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: 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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Clever Bastards

I think about this song a lot.

Ian Dury was a dude who was born when Polio existed, and it wrecked his body. The dude lived a life of singing and shouting and stomping, and was regarded by his passing as one of the great British lyricists. Some of his songs spoke plainly of sadness and helplessness in the face of the need to create, some of them about the nature of British society, and some of them, like this, showed a round-bottomed positivity. He died in the year 2000, at only 57 years of age.

I think the thing about this song that gets me, every time, is the refrain – probably had help from their mum, who had help from her mum.

Back in the seventies, a one-legged street tough who knew how to steal, how to fight and how to cry was recognising that we are all part of long chains of effort, that even the best and brightest were aided by the people who shaped them. Bear it in mind, the connectivity between ourselves and the past, and remember that we didn’t make ourselves, not even those we consider great.

Kamen Rider W Week 4: Sincere

When regarding any production made for Japan by the Japanese without an explicit eye towards translation and distribution – so, you know, lots of stuff – there’s a temptation towards an orientalist lens. The typical weeb view that Anime and Manga and such things are so much deeper than the tawdry production of the west, that these shows aren’t for kids, when they very much are for actual kids.

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The Most Casual Autoethnography

I’ve thrown around this term a fair bit recently, in non-academic circles. Part of that is because I want to get familiar with it, and I want to know how to best explain it to other people. As with many concepts, it’s best if you can explain it with a concept.

So let’s talk about one of the most common ways you engage with Autoethnography: Reviews.

You don’t normally get it for things like soup or shoes or teacups but if you’re – like me – the kind of person who engages with the output of Video Essay Youtube or Board Game Review people, you’re dealing with autoethnography. Every games reviewer is an autoethnographer – they play a game, they examine what they played, then they examine that experience, usually, and tell you what they derive from that.

Some models of reviewership want to be dispassionate, remove the reviewer from the review. This is obviously contentious, because some people seem to think they can have a pure, objective, non-biased perception of a game, and also nonsense, because it’s almost always the byproduct of trying to be ‘right’ about a game. Part of why autoethnography wants to ensure the reviewer is a component of the review is because that way, if you understand the reviewer – even generally – you can use that to inform your reviews.

Now, this isn’t strictly speaking true: The model for what they do is autoethnographic, but because they’re not doing it with academic structures and rigor, it’s not really reasonable to call it autoethnography. It’s much more about making this work approachable, converting academic stuff into stuff that you can handle. If I can’t explain it usefully, it’s a sign I either don’t understand how to talk to you, or don’t understand what the thing I’m talking about is.

This was all brought on by doing some old readings and finding responses to Lindsay Ellis’ rather excellent critical series, The Whole Plate. This series uses Transformers, a type of generally shallow trash media, as a base grounding to examine a whole host of film theory concepts, and it’s really good.

One of the ChannelAwesome people, that Doug Walker guy who, apparently, sucks a lot? Put out a video in which he forwarded that there was no point, at all, to ever critically exmaine trash media.

This is, I feel, a good opportunity to put these two positions in contrast. One of these two reviewers uses the experience of watching Transformers as a venue to explain and explore a whole host of film theory, and one of them thinks there’s no value to critical theory at all. And right there, you can use that as a platform to decide which of these two people you should consider when it comes tim to examine media critically.

Kamen Rider W Week 3: Rubber

There’s a physicality to the Kamen Rider W universe that you don’t get even in big-budget superhero stories. That’s because a lot of the time when Robert Downey Jr is waving his hand at a table, he’s acting the heck out of interacting with an empty space. Thor talks to a head on a stick. Ian McKellan sits in an empty room made up of 100% greenscreen and cries to himself about the technical emptiness of a craft that started on a stage. These are the restraints on the implementation of computer effects as the foundation of a scene.

In Kamen Rider W, as with other Kamen Rider shows, the baddies are made outta rubber.

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Kamen Rider W Week 2: Hardboiled

In Kamen Rider W, they use the term hardboiled a lot, and they directly, by name, invoke the idea of hardboiled detective fiction. The books are shown in shots, around the home and office that Sokichi made, and Hidari later inherited. Sokichi names Phillip after after Phillip Marlowe, the character central to Raymond Chandler’s series of novels. It’s repeatedly invoked in the case of secret catboy Hidari Shotaro, where he explains why he does something as being the essence of hardboiled. The series’ theme –

which is awesome

is called WBX for DOUBLE-BOILED EXTREME.

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The Vegans Of Youtube

When you hang out on youtube looking at short-form recipes as a way to stave off your anxiety, you notice something. You notice trends and patterns in the comments, because oh god, you started to read the comments.

It’s not uncommon for channels to do some vegan videos. Especially Buzzfeed’s Tasty brand, which is basically Listicle Recipes (and honestly, a really, really good format for it). Vegan recipes get hits, they get comments, they get likes. There’s even a channel that makes a point of collecting ‘accidentally vegan’ meals, where someone makes a vegan recipe video and doesn’t realise they’re recommending vegan food.

Here’s the thing.

On vegan videos, I mostly notice vegans talking about how nice it is, suggesting extra things to do for the video’s recipe, suggesting solutions for particular food allergies, and loudly non-vegan people making fun of it, or complaining about it. Like, you get that very clean split of ‘well wouldn’t this be better with tons of bacon‘ or ‘ugh, why you making these vegan videos?’

On non-vegan videos, I mostly notice vegans showing up in the comments to suggest to one another, ways they can make these dishes they’re watching vegan. They aren’t saying this recipe should be different.

Now I know part of this is moderation! Moderators are more likely, I suspect, to let go a huffing and puffing non-vegan comment than their equivalent, which might be a vegan talking pointedly about how you’re ruining this food with all that meat.

Whatever the reason, it’s pretty weird.

Lovecraft’s Failure

Not the racism.

Lovecraft, if you’re not aware, died poor. He died of cancer in his 40s, mostly destitute, and his work was forgotten until a significant period after he died. Even then he was sort of an academic interest that fed into the interests of other writers rather than the force of cultural nature he is now that he’s part of the public domain. One of the things he attributed this to, in his later days, was that he didn’t have the confidence or courage to promote his own work, and when he did, he didn’t do enough. His obscurity, he felt, was not tied to the quality of his work, but his ability to advertise it.

More things change, eh, Howard.

 Lovecraft was born in 1890. Three years before he was born there was the first performance of Ruddigore. Ruddigore is an operetta I like a lot, and one of the two best songs in it is this one:

The lyrics, in case you aren’t versed, as I, feature this chorus:

If you wish in the world to advance,
Your merits you’re bound to enhance,
You must stir it and stump it,
And blow your own trumpet,
Or, trust me, you haven’t a chance!

These words echo to me a lot, in my more horrified moments. One of the problems is that I already feel like I promote myself too much. I feel like I never shut up about my stuff, that I presume I can reference my games to people, and when I’m put on the spot and shown that I can’t, it reminds me that for all I feel I talk about this, I either don’t talk about them enough, or, more damningly…

I do, and nobody cares.

Is it that I’m bad at self promoting, or is it that my promotion isn’t going to endure because what I do isn’t good enough? I worry about this a lot. I wonder about it when I learn that there’s something I have in common with Lovecraft… staring down the barrel of an irrelevant life because I wasn’t able to make myself memorable in the minds of the people around me.

Shame about the racism, though.

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Kamen Rider W Week 1: Patterns

Kamen Rider W is my first Kamen Rider Series and it owns bones. It is a high-energy series about loving a place, about wanting to live up to your potential, about found family, about the stories we tell one another, about legacies and respect and love and fear and about kicking baddies in the face and refusing to give up and there’s a motorbike which changes parts and there’s a truck that drives the motorbike around and –

I really like this show.

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Lovecraft, Exploration, and Motivation

The classical Lovecraftian story is set around the time of Lovecraft’s life. Very few of them occur in the deep history, even as they are about the deep history, told through the voice of a person in Lovecraft’s now.

Lovecraft wasn’t a man who saw politics too clearly. I mean, he was a racist, and an anglophile, and he thought World War I was really important because America owed it to England, America’s homeland, but when he looked to the future and around him he was not horrified by the closing entanglements of European politics and the industrialisation of war, nor was he particularly horrified at the coming nuclear age. I mean, from the perspective of a dude born in the 1890s, nuclear power seems pretty out-of-context.

If you look through Lovecraft’s work there’s a strong view towards discovery. There’s the deep sea, there’s the stars, there’s ancient archaeology and there’s the organised cataloguing of unread tomes in old libraries. The protagonists are explorers – they are people who, without needing further motivation, want to learn and discover.

Interestingly, most Lovecraftian stories are kind of one-and-done affairs; someone discovers the edge of the darkness, and then is either consumed and destroyed by it, or they run and escape it, forever scarred by the experience. They are people who start out exploring for the sake of information. Their motivation is intrinsic.

Thing is, that’s not – usually – how Lovecraft stuff works in games. One of the challenges in these play spaces is motivation. Most Lovecraft games want to have multiple encounters, multiple excursions dealing with the unnatural. It’s hard to build a game – especially one about change over time – around singular experiences and that leaves you with a problem of representing a character who has some reason to want to repeatedly expose themselves to this problem.

I think this is a cool idea to work with in character creation. I know Delta Green requires you to build a set of connections that will get worse and fail over the course of the game.  I think that’s a good start because it shows you a think worth losing – but I wonder if there’s also room to build into character building a space for a fatal, consuming drive. A reason to go back.

Repeatedly.

Story Pile: Cul De Sac

We’re going to do something a little bit different this time.

This Story Pile is going to be about the newspaper comic Cul De Sac, a comic I really like, but which is also, unlike other media I cover, actually kind of already represented online in its entirety as it is. Like, if you want to go read Cul De Sac, you can… just… do that. The other thing we’re going to talk about is Calvin and Hobbes, which Bill Watterson, the creator, has been similarly archived online, but also crucially, not by me.

Normally I break up these essays on media with pictures from the media in question, or youtube embeds or whatever, but GoComics lacks that functionality and while I could always take the strips, upload and offer them in the context of my own work and you know, review and educational purposes (which it is), I’d still feel just a bit of a dick about it. This is much as with the work of Gary Larson, who has asked that people not circulate Far Side strips online, and, well, they do anyway.

With that in mind, I’m making the conscious decision to not put any of the comic strips here in this blog post. Instead, I’m going to try and keep it short.

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Cracks in Diegesis

Okay, so, fancyword there, Diegesis. The diegesis is the reality of the story you’re perceiving. It’s not ‘the text’ because there’s more to the text than the diegesis, like music and credits and – well, the term we use for elements that don’t belong in the diegesis is ‘nondiegetic elements,’ and I recognise that that isn’t the most helpful dang thing in the world.

The diegesis of a text is the narrative. Basically. It’s the little bubble of a universe where the things exist, the objects and places and people and the events they’re all reacting to. When a movie pops up a location text or a timer in it, that’s non-diegetic.

Diegesis is something we’re often kinda precious about. The whole idea of ludonarrative dissonance is – and I am ignoring all the times people use the term stupidly – usually about someone perceiving gameplay and fiction as having different values and that creates a jarring feeling. I’ve made fun of characters for espousing media they clearly didn’t read or understand. Basically, the diegesis, the illusion that this is a story and not a crafted work by a person, is said to ‘break’ when we notice something wrong with it. This is why it’s important to have verisimilitude – not realism, but the believable illusion of realism. That believable illusion is why it’s more important to play into people’s expectations than into realism.

The thing is, we don’t have to break diegesis when we’re confronted with the oddness. It’s something of a canard. What does the diegesis do if you don’t acknowledge the break?

This came to my mind thinking about Kamen Rider W, recently, with its focus on Hardboiled narratives which were clearly made by people who hadn’t really read or ‘gotten’ Hardboiled narratives. You know, what happens if you ignore the obvious and easy – that this ‘mistake’ is because someone making the media made a mistake – and instead accept it within the diegesis? Do we have to lean on the cracks in diegesis?

What if the chainsawing racists in the face and the both-sidesing racism of Bioshock Infinite is something that exists in its story, rather than signs of a ninny messing up?

I haven’t got an answer for these examples – but it’s very easy to leap back from any part of a media space and say ‘well, someone chose this, for a reason,’ and that’s almost too easy. Explore the things that happen in a movie, consider why they might be the way the are within the universe itself.

Story Pile: The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a 2003 American history-drama movie where Tom Cruise The Space Pope reprises his basic conceptual role in Dances With Wolves* and goes to Japan to learn of these strange, exotic natives and their wildly different ways. It is a story regularly lambasted for a variety of reasons such as its grotesquely understated depiction of Tom Cruise’s alcoholic soldier going completely teetotal without any seeming ill effects (which is very fair) to its claiming that Tom Cruise becomes ‘the best Samurai’ in the narrative (which is not) to the marketing which literally puts TOM CRUISE THE LAST SAMURAI directly adjacent one another suggesting that no actually, yes, Tom Cruise does become The Last Samurai in this story (which is extremely fair).

BUT WE’RE NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE, HA HA

We’re going to talk about Samurai.

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Story Pile: Arrested Development, Part II

After the first series of Arrested Development, seasons 1-3, they revived it. Who’s they? The wizards, I dunno. The point is, thanks to the neverending zombie franchiseland that is Netflix and the endless well of relaunch fever for people who were noticing we were approaching or in middle age desperately tried to head back to the mid eighties, Arrested Development was brought back to life in 2013.

It’s not very good.

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MOVED POST 4

This post was deemed important to my PhD and has been moved to my academic blog. If you don’t know where that is, that’s okay! Or you can contact me to ask me where to find it.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

MOVED POST 3

This post was deemed important to my PhD and has been moved to my academic blog. If you don’t know where that is, that’s okay! Or you can contact me to ask me where to find it.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Story Pile: Why Cap Ain’t Supe

The comparison between Superman and Captain America is very much like the comparison between tractors and trucks. They’re not an unreasonable comparison to make, especially when you only know of either thanks to movies, but the more you know about either the less the comparison works. The two have some very broad similarities, but when you start to talk about the kind of stories they can tell, things start to break down.

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