Tuesday, March 6: Heaven Is a Place

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So, this blog became something of a ghost town in February. The reason for that is that I’ve been hard at work on a number of projects, which means that the coming months will contain a slew of announcements.

To inaugurate these announcements: this Tuesday, The Nightingale Cinema is screening a program entitled “Heaven Is a Place,” curated by my friend Jesse Malmed. (It’s an offshoot of the exhibition of the same name he curated at Heaven Gallery.) Each of the filmmakers & video artists showing work in it have been commissioned to create work for another historical exhibition or screening—i.e., it’s a chance for them to finally be a part of Frank Stauffacher’s “Art in Cinema” film series, or Douglas Crimps’ “Pictures” show, or Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst,” or whatever catches their fancy.

I have a short video showing in this screening, entitled OREO NABISCO secret planet POISON january 2018 Concealed Information CONFIRMED!!!! The exhibition I’ve chosen to align myself with will remain a secret for now. If you’re in Chicago, and you are able, I invite you to show up—7:30 PM on Tuesday March 6, at The Nightingale. It promises to be a great show. (Indeed, I’m preemptively both honored and embarrassed to have something I put together more or less on a lark to be shown alongside the work of filmmakers I genuinely admire.)

I’ll eventually post the video on Vimeo, but not until after it’s premiered. [UPDATE: I’ve uploaded it onto my Vimeo page, here.]

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

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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.

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Interesting Games of 2017: Games Telling Stories

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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.

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Interesting Games of 2017: GUIness

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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.

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Interesting Games of 2017: The Personal Is (Still) The Political

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Back in November, I questioned rather “personal games” (or “zinester games,” or what have you) were still a thing. My provisional answer was that they weren’t, at least not in the well-defined “scene” sense that seemed to be the case around 2013–2013. There are simply far too many things being released these days. I can’t even keep up with everything itch.io recommends for me, let alone everything that’s actually put out there.

Still, though, if there’s less of a distinct personal game “scene” these days, no one would deny that there are still small, personal, semi-autobiographical games dealing with delicate subjects out there. There’s just too many of them. But that’s one of the things that criticism is for: to curate. I’ve decided to do my part. The most interesting (which is not necessarily to say successful) personal games I’ve encountered in 2017 are below the fold.

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Interesting Games of 2017: The Dream of the ’90s is Alive in Portland in 2017

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In the past 12 months, three full-motion video adventure games were released. The big tech companies are in the midst of a full-on push to get us to strap VR headsets to our face. And Hidden Agenda (Supermassive Games, 2017), specially crafted to highlight Sony’s brand new PlayLink system, looks for all the world like an evolutionary outgrowth of I’m Your Man (Bob Bejan, 1992), Loews’ experiment in audience-polling interactive cinema.

To quote a 1990s-era television series that itself returned in 2017: What year is it? Because it certainly seems that the game industry is partying like it’s 1993. At this rate, it’s astonishing that we haven’t seen the release of a “3DO Classic” console to accompany the SNES Classic Edition.

I have been observing this trend more than I have been directly participating in it.(Despite positioning myself as a scholar specializing on the intersection of cinema and videogames, I haven’t yet gotten a group together to play Hidden Agenda, and I’ve fallen behind on the stead stream of FMV games.) Still, though, the trend has been noteworthy enough to comment upon as the year wraps up. Below the fold you’ll find two capsule reviews of things that piqued my interest.

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Interesting Games of 2017: Six Worthy Follow-ups

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Among the inordinate number of truly superb games released in 2017 were some hotly-anticipated (by me, anyway) follow-ups to indie games of past years. Some were sequels. Others were sophomore efforts. Whichever the case, 2017 was a very good year for promising indie developers releasing something new after a couple years of silence (or, heck, three or four or five years of silence), and having that new release not disappoint. Below the fold are my six favorite releases that followed up on the promise of something a developer made before.

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