You’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole! In a well-thought-out and close reading of the show as a whole, Wired’s Laura Hudson discusses “the toxic masculinity of Breaking Bad.” “The series begins with what seems like an odd image: a pair of pants, flying through the air. Much of what follows is about who gets to wear them.”
Also among the many farewells, homages, and critiques of Breaking Bad as it departs: screenshots from the Breaking Bad text-adventure game. Admittedly, this sort of article is basically just egregious click-bait, only one step higher on the content chain than Buzzfeed listicles. (Breaking Bad as a Nintendo Game/Choose Your Adventure Book/series of commemorative plates!) Still, I’m always down for a little Infocom nostalgia.
An online Harvard experiment tries to guess your age by evaluating your mouse-clicking ability. Hard to say how good it is, really. It deemed me thirty — eight years too young — but then again, with blogging and gaming both ranking high among the extra-curriculars, I probably use a mouse more than most people too.
Onward to the next adventure: With the announcement that there’ll be no more xpacs, Kotaku‘s Kirk Hamilton says farewell to Skyrim. To be honest, I haven’t even started Skyrim yet. I borrowed my father’s copy many moons ago, but I’ve been daunted by the scope of the game — and afraid of the inevitable timesuck it will generate — since it came out. As Alan Sepinwall noted of the currently-unfolding Golden Age of Television, it seems to get harder and harder to keep up with all the great pop culture out there at the moment. Not enough time in the day.
It’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. As part of their recent acquisition of the Star Wars empire, Disney decides to close down LucasArts. (A solid appreciation of their middle period is here.) As one of the wags at Coming Soon well put it, this deal is getting worse all the time!
Granted there hasn’t been a must-play Star Wars game since Knights of the Old Republic in 2003, and that was mostly on account of Bioware. But give credit where due – in the late 80′s and early 90′s, LucasArts had an unparalleled record of excellent games: Maniac Mansion, Zack McCracken, Sam and Max, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Grimm Fandango, Dark Forces, and, of course, the original X-Wing.
Throughout, the LucasArts sign was a symbol of quality craftsmanship, and in many ways, they kept the torch of adventure games aloft after Infocom had closed up shop and Sierra’s Quest line had faltered. (Today, that torch is held by Telltale Games, where Sam and Max and Monkey Island live on.)
After years in development hell with Sam Raimi, two of my hobbies converge anew as Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones grabs the reins of the Warcraft film. Said Jones in 2010: “I’m hugely jealous of Sam Raimi. I really believe World of Warcraft could be the launch of computer games as good films…[I]t’s not worrying about how the game plays, it’s about creating the world of the game and investing the audience in that world.”
Best build some wildfire…A group of audacious (and bored) GRRM-enthusiasts recreate the entirety of King’s Landing in Minecraft. I’ve yet to try Minecraft, since quite frankly I’m afraid to court another gaming addiction. But everything I read about it makes it seem like it’s eventually going to be the online world described in the namedroppy but compulsively readable Ready Player One.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate..Finally on the MMO front and also languishing in the bookmarks, Tor recounts how one simple mistake caused an intergalactic catastrophe on EVE Online (another game I’ve never played.) “While EVE ships start at $1 and top out around $100, the Titan dwarfs them all by requiring around $7600 of time/investment. Thanks to a single wrong click on Saturday night, that money is gone, and thousands more with it (at one point the estimated number reached $150,000.)”
“‘We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,’ Becker said in a statement.”
And here I thought Netflix and Warcraft went so well together: A new Michigan State study finds a correlation between depression and multi-tasking media. I wonder if the obverse is true also. One of the many reasons I love seeing a movie in the theater is that (ideally) nothing else but the film is impinging on my attention.
Developmental psychiatrist Nancy Maurer discusses her findings that playing first-person-shooters helps people born with cataracts to improve their vision. “I’m a reader. My husband and I don’t have children. So computer games wouldn’t be a part of our lives. I’ve never played one. I can’t imagine enjoying playing one.“
On the subject of HIV, it looks like the enemy of our enemy is our friend: In a stunning feat of gene therapy, scientists have used a disabled version of HIV to successfully defeat leukemia. “Mr. Ludwig’s doctors have not claimed that he is cured — it is too soon to tell — nor have they declared victory over leukemia on the basis of this experiment, which involved only three patients…But scientists say [this] may signify a turning point in the long struggle to develop effective gene therapies against cancer…In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.”
In the Atlantic, NYT crossword editor Will Shortz briefly explains the techniques of his craft. “Liz’s clue was Rory’s mom on Gilmore Girls, and I didn’t think solvers should have to know that.” You don’t? That’s a bit elitist, isn’t it? (Apparently, I’m not the only person to think so.)
Some very troubling news for MMORPG cheats to consider: The Guardian reports that prisoners at Chinese labor camps are now forced to gold-farm for hours on end. “If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things.” Ugh, don’t subsidize this, people. If you can’t farm the stuff yourself, find another hobby. (Arthas pic via here.)
My non-Cata gaming time has most recently been spent playing through the scary-impressive Dead Space 2, but this and Portal 2 are on my drop-everything list. Can’t wait. (And FWIW, that catchy song above is “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy.)
“By one estimate, Dr. McGonigal notes, creating Wikipedia took eight years and 100 million hours of work, but that’s only half the number of hours spent in a single week by people playing World of Warcraft. ‘Whoever figures out how to effectively engage them first for real work is going to reap enormous benefits,’ Dr. McGonigal predicts.“
But, then it’d be work, would it? At any rate, scientists and game designers try to figure out ways to tap into the world-changing potential of gamers. “‘Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy’…’One of the most profound transformations we can learn from games is how to turn the sense that someone has “failed” into the sense that they ‘haven’t succeeded yet.’“
Like mash-ups? Like graphs? The new Girl Talk album, All Day, gets broken down into its constituent samples in a very handy visual format. Whatever the intellectual property consequences, this definitely puts me in a mood for DJ Hero 2.
(This posed a poignant question for long-time players last night — Where do you go when the world ends? I myself parked my undead rogue on the grave where he was “born” four years ago, atop a hill in Tirisfal Glades, so he could watch the decline from a hazy distance.)
As usual, I’ve got a lot of games on my plate at the moment — CoD: Black Ops, Fallout: New Vegas, Civ 5, Starcraft 2, and DJ Hero 2. I’m still only halfway through Red Dead Redemption, and everything I’ve seen from the Kinect (and particularly Dance Central) suggests it’s a game-changing device in its own right. Still, for what hours I consign to gaming, I usually just keep coming back to WoW. It’s a quality production, through and through.
Sadly, it seems Pilgrim has already joined a film it shares a lot in common with in terms of visual inventiveness, the Wachowskis’ unjustly maligned Speed Racer, as something of a box office “bob-omb”. (That pun, by the way, was borrowed from one of the many Expendables fans on AICN strangely all-too-happy to dance on Pilgrim‘s box office grave.) And that’s really too bad. Because, even if I have some issues with the blatant fanboy (emphasis on “boy”) wish-fulfillment at its core, which I’ll get to in a bit, Scott Pilgrim deserves a wider airing.
For one, with its Wham-Pow! effusiveness and viscerally engaging superhero fights, it’s easily one of the most imaginative comic book renderings onscreen this side of Sin City. And comics are only half the story. From its 8-bit Universal opening (a la those great NES Pink Floyd mash-ups I linked to a few months ago), the movie also has one foot firmly entrenched in the world of old-school console gaming. If the dreamworlds of Inception felt like stages in a video game, this movie takes the conceit to the next level: Scott Pilgrim’s entire life unfolds in a Walter-Mitty-meets-Street Fighter, coin-operated Toronto (Trononto?) where g4m3r rules are a fact of life.
This allows for defeated villains turning into collectible coins, 1-ups around for psychic rejuvenation when needed, and — always a happy indication that the movie is about to get super-fun again — the Capcom “VS.” popping up whenever Scott (Michael Cera) must face off against another of his dastardly foes. Those would be the seven members of the League of Evil Ex’es, the sinister cadre of former significant others to the lovely Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that have gathered together to block our hero from ever dating his dream girl.
And trust me — These Ex-Men (and one Ex-Woman) are no slouches. Among their number are not only Captain America (Chris Evans), here an action hero heartthrob and skater punk with a Jamie Madrox-style army of stunt doubles at his disposal, but the one and only Superman (Brandon Routh), now blonde, psychic, and, most dastardly of all, Vegan. (In the Pilgrimverse, Vegans operate like the Green Lantern Corps. Just ask Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins, Jr.) And they’re just the mini-bosses Scott will have to contend with before defeating Gideon (Jason Schwartzman, a bit anti-climatic, quite frankly — They should’ve sprung for Aldous Snow), the music biz impresario who still has an unholy thrall over Ramona, thanks to a chip implanted in the back of her neck.
Wait…a what? A chip, you say? That makes her a rather passive character, doesn’t it? Yeah, well, that’s the major problem with Pilgrim, which I attribute more to the source material than anything else. This is basically fanboy pr0n, and, in terms of the ostensible romance here, Pilgrim is as one-sided and overtly gendered a piece of rom-com wish-fulfillment as I imagine Eat, Pray, Love was in the theater next door. I mean, I get it: Saving the girl of your dreams from despicably evil forces has been a fanboy trope from Princess Leia to Princess Zelda (although, to her credit, Leia takes over the show as soon as she’s sprung from Detention Block AA-23.) And as one who’s eternally fond of Brazil, I’m not one to complain about a man going out on a limb for his dream-girl.
Still, something about Scott Pilgrim rankles. Sure, Michael Cera specializes in dweebs, but as George Michael in Arrested Development and in movies like Superbad, Juno, and Youth in Revolt, he still had a certain wry, self-effacing charm about him. But, as Scott Pilgrim, he’s just a lazy, whiny, self-entitled jerk, and seems unpossessed of any trait that would make him either desirable to the opposite sex or worth rooting for as a hero. (Well, I guess he does play the bass.) Meanwhile, Ramona is a very pretty cipher — She doesn’t bring much to the table either except Kate Winslet’s hair from Eternal Sunshine and the plot-driving baggage of seven evil ex’es. She’s more of a Macguffin than a fully-realized character.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s a lot of joy to be had in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, mostly due to Edgar Wright, after Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, really letting his freak flag fly. There’s almost always something fun and geeky going on in the margins of the screen or on the soundtrack, and the Brandon Routh fight and a later Battle of the Bands (between Scott’s outfit, Sex Bob-omb, and a pair of Japanese twins by way of Daft Punk) are both absolute showstoppers. (Maybe too much so, in fact — The final twenty minutes are muddled, and feel like a letdown after these earlier highs.)
Yet, despite the flaws of its titular hero, Scott Pilgrim is the most purely enjoyable roller coaster ride to come down the cinematic pike since Kick-Ass. And, sure, Scott Pilgrim probably doesn’t deserve the girl in the end (or maybe he does, given that she’s drawn as such a blank), but Scott Pilgrim vs the World definitely deserves your ten bucks regardless.
“When the moose attacked them, Hans knew the first thing he had to do was ‘taunt‘ and provoke the animal so that it would leave his sister alone and she could run to safety…Once Hans was a target, he remembered another skill he had picked up at level 30 in ‘World of Warcraft’ – he feigned death.“
Anyone who’s pugged more than twice in WoW knows the phenomenon of the “huntard” — the little kid who’s not-so-adept at handling his character (almost invariably hunters, and beast-master hunters at that.) Well, it’s not this kid: A 12-year-old Norwegian boy saves his sister from a moose by employing WoW tactics. (And if he managed to Tame Beast I’d be really impressed.)