Posted on
Dec 31, 2018

(Bohemian Rhapsody... the only movie I saw in a theater in 2018. (It was good!)

10 Favorite Videos of 2018

1. HELLO SAILORS | Sailor Moon CL Hello Bitches Parody

I'm shocked that this video has less than 100K views because I'm sure at least 1K of those views are mine. I discovered it in early 2017 and I still don't understand how it didn't make last year's list of lists. Everyone I know IRL has been forced to watch it in person—some in hotel rooms, some on my phone, a few in an elevator and at least one in a women's restroom at the end of a selfie stick.

2. Joe Rogan Experience #1169 - Elon Musk

3. Girl Kills Eminem's Rap God

4. Mass Effect 3 | Avengers: Infinity War Style Trailer

5. Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, 2012

In response to my breathless discovery of Roman Viktyuk's Les Bonnes and its ouvre (which I believe I lovingly referred to as "Russian gay vampire sex opera"), my mother hipped me to choreographer Matthew Bourne. In particular, his 2012 Swan Lake featuring the insanely hot Richard Winsor as the menacing white swan/man-crush/incubus (and his double, the dark stranger—mad, bad and dangerous to know, etc.—who crashes the ball and sets about seducing everyone, including the prince's mother). You can also see Richard Winsor in Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray, a five-minute, um, "teaser" (you've been trigger warned) that suggests someone doesn't know their Oscar Wilde from their Myth of Narcissus, but it's easy to ignore such trivialities if you're watching with the sound off (recommended—the music is... not).

6. Young Frankenstein Outtakes

I didn't think anything could make me love Young Frankenstein more than I already did and I was happy to be proven wrong. Madeline Kahn is underrated... keeping a straight face throughout her scenes is a feat most actresses wouldn't even try.

7. Space-X Falcon Heavy Launch and Landing

Since launching the first of their reusable rockets nearly two years ago, Elon Musk's SpaceX has been busy. In February, they launched the Falcon Heavy, "the world's most powerful rocket by a factor of two," and you can see the launch and landing below. The synchronized touchdown of the two rockets (at 1:41), according to the YouTube commenters, is "beyond awesome," "breathtaking," "pornographic" and "satisfying AF." Besides eliciting tears and other bodily fluids previously hinted at, another commenter calls it "ballet for the space age." There are more than two calls for "Elon for President," which lead yet another commenter to bust out the most bizarre cat treat for conspiracists I've heard in a while...

Apparently, Nazi rocket star Verner von Braun (brought to you by Project Paperclip to help the US win the space race) wrote a sci-fi novel called "Project Mars" which was published posthumously in 2006. It describes humanity's first mission to Mars, whereupon they discover a race of peaceful aliens living underground, whose elected leader is called "the Elon." (Fact-checked, don't you worry. Who could make this shit up?)

Three More Games

1. A Way Out

In this action story local co-op game from EA, you and a friend (or partner of 20 years, as the case may be) play Vincent and Leo, an odd couple of prison inmates who must cooperate to escape the yard and find a way back into the world beyond its walls. Screw couples' therapy and weekend getaways—all you need is two controllers. Playing this game is like jumper cables applied straight to the heart of any relationship. You'll find out pretty quick if hitting it with 1,000 volts was a jump start or the first nail in its coffin. The game employs a strategic combination of split-screen mode and cut scenes that periodically merge perspectives or zoom into one character's view when an action sequence fails or succeeds. The transitions from "failure" back into the action are quick and seamless, jumping you back just a matter of seconds to keep you engaged. Cooperating in this game isn't a walk in the park, but a few design choices set it apart from other co-op games, where just keeping track of each other in the chaos of a chase or shootout often sucks the fun out of it long before you can reap the benefits of cooperation (ahem—Resident Evil 6, I'm looking at you)...

2. Saboteur

Still in progress with this unique WWII Irish-boy-joins-the-French-Resistance action game from 2009. Stalk the rooftops of occupied Paris, kill Nazis and as you liberate the city, it turns from Sin City black & white to Oz Technicolor... (providing one more answer to the question what do Nazi Germany and Kansas in the 1930s have in common?)

    3. Fallout 3

10 Funniest Searches in my Browser History 2018

1. are running shoes bullshit (Answer? Maybe... or rather, it depends. For my purposes—walking up and down 25 flights of cleanish, well-maintained indoor stairs—running shoes or no shoes is pretty much a matter of preference. Those silicone shoes with the individual toes, however, are almost certainly bullshit (if for no other reason than anything that inspires such fanatical debate is usually worthy of suspicion.)

  1. 2. why is my cat throwing up canned food

  2. 3. google assistant not responding (I finally caved and got a cell phone this year after resisting the tide until I was literally in the 1% of holdouts.

  3. Favorite thing about having a cell phone? Asking "Okay, Google" questions like, "what was that TV show with Helen Mirren?" Answer: Prime Suspect! Or, "what was that cartoon from the 1970s with a mongoose and a cobra?" Answer: Riki Tiki Tavi! Or, "What movies are playing nearby?" to which it had a follow-up question about what kind of movie I was in the mood for (!). Science Fiction? Answer: Nothing good, but that's beside the point!

  4. Least favorite thing about having a cell phone? Asking, "Okay, Google?" over and over like a fucking idiot to no response a month later. It's been offline ever since despite my attempts to research a solution. (Google giveth and Google taketh away.) My favorite old school emoticon has never been more appropriate:  (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

  1. 4. how do leather touch screen gloves work

  2. 5. "get the bejeweler, darling"

  3. 6. search engine for famous people who look like other famous people (If you said "Okay, Google," you'd still be waiting for an answer.) (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

    7. yaletown highrise paint pink blue hideous (I can't tell you how annoying it is to see this monstrosity painted across the entire façade of a local highrise condo, knowing how little tolerance the average person—and I'm being generous here—has for anything "creative" or colorful where it's not expected, and how the presence of this truly disgusting display of paint will hurt legitimately talented mural artists out there who can't even get permission to paint the walls of their own apartment, much less the façade of a fucking high rise. You know what would be amazing? If they hired a different artist to paint over it with a new mural once a year—make a contest out of it. There will be some shitty ones but we'll only have to look at them for a year—others will be amazing, creating a sense of urgency about the impending loss. They'll be commissioned all over the place before the year is out. Are any city planners reading? (LOL I know that's not how it works.)

  1. 8. save the elcor mass effect 3 (I've selected only the most obscure, poignant and unexpectedly life-affirming (sort of?) example of many, many Mass Effect-related searches this year. The Elcor <geek out starts>were a race of giant, slow-moving mammoth-looking creatures whose home planet Dekunna was fiendishly difficult to locate in Mass Effect 3, due to the fact that its location and star system were nowhere to be found in the game's otherwise infamously exhaustive codex. So, despite the fact that you're beseeched by the Elcor ambassador to help save or at least evacuate what was left of the civilians before it was destroyed by the Reapers—which you obviously accept unless you're a monster—it turns out there's sort of a bug or minor oversight that prevents you from doing so, and about which a very small yet eloquent subset of the Mass Effect fan base was rather endearingly disappointed.)</end geek out> (Haha, who am I kidding?)

  2. 9. monks with cats in their lap

  3. 20. jim cummins braineater painting (Yep—still...)


Tags: Lists, Videos, Games


Posted on
Dec 23, 2018

More Favorite Games of 2018*

(*Note: Only two of which were actually released in 2018)

The Walking Dead: Final Season (RIP)

Shortly after releasing the second of four "chapters" in its highly-anticipated The Walking Dead: Final Season this September, Telltale Games suddenly announced that the studio was closing, laying off some 250+ employees. In what must surely be the single saving grace of the existence of Twitter, fans of the game (many had already paid for all four episodes with a "season's pass") took to social media and before long, the groundswell caught the attention of none other than Robert Kirkman. It was rumored and later announced that the man himself was stepping in to save the game, hiring an undisclosed number of Telltale's team to resume their work at his company Skybound Games so they could complete the last two chapters, bringing fans of this emotionally mind-fucking franchise to what we can only hope is a fitting finale.

Dragon Age II, Dragon Age: Inquisition & The Witcher 3

I bought Dragon Age II from a guy on craigslist who was also selling the first Mass Effect game. He told me it was made by the same company, Bioware, so I might like it. Considering how few games I've heard described as being anything like Mass Effect, that was all the endorsement I needed. It was a good recommendation. I enjoyed Dragon Age II, but I've been struggling to work my way through the first act of Dragon Age: Inquisition since I started it this summer. So far, it's been about:

  • 80% Hiking
  • 10% Fighting
  • 10% Looting and/or picking weeds

Here's what I've deduced from playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and a few hours into The Witcher 3 (which is one of the highest-rated games of the year, ask just about anyone). East coast game developers spend a lot of time pining for the great outdoors; some mythical, unspoiled capital N-nature that exists only in our shared primate subconscious, which they can now fully render in the open worlds they design. This may sound just awesome to some of you, but it's hard to describe just how tedious these open worlds can be if that's not your image of the great outdoors. Some of us are just trying to get on with the goddamn story, and the only way to get there is to spend seemingly endless hours running, hiking, climbing, camping and occasionally horseback riding through what to me, are almost painfully realistic—albeit lovingly rendered— mountains, forests, hills and goddamn trails. Ugh... If I wanted to hike, I'd go the fuck outside!

You get this strange parallax history vision as you maneuver your chain-mail-clad character from rock to rock across your 57th picturesque mountain stream. You begin to wonder if we really came down out of the trees, chipped arrows out of shards of obsidian to take down slow-moving mammals, dug deep in the ground to unearth rare minerals and foul-smelling substances that allowed our fires to burn night and day, built settlements, invented religions, built bridges, toiled in the mines, carved up the earth and laid cables across the oceans, sent men and unmanned vehicles into the vastness of space on nothing but math and metals we dug up from the ground—all this, to end up tethered to a screen scarcely the size of a small window, maneuvering an image of an ancestor through a simulated hillside with some rocks and a river. We're the Land O'Lakes girl holding the box with the Land O'Lakes girl holding the box... And in every box within a box, she's sitting in front of a pastoral mountain with trees and a motherfucking lake...

The Council

The loading screen sets expectations with the disclaimer: "This is probably a work of fiction." This episodic game is set in 1793 on an opulent private island where an exclusive gathering of the world's ruling elite is taking place. You are a French occult investigator working for your mother; also on the guest list are George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte and the mysterious, illegitimate daughter of John Adams. She wanders the halls red-eyed and delirious before revealing a torso tattooed with arcane symbols and—in my play through anyway (spoiler alert)—turning up dead in a cliffhanger at the end of episode one. We're tasked with inspecting her room (a scene straight out of the Illuminati Playbook of the Dead), collecting evidence and interrogating the other guests—and it just gets weirder from there.

I'm about halfway through the fifth and final chapter. The art direction is impeccable, and I really enjoy the elaborate yet comprehensible level of detail in the RPG elements. There's a branching skills tree and you can grow talents incrementally by, among other things, adding various books you find around the manor to your inventory. It's like a high-budget collaboration between Dan Brown and Merchant-Ivory; or a choose-your-own-adventure historical mystery set in some batshit YouTube conspiracy theory alternate universe with skill trees thrown in for good measure. I also love the facial animations. Some of them are unbelievably creepy, like this fucking guy, Mortimer.

Encounters and confrontations take place between characters where your ability to observe the finer details of their speech patterns, facial tics and body language determine how you progress. These details make The Council an intriguing milestone for story-driven games and their growing ability to explore ever-deeper levels of character engagement.

Before the Storm (the prequel to Life is Strange)

Speaking of character engagement... Yes, I love me some story-driven chick games! Laugh all you want, but I defy you to play the first chapter of this game without falling a little bit in love. If not with the ostensible love interest, Rachel Amber, the good-girl-with-a-bad-streak who picks fights, starts fires and taunts us to declare our affections before we know ourselves what we feel for her... If not with her, then surely with the main character Chloe, our avatar—a tough, clever, prickly yet vulnerable and somehow, deeply moral teenage girl who dreams of her dead, perfect dad and avoids going home because she can't face her mother's insufferable new boyfriend—even though he makes her mom happy.

When Rachel comes along, Chloe is thrown off balance, maybe even infatuated... but, oh, video games. You can't play it cool in video games. Keeping silent but making yourself available, making sure the object of your affection makes the first move, while never actually risking yourself is a time-honored method employed through the centuries by your ancestors (they must have, after all, or else where did you learn it??). But in games, playing coy doesn't cut it. Being shy, prevaricating, saying no when you mean yes but please ask me later... Where does that get you? At the end of chapter one, it gets you lumped in with a lowly 28% of players who declared that Rachel and Chloe were "just friends."

Ugh! How humiliating. Sure, you can go back and redo that decision, if you want to play the entire chapter over from the beginning.

Lucky for me (and maybe a certain hesitant subset of the 26%), this game is just a little cannier than most about what it's like to be... um, how should I say this... a grown up playing a teenage girl for kicks, nostalgia and emotional schadenfreude? We get a second chance to make a first impression, is all I'm saying. If you played Life is Strange, you know that the story of Chloe and Rachel does not end happily. In fact, by the time the first game begins, whatever their relationship was, has already ended. But in my play through anyway, Before the Storm has a happy ending... a deliciously bittersweet, tenuous, improbable—make that impossible—happy ending (but maybe that could be said of all happy endings). It's the kind of ending that invites you to pretend you don't know damn well what the future holds, or about human nature or indeed nature itself. That invites you to put all that on hold and hang onto this fragile, impossible moment between two people who deserve to be happy—a moment when everything was perfect—to preserve it, as it were... (yes, I'm so going there) in amber.

Best Game I Didn't Play in 2018

(aka The Last of Us prize)

Detroit Become Human

To see a few minutes of the first scene, narrated by its creator, and to understand why I will probably be buying a PS4 next year, you can Watch David Cage's TED Talk: How video games turn players into storytellers.

Best Game Revelation of 2018:

Doom is basically first-person Pac-Man. Think about it. You run around a maze being chased by ghosts that are trying to kill you, but you can pick up things that allow you to kill them temporarily, and the object is to kill as many as you can so you can make it to the inner chamber and then you win.



Tags: 2018, Lists, Games

2018 LIST OF LISTS: TV, TV and more TV

Posted on
Dec 16, 2018

I'm loving this whole peak prestige television moment we're in... I can't wait for Game of Thrones to return in April and I'm still waiting along with tens of thousands of "Hannifans" for Bryan Fuller's triumphant return in whatever form to tell the story he'd planned for seasons 4 & 5 of Hannibal, but meanwhile there is so much to binge. So, without further ado...

My 20 Best TV Shows of 2018

1. Legion

Most shows that start out as great as Legion will inevitably disappoint around the middle of the second season (see #4 and #5 on this very list) or string you along for eight seasons before you finally throw in the towel (like The Walking Dead), but this show just keeps ramping up the mind-bending psychedelic retro awesome... It's so fucking smart and cool and weird, I find myself constantly blurting out "oh my god, I love this show!" And even though the viewership is miniscule compared to most shows, and I'm not sure how it got renewed for a third season, it has!

2. Ozark

The Netflix algorithm that collates everything we like was in top form when it spit out (perhaps on a slip of punch card paper): Bloodline + Breaking Bad + Winter's Bone starring three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney and Michael from Arrested Development. Mmm-kay..? But it totally works! Season 2 was even better than one and if the set up for Season 3 is any indication, it's just getting better and better.

3. Babylon Berlin

I can't say enough good things about this show, but sometimes a video is worth an infinite number of words. If you can watch this without being won over, maybe it's not for you.

4. La casa de papel/Money Heist

Despite jumping the shark (on an actual motorcycle!) somewhere near the middle of season two, this fiendishly addictive, fast-paced heist Spanish Netflix original was a brilliantly clever thriller influenced by American film in all the right places, with just enough European flair to keep us guessing how it would turn out all the way to the end. We enjoyed every second, even towards the end when we were yelling at the screen constantly.

5. Westworld

"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long—and you have burned so very, very brightly, Westworld." It would have been hard to sustain the level of perfection this show attained its first season—not impossible (see Legion, Ozark, Breaking Bad...) but hard—especially when the feedback from fans is so all-pervasive. It's probably hard to tune it out and not find yourself reacting, second-guessing... not impossible, but hard (just ask the people who are driving The Walking Dead into the ground). There were a handful of episodes that came very close to the brilliance of Season one, and we'll keep watching because it's still better than most shows.

6. The Haunting of Hill House

It's "This is Us" meets "American Horror Story: Hotel"—and it works! At first I was like, why do all these brunette women look the same? Who is the adult version of who exactly? Wait, is she dead or alive in the present-day? But I have a friend whose recommendations on TV shows are never wrong, so we stuck with it and pretty soon we were hooked. The casting of the adults and child actors is insane—my only quibble was with the Timothy Hutton-Henry Thomas pairing, since I'm old enough to remember exactly what Timothy Hutton looked like 20 (okay, 30+) years ago. Come to think of it, we know what Henry Thomas looked like too because he played Eliot in E.T... but try not to think about that while you're watching.

7. Altered Carbon

Halfway into the season of this batshit sci fi throwback, I couldn't decide how I felt about Altered Carbon. It's proof that for every epic Netflix mashup where the stars align to make something better than the sum of its parts, the magical predictive algorithm doesn't always get it right (e.g., "Bright" and "The Cloverfield Paradox")... Or does it? I mean, I kept watching all the way to the end... long past the point where I started thinking, surely this has to be coming to an end... and How many episodes are there, anyway??

The tagline for Altered Carbon could have been "more Blade Runner than Blade Runner." It has more shots of naked fighting, people running while firing machine guns, and people walking through extremely crowded, rain-soaked, neon-drenched street scenes than has ever been attempted onscreen before. I found myself wanting to read whatever graphic novel it was based on because the plot proved improbably intricate and hard to follow, for a show that's otherwise built around, well, naked fighting and running. (It was actually based on a novel published in 2002 by British author Richard K. Morgan, and this excerpt suggests the show is a pretty spot-on adaptation.) This one book reviewer said: "The body count is high, the gadgetry pure genius, the sex scenes deliriously overwrought, and the worn cynicism thoroughly distasteful: a welcome return to cyberpunk's badass roots." They could have just as easily been describing the show.

Bottom line, I totally recommend it. I had a great time watching Joel-Holder-from-The-Killing-Kinnaman buffed out like Wolverine and chewing scenery while naked running, naked fighting, naked fucking... Running and shooting at people while covered in mud, blood, rain, leaves, broken glass, bio-electrically conductive goo... I'm sure I've missed a few substances but you get the idea. Also, spotting the many quasi-transformed by CGI filming locations around Vancouver. I don't care how many jungle vines and Escher-esque staircases you add in post, I will always recognize the Marine Building lobby. After all, it's a star in its own right. It played the Fantastic Four's iconic Baxter Building and the Daily Planet HQ in Smallville, among many, many others.

8. Better Call Saul 

This prequel spin-off about a minor character from Breaking Bad is still defying all the odds by being excellent—and unpredictable—four seasons in.

  1. 9. This Is Us
  2. 10. The Crown
  3. 11. GLOW
  4. 12. iZombie 
  5. 13. The End of the F***ing World
  6. 14. The Frankenstein Chronicles
  7. 15. The Alienist
  8. 16. Pine Gap
  9. 17. Bodyguard
  10. 18. Lost in Space 
  11. 19. Dark Matter
  12. 20. Fear the Walking Dead (RIP—dead to me after what they did to Kim Dickens)/ The Walking Dead (They finally lost us in season 8, along with ~54% of their other viewers.)


Did you know you can download your entire Netflix watch history in an Excel spreadsheet with episode titles and dates going back to the day you signed up? If only the bank made it this easy, right?? It's pretty eye opening to scroll all the things you've watched and completely forgotten about (or slept through, only to have Netflix assume you watched it and since it dropped off the main screen, you forgot to ever go back and finish it). A bunch more shows that didn't make my top 20 or fell down the memory hole in 2018:

  • Godless—Nine episodes of great character-building, believable tension and conflicting interests, plus the now-ubiquitous flashback mystery setup, culminated in a bullet-riddled WTF finale that undid all the suspense and character development of the preceding season.

  • House of Cards: Season 6—A fine send off, I just wish they'd had a little more faith in Robin Wright stepping into the lead. She has more than enough talent and charisma, but it sometimes felt like she was out there on her own, while the supporting cast, story line and even scenery were hollowed out from under her—well, and the peerless Michael Kelly.
  • Gotham/Riverdale/Chilling Adventures of Sabrina/Jessica Jones—It's always good to have a few shows you can watch without your partner getting mad that you watched ahead.
  • Atypical—This is a really well-written show and the cast is excellent, but I've realized that Jennifer Jason Leigh is my kryptonite. She plays a bitter, needy, narcissistic-bordering-on-psycho mom of two teenagers, a surprisingly well-adjusted sporty daughter and the autistic son around whom she's crafted her entire identity. As the children begin to approach adulthood in season one, she starts to unravel. She plays it brilliantly, radiating a kind of emotional brittleness and volatility that makes me physically uncomfortable. I can recognize this as good acting, but there's just something about the character that could only be brought to life by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and it's made it increasingly hard to watch season two. Bright side? The two kids are great, I love the guy who plays the daughter's boyfriend and the dad—I mean, come on—it doesn't get any more likeable than Michael Rappaport.
  • Wild Wild Country
  • The Staircase: Season 2
  • The Good Place
  • Sense8: Final Episode (R-I-motherfucking-P)
  • Safe: Season 1
  • Animal Kingdom: Season 2—I can imagine that some people might have the same feelings about Ellen Barkin that I have about Jennifer Jason Leigh, but the difference is I love watching Ellen Barkin explore uncharted depths of family dysfunction as the superbly scary matriarch and puppet master of a closely-knit clan of California criminals, Point Break-style.
  • They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (I do love me some Orson Welles, even after watching this.)

My Next to Watch List

  • Wanted (Season 3)
  • Travelers (Season 2)
  • This is Us (Season 2)
  • Frontier (Season 2)
  • Daredevil (Season 3)
  • Lucifer (Season 3)
  • Shameless

My Top Three Made Up Netflix Categories

  1. 1. Superheroes, Zombies & Time Travel
  2. 2. Steampunk Serial Killer costume drama (Frankenstein Chronicles, The Alienist, Alias Grace, Taboo, the Sherlock Holmes movies)
  3. 3. Breakfast Club in Space (e.g., Firefly, Dark Matter, Lost in Space, Mass Effect, every Star Treks except for Deep Space Nine, etc.)


Top Three Categories Netflix Needs to Stop Recommending to Me

  1. 1. Oscar Nominated Films I Missed Last Year and Will Never Feel Like Watching Now
  2. 2. Food-based reality shows (WTF, Netflix? Have I ever watched anything that makes it seem like I'd be into these? The closest I can think of is Skin Wars—and how close is that really??)
  3. 3. Low-budget indie horror movies with no action and little plot, loosely about zombies or an ill-defined apocalypse (aka the "Because you watched "The Girl With All the Gifts" category). This one would clean up my recommendations immeasurably. Honestly, just because you watch one (albeit excellent!) independent zombie/vampire/ghost movie ("The Girl with All the Gifts," "Only Lovers Left Alive," "Let Me In," etc.) does not mean you'll sit through any low budget shot-in-the-woods pseudo-supernatural-with-no-effects-budget piece of shit film festival honorable mention that somehow finds its way into the database.

Speaking of the database... Hey Netflix, WTF?! Bring back Hannibal, you bastards! Not that you asked, but I'm still (re)watching that, not to mention recommending it to everyone who will listen. It's 39 episodes, 43-minutes each—you can bill me for the server space.

Best Oscars Dress of 2018

Since I was apparently too busy playing Mass Effect last spring to post anything about the Oscars, here is my belated favorite. There is nothing I don't love about Allison Janney's look here—or her win for Best Supporting Actress in the Tonya Harding biopic I didn't and probably won't see. I know enough about her from The West Wing and her work in such films as The Help, The Hours, Juno and Drop Dead Gorgeous to know she deserves an Oscar to go with all her Emmies, Golden Globes and some 68 other awards. Bonus points for the fact that the only other long-sleeved red plunging V-neck in the floor seats was on none other than Meryl motherfucking Streep.

Best Random Word I Learned in 2018

You know that wonderful ozoney, wet concrete smell when it's just started raining? There's an actual scientific (which is to say, Greek) word for it:

Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɪkɔːr/) the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. From Greek petra, meaning "stone," and īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.


Tags: TV, Lists, 2018


Posted on
Dec 12, 2018

Mass Effect

I might have mentioned this before, but this year I spent an unfathomable amount of time playing video games. It goes without saying (okay, not really) that Mass Effect was and is my favorite, and by that I mean the entire decade-spanning franchise, even the 4th (which for me was the first), Andromeda. I've now played the original trilogy all the way through, importing my character into each subsequent installment, which garnered me the highest number of credits and achievements, making the best possible ending possible... which is not to say I was satisfied with the way it ended, of course...

I mean, how could I be? Oh, spoilers ahead, BTW! As I was saying, who could be satisfied by an ending that compressed a richly detailed, layered, complex story peopled with a whole galaxy of secondary characters to whom we had become attached (and boy, did we!) over the course of three games—over dozens if not hundreds of hours—only to be presented with three choices (two if you played really badly).

1. Destroy: End the eternal conflict between organic and synthetic life by wiping out all artificial intelligence in a single, galaxy-sized EMP, including EDI, your loyal friend who credited you with giving her the final piece in the puzzle of consciousness, and the Geth, a race of intelligent machines whose survival you risked everything (and played ME2 and ME3 over a second time) to ensure. (Collect enough points and you may emerge, barely breathing, from a pile of rubble in epilogue, but your friends are light-years away and the means to travel between stars is disabled—but there's hope.)

2. Synthesis: Sacrifice your own life to end the eternal conflict by merging all the organic DNA of every man, woman, child, Asari, Krogan, Hanar, Elcor and undiscovered, non-space faring species on every planet in the galaxy with the advanced machine code of synthetic life. Now you're all part organic and part synthetic. Fight amongst yourselves.

3. Control: End the conflict by becoming an ascended, super-AI, an immortal deity whose sole purpose is controlling the race of extinction-causing AI, guaranteeing the peaceful future everyone deserves through your own eternal vigilance, forever.

I don't hate the ending of ME3 as much as most Mass Effect fans apparently did. I can admit that sometimes self-sacrifice is the best ending for a true Hero. The examples in film, literature and to a lesser degree television are too numerous to name. But the thing about the ending—or endings, which is part of the problem—is that a mere 3 or 4 choices, while maddening to the audience, leaves the fate of the galaxy an unknown factor, making any continuation of the story impossible. For some players, heroic sacrifice, for others, survival with a long, difficult journey toward an uncertain future. And, for the few who said, "I reject those choices," the least-traveled fourth option, the trilogy ends in the near-total destruction of the galaxy, beginning with your fleet and planet Earth being annihilated by the Reapers. (A sad little recorded epilogue plays for future archeologists, wishing them better luck when their turn comes around in 50K years.)

So of course, installment four (Andromeda) takes place 600 years in the future, as several arks containing refugee/pilgrims from the Milky Way arrive in the Andromeda galaxy and encounter nothing but friendly, welcoming aliens on perfectly habitable worlds LOL...

There's no one thing I can point to about the new crew that explains why they left most players cold, even with the controversial expansion of "romance" options to include every species and both genders whether they chose to play as Scott or Sara Ryder. I've got no beef with the voice talent, but most of the characters are just so badly written, there's not much they could do with the material. Some (ahem, Cora and Liam) are embarrassingly bad, even as the actors are clearly trying to deliver their uninspiring, occasionally nonsensical dialog with all the required gravitas. Some are better than others, notably Jaal and Drack (or "Old Man Krogan," as I like to call our cantankerous, thousand-year old mentor), but there are definitely no Martin Sheens or Lance Henricksens among them.

All that being said, I feel the need to walk back a statement I made in July when I waxed manic pixie demented fan girl about the original trilogy, and referred to it as "the epic, award-winning, objectively better in almost every conceivable way trilogy." That's not entirely accurate. The space animations in Andromeda are levels of magnitude better than the previous games. They are unquestionably gorgeous and I salute whoever was tasked with the thankless job of creating an entire galaxy's worth of star systems, each with several fully realized and back-storied planets, all swirling and orbiting against a vast backdrop of distant stars, richly-detailed stellar dust clouds and spore-like tendrils of "the Scourge," a menacing mutation of an ancient engineered weapon that attacks and destroys whatever it touches, like space-borne Corexit. You could spend hours just flying from one star to the next admiring the incredible love and attention that went into rendering every detail. You could, that is, if only there weren't so many other games out there to try...

Dreamfall Chapters (2017)

A gorgeous, slow-paced, story-driven (ahem, chick's game)... Okay, fine. It's a chick's game. So what? Anyway, it's clever, with lots of funny cultural references and things like a gay bar called The White Swallow. Yes, I'm a simple creature. Anyway, I'm only halfway through it so I can't really say much, but it's pretty good—definitely the best Norwegian game I've ever played.

LA Noire (Rockstar Games, 2011)

LA Noire is quite literally LA Confidential meets Grand Theft Auto starring Ken Cosgrove from Mad Men as a WWII veteran turned LA cop trying to work his way up in the force while fighting the lingering effects of PTSD and juggling family obligations. Just kidding about the family part—he's a married man with kids and a wife who we barely glimpse before our character is walking off the job (he basically says to his partner one morning, "I'll be right back..." I shit you not!) to start an affair with a mysterious German nightclub singer who it's strongly implied either recently kicked or still has an occasional heroin habit. She's a sparsely-pencilled caricature of a stereotype, but she's the only named female character who appears in more than one scene. Every other member of the fair sex is considerably less fortunate, most appearing only as nude corpses whose hands and faces you can lift and turn from side to side as you "work the crime scene," collecting evidence and falsely imprisoning a string of unlucky husbands and lovers in pursuit of the big, bad faceless cliche at the end of the first act.

After your almost accidental apprehension of the ubiquitous serial killer of beautiful nude women, your character is demoted to the vice squad. Your new partner is a reprehensible racist thug, but his 1940s hep cat wardrobe makes your character look like a straight-up square, Daddy-o... You also graduate from roughing up suspected sex offenders to chasing and, naturally, beating the crap out of smack addicts and jazz musicians. At least they're not all black, haha, because that would just be—oh, right... Yes, they're all black. Because that's just how we roll, 1948-style, am I right boys? Ugh.

There might be much to comment on here, but Rockstar Games' approach is to present this remarkably perfect simulacrum of 1948 LA as a fully-realized open world. You are Detective—oops, make that Officer—Ken "every white man" Cosgrove, shooting and punching and handcuffing his way through the sunlit streets of a rapidly suburbanizing desert which will one day be the LA we know so well. A simmering neon-lit pressure-cooker of racial tensions and good-old-boy institutions run amuck, where grotesque excess meets abject deprivation, where sexual fantasies are manufactured and sexual exploitation mass-produced, where oil is an unlimited commodity and the fad diet du jour is champagne dreams and caviar nights... or whatever. Cut..!!

Also, there's a fuckload of driving in this game. As a non-driver IRL, this was a barrier to entry for me. At first, I would speed across lanes, side-swiping pedestrians and uprooting mail boxes. Several hours in, I was still stubbornly failing to abide by the most basic rules of the road—and physics—by not slowing down into turns, parking by trying to mount the cars on either side of mine and stopping at red lights by plowing full-speed into the back of some poor citizen who was just trying to mind their own business. Mr. Pink found this failure on my part all but unwatchable. When backseat driving and heckling failed to improve my driving, he started leaving the room whenever I put on LA Noire. I was about halfway through the game when something shifted. I stopped even trying to slow down at intersections; I would blare the siren, if I had one, as I sailed through every red light, shouting obscenities from my couch at any retarded asshole citizen who got in my way. Innocently commuting to work or driving their prom date home? Whatever. "Get the fuck out of my way. I'm an LA cop with nothing to lose and I will fuck your shit up!! Oh you'd better run!"

Then I started stealing cars. I'm surprised it took me so long, this being a game brought to us by the makers of the GTA franchise, after all. I would stop in the middle of the street on my way to a crime scene and stalk the streets on foot while my partner chased after me, screaming and threatening what he'd do if I didn't get back in the car and do my job. I'd walk around and around until a really cool car drove by, then I'd run out in front of it and pull the citizen out and speed away laughing, leaving them fuming and shaking their fists in a cloud of pre-California Emissions exhaust. My triumphant, post-auto theft high would last until I inevitably totalled the shiny new object of desire. Then the cycle would repeat. The truly alarming thing is how much faster that "new car high" wore off each time. It wasn't long before I could barely make it to the next crime scene before I was overcome with a nagging discontent, the unbearable certainty that something better and shinier and cooler was idling just around the next corner...

This, I thought, right here... is how evolution is failing us. Set aside the fact that it took me exactly one-third of one video game playing an LA cop to start behaving exactly like a hideous caricature of an LA cop—sexist, corrupt, ignorant and seething with barely-controlled rage and unchecked privilege. The racism was hard-coded. That most obvious cliche, every minority's worst nightmare, was as obligatory as the wing tips. According to Rockstar Games, being a "woke" white cop in 1948 was a non-option. Worse yet was the realization that my addictive/attention-deficient treatment of classic cars in the game grotesquely mirrored the way that gamification is, as we speak, training a whole generation to approach relationships the same way—not with stereotyped sketches of German torch singers in a digital fantasy, a Vaseline-lensed "Pastworld," but with real people. IRL. Tag. Follow. Swipe right. Block. Unfriend. To future generations on behalf of mine: I'm sorry we ruined music by making it free, and ruined relationships by making sex cheap. Did it seem like a good idea at the time? No, not really, but we weren't as smart as we thought we were, and the rents were very, very high.

Gil: who knew this whole thing was just a glorified dating service.

(Above: Gil figures out the secret agenda behind the entire Mass Effect franchise.)

This is just the first installment of my 2018 list of lists. And, in case you're worried it's all going to be about video games... well, mostly it is. LOL But...

Ms. Pink Still Finds Time to Read Books...

Black Science, Vol. 5: True Atonement
Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life, in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies
The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains
God Country
The Walking Dead: Here's Negan!
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
Mass Effect: Retribution
The Art of the Mass Effect Universe
The Walking Dead, Vol. 29: Lines We Cross
American Gods, Volume 1: Shadows
Black Science, Vol. 7: Extinction Is the Rule
The Black



Tags: Lists, Games