Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
The Year in Review, and Emails from the Edge V: The Forum Post Frontier

Robert B. Marks | 21 Dec 2016 18:00
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So, it is the end of yet another year, and it's been quite an eventful one in pop culture, and in general (and, unfortunately, a pretty terrible one for most of us). So, before we get to the meat of today's installment, it's time for a year in review.

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Most interesting video game: Oxenfree. It's not often that a single title manages to completely rewrite how a key element of gameplay design is done, showing up the entire medium in the process, but Oxenfree did it. It's spooky, immediate, and the characters and their dialogue feel real - and most of this is because the dialogue had the tempo of real conversation, making characters waiting for a response in other games feel all the more artificial.

Best thing in pop culture: For the second year in a row, Desert Bus for Hope. As I mentioned only a few installments ago, there are relatively few things in pop culture that are pure, unadulterated positivity, but Desert Bus is just that, showing us all what pop culture can do and be at its best. And one week after the shocking results of the American election, it was a positivity that was sorely needed.

Worst thing this year: Microsoft. This might seem a bit of a stretch considering the remarkably divisive and negative 2016 American election, but I think Microsoft beat it. Microsoft's forced Windows 10 upgrade campaign managed to not only shatter trust in the company by putting hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people around the world into a position where they had to protect their computer from its own operating system, but also resulted in a small claims court action, criminal investigations in multiple states, and at least two lawsuits seeking class action status. For this to come from a single software release is unprecedented. And then, just to cap it off, Microsoft removed features from Windows 10 Professional, used Windows 10 as an advertising platform to bash Chrome and Firefox, and took two of the worst parts of the Windows 10 experience - cumulative updates and telemetry - and back ported them into Windows 7 and 8.1, leaving anybody who wants to just get security updates twisting themselves into a pretzel to do it, and more likely just turning their updates off, in turn exposing them to malware. This complete and ongoing disregard for user autonomy when it comes to the technology that is integral to all of our lives was (and remains) horrifying.

Most amazing science discovery is split between two candidates, both of which are in the field of paleontology: First, the confirmation that we have indeed discovered fossilized dinosaur brains. Soft tissue does occasionally get preserved in the fossilization process, but it's rare, and for brain matter to survive hundreds of millions of years is absolutely stunning. Second, the discovery of confirmed 99 million year-old dinosaur feathers complete with colouration and part of a tail. Fossilization is a process that destroys and replaces via calcification - in a very real way, what is left is a ghost or an echo of the original animal rather than the animal itself - but in this case we've got an actual piece of a dinosaur preserved in amber. And that's just amazing.

That out of the way, it's the seventh new installment, which means it's time for a brand new Emails from the Edge, still persisting in a sanity-free insistence on not changing the title to reflect the fact that no emails are actually involved. For those who are new to the column, every seven installments I highlight the best parts of the discussion from each issue, usually highlighting arguments both for and against the position in question.

Before I begin, though, I just want to thank all of my readers who welcomed me back in the forum threads - it was great to know that I had been missed. So, let's get to the comments...

(Just to prevent any confusion for those who have read An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, which has the original planned Garwulf #30-34 prior to the hiatus, I am restarting the numbering in The Escapist at 30 to match up with where the online column left off. So, please consider the numbering of the originally unpublished installments in the collection to be an alternate numbering.)

Garwulf #30, "Resurrection! (Along with some Gender-Flipping)" generated an interesting discussion. Callate expanded on why a gender-flipped Dirty Rotten Scoundrels would probably be problematic:

As a society, we don't tend to see men as inherently vulnerable in the same way that we see women. As much as some people like to complain about it, we tend to feel more of a need to protect women than men. We can't just flip a switch and say that, with sexual roles reversed, a situation plays out in exactly the same way. Nor that a stereotype up-ended (innocent wide-eyed doe turns out to be a cunning manipulator) plays the same way without that stereotype to play against in the first place.

[...]

...But frankly, it's hard to imagine a re-working that wouldn't create as many problems as it solves. If the target deserves it, you're not really making DRS except in borrowed name. If they're foiled by some other means, it could undercut any sense of character development.

In a wonderfully pithy post Fischgopf suggested that there might be a double standard at play:

So, let me get this straight.
Turning a con around on some chauvinistic guys - Good
Doing the same thing with women - Misogyny
See, this is why we can't have nice things.

But, to end with the beginning, The Jovian started the entire discussion off with a point that bears repeating:

I don't agree with you jumping to the conclusion that the remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels being genderswapped is a gimmick [...] you know nothing about this movie apart from it starring Rebel Wilson, it just strikes me as cynical presumption and I'm someone that likes to keep an open mind.
[...]
Have we really become so cynical and reactionary that we'll just jump on the hatewaggon the instant we're given the slightest indication that something might suck?
A little optimism please, or at least an open mind isn't too much to ask, right?

Garwulf #31, "Triggered by Trigger Warnings," triggered a really good and active discussion. Synigma suggested that how things like trigger warnings and safe spaces are presented matter:

...the inherent problem with 'trigger-warnings' and 'safe-spaces' is they are presented in a very passive aggressive fashion. I mean when's the last time you heard someone complaining about the existence of a support group? In concept it's the same thing, people who have a shared problem go and meet and talk about it while being supportive and respectful of the problems they each face. The difference is that it's presented in a positive fashion; it's about supporting a weakness in the person. A safe space, on the other hand, implies that other spaces are less-safe; that the problem is not with the person using the space but with the rest of the world.
Same thing with 'trigger' warnings; Instead of just a warning or rating to let you know what to expect the 'trigger' portion implies there is something wrong with the content you're about to consume, that it will hurt you in some fashion.

Callate pointed out that the decision of whether a trigger warning is used in the classroom falls on very specific shoulders:

...it is not the job of a student to dictate what is and is not appropriate or acceptable to use in the teaching of a subject. That is, quite literally, the job of the teacher or the professor, and a student who believes they should get fiat over what they're willing to contemplate towards learning that subject is a student who is not ready for higher education, and worse, a student who is actively imperiling the ability of their classmates to receive a useful education.

And Wildknight emphasized that trigger warnings really are useful and necessary:

...it's a way of saying 'we're going to be discussing this as a necessity - those of you who may have a bad reaction to this have a pause to compose and prepare yourself, do whatever you need to feel ok going into this rather than it suddenly jumping out at you when it occurs.' Because often that's what people need - just enough warning to brace themselves (or decide its not what they want to go through) rather than being blindsided by their trigger.

Garwulf #32, "Gotham, Knightless," provoked a discussion where just about everybody was on the same page. KissingSunlight noted:

Actually, there is a lot to choose from in the Batman universe that doesn't have Bruce Wayne. My favorite is Batwoman. She is a woman who was inspired by Batman to be a hero after getting discharged from the Army for being a lesbian. There is Nightwing. Dick Grayson is grownup and has moved on from being Robin. Also, Batman Inc. features characters around the world who are carrying the mantle of the Bat in their own country.

Not everybody agreed, however. Immortalfrieza suggested that Gotham had quite a number of problems:

The villains are really the only reason the show is even holding together. It's the over the top antics of the villains that make the show even remotely entertaining, and it's really just trying to ride off of shock value by pushing everything further and further. Even Batman at it's worst had the protagonists be interesting enough on their own to carry the work if needed, the villains weren't always the entire pillar on which each story built on. When I'd rather watch the villains burning the world than see the heroes stop them there's something really, really wrong.
The city of Gotham itself is easily the worst part, it makes every other version of the city seem like heaven in comparison. Everything just gets more and more vile with each passing episode while the protagonists efforts just keep sending themselves back to square one at best and make everything even more bad at worst. The city long since passed the point where a guy in a Bat costume couldn't even BEGIN to make anything better, in fact it's reached the point where it would be easier, more cost effective, safer for everyone, and far more effective for whatever the government in the Gotham universe is to simply firebomb the city to nothing and rebuild from the ashes. No good story makes everything so horrible that the viewer can't even bother to care what happens because it's all going to end up horribly anyway.

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As with last year, Garwulf #33, "Back on Board the Desert Bus," generated next to no discussion, but that was expected - unlike most of these installments, it was a call to action. And, Desert Bus raised $695,015.00 this year, with copies of An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture helping to raise at least $8,309.65 in giveaways. Many thanks to all of my readers who helped the children by contributing!

Garwulf #34, "A Tale of Two Historical Movies," managed something that has never happened in the history of this column - it had no reader comments (with the exception of a single spam comment in another language on Facebook). Not sure why this happened - perhaps it could be the proximity to American Thanksgiving or the election. So, nothing to report and on to the next installment, I guess.

Garwulf #35, "Digital Suicide," generated an active discussion that continued well into the next week. Queen Michael confirmed that:

It's definitely true that negative reviews can add sales. I went to an Italian restaurant once specifically because the reviewer had said that its spaghetti carbonara had the one fault of being too spicy. I just love spicy food, see.

On Facebook, Michael R. Navis disagreed with my interpretation, stating:

I'm surprised no mention is made of how [Digital Homicide]'s attack turned them and their games into household names among gamers, which must have lead to some sort of sales spike.
This article tries to paint them as stupid, but I'm not convinced they aren't evil geniuses. On this, and several other counts.

Abbot of Beregost raised a systemic concern about video game reviews in general:

I have real problems with the way the professional side of reviews is handled. The companies asking to be reviewed openly bribe reviewers with paid vacations, swag, etc. and are often the same people whose ads are smeared across the site. I'm inclined to believe Steam reviews above all else.

And, finally, Barbas, The Enquirer, and littlebunnyfufu brought up a factual error: Jim Sterling's original video of The Slaughtering Grounds was not a full review, but a first impressions video. Mea culpa, and good catch to all of them.

And that is it for now. Garwulf's Corner will return on January 4th with a look at one of the greatest war movies ever made (that wasn't really a war movie), and the next block of columns will also explore some of the more problematic elements of how we handle racism, the title that might be the newest Citizen Kane of video games, and cultural appropriation, among other topics.

Until then, I would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year. May 2017 be better than 2016 for everybody.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf's Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is available in print and Kindle formats. He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook.

Garwulf's Corner is made possible by the support of readers like you (and at this time I want to stress that Patreon funds are not being directed to a political campaign to place chinchillas in charge of fiscal and foreign policy). If you would like to see more content like this, please visit the Patreon, and if you can, contribute.

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