove what you’re hypothesising is wrong.

Anyway, one of the things this book does that I’m not wild about, but which isn’t strictly speaking bad, is that it suggests that one of the mandatory things for researching a videogame is playing it exhaustively to ensure an understanding of the systems.

This is something that bugs me, because games do tons of stuff under the hood and you don’t know how it’s doing it. This vision of game design is kind of muffled, because I can go through any game, any game I love, as many times as I want, and I won’t know what the design is trying to do, I can only deal with what the design does in my experience of it. This leads to a problem with gamer mentalities where having played a lot of a game is seen as proof you understand the game, where buying a lot of games makes you informed on how games get made.

It’s a pretty well known fact that games do stuff you don’t know about and won’t understand. You can throw a brick and hit a story about this. Sometimes it’s a bug that people got used to. Or how about the ways games deliberately lie to you, not just about plot, but lie to you through interface.

But here’s the thing.

Is the experience of playing the thing we call a videogame, or is the device designed to give you that experience the thing we call a videogame?

Story Pile: Hello Rockview

There’s this joke, about ska.

The joke is that not many people like ska, and people who do like ska, are funny, and to be laughed at.

It’s not a really good joke, but it seems to be the only way ska music gets brought up. Hey, remember ska? Some people like it! Hah! You do sometimes see the variant ‘I can’t believe there was a time where we thought ska was good,’ usually in reference to the late 90s when a handful of ska bands got a few songs on the radio, which represented, of course, an invasion.

Also it got to be in the Digimon soundtrack because it was cheap, which is probably where a lot of people heard it the first time.

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