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2017 In Review

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 30 2017 · 171 views

Essays, Not Rants! 301: 2017 In Review

2017 has been a year. And it ends in a couple days, so that means it’s time for me to phone it in and post about posts!

Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts

#5: Hanging Out

You know that thing where you talk about fictional characters as if they were your actual real life friends? This post is about how really well crafted characters make you happy just to watch them interact.

#4: Trusting The Story

It’s nice to be able to shut off your brain when you watch a movie or read a book, insofar as that means you don’t overthink it. But part of that means trusting the storyteller that everything will make sense. Dunkirk and Star Wars are movies that if you stop asking why and enjoy it then, dang, they’re great.

#3: Let The Past Die

Woah, this one got hits quick. Or maybe my blog’s just not as busy as it used to be. Either way. The Last Jedi is a rich movie (which you gotta admit, even if you'd didn’t like it) and this is me getting into some of its layers. There’s more I wanna unpack which I may go on about in due time (consider Rian Johnson’s use of fakeouts and a twisty plot in light of Luke’s admonition that this isn’t going to go the way you think).

#1 (tie!): So My Apartment Building Caught Fire

Well. This was a blogpost born out of an unexpected adventure. This is me talking about one of the reasons I love living in New York.

#1 (tie!): Xenophobia, Science Fiction, and, eventually, Hope

Stories are important. Science Fiction is important. And sometimes the real world sucks (that this was posted in January 2017 definitely has nothing to do with the post, cough), and sometimes stories remind you that, hey, there is good. And that through it you can learn something.

Stories are important.

Josh’s Pick of Three

#3: On Visibility and Character Creators

I love character creators. I spend way too long in The Sims’ Create-A-Sim and love agonizing over my character in games that let me design my avatar. But as someone who’s neither entirely white nor entirely Chinese, it’s hard to recreate myself when many presets are decidedly one or the other. Maybe if more of us were represented in stories I might be able to make a half-Asian commander Shepard.

#2: The Ephemeral And The Sublime

This blog is guaranteed to be the only place you’ll find indie darling Lady Bird and Hideo Kojima helmed video game Death Stranding spoken about in relation. But they’re similar! Read this to see me making a weird connection that actually makes an amount of sense.

#1: AMERICA

Another post that Definitely Has Nothing To Do With The Date It Was Posted. I love multinational teams, and I love how U.S. Avengers uses such a team to redefine the idea of an American. It’s a team of immigrants, minorities, and a homegrown, corn-fed Kentuckian. It’s truly a special comic. And there’s something wonderful about seeing the Finnish-Norwegian Aikku be comforted by her girlfriend about the oddness of America.


And so 2017 draws to a close. Thanks for reading folks, and I dearly hope you keep doing so. 2018’s gonna be wild and I’m still gonna be here ranting about whatever the ###### I want. Which, given that we’re seeing Black Panther, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and the new Tomb Raider movie come out, probably means more of the same.

Cheers,


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I BLESS THE RAINS

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Music Dec 28 2017 · 117 views

My girlfriend got me the best Christmas gift.

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Let The Past Die

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 23 2017 · 150 views

Essays, Not Rants! 300: Let The Past Die

Part of why I like The Force Awakens is that its characters are, in many ways, Star Wars fans themselves. Rey and Kylo Ren both grew up on stories about the Rebellion and the Empire (though with different takeaways) and so want to live out their version of the stories. Kylo fashions himself into an ersatz Darth Vader, Rey sees the chance to join up with the legendary Han Solo and maybe become a Jedi like Luke Skywalker.
The Last Jedi, on the other hand, deconstructs those dreams (and those of the audience too). And since I'm gonna be talking about The Last Jedi, this is where I let you know that here there be spoilers. About character arcs and stuff, which as we all know is what really matters.

So anyway. Spoilers. And deconstruction.

Kylo Ren is called out by Snoke for being nothing except a shadow of Vader. Killing Han’s not good enough; Kylo’s just a fanboy. It becomes clear that Kylo will never come into his own so long as all he wants to do is imitate his grandfather. And so the character of Kylo Ren, as we knew it in Awakens, is dressed down and forced to forge a new identity.

Meanwhile, on Ach-To, Rey can only watch as Luke Skywalker casually tosses the revered lightsaber over his shoulder. Turns out Rey’s idea of Luke is terribly misinformed. Even her understanding of The Force (controlling people and lifting rocks) is wrong. Rey’s expectations are dashed and eventually she has to, in the words of another Jedi, unlearn what she's already learned, and try and start afresh.

The Last Jedi sets fire to a lot of what we hold dear about Star Wars. Sometimes this is done through character (Poe is chastised for his propensity for reckless and costly space battles where they somehow overcome the odds) and other times it's through the story itself.

Look at the Jedi.

They're cool, right? With their dope lightsabers and all the heroing we see them do in the movies. Luke outright calls them fools, a prideful group whose hubris allowed the Empire to rise. He goes so far as to desecrate one of the finer points of the Star Wars mythos, derisively calling the Jedi’s weapon a laser sword. And Luke has a point. Maybe the Jedi weren't all they cracked up to be (and, as we see in the prequels, they really weren't the brightest of the bunch). The movie takes apart a chunk of Star Wars, and puts its pieces on display. The Jedi are flawed, overblown legends, maybe it's time for them to end.

The response to this deconstructed Star Wars is embodied by the movie's hero and villain. Rey and Kylo have both seen their goals tossed aside, goals that were, in essence, to emulate the Original Trilogy. They each respond differently: Kylo sees this as an opportunity to burn it all down and let the past die so he can remake the world as he sees fit; Rey, however, wants to rebuild from the ashes, learning from the mistakes of what’s come before. The epic battle between the light side and the dark side continues, though this time it's one that these two have defined for themselves.

And that's this movie’s relation with The Force Awakens. The prior one re-established Star Wars as we remember it, replete with high-flying romantic adventure. The Last Jedi takes apart those tropes, breaking down the notions of chosen ones, daring plans, and wise masters. But writer/director Rian Johnson loves Star Wars and so, now that he's taken them apart, he can develop them deeper than before. Luke is bitter and stubborn, a far cry from an idealistic farmboy or a sage like Yoda. But he still has much to learn, especially from his shortcomings. The idea of a wise master who knows everything doesn't stand up, but when we take that away we're given a Jedi Master who is still learning. Which is a more interesting, deeper interpretation.

Rey is a nobody, but she's still strong with the Force - all that talk about chosen ones and being descended from a great Jedi (like Kylo) is bunk, but, but but but, now anyone can be a Jedi. Luke Skywalker doesn't swoop in to defeat the First Order, because that hero could be anyone, that hope is bigger than he is.

What Rian Johnson does seems almost anathema, counter to the distilling of Star Wars that is The Force Awakens. But Johnson gives these stories new room to grow, and so he forces Rey and Kylo (and fans like me!) to reexamine the older Star Wars movies and figure out a new what's next. Kylo Ren isn't gonna be Darth Vader, and Rey isn't about to be Luke Skywalker.

And we're better off for that.


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Long Live The Resistance

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 16 2017 · 107 views

Essays, Not Rants! 299: Long Live The Resistance

It's really easy to see the original Star Wars as an anti-establishment film. Han, Luke, and Leia are a trio of rebels vying to undermine and overthrow the Man. And given that the movie is a product of the 70s, it just might be intentional. Empire has the Man crackdown on our plucky heroes, and Return of The Jedi culminates in the final usurpation.

Of course, within this framework, any story about plucky rebels can be interpreted as anti-establishment. Mega Man Zero is about Zero and the Resistance exposing Neo Arcadia for the dystopia it is. The Matrix has Neo fighting back against the humanity-controlling Machines. Harry Potter and his friends form Dumbledore’s Army to take on Umbridge.

But antiestablishmentarianism is in Star Wars’ DNA, and not just as an idea as in some other examples. And for that, you need look no further than the prequels.

Which, sounds kinda odd, because the heroes in the prequels are part of the establishment. The Jedi Order is in full swing and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are members. Padmé is a Queen and a Senator. On the other hand, Tatooine, a planet beyond the reach of the Republic, is a lawless land of slavery. The villainous Confederacy is trying to destroy the peaceful Republic. Ostensibly, it’s the inverse of the original trilogy’s ethos.

But the prequels are about the fall of the Republic. And it is not brought down by an external resistance: it is brought down from within. For all the fighting the Confederacy does, they don’t destroy the Republic. The Republic is a corrupt system, full of infighting that prevents anything from being done (as we see with Naboo’s blockade in Phantom Menace). The Jedi Order is all too ready to make the jump from peacekeepers to generals. The Republic is not a good thing: it is old and decrepit, and its conversion into the Empire is a product of its own failings. In the prequels, the heroes may be servants of the establishment, but the establishment is not a good thing. Revenge of The Sith has the Senate, who our heroes have been championing, capitulating to Darth Sidious. No, the prequels don't have Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padmé fighting the Man, instead their loyalty to the establishment is their undoing.

The recent movies carry on this point of view. The New Republic in The Force Awakens doesn't believe the First Order to be a credible threat and are so destroyed, leaving Leia and her Resistance to fight on. They were, to an extent, abandoned by the establishment and left to fend for themselves. Rogue One speaks for itself (if you need a reminder: ragtag team of diverse nobodies take on a monolithic empire).

So Star Wars is decidedly anti-establishment. Cool.

The Last Jedi, however, embraces this ethos with an unrivaled vigor. In the bigger, meta scheme of things, Star Wars is now the establishment. It's no longer this weird sci-fi movie that mixes together westerns, samurai films, and Flash Gordon serials; it's its own thing and its heroes pop culture legends. So The Last Jedi sets out to deconstruct a lot of Star Wars’ tropes, this time turning its anti-establishment lens on its own heroes. The establishment in The Last Jedi takes the form of a variety of legacies; the legacy of the Jedi, the legacy of the Empire, even the legacy of Luke Skywalker. The movie itself challenges our assumptions about these things, challenging us to ask questions about them we may not be too keen to ask. What if the Jedi should end? What does it mean to have been Luke Skywalker? Why do we care so much for legacies?

Some of these questions are answered, and some of these have no easy answer. Sure, there's still a plucky Resistance against an indomitable First Order, but director Rian Johnson wants to figure out what Star Wars really is, and that means bringing a hammer to some stuff you'd rather not. It's excellently done and particularly bold given how safe Star Wars usually is.

I have A Lot Of Thoughts on The Last Jedi, thoughts that I'll need another viewing and many beer-fueled conversations with friends to mull over. But one thing that's abundantly clear is that The Last Jedi has a very clear image of its identity, and one facet of that is as the culmination of an anti-establishment vision.

Which is pretty neat.


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The Ephemeral and The Sublime

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 09 2017 · 62 views

Essays, Not Rants! 298: The Ephemeral and The Sublime

Over the years, Hideo Kojima has, because of his Metal Gear Solid games, become one of my favorite video game designers. He's also certifiably bonkers, mixing in discussions of American militarism-as-neo-colonialism in a game where you fight giant mechs alongside a mostly naked sniper who can't speak because of a parasite that uses language to spread (and thus serves as a vehicle for Kojima to discuss how English becoming the global lingua franca is in turn another form of colonialism).

Point is, I'm always stoked to see what he's making.

A new trailer for Death Stranding, his first post-MGS game, dropped last night. Like the handful of other trailers for the game that have come out, it's weird and near indecipherable, with little information on what it's like as a game. And at eight minutes long, it's a pretty long trailer.

To the point where it's less a trailer and more of a short film unto itself. It's very self-contained, missing a lot of the “what comes next”-ness of trailers. While it does evoke a desire to figure out what's going on, but that's hardly the point.

There is little narrative in the traditional sense. Sure, we have a protagonist in Sam and a beginning, middle, and end; but it's not about him doing something. Rather, the trailer presents a tableau of a scene, a moment for you to experience and are the better for having done so. The trailer presents the sublime, something quite beyond our comprehension but beautiful in its terror. It's less about the catharsis and more about the process of watching Sam and his compatriots attempt to fend off these unseen creatures in a mysterious, physics bending world.

So in that sense it's a lot like the movie Lady Bird.

Lady Bird is about a girl in her senior year of high school, her relationship with her mother, her relationship with herself, and that messy transition from seventeen to eighteen. It's a tender story, told with a full heart and helpings of honesty. It's reliant less on vying for that big, cinematic climax than it is on capturing a very particular moment in time for a very specific person.

And like the trailer for Death Stranding, it captures the ephemeral. Things happen, and then something else does. Lady Bird isn't trying to say something bigger about the world, it's just trying to tell its story (as Death Stranding’s trailer weaves its vision of terror). There's no One Big Moment that defines protagonist Lady Bird’s life. Rather we see snapshots of a very specific person. Because of its honesty and specificity (Lady Bird’s idiosyncrasies are at once wholly unique and beautifully universal), we, as an audience, are allowed to experience a part of a life. One that, having seen, we are more for having done so.

It's a fairly common anti-structure in indie-darling movies; you can see it done well in Drinking Buddies and Lost in Translation. Boyhood doesn't know what it's trying to capture besides “uh, time passes, I guess” and so fails to capture anything. Meanwhile Monsters sets its journey against an alien presence to heighten its exploration of loneliness and presentation of the sublime. Ken Liu’s short story “The Paper Menagerie” captures a difficult relationship. And it's what Death Stranding’s trailer does so well.

I will campaign for narrative until the sky falls. But stories can be about moments too. The key is to make the audience feel something. As a reader/viewer/player I engage in fiction not because I want to sit idly by as something happens, but because I want to be taken on a journey. I want to feel something, sorrow or joy, something funny or something epic. Lady Bird didn't need a Big Epic Conclusion to make me feel like a teenage girl. And Death Stranding doesn't need flashy gameplay to present the sublime in a fracking video game trailer.


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Crossing Animals

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 02 2017 · 90 views

Essays, Not Rants! 297: Crossing Animals

Fetch quests occupy a strange space in video games. They aren't strictly great quests; you talk to an NPC, and then they have you get something for them, or bring something somewhere else. They're usually uninspired and are a transparent effort to pad out the game’s length. Mass Effect: Andromeda mines hours upon hours of gameplay by having the player go to a different planet, talk to someone, and return (for a reward!). Point is, they ain't great.

And yet, there's Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

I downloaded the game to my phone cuz a lotta people were downloading it, knowing nothing about the Animal Crossing games except there are animals that crossed and something about decorating houses. I fired up the game and found myself put in charge of a campsite (which I can decorate!) and told to befriend visiting animals and invite them over to said campsite.

Simple enough.

Befriending these animals, however, is a matter of talking to them and… fetch quests. Jay wants two squids, Filbert wants an assortment of fruits, and Apollo has developed an affection for butterflies. If you bring their desired items to these animal crossers they in turn give you bells (money) and resources like wood and cotton you can then use to craft new furniture for tour campsite. This furniture, besides looking nice, is also used to lure invite animals to hang out at your campsite.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is all about fetch quests. Just going somewhere, getting something, and giving it to someone.

And yet, it is such calming fun.

Part of this is due to how gentle the game is. Pocket Camp doesn't have you fighting monsters, you just shake fruit off trees or tap butterflies to catch them with your net. It's easy enough to amass such a stock of items that more often than not, you'll already have what your animal friend is looking for.

But there still a sense of accomplishment upon completing a task. The animal smiles and claps, thanking you profusely. It's a bit of an overreaction, but you still did something. There's the idea that you're getting stuff done, and that getting said stuff done is appreciated by people, er- animals, who call you friend.

What really makes Pocket Camp work, though, is summed up in those darned cute animals. Pocket Camp’s simple mechanics are delivered with a very friendly theme. There’s no fighting monsters, but nor is there much in the way of any conflict whatsoever. You’re all just kinda get along. It’s utterly non-threatening, presenting a harmonious world where idyllic days are spent fishing and foraging and thinking about food.

And so it’s wonderfully calming. There’s no frenetic need to get stuff done, you can do stuff at your own pace and still have that sense of accomplishment. Like The Sims, you’re able to set your own goals within the parameters (do you want to upgrade your camper? Make a dope hangout? Stockpile a horde of Bells?) and go after them (though without the threat of starvation and/or setting yourself on fire). Again, Pocket Camp is a game to relax. Not blow off steam: just chill out.

I think it’s, in that way, a kinda important game. Sure, it’s not saying Something Bigger About The World, and it’s hardly a brain-bending puzzle game. It’s a game where you do stuff, simple fetch quests though they may be, and be rewarded and affirmed for it. Without deadlines or consequences, Pocket Camp feels very much like a safe space to escape to in the middle of the day. Proof that you can get something done and that Ketchup the duck is really happy you did.





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josh


grew up on a ship


lives in new york


frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games

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The Designated Tekulo Crying Corner

Just for you and your crummy feelings.

Disclaimer

Josh works for LEGO at the LEGO Store at Rockefeller Center. Despite this, any and every opinion expressed herewith is entirely his own and decidedly not that of The LEGO Group.

In addendum, any and all opinions expressed by The LEGO Group are entirely theirs and decidedly not that of Josh

Obviously.

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