A blog dedicated to art, entertainment, language, and culture.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Go Play Gone Home

Gone Home is one of those video games that deserves a lot of neat, little superlatives to accompany it.  But to keep things simple, let's just say it is a fantastic game and well worth playing.  You don't have to take my word for it.  You can go to this website: scroll down to where it say "Gone Home" and read any number of articles penned by talented writers about virtually every aspect of the game.  Alternatively, you can visit The New York Times, Slate, or one of the many other non-video game press sources that adored it too.

There's a lot I can't say about Gone Home.  Most details end up tainting the experience, and what I really want is for people who haven't played this game to go do it.  Right now.  All you need to know is that you're a woman visiting her family's new house and discovering no one there and no immediate explanation for their mysterious absences.

Go investigate.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From One Second to the Next

Normally, when a company tries to send a message to young people, they are tempted towards ham-handed hiptitudes.  "How do reach the youth of America?  Let's make a rap about not smoking!"  But there was no condescending from AT&T when they asked the brilliant filmmaker Werner Herzog to create a short documentary about the harm done by texting and driving.  Werner Herzog is not "hip," but he makes some of the most incredible films and fascinating documentaries.

A word to the wise, if you want to live in blissful ignorance, From One Second to the Next is not for you.  It will probably leave you unable to even consider texting while driving ever again.  The documentary begins with a girl describing how her younger brother was swept out of her hand by a car before she even knew it was there.  And as each story unfolds, there is an overarching senselessness about the accidents.  The text messages were insignificant compared to suffering they caused.

At times, Herzog's documentary can be a real challenge to sit through.  And that certainly separates it from other company-sponsored PSAs.  Unlike the purity ring style "It Can Wait" pledge that is AT&T's other attempt to discourage texting and driving, this film does not act young.  It does not pander to one's age demographic.  It does not pull punches, and that is precisely why it should be viewed by as many people as possible, especially teens.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Watermelon Babies!!

While I was sitting around considering whether or not we should be eating children, Chinese mothers were dressing their kids for dessert!

This is apparently some kind of hip, new trend circulating throughout Chinese internet culture or... something...

Okay, we can safely assume that Chinese parents en masse aren't dressing their children in watermelons.  We can safely assume that these are an incredibly small minority of people that saw a picture of a one baby dressed in watermelon-wear and thought it was adorable, so they copied it.  But I want to believe that it is possible this will take the nation of China by storm and that millions of children will grow up only knowing watermelons for clothes.  Someday, they will look back and wonder how primitive man survived the summer heat without wearing a cool, refreshing watermelon...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Onion Van Gogh

This magnificent work of art was discovered in the Tower Restaurant of Lake Placid, Florida.  It's a painting of onions.  Down the hall to the left and across from the women's restroom is a similar painting of asparagus.  While absurdly mundane, they are unarguably beyond any shadow of a doubt, one-hundred percent perfect for a nice, sit-down restaurant.  Why?  Well... they're pictures of food...

Still lifes rarely receive a great deal of credit in the art world.  They can be as complex and detailed as portraits, or landscapes, or random dreamspun images straight from the imagination, but a bowl of fruit tends to represent little more than a bowl of fruit in the mind of your average passerby.  Often times, the poor still life is delegated to the role of "exercise."  It's good practice for artists, though its probably not going to be considered their masterpiece.

You may look at these onions or their asparagus counterparts (not pictured because I don't like to stand outside women's restrooms in public wielding a camera) and say, "Why would anyone paint an onion?"  And you would be both reasonable and unfair.  Onions are not exciting models, but in no way do they offend the senses.  A simple still life of food is aesthetically pleasing and in good taste...especially considering location.  Sitting in a restaurant where food is served, this image represents moderation, cleanliness, and healthy eating.

If one were to change the location, the meaning of the artwork would change drastically.  Placed inside a Wendy's, it would be completely inappropriate and at odds with the large portions of mostly unhealthy foods.  It would act as a grim sentry in the household of a bulimic eater.  It could be a positive reminder kept by an enthusiastic vegetarian.  And that shifting identity is something that makes a still life special when compared to some more famous or classic works.

Simple art has a much easier time being judged with its surroundings than let's say...The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh.  When you look at The Starry Night, you are looking at a famous piece of art, a masterpiece, one of the greatest works in the whole of human history.  If it was hanging in a restaurant however, it would probably contribute little or nothing to the actual surroundings, because when you look at it, you typically judge it in abstract.  It's The Starry Night, not part of a restaurant.  The onions are more easily identified with the restaurant than their creator or clout.

Most works like still lifes tend to go unnoticed in their surroundings and that's okay.  You're probably not going to see many still lifes being displayed as the centerpiece of a room.  They'll be part of the decorations.  Something like that onion painting adds to the scenery without dominating it.  Not every work of art is meant to be closely studied, but that doesn't take away its value.

Onions by Van Gogh. My entire argument is moot...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mythical National Animals

I'm about to spoil the answer, so google it now if you don't want the surprise ruined...

It's a unicorn.  Yep, Scotland's national animal isn't even real.  Let's not be negative-nellies here, the unicorn looks damn fine on a crest, and this fiction animal as the symbol of Scotland is just as legitimate as a lion being the national animal of England.  England is so known for their lions.

Just browsing through the list of national animals on Wikipedia, I'm happy to say that Scotland isn't the only country to use a fictional animal.  In fact, Scotland isn't the only country to use a fictional horse!  Enter North Korea with the Chollima.  The Chollima is the East Asian equivalent to Pegasus.  The winged horse was originally a Chinese fabrication, but became North Korea's national animal during reconstruction after the Korean War.  I'm not interested in giving too many compliments to the extremely oppressive dictatorship, but they picked a great national animal and they've turned it into an amazing statue.

Most countries with fictional creatures as national animals have had long histories with them.  Dragons and birds seem to be the most common.  A few European countries like Serbia and Russia have emblems with two-headed birds.  China and Wales both use their own versions of the dragon.  Meanwhile, Greece chose the phoenix.

These are terribly limited fantasy creatures: birds, horses, dragons.  Sure they're steeped in culture and tradition, but I wish at least one country would have picked something outside the box.  One could use a hydra, cockatrice, or tarasque as their symbol...  I know, those are just more dragons and birds...  Well, how about Shoggoth, an amorphous horror from H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness:  
"It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train—a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter."

I think this would be a terrific national animal for Antarctica.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Brothers: An Intimate Tale for Two Players

Literature and storytelling have come a long way since early man painted horses on cave walls, but our desire to hear and tell tales has not changed one bit.  The hero's journey, in particular, has been a consistently told and retold epic.

That is how the recent game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons by Starbreeze Studios, plays out.  The player is given the task of guiding two boys on an odyssey across a beautiful and massive mountainous world, encountering incredible and deadly creatures along the way, in order to find a cure for their father's illness.  The game begins in a fairly lighthearted mood, but as the boys go deeper into the unknown and farther from home, the world grows bleaker.  Eventually, one is left wondering if the cost of the journey was really worth that final reward.  But while it lasted, it was a grand adventure.

What may stand out to the player are the vignettes.  Every area the player explores seems to provide him with a whole new experience.  The brothers will climb mountains with the help of a heartbroken troll, who seems to have stepped straight out of a John Bauer painting.  They will creep through a wolf infested forest at night with only a small, burning branch to guide them.  They will ride on mountain goats leaping across cliffs and then scale the steps of a giant's tower.  With two lead characters, both controlled by the player, one would think that these experiences would be something to be shared.

But Brothers is advertised, on Xbox Live at least, as a single player game.  The brothers can only be guided by one controller with the elder brother acting on the left D-Pad and trigger button and the younger brother on the right.  It can be a bit of a hassle trying to direct both boys in different directions simultaneously, and annoyance with those controls can feel like the game's only drawback.  But here's a thought: Why does a game that uses only one controller have to be a single player game?

The controls are designed perfectly so two people could share the controller, much in the same way the two brothers share an adventure.  The game is filled with intimate and emotional moments, and why should those moments be squandered by adventuring alone with slightly awkward controls?  Two people seated closely next to each other, controller between them, could experience the game in a way that a single soul could not.  Together.  Each one guiding a brother and working with one another, helping one another.

Brothers is an old epic, we've heard time and time again, but delivered to us in a way that is entirely unique and potentially allows an experience that few other works, even among video games, have provided.  It is a shared tale and an intimate tale for two players.


Regardless of how you play the game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is fantastic and you should purchase it as a download from the Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Choose Your Own Death with Star Wench

Anna Anthropy has been a consistently enthralling force of good within the indie games community.  Her games are free for all to play, their topics and themes are often times complex and original, if not a tad on the explicitly sexual side, and she writes.  She writes a lot about the art of game design and the need for freedom in game design.  Her book, Rise of the Video Game Zinester, is a particularly inspirational work that anyone interested in game design or games should read.

That's far from the only thing she's written.  Recently, she has been using the very simple tool, twine, to make text adventures, similar to those "choose your own adventures" we played...or, I guess, "read" as children.  Funnily enough, games like this don't have to be released via twine on the internet.  They can actually be bought in a physical form and read as a "book."  So Anna Anthropy has released a couple Choose Your Own Adventures in that more traditional format.

One is an adventure to find a lesbian utopia called The Hunt for the Gay Planet.  And another, I have sitting right here called Star Wench.

To be fair, Star Wench is not a Choose Your Own Adventure story.  It's a "Choose Your Own Death."  At the front of the book reads this warning:
Do not read this book straight through from beginning to end!  This book contains many different adventures you may encounter as Star Wench, an intergalactic rogue and space captain, as she pursues the nefarious Queen of Space in the depths of her domain!  Or, rather, it contains many different ways for that adventure to end.  You'll never defeat the Queen, but you can choose how you'll fail! 
Just open to a page - any page - and read how your adventure ends.  If you're lucky, maybe you'll get to meet your end at the hands of the Queen herself!
Obviously, this is a bit of a take on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" style.  But it's not mean spirited or some kind of defeatist commentary on the genre.  Read that warning again!  You're supposed to love it.  The goal is to hopefully die at the hands of the Queen.  It's an incredibly entertaining exercise in masochism.

So let's die on an adventure, shall we...

Click me and I grow!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tricky Dick and the Six Roman Emperors

The Nixon White House tapes have once again resurfaced to show just how cruel and bigoted our chubby cheeked crook was back in his day.  In the audio below, Nixon takes the time share his thoughts on All in the Family, Roman Emperors, ancient Greece, and homosexuality.  His opinions are not really surprising.

For example, when discussing ancient Greece, Nixon said, "You know what happened to the Greeks.  Homosexuality destroyed them.  Aristotle was a homo, we all know that.  So was Socrates."  In regard to the Romans, he stated, "Do you know what happened to the Romans?  The last six Roman emperors were fags.  The last six.  Nero had a public wedding to a boy."  Rumor says he actually performed two marriage ceremonies with men.

Nixon's gay history lesson did not stop there.  He quickly moved on to the papacy, "Popes were laying the nuns, that's been going on for years, centuries, but when the popes from the Catholic church went to hell in...three or four centuries ago, it was homosexual.  And finally it had to be cleaned out."

He asserted "that's what happened to Britain...France.  And let's look at the strong societies."  The Cold War president continued, "[The Russians] rooted [homosexuals] out.  They don't let them around at all...I don't know what they do with them."

Nixon concludes, "You see, homosexuality, dope, immorality in general; these are the enemies of strong societies."

It's not that I posted this to tell the world how terrible Richard Nixon is.  I couldn't care less about Richard Nixon's opinion on homosexuality.  What's curious is that the language he uses and the opinions he has are startlingly similar to ones people have been holding in very recent years... like this year, for example.  While changing views toward homosexuality have been remarkably rapid in the last few years, we still run into these strange voices that inexplicably turn homosexuality into the greatest threat the world has ever faced, something that can topple empires.

In fact, in 2011 an Italian historian and deputy of the country's National Research Council said that effeminacy and homosexuality were the causes of the Roman Empire's weakening.  And "strong societies" like Russia and the United States still do attempt to "root out" homosexuals.  If you're keen to gay and gay friendly media, you know that violence and persecution of homosexuals are still constant in American society, like many others.  It's a shame that these people don't talk about violence and hatred destroying empires half as much they talk about gay men doing so.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Game to Fix You Right Up: 1984

The first book I remember reading, I mean really reading was George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Most books, like most movies and most games, don't leave a lasting impression.  I finish reading.  I set the book down and say, "Well, that was just dandy!"  Then I go about my life as if nothing happened.  That wasn't the case with Nineteen Eighty-Four.  It was the first work of fiction that I really dwelled on, pondered, which obviously put it in a special place in my heart.

Then, of course, we have 1984: The Game, a recently released browser-based adventure that was created as a graduate project for the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.  I'm not going to pretend that it resonated with me exactly like the novel it was based on, but it captures the oppressive feel of it beautifully.  Beginning with a good old fashioned face stomping, the game quickly moves into your rehabilitation within the Ministry of Love, where, for example, a starving man begs you for food and then condemns you as a traitor for giving it to him.

It's a powerful experience and well worth the relatively small amount of time it takes to play in between periods of blissful ignorance.