Friday, December 26, 2014

Why We're in Gamergate...and What You Can Do to Stop It

A bit over a week ago, I wrote an article I intended to submit to Reaxxion.  I've been looking for my big break in alternative journalism, I wasn't too familiar with the site and its staff, and as they said they'd consider hiring, I decided to submit this article.  Roosh V emailed me saying it was too long and academic, but if I could shorten it up they would print it.  So I worked to shorten it, which was no easy thing, and then sent the finished draft.  Roosh applauded, but since sending, I saw some articles he had written, which genuinely disgusted me, so wrote him back, politely stating that I no longer gave him permission to post the article; I didn't want the association.  I do not wish to be associated with people who genuinely want to keep women out of video games, or shame them for the same sort of libertine behavior he applauds in men.  I thus posted the blog here instead, and up until now, I didn't reveal the history behind the article.

I am doing it now, because I have gained, among many approving watchers, a certain trouble maker who wants to call myself, and others in Gamergate, to terms; alleging the same old shit that we're some monolithic hate mob who are here because we have been brainwashed by people trying to manipulate autistic people and others into doing the far-right's bidding.  To this I say, no, and now offer up some history.

For roughly half of this scandal's duration, I had hardly any idea what it was.  I believe ToddintheShadows posting about it was the first I had ever heard the term, but as he advised people who hadn't heard of it before not to waste time watching the video, I didn't.  My real first acquaintance with this mess was on a certain Internet forum, which I used to support enthusiastically, but have become more critical of lately. (Because I'm a far nicer person than my critics allege, I'm not going to name names.)  The mods took the side of two psychotically anti-Gamergate members.  Had these people left it at condemning anonymous doxxing and threatening people, things probably would not have escalated; it's not like I disagreed.  However, they opted to make the discussion into a platform to push their views onto others, and attack them for the slightest disagreement.  I had no opinions about Gamergate up until that point, but I did have some about Anita Sarkeesian, and somehow, people did not like that I was questioning whether she had lied about being harassed--it was obviously motivated by misogyny, they said; never mind that she has a history of lying--or condemning her for using a school shooting for pushing her agenda.  They called me and others all sorts of horrible things, and the mods just stood by and let it happen because they, too, were anti-Gamergate.  Nothing but absolute conformity was good enough for these people; they even attacked suggestions that the best way to defeat Gamergate was giving people a more reputable, moderated space to air their grievances.

I had enough, and started watching a few of the videos the pro (or at least, not totally anti)-Gamergate people had posted, finding that I liked them.  I started researching this scandal, and came to conclude that this sort of abuse I suffered wasn't a new thing; it mirrored the sort of presumptuous, autism-bashing diatribes journalists hurled at people in their "Gamers are Dead" articles.  The logic behind each is exactly the same; come up with traits--mental, physical, or otherwise--you think are associated with the type who anonymously threaten people, and attack people for those traits in absence of any proof they did anything.  The result is preemptive fear-mongering that makes it unpleasant to look a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way, or opine a certain way, without being seen as a potential terrorist.

So I'll repeat what I often have: The reason I, and many others, am in Gamergate, is because we felt we had no other choice.

Let that sink in, because evidence is mounting.  The mass-hysteria spewed by the anti-side means people are getting lumped into the other side, with all of its bad reputation, regardless of whether or not they voluntarily go into it.  Before there was Gamergate, there were Gamers, and the gaming journalists, more than anyone else, set this in motion by stating where they stood on these people.  They left them out in the cold, so what were Gamers supposed to do?  Accept that fate, when the majority of them had done nothing to earn it?  Lay low in hopes of proving them wrong about their nature, when there was already a huge risk of people everywhere being convinced of that nature because the media's able to make their spin the loudest?  Not seek out the support of the few others who care about them?  The choice was pretty easy, and I'm not the first to make it.  I won't be the last, and if the anti-Gamergate side wants it to stop at all, they had better take a good hard look at what they're doing to stoke this fire.

Returning to my earlier point, I've made attempts to explain that I do not condone the statements of Roosh V, and if I can make people disassociate me with him, that would be nice, but I can't; people make that choice themselves.  I suspect Roosh V is coming out in favor of Gamergate for much the same reason Anita Sarkeesian is coming out against it; because the journalists chose to conflate this into an issue of misogyny when it wasn't really, but now that genie is out and people's pre-existing grudges are fired up.  People see where the battle lines are drawn, and choose which side they'll fight on based on a lot of things.  I, for my part, would have originally liked to stay neutral; I thought of myself as Ricky Bobby at the end of Taladega Knights, having been abandoned by every sponsor, he paints his stock car solely with a picture of his pet cougar and the large font word, "Me".  Yet things have gotten to the point of polarization where I felt I had to choose where I stand, and sorry, but I don't regret siding with Gamergate; its people have showed me love for what I say while the anti-side hates any perspective that isn't completely in line with theirs and hates any identity tropes they've concluded lead to villainous acts.

I'm not in Gamergate because I like Roosh V.  I'm not in Gamergate because I share Adam Baldwin's politics; I'm still quite left-leaning.  I'm not in Gamergate because I'm unaware of where American Enterprise Institute and Breitbart fall politically.  I'm not in Gamergate because any of these people speak for me, personally.  I'm in Gamergate because I'm a Gamer, an aspie who possesses many of those "Gamer" traits the media is trying to paint as evil, and who's seen them belittled to a lesser extent for my whole life, a critic of Anita Sarkeesian, and I'm fed up with authorities who have a problem with those identity tropes.  So to whoever sides with those authorities, check yourselves before you wreck yourselves.  We didn't abandon you; you abandoned us, and it's up to you to quit making your presumptuous blanket statements about everyone who's not you if you ever want us back.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Press Paws: Pondering the World's First Video Game for Cats

Every once in a while, ideas come down the pipe that are so crazy, they have to work.  Then there's the ideas that are too crazy to work, but at least are entertaining in their failure.  Then there's the ideas that are just crazy.  Hopefully, this one of the first two.

Many of us know by now the backstories given to us by the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoshi Tajiri, about how as children, they went out adventuring in a wilder, more pristine world, and later, as that world became ever more pacified, paved, and pedestrian, decided that industry on the cutting edge owed it to the world to create a monument to the old adventurous world, and then some.  The result were video games, whose success proves that we really crave outlets for our old sense of strife.  So if this applies to humans, it stands to reason that it should be just as true; if not more, of more wild animals.

Cats certainly qualify as such.  Possessing the fine-tuned instincts of crafty predators beneath those cute faces and huggable fur coats, they have a way of getting into, batting, chasing and pouncing on anything that isn't fastened down, stowed away, braced, or considered boring as a result of it being familiar to them; especially if it moves.  We haven't bred these traits out of them (assuming we could) because face it; we love them.  We love that cats can help us get rid of annoying pests, and we love watching these adorable creatures beat up on yarn like it owes them money, charge after lasers, and other things that make for YouTube clickbait.  Still, sometimes we have conflicts of interest.  People in rural areas appreciate cats going out and chowing down on invading rodents, but I can't imagine city dwellers letting rodents loose in their apartments just so cats can satisfy their natural urges and litter the floor with blood and guts, and it can be irritating when cats decide that the mysterious lights in the magic box are there for them to play with.

Cute and funny, but irritating, and essentially ruinous to our ability to play with them.  My cat, Sunshine, has quite a fixation with TV, whether we're talking about actual channels, DVDs, and pictured above, video games.  I quickly decided that squirting him with a water pistol was too cruel, so for a point, I just waggled a feather toy for him every time he jumped up to the TV.  That got him off, but only briefly; once I went back to watching/playing, he jumped back right up, and I have some suspicion that he came to learn that if he jumped up there, he'd get the toy waggled as a reward.  So eventually, I just followed Jackson Galaxy's advice and put some double-sided tape on my TV table, and that has worked to keep him from going up there, somewhat.However, it got me thinking: What if, instead of punishing a cat for chasing things on TV, we could reward them?  Probably not with out own games, but with games designed for them.  The more I see cats go for such things, the more I think the idea is at least worth a try. 

Now, naturally, creating a video game for cats takes some doing; in at least some ways more than making just another for people does.  For example, because cats only are attracted to what's on the screen and not the controller--in the same way that they're interested in the projected laser beam, but not the pointer--a touch screen would need to control most of what happens in the game.  Furthermore, it would need to be the type that works with many objects; not just a specially designed stylus.  Finally, it would need to be considerably bigger than the touch screen on a 3DS, smartphone, or even an iPad, because cats need to move in their hunting-oriented style of play.

Another problem whose solution is probably more open-ended, but less obvious, is that cats can't think in terms of abstractions to the extent that we can.  Among other reasons, this is because cat eyes, though good at collecting light and sensing movement, don't perceive or distinguish as many colors as we do; recognition of things is thus a matter of them integrating sight with data provided by their other senses, such as smell and hearing, and vibrations sensed by their whiskers.  Up to a point, that isn't a problem, because as noted above, cats are flexible.  The question of whether they can recognize, say, a bird on TV, is less relevant when we remember cats will jump after things that aren't birds at all.  Still, for us to justify something being a game, as opposed to just a special cat-targeting video we play for their amusement, it must not only get cats' attention with interesting entities they can chase, but also provide rewarding feedback based on their input.  Exactly how this is to be done should be determined by some in-depth testing, but here are some ideas:

1) Nocturn.  This would be a scenario where much of the screen goes black.  Soon, though, a little light starts to blink.  The cat would go to it, and upon batting it, the light would shift a bit on the screen, prompting the cat to chase it.  As the cat hits the light more times, it expands, until light replaces the original black screen, at which point a level is complete.
2) Sparrow Hunt.  This would be a bird-hunting simulator, obviously similar to Duck Hunt, but with touch screen controls.
3) Wild Soundboard. This would be essentially a digital, feline version of those toys for young children that we see a lot of in doctors' waiting rooms.  Images of various animals known in the domestic cat's African homeland would flash across the screen, and upon being touched, sounds the animals make would play.

Because in many games, it's the journey that's fun, not the destination, it may be arbitrary, but an added option could be to give the cats rewards.  For example, food.  If a cat hits enough virtual sparrows, for example, maybe award it with some actually poultry.  With Wild Soundboard, it could various types of meat, based on what a cat hit.

Now, these are just suggestions.  I'm not a cat psychologist, and I don't have the mechanical know-how or money to rig up a big touch screen, or the software savvy to make a computer program run with a touch screen.  Yet I have observed what I think is the beginning of an innovative idea, so if you have something to add, by all means, speak up!  Meow!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Problem Might the Far-Left Have With #NotYourShield?


            I will preface this article with an admission: I in essence fall into some of the same categories as the now-infamous social justice warriors at war with Gamergate.  I’m a right-brained, left-leaning, liberal arts graduate of California universities. (My degree was in History, and received at the particularly leftist UC Santa Cruz.)  That admission is important because I feel I can offer some insight into what the SJW mindset might be, and why they’re now very angry, if not scared.

            One of the aspects of Gamergate that I see getting very little attention—at least in what little public coverage the scandal receives--is the #NotYourShield campaign, wherein people who consider themselves gamers, but do not fit the crass definition the gaming journalists reduced the term to in their attack articles of August 28, 2014, take to Twitter to pledge their support for Gamergate, and hence, solidarity with those people who do fit the description to a greater degree, but with much less predisposition to misogyny and terrorism than the articles alleged.  The campaign is a huge success; it alone, though not nearly as loud on Twitter as the core #Gamergate, dwarfs the tag made by its opponents in usage.  Naturally, these black gamers, female gamers, gay gamers, etc, do not represent all of their given minority, but they nonetheless are far more common than the collection of loudmouthed journalists who claimed to speak in their name.

           The Gamers Are Dead articles had some deeply troubling odors of ablism and appearance-shaming; opting to associate common autistic traits with heinous crimes, but one could still, if he or she tried hard enough, conclude that these people acted in good faith, genuinely believing in the ideal of increasing minority involvement in game culture; even if miscalculating the degree to which they were already there.  Still, once the masses of the #NotYourShield adherents came out to play, surely these equality zealots would be happy for it, for whatever the reason; right?  Somehow, their writing the GAD articles did, in a roundabout way, lead to many minorities speaking up as undeniable parts of game culture, so the positive outcome should have outweighed any embarrassment about getting details wrong.  Yet instead, the same clique that essentially accused autistic people of refusing to accommodate other minorities, then went and attacked members of these minorities who were happy to be part of gaming culture; claiming they possessed “Internalized racism and misogyny” and the like.  Somehow, they felt, a minority wasn’t being all he or she could be unless they adhered to these self-appointed social-commentators’ views of such.  How can such a subjective, essentially undemocratic approach to progressive politics be rationalized?  My guess would be, the SJWs have seen their world-view wrecked, and they are now sore losers.

            That brings us nicely back to the point I made at the start of this article.  As a Liberal Arts major who studied History in two universities, under multiple professors, I have found much cause to be skeptical—which is a blessing I believe that those who took a more narrow curriculum may not have received.  I experienced rather contradictory narratives from one professor to the next, and between the rash of variously interpreted data and cited books, I came to conclude that even the best of us come to see that which we want to see, and don’t always think about the ramifications our own chosen world view has on those who have chosen another.  Yet nothing could foster skepticism like one outrageous statement by my mentor, that “Historians secretly rule the world,” except, perhaps, for the aftermath, wherein I, like many Liberal Arts majors, discovered that the business world, by most evidence, cares nothing for our abstract craft.

            For many now-jaded social scholars who have gotten used to the feeling that they had learned to understand, better than most, how people work, and why they do the things they do, I suspect the shock can be debilitating.  They spent four years of reading the exact books as prescribed by their professors--many of them old, possessing outdated views of the world from before the Cold War ended, that hold onto economic dreams that many others have moved past, possibly in the job only because they could do nothing else with the same education they now dole out, and still in the job only because they have tenure--pleasing them with papers and tests wherein they arrived at the sort of answers these professors wanted, surrounded by pamphlets printed by other students who are sure they’ve come to understand the world and solution to its ills, their socio-economic views growing up in an institution where reading The Motorcycle Diaries in their all-you-can-eat dining hall on breaks from splurging on still more food moves them closer to the abstract goals their curricula sets.  Then these people, with their limited, pre-planned, cushioned—and yes, often excessively left-wing—assumptions graduate, and meet the private sector.  A new world with new rules, wherein the subjects the students learned to write about so well are often the ones most consumers don’t care to read about, where left-brained (and not necessarily left-winged) thinking is en-vogue, where paychecks simply can’t be given to as many people as were given As.

            When these once-empowered self-assumed sociologists arrive at real adulthood and see how little use the big employers have for their voluminous but debatable social analysis, they have two options: One, they can, as I largely did, conclude that their alma maters were at least to some degree full of hot air, and wallow in painful but sobering self-pity, or two, they can fall back on the outdated, at least partially Marxist rhetoric that they inhaled in college like second-hand hemp, and go looking for what they think is a righteous intellectual fight worthy of their assistance.  For the latter group, it is easy to fit their newfound unemployment or underemployment into their outlook; they are but the latest victims of the capitalist system that, so they’ve concluded, seeks out victims everywhere.  In keeping with academia’s take on Marxist theory, this vile invention of the guilty white race has warped their consciousness, has subjugated their governments, and pressured those governments into going and subjugating those of non-white races who, in their primitive innocence, never came up with anything as vile as capitalism.  Thus may the mindset of social justice warriors be born (often without them bothering to check conditions anywhere else in the world); they seize upon the idea that they have joined the “others” in a presumed resistance to alienation and marginalization by the conventional power-brokers of society; in this case, straight male WASPs.  That the capitalist system of these straight male WASPs has conspired against everyone else is a base assumption, and hence, the SJWs see attacking the system and its presumed elite as the best thing that can be done for women, minorities, and foreigners, if these groups are ever welcomed into the lucrative market and culture of gaming.

            When the SJWs come to learn, as I believe that many already have, that the free market they’ve condemned for so long (even while many of them benefited from it) has actually managed to beat them and their overthought analyses to establishing the inclusive, universally marketable culture they proclaim as their goal, it’s very possible they get angry and scared.  In the case of Gamergate, that which was merely a haunting shadow of doubt they felt about themselves during their first post-college reality-check, which they locked away mentally to focus on careers analyzing others, suddenly became a real threat trumpeted by many of those others.  Their credibility is on the line; as are the inherently limited paid positions that people of their “specialty” can hold.  For years, they reaped a rich harvest out of their relationship with a beloved aspect of our culture, and up until now, few looked into exactly what that relationship was, but the moment people’s eyes are opened, it’s hard to shut them again.  The dread felt by this self-righteous clique of professional social critics may well be amplified by their having witnessed the dramatic fall from grace that SeaWorld has suffered since 2013. 

Why is he in the open ocean?!
            Having grown up in Southern California, I can attest to an era when, for the schoolchildren learning about animals, orcas were Shamu, Shamu was somehow the name of every orca, and Shamu lived at SeaWorld.  We loved animals, so we loved orcas, so we loved Shamu, so we loved SeaWorld.  Then, in 2013, Gabriela Cowperthwaite released her expose Blackfish, detailing how much abuse underlay the fun, and that chain of affection blew apart.  The shamed theme park did everything in its power to fight back against the changing tides, but it was a futile effort after decades of digging their own watery grave.  Their business model had played upon, and almost certainly amplified, people’s admiration of and empathizing with remarkable animals; their surrounding human purveyors being a minor detail in comparison, so once the conflict of interest between the two came out, many who had come to love their animals expressed that love by condemning the purveyors.  SeaWorld’s attendance and stock values have plummeted, forcing them to downsize dramatically, and despite what seem like endless talks about revising their business plan, there is no evidence that anything will succeed at mending their image.

           The same issue inherently haunts external critics (as well as, in fact, even appraisers) of anything that is widely-known; as Antoine Ego declared in his moment of truth towards the end of Ratatouille, that which they address, be it good or bad, is the only reason the critics get any attention themselves, and the thing will probably stay known while they who once professionally commented upon it tend to fade.  When audiences who already have a strong attachment to something--be it their hobbies, politics, sex, race, or other things in broad discussion these days—see it horribly served by commentators who have attached themselves to it and declared themselves worthy authorities, they know well that they can turn their backs on the commentators with no real harm done to the passion those commentators addressed.  Many gaming journalists, having already abandoned their credibility in addressing their original subject and its fanbase; have gone to work in favor of those self-righteous cultural critics who attack popular art in the name of the greater good.  While it may seem at face-value that this makes SJWs appear legitimate, bringing their spiel into the loud realm of consumerism has just given them the most brutal exposure yet to how worthless—and often, detrimental--the average citizen considers them, as both the archetypical gamers and the #NotYourShield crowd have demonstrated in tandem.
          The social justice warriors don’t acknowledge the success of #NotYourShield—seriously, at least—because they can’t; the revelation that people of all types have already come together in the free market of video games will probably demolish their textbook leftist claim that people like themselves, imposing “enlightened” restrictions on that market, are needed for the greater good. 

           Yet amidst all of these rude awakenings, the great irony of all the recent talk about “Cultural Marxism”, and how it’s now at war with Gamergate, is that there’s nothing fundamentally anti-Marxist about the video game industry; with the exception of that major error of Marx’s exposed since the bourgeois, rather than the proletariat, proved the class that grew larger.  Everything else about the way this expertly refined, infinitely marketable industry has brought in people of all identities, in fact has taken exactly the course Marx anticipated capitalism to take as a necessity for the ultimate unity of humanity; something it seems his most trigger-happy followers and their distant cultural descendants have consistently ignored.  Marx, unlike many New-Age leftists, did not see commodity fetishism as a bad thing; on the contrary, he felt that ideologically-prone facets of identity, such as race, were the real delusions, and that only capitalism’s major reinvention of consciousness along materialist priorities could bring all people onto the same page to act as a whole.  This whole could then act in concert against capitalists and allied cultural purveyors who betrayed their trust...which, thanks to Gamergate, has also happened. 

            Popular materialism has scant room for demagogues who claim they know better than the masses.  SJWs, by their nature, are antagonistic to capitalists, their forays into public debate have been met with disgust by the average consumer, the atypical crowd they claim to speak on behalf of is in the process of abandoning them (if they were ever with them to begin with), and when ultimately, it comes to light that they can’t even get right the Marxist sentiment that many of them picked up in college, it will be a wonder if they’ll have any substantive followers left.  Might Gamergate, ultimately, actually out-Marxist its opponents?  It sounds absurd, but it’s beating them in many places already.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rainbow Brite Reboot Reviewed: Rewarding or Redundant?

You may find it hard to believe, but I, Thomas Fairfield, like Rainbow Brite.  I'm not the target demographic; I never have been.  It's something that I don't think I even knew existed until I saw Robot Chicken making fun of it; after which I decided to study up and watch much of the old series, along with the movie.  I was pleasantly surprised by at least some of it.  The pilot, which had Wisp (her real name) descending on a dark, apocalyptic land and going on a quest to save innocents and restore color, was pretentious in the way only the 1980s could manage, but it was still a compelling story.  The rest of the series was much more lighthearted, but still very pleasant and with a cast I could get behind.  Besides, the Star Stealer movie restored the sense of adventure missing since the pilot.  Through it all, I feel Rainbow Brite exuded a sense of genuine warmth in a way that heavily merchandized brands sometimes don't.  The Color Kids were an admirably multi-ethnic bunch, which lent a sense of progressive values to the incessant rainbow motif and prevented it from being just a fashion statement, Rainbow was a friendly girl, and the villain team of Murky and Lurky, though shallow, still managed to be funny.

You may think that here, I segue into how this reboot has ruined everything I held dear about this series.  Not really.  I always saw Rainbow Brite as a superheroine who could benefit from a somewhat more action-oriented take on her universe; especially since during her movie, it was her new male friend, Krys, doing much of the work.  The relaunches the series got up until this point, from what I've seen, had interesting designs but made it even tamer.  This reboot was a chance to instill some much needed vigor into the brand, and it actually succeeds in that...but does, in fact, lose some things in the process.

Before this goes any further, the way that Halmark chose to air this should be addressed.  Their reboot of Rainbow Brite debuted exclusively on their own video streaming site, Feeln.  This site, unlike some, which at least partially stream things paid by ads, requires a subscription to view things.  They heavily tout that they will give viewers a week free, but apparently this is at least slightly false advertizing, as credit card info is required in advance; the free week simply meaning no charges until it ends.  As children aren't generally known for their ability to provide credit card info, or, for that matter, pay for subscriptions by any means, it seems a very odd choice of venue.  Also, making this online means its promotion isn't necessarily reaching children where they can see it.  Hallmark has their own TV channel, so what's wrong with airing it there?  Finally, I know of no merchandizing tie-ins to this series, compared to plenty last few incarnations of the franchise. (Edit: I since discovered they've made some tie-in products, but I don't know what their distribution will be yet.)

All this might sound beside the point of the actual series, but it's a good bookend because, as it turns out, this reboot itself seems a bit confused as to whom it's targeting.  Though its content is of the sort appealing and appropriate to children, it almost never acts like it's a reboot, but rather assumes too much familiarity on behalf of what can only be adults who were fans of the original.  Brian, a boy from Earth who was only a bit part in the original, has been promoted to main character, and his meeting Rainbow Brite is one of the few things retold next to the original series.  Almost everything else is unexplained, and even his introduction is questionable at first.  Why exactly is this boy rocketing through a rainbow to meet this genki girl?  What's her story?  Who's this other girl attacking them?  Who does what here?

It should be mentioned: This show is short.  What counts as the first season was three thirteen-minute episodes.  Back when it was new, I considered reviewing them individually, but as I was busy and I usually review TV episodes individually longer than this whole series, I lumped these all together as one, and they're still highly questionable.  This short length means things are hyper-condensed into very busy, flashy affairs, which once again don't explain much.  The original Rainbow Brite cartoon's world may have been rather tame on average, but it was fleshed out.  We saw how the young heroine Wisp came in to become Rainbow Brite, saw how she established the land as her kingdom, how she battled to keep her kingdom, and saw the other denizens in detail. Here, no reason is given for why Rainbow Brite is here running Rainbowland, why the Dark Princess is trying to take her down, or why Murky, Lurky, and Stormy were helping her out.  Stormy was Rainbow Brite's friend in the original, and here, too, she was explained as being her friend once, before falling out; yet the show gives absolutely no explanation of why that falling out occurred.
Have you seen me?
Meanwhile, Rainbow Brite herself, instead of getting a backstory, is introduced to us (and Brian) in an aggressively passionate way.  From the get-go, she comes off as a mix between Unikitty from The Lego Movie, Deedee from Dexter's Laboratory, and even a little bit of Ducky from The Land Before Time (due to how many times and ways she restates Brian's name).  Somehow, Rainbow Brite instantly sees this strange boy as her new best friend; granted her old one betratyed her (maybe), but what about all the color kids, whom she knows better than him?  In truth, they don't play a lot of a role here.  The bottom line is that this new Rainbow Brite, though plenty friendly, is a bit annoying at the onset; insufficiently humorous to make her raving endearing--at least from an adult perspective; children may disagree.  However once again, how many of them actually were able to see this?

That all sounds very negative, but somehow, once the shock of the busy, confusing introduction wears off, the show does find a sense of fun that's both brimming with humor, and actually outdoes much of the widely-lauded My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in the action department--even if it's pretty tame by many other cartoons' standards.  Though jarring at first, Rainbow Brite does end up very appealing due to her genuinely kind nature and sense of humor kicking in somewhere along the line.  Starlight the stallion has, to put it in the way all of us adults are thinking, gone from seeming "fairy" gay to seeming "bear" gay, being now buffer and bassier, but aside from this change, he's still the narcisstic steed we all knew and loved.  Murky and Lurky, though redesigned to look a bit more menacing, haven't really changed much at all personality-wise, and their bumbling antics deliver perhaps the best overt humor the series has to offer.  It's genuinely funny to see dated 1980s icons try to get into each other's computer accounts, and see Rainbow and her friends prattle in general about the technological workings of their rainbow-producing city.

Art-wise, this reboot tows the line on the basic requirement of a Rainbow Brite property--being colorful to a point that would embarrass most other shows.  Its deformed human character designs, with their big heads and comparably twiggy bodies, have been and will remain divisive.  They're much more expressive than the slightly Uncanny Valley designs of the originals, but still feel off at times; particularly when they crane their tiny necks forward.  Fortunately, when animation gets into the picture and lots of things start happening at once, this is fairly easy to overlook in favor of the spectacle.

The most notable thing about the show is that it actually delivers on the superhero/magical girl vibe many of us have envisioned a modernized Rainbow Brite having.  Predictably, Rainbow Brite fights by shooting out Rainbows to counter the villains' equally self-themed beams (Stormy's is lightning, for example), but it's far more interesting than the static, moral-powered dreck I keep ragging on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic for having--and also Care Bears, from what I've seen of it.  Rainbow Brite here doesn't win the battles of the beams just because her being in the right makes her stronger than opponents by some quixotic made-up logic based on wishful thinking; instead she dips, dodges and cartwheels to dodge their attacks and shoots in her own, and sometimes chases them through the air with her powers; in something of a Dragonball Z style dogfight I could do without, but at least fights don't drag on the way they infamously did in that show.  The bottom line is that this Rainbow Brite is impressive to see in action, and more sugary girls' shows could learn from her example.
She ain't playing around...outside of playtime..which is pretty much every time that's not battletime.
 Things get pretty cool, but the real question is whether they'll be gone too soon.  With the final episode of the season already wrapped up with no concrete info on more, there's a risk that this revival, as passionate as it obviously is, could be a fluke.  This is mostly because, once again, I don't know how well it will reach the young audience it hopes to reach, and they might not have the point of reference to appreciate it if they do...unless I'm wrong, and this whole thing is more for adults, but if so, I don't know how they plan to get a lot of money from us.  Still, despite reservations, I give it my blessing to go ahead if it can.  Things improved pretty rapidly within the short span of its introduction; hopefully they will be allowed to continue improving.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Another Response to Video Game "Scholars"

I figured I'd post another response I have to what I consider to be unfair assessment of gaming from the eyes of cynical scholars.  Before going on, though, two things.  First, I link the article in question, which I warn you, is long

Second, I should note, my stance has changed a bit since writing the article.  I am now more vocally critical of the "gangsta" culture depicted in the games in question (mostly Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas); however, I still maintain my assertion in my pasted essay, that video games in particular are being unfairly singled out for what has become the accepted cultural norm, even among the race the writers claim are unfairly treated.  So there's a legitimate conversation to be had as to whether this set of values has sold society a brand of romanticized, commodified racism, but it supersedes video games to the point that they shouldn't even be part of it.  Now, my response, for those who read the original article:

Challenging the claims made in this article feels somewhat halfhearted to me, because I agree, on some level, that there is a legitimate point to be made here, and I believe that the writers were legitimately trying to make it.  There are some seedy aspects of our culture that manifest themselves emphatically in games, and that is regrettable—but I do take issue with the way Everett and Watkins classify it as “racist,” and I feel that some obviously pertinent points against that conclusion are being left out.
            That the label “racist” gets thrown around far too liberally in today’s culture is no secret to many observers.  Centuries of true racism have engendered an understandable resentment among minorities, but resentment can make people behave rashly, in this case by being too quick to hit anyone they perceive as mistreating them with a label that has become taboo.  Literally-defined, racism is the belief that certain races are inferior to others; the presence of racial stereotypes is not necessarily unrelated but also not necessarily related, as stereotypes can be positive.  While every person is an individual, races, nationalities, and groups in general have long taken pride in certain notable characteristics typical of them, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.  Even so, the violent, thuggish nature depicted of black people in the “urban/street” games genre the article describes, would almost certainly qualify as negative, would it not?
            In fact, no it wouldn’t; not necessarily.  The article examines the aspects of these games on their own, compared to what they see as the white “norm” of video games, and from this angle, such games as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and NBA Ballers can seem to take a negative, reductive view of black culture, but the more important angle is being ignored: The chain of events that brought society to this point.
            With regards to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the writers try to prove a point about how blacks are stereotyped as brutal and violent in games, by comparing it to the subsequently released Bully (Also by Rockstar Games), which stars an upper-class white character in a private school, and is comparatively tame.  In the process, the writers make some ridiculously unprofessional errors when pointing to visual figures spliced into their text, but although such mistakes are blatant and laughable, the real problem is that only Bully is being compared to GTA:SA; all of the GTA titles released up to that point are being completely ignored, and should not be.  Even a cursory look at the prior titles in the GTA series would demonstrate that they starred white protagonists, and were just as criminal and violent as San Andreas would become (although they did become more graphically-so with the jump to close third-person 3-D in Grand Theft Auto III), giving lie to the notion that the series portrays blacks as especially vicious.  In fact (and here I recall Soraya Murray’s article), the white protagonists had the more sinister motives; those of crime for either its own sake or for the sake of mere profit; whereas San Andreas’s C.J. is driven to crime based on his desperate poverty and alienation by a corrupt society.  The black protagonist is one of the more sympathetic characters; yes, his minority society is awash in crime and grunge, but it isn’t through any fault of their own.  To be sure, all of the GTA games are stereotypical, hyperbolic, and satirical, but to call them racist for this is missing the point they’re actually trying to get across: Black society isn’t inherently criminal; it has become that way out of mistreatment by white racist institutions.  San Andreas is an anti-racist game.
            Further indicative of the writers’ “born yesterday” outlook is the way they ignore the cultural evolution that precipitated many of the tropes that they now see in urban/street games.  Black culture has, over the past (roughly forty) decades it has played a distinctive role in the media, become very ironic.  Long shunned and looked down upon by the white majority, it is a culture that has come to embrace what white culture has derided.  The word, “bad” has long served as slang roughly interchangeable with “cool,” the “n word” has become acceptable; even endearing when used by one black man to describe another, and now the whole hard-knock life in the ghettos has become romanticized as a quintessential part of African-American culture.  Now, such originally-negative terms as “gangster” (or “gangsta”), “thug,” “pimp,” and “dope” (as in, the detractor name for drugs) are looked upon with affection, and not just by the African-American community but by society as a whole.  The whole criminal lifestyle associated with such key words, too, has become fetishized.  We see it in movies, in TV shows, and in rap music videos, and when we aren’t seeing it we are hearing about it in lyrics and even in modern lexicon.  This is not racist stereotyping, as Everett and Watkins accuse it of being; it is the identity that a large part of black culture has chosen for itself.
            Does such a choice of identity come with its own problems?  Of course it does.  Romanticizing crime is always a controversial and potentially-detrimental practice.  The gripe with this article’s commentary on the situation, however, lies with its failure to consider such romanticism in its actual context.  Not for the first time, video games are getting singled out for containing controversial elements, when the reason the games contain said elements is because they are reflecting our own society, a society that objects less when such motifs are being piped in via older forms of media. 
That is not to say that there isn’t a problem with the representation of race in video games, but the limited representation actually doesn’t have much to do with racism, because games do not hate African-Americans or their culture; on a certain level, they love both.  Rather, the problem is, as with many things relating to popular culture, the pressure to conform to what is “cool,” and right now, it is apparent that “gangsta” culture is cool.  Time will tell if games stay in this mode, but I doubt they will ever lapse into actual racism at this point.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review of My Little Pony Equestia Girls: Rainbow Rocks

Sometimes, I have a hard time deciding how to start documents.  Sometimes, there are just too many things that seem like a good hook to choose just one.  This seems like one of those times when so many things could set the tone of a review that it's best just to be blunt to start: Rainbow Rocks isn't very good at all.  Speaking as someone who thought the first Equestria Girls was fun enough to forgive it partially as a totally pointless extended toy commercial, I can say this sequel actually disappointed even those low expectations.

The first problem with this film is the one many people expect it to be: Rainbow Rocks really doesn't.  I once had a VHS where Barney played a song teaching manners that rocked harder than this.  Musicals often lean hard on the leg of being musicals for their appeal; this being no exception, and that means when the music is bad, the musical tends to be, too.  While this movie's score isn't painful at all, in a big way, that's the problem.  Writers of media intended for kids (girls especially; it's worth noting) frequently don't seem to understand, even as they put on the airs of rock and roll to be cool, that this genre is supposed to be offputting to some extent.  It's supposed to have "blue" notes; that is, ones that don't fall into the standard major scales a song is based on, it's supposed to have a heavy bass and drum part, and its lyrics are supposed to range from somewhat to extremely unwholesome.  Obviously, this is a generalization, and not all three of those are always needed, but the songs in this film are so frequently, mind-numbingly devoid of all three that I felt like washing my ears out with Limp Bizkit and The Millionaires. 

Now, Daniel Ingram is a good songwriter, and I don't feel good pinning all of this on him, but this is a case wherein his hand was probably tied.  My Little Pony does okay musically when it's just trying for the Disney fairy tale vibe, but Rainbow Rocks has forced the brand into alien territory it wasn't ready to inhabit, and with the exception of one punk song by Rainbow Dash (which tellingly, the judges don't seem to like, and the band isn't allowed to finish), it doesn't even seem like they were trying and tripping over themselves; it's just white noise of the sort you'd hear in a supermarket.  It's bad enough that this movie is almost empty of the supposed rock its title alludes to, but what's even worse is that there's hardly any diversity of other musical styles.  The exceptions are the aforementioned punk song, other songs you only hear snippets of and a villain song that is at first somewhat interesting, but loses its luster after several more villain songs that sound very similar.  There's a musical duel between the villains and the heroes in the finale, which does provide for some impressive syncopation, but it also made me wonder if I was rooting for the wrong side.

That's as good a time as any to segue into the storyline of this film, which, while better than the music, is entirely too predictable; especially for fans of the series.  The antagonist of the first film, Sunset Shimmer, is trying to turn over a new leaf, gaining the sympathy of the other Equestria Girls--minus Twilight Sparkle--but not necessarily their respect, and it gets worse for her from there.  This makes for quite a problem when new villains from Equestria show up, and decide to brainwash the majority of the school to do some vague task they intend to command.  In one of the most pretentious bits of peddling a theme in this series' history, and reminiscent of the canonization of bad rock music in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out of Their Shells, the heroines find that somehow, playing music together in their band, the Rainbooms activates their magical powers to resist evil and generally shine and sparkle, which in last film required the presence of Twilight Sparkle; their "Keeper of the Heart", so to speak.  In other words, this film is about horses that became humans, who in turn form a band that allows them to turn into magical-girls that look more like horses.
The most absurd thing is it might still make more sense than that series where ponies could play instruments while still completely in fingerless pony form.  
The girls realize this gives them the ability to combat the new villains, whom they, unlike others, actually trust Sunset Shimmer about, but they need more expertise, so they contact Twilight Sparkle over in the actual Equestria (This series has yet to explain why it's called "Equestria Girls" despite the fact that the human versions of the characters don't live in Equestria), and she deduces that the three villains attacking the school are sirens from her world, who roughly tow the mythological line about sirens being creatures who bend others to their will by singing; except I don't remember sirens being horses.  Twilight rigs up a machine with a cringe-worthily unfunny technobabble joke, and warps on over to the human world.  Here, the three sirens have realized that the heroines are immune to their charms, so they convince the principal to hold a Battle of the Bands, wherein they enter their own band, the Dazzlings, and intend to defeat the Rainbooms and also ruin their friendship.

The villain team in this movie is actually mildly entertaining.  Their designs, somewhere between the fashion senses of Jem and the Holograms and The Misfits, are awash in detail and almost seem like a parody of girl toy aesthetics, but what probably makes it work is actually that they were designed specifically for the human world of EG, as opposed to being adapted questionably from characters never originally intended to be humanoids.  Moreover, their alliance is shaky and humorous at times, and what's even better is that for once, there's an example about the power of friendship (or here, lack thereof) that actually translates into a real-world lesson about teamwork...or could have, if the writers made any use of that distinction in the finale.  The most notable thing about the villains, though, is the unintentionally(?) humorous way their evil manifests itself.  As people fall under their spell and start acting jerky, they secrete green vapors, which the sirens inhale.  Maybe this is just the perspective of an adult male viewer more familiar with cartoon tropes than the young demographic, but given that the animators are also in that boat, and they could have chosen any way to represent this evil magic, it's simply bizarre that they chose that.  If it isn't clear what I'm talking about yet, they can call themselves The Dazzlings all they want, but I can't stop thinking of them as "The Fart-Sniffers".
Seriously; have green vapors ever represented anything else in cartoons?!

The Fart-Sniffers mobilize the student body against the Mane 6+1, which mostly takes the form of multiple students pursuing their own musical ambitions in some thin fanservice along the lines of "Hey look; it's that character, and they're singing" but occasionally they sabotage the Rainbooms' own attempts.  In a downright bizarre blooper, Rarity, who is the pianist of the group, gets her keytar stolen during a song, yet the synth track keeps playing.  The conspiracy gets to them and there's a predictable argument, and just as predictably, it falls on Sunset Shimmer to save them, thus completing her redemption.

From there, it's just a matter of The Rainbooms going off to defeat The Fart-Sniffers, in the umpteenth variation we've seen on the literal friendship is magic tripe we've had to put up with for four seasons.  I pull no punches on this subject; My Little Pony is, and has been since its inception decades ago, terribly equipped to tell compelling stories of good vs evil, because of the stigma against showing any real violence or combat-strategizing; such as one would find in a show for boys of the same age.  Instead, battles take the form of good feelings and wholesome sentiments manifesting as magical lasers; always summoned and always victorious in roughly the same way.  The moment a villain shows up, there is never any suspense as to what will happen at the end.  Beyond that it just doesn't appeal to adult male fantasy-adventure sensibilities, it truly doesn't teach a real lesson about real-world friendship and teamwork to its target demographic of young girls.  Indeed, this season ended with a downright disgusting climax where this "right makes might" guff was used to justify negotiating with terrorists.  There is a serious discussion to be had here about sexist mental-conditioning, but for another post.

Ultimately, Rainbow Rocks just doesn't work on almost any level.  The music is boring and even insulting to hear in a film about rock music, the plot is predictable, and it lacks the "stranger in a strange human body in a strange land" running joke that made the first film watchable.  Completionists may want to give it a watch, but it's possible to ignore this one completely and still call yourself a fan.  To play us out, here's RainbowCrash88, the artist who truly rocked the rainbow:
And whose fangame you tried to kill, Hasbro.  Screw you.