Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Pt 4

So, I actually uploaded this one to Youtube on Thursday, but forgot to embed it here until now. Oops!

I’m going to try to teach myself some new tricks for Part 5, so expect a bit of a wait before that appears.

Script below the jump.

Continue reading

Half-Life 3 Confirmed!

Er, that is, “Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Part 3″ confirmed.

(That is to say, it’s live now on Youtube.)

This video is the longest so far, and will likely be the longest video of the whole seven-part series. Putting these together has been taking a lot out of me, so expect somewhat shorter installments in the future, along with longer breaks between each installment. (I won’t be posting more than one a week, now.)

Transcript below the jump.

Continue reading

Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Part 2: The Horizon

Part two is up!

It will likely take me longer for me to get part three up. (I’m thinking Monday, April 2nd, at the earliest.) This is the last video in the series that borrows heavily from my dissertation and prior course materials—subsequent videos will delve deeply into new material, which means they’ll be spaced out more.

Script below the jump.

Continue reading

Let’s Study Half-Life 2

For the past couple of months, I have been hard at work at a new “Let’s Study,” the most ambitious so far. It’s for Half-Life 2, and I foresee it being spread over seven parts. Part One: Linearity is now posted.

There’s a lot of material in this particular Let’s Study adapted from the first chapter of my dissertation, as well as material I developed when teaching the Half-Life franchise in class (including this lesson from my “Comparative Media Poetics” course). My first “Let’s Study” was just a playthrough with some commentary and a bit of b-roll; for this particular series I’m really leaning in to the video essay format more, trying to create shareable versions of what are basically class lectures, or conference presentations. This particular series is still geared very much toward a general audience, but I’m using it as prep for potential future adaptations of dissertation material into video essay format for submission to a genuine peer-reviewed academic video essay journal.

As usual, the script is below the fold. Part two coming soon!

Continue reading

Depiction and Endorsement in 2018 (or, how to criticize Blade Runner 2049)

blade_runner_2049_screenshot-30

I first envisioned this post as a “New Year’s Resolution,” but I got too bogged down with other stuff in January to post it then. Better late than never, though.

Now that Blade Runner 2049 is out on video formats (meaning that I can take some lovely screenshots of it), I wanted to revisit the critical reception the film was greeted with back in October 2017. Partly, this post is about Blade Runner 2049, and its legitimate faults. But I also consider the film’s reception to be emblematic of trends in political criticism that were ascendent in 2017. I personally consider these trends to be leaning in a direction that is, shall we say, unproductive. Buckle up.

Within 72 hours of its release, a backlash had solidified against Blade Runner 2049. Feminist critics didn’t like its treatment of women. New York Post critic Sara Stewart established the trend early with her October 4th article “You’ll Love the New ‘Blade Runner’—Unless You’re a Woman.” By October 9th, this particular gripe had spread like wildfire, spawning think pieces like Rosie Fletcher and Sam Ashurst’s “Can We Talk About Blade Runner 2049’s Problem With Women?” and Charolette Gush’s “Why Blade Runner 2049 Is a Misogynistic Mess.”

These headlines are clickbait-y. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were written by an editor, with no say at all on the part of the author. The actual articles beneath the headlines are more nuanced. Still, though, let’s be realistic. It’s the late 2010s. Plenty of people share articles on social media, hit “like” or “angry face,” offer up their own hot takes, and draw lines in the sand based solely on clickbait headlines, without ever reading the articles in question. It is impossible, in this day and age, to truly separate out the quality of the criticism in these individual pieces from the realities of the ecosystems in which they circulate.

Anyway, within days, lines had indeed been drawn in the sand. (At least on my social media feed.) Blade Runner 2049 was proclaimed to be problematic. It had “iffy politics” that “aren’t that futuristic.” That is to say: it didn’t imagine a future that was particularly progressive. Blade Runner 2049 quickly became a Bad Object, something that no one was willing to defend, less they themselves be labeled “problematic.”

I am not going to defend Blade Runner 2049 in this post. In fact, I am going to criticize it. (Quite harshly, at that.) But, along the way, I’m also going to criticize the dominant forms that cultural criticism had begun to take in 2017. I think that those forms are bad, and I think that we can do better in 2018. Prepare yourself: this is going to be a long post.

Continue reading

Interesting Games of 2017: Games Telling Stories

last_day_of_june_screenshot-02.jpg

I’m facing a quickly-approaching deadline for some genuine academic writing, so I’ve got to put a cap on my efforts to play every game that came out in 2017. This is the final post of this series I have planned, and it’s admittedly a bit slapdash. The theme is basically just “remaining games that did interesting things with storytelling,” which is admittedly pretty broad. Still, good games in here.

Ground rules: Unlike in previous entries, I’m not going to include any games that got a mention in my mid-2017 round-up. My time is too tight to indulge in such redundancies.

Continue reading

Interesting Games of 2017: GUIness

emily_is_away_too_screenshot-02

I first broached the topic of GUIness in the context of talking about cinema and television. In recent years, everyday, quotidian technology has thrown visual storytellers for a loop. Telephone conversations are well-built into the foundations of cinematic storytelling. Even the most mediocre director can successfully weave a phone conversation into a variety of scenarios, from suspense to romance.

Texting presents far more of a challenge. It’s sort of ironic, really: Even working within the medium of silent film, D. W. Griffith realized how powerfully cinematic a telephone conversation could be, as illustrated in his 1909 film The Lonely Villa. Today, though, texting makes some directors pine for the intertitle, that vestigal bit of cinematic vocabulary that lost most of its relevance with the coming of sound. The most advanced forms of experimentation along these lines have thrown out the traditional language of moving image storytelling altogether, instead telling stories by directly throwing GUIs on the screen.

Google’s 53-second “Parisian Love” ad for the 2010 Superbowl marked an early instance of this trend, but the style soon leaked out of advertising and into commercial narrative filmmaking. The experimental student film Noah (Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, 2013) seems to have been a bellwether here. In its wake, both The Den (Zachary Donahue, 2013) and Unfriended (Leo Gambriadze, 2014) used the technique as a twist on the “found-footage” horror trope. The Modern Family episode “Connection Lost” (2015) brought the GUI style to mainstream television.

When I first considered this trend, I connected it to videogames in only the most slantwise manner. 2017 made me reconsider this, though. We are very clearly in the middle of a GUIness trend in gaming.

Continue reading