The Ice King's darkest secret, revealed.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Some potential game spoilers may be discussed. As before, these paragraphs shall be preceded by the visage of the walking spoiler himself, Sean Bean.
|Ain't he pretty.|
Sometimes you can get more from a sad ending than from a happy one. A happy ending makes you feel good. It might give you hope. A "bad" ending can give you something different, something equally valuable.
The best way to learn is by making mistakes, or witnessing the failure of others. Failure and defeat are painful, but you know what? That's a good thing. It's good to associate failure and defeat with pain, because that's how you learn how to avoid them, thereby exerting more effort into avoiding failure, thus improving your life. That's exactly what a sad or "Bad" ending is about.
My favorite example of this is the "In Water" ending of "Silent Hill 2", classically considered the "Bad Ending" result. In this iteration of the story's conclusion, the protagonist James Sunderland has been searching the ghost town of Silent Hill for his wife. He had received a letter in the mail written by her hand asking him to come to the town, which she calls their "special place." Before the place went to Hell (literally, some would say), it was a popular lakeside tourist spot where James and his wife, Mary, spent their honeymoon. Also, she died due to an unnamed terminal illness three years prior.
|"Does that sound suspicious James?" "Yes, Other James. Yes it does."|
|You have Bean warned.|
We attached ourselves to James and so he dragged us through his personal Hell, and we learned things about the man in tandem with his own self-discovery. Even after hours of struggle and perseverance, James can potentially lose. The point of the "In Water" ending of "Silent Hill 2" is not necessarily nihilistic, however. The way the story came together in this ending wasn't that James had failed in Silent Hill. He came to Silent Hill with a purpose, but if "In Water" is the ending the player earns, the meaning of his struggle through the town's egocentric purgatory becomes this: since we started playing, his war had long since ended. He had already failed, but it took the full stretch of the game's events for him to realize it.
Now, in this ending, James' self-discovery didn't yield anything constructive, it must be stressed. The player learns what kind of person James is at exactly the same rate that he does, like we're living his life. The other possible endings are made possible by playing the game in subtly different ways. The "In Water" ending involves looking at Mary's letter frequently, and maintaining low health through the majority of the game. If you, the player, choose not to play in ways that suggest James continuing to dwell on his grief or neglecting to take care of himself, James finds closure in Mary's death and leaves the town with a renewed sense of optimism and stability. It's this contrast between these two of many possible endings that give the other meaning. In one scenario, James finds it in himself to move on; in the other, he submits to grief.
In both versions, the epilogue of the game comes in a voice-over reading of Mary's letter by Mary herself. She reads the "full" version of the letter, in which she tells James that despite everything that had gone wrong, he had made her happy, and her last wish was for him to find his own happiness without her. The "good" ending implies that this is what indeed happens. The "bad" ending opts for tragic irony that makes the consequences of James' decisions weigh far more.
|Spoiler: this game gets pretty dark.|
The "good" ending shows us that with perseverance, there is always a chance that things can work out...but the "bad" ending shows us that giving up may be far worse than failure. Which of the two arguments is more convincing?
I recently finished "Amnesia: The Dark Descent." The protagonist, Daniel, is in a similar situation to James: he cannot remember why he is where he is or what he was doing there, but various cryptic signs tell him that he must progress into danger in the pursuit of some higher cause. He finds a letter he apparently wrote to himself telling him to find a man called Alexander von Brennenburg in his castle's inner sanctum, and kill him.
|A big Sean Bean because the next three paragraphs include explicit spoilers.|
You have to feel sympathy for a character before you can learn why they do what they do, or why such behavior is a good or bad way to be. Otherwise it's far too tempting to disregard their moments of weakness and loss as merely poetic justice, or worse, superfluous. This turns an "evil" character into a concept that is not considered by the human mind to be a human being. When that happens, we cannot learn from their mistakes because we cannot relate, and so it's easy to say, "of course he/she turned out wrong. He/she is a bad guy." Rather than, "of course he/she turned out wrong. He/she made a series of non-conscientious decisions that turned out to be huge mistakes." That's something "Dark Descent" pulls off very well. At first the player knows nothing about Daniel but over time learns what kind of man he is piecemeal; he is an educated man, fairly wealthy with an adventurous spirit.
However, something happened to him in Algeria, and since then a "Shadow" has been stalking him, one which Alexander promised to help him get rid of. In doing so, however, he told Daniel that he must do things that make him far less sympathetic. What's worse, Daniel complied.
One ending has Daniel killing Alexander and leaving the castle, the shadow claiming Alexander instead of him. He walks out peacefully and everything from the bright, angelic lighting of Castle Brennenburg to the wispy, peaceful soundtrack seem to imply that he has found some sort of redemption, or at least that his own crimes have been made irrelevant. That's the "normal" ending. The "good" ending has Agrippa, a character encountered towards the end of the game, saving Daniel's soul after his body is destroyed by the Shadow, and just before the credits roll his voice tells Daniel that "everything is going to be all right." In the "bad" ending, Alexander escapes, leaving Daniel to be slowly and painfully consumed by the Shadow. As this happens, for a gruelingly slow thirty seconds of the game, Daniel's ears are filled with the cries of his victims and their pleas for mercy. Instead of Agrippa's voice, the game ends with Alexander's, thanking him for all his hard work and sacrifice.
|This is the nicest guy you ever meet in the game.|
Here's where the ending of "Dark Descent" falls short of "Silent Hill 2." In the latter, the "good" and "bad" endings imply that whatever the protagonist chose in the end, they either reaped the benefits of a good decision or suffered due to a poor one. In "Descent", the "normal" ending sanctimoniously implies that by killing a man who had committed worse crimes than himself, Daniel's own crimes were absolved...even though he was driven by personal vengeance as opposed to altruism. The best of the three in my opinion is the "bad" ending, because Daniel gets what is coming to him. He blames Alexander incessantly for his mistakes, never accepting personal responsibility for his actions. No matter the ending, he doesn't learn anything, and so neither does the audience. The "normal" ending implies that it doesn't matter what you've done. No matter how self-serving or cruel your actions, thwarting another cruel or self-serving person is akin to wiping your own moral slate clean.
In every form of media, my favorite characters have all taught me something, and the same goes for my favorite stories. True, you might not be like me. You might be someone who prefers their stories to be brighter, to purely entertain. You might not care if a character or a story can teach you something or not. But let me say this, in defense of sad characters and sad stories: I have always, always, always found that the most satisfying entertainment came from characters whose stories compelled me to learn something, even if what I learned was a lesson about how I don't want to live my life.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
I'm just gonna say it- Zimmerman wasn't as bad a guy as we've all heard, and Trayvon was not as much of an innocent little cherub as we've all heard. Hold on- contain your righteous indignation for a minute or two, and hear me out.
I say what I say because most of us don't know Trayvon or Zimmerman personally, and that makes a big difference. Most of us have never been in the same room as either of them, never smelled their sweat, heard their voices (in person), seen the way their eyebrows twitch, their tongues run over their lips, their hands fold and tap nervously. We've never experienced them reacting to our unique presences. Hence, there's no way we can really know what kind of people they are (or were).
Most of us only know them by their media images. When we react to things we hear on the news or Facebook or even The Daily Show, we're not really passing judgement on people, we're passing judgement on ideas that resemble them.
|Funny enough, this was one of the first things that popped up when I searched|
"Neo-Nazi gun-toting a-hole" on Google Images.
I was angry when I first heard about Zimmerman's crime. Regardless of why he did it, he killed an unarmed teenager. Whatever the law says, I consider that a crime. However, after reading this article from the Daily Mail, I learned three things I was not formerly aware of:
1. Although Zimmerman was from a gated community, he was not, as I had first assumed, an old white dude. He's got a white father and a Peruvian mother, and he's not even 30.
2. At the time of the shooting, he was taking Tamazepan for anxiety. Excessive use of drug prescription for psychiatric issues totally isn't a problem though, right?
3. Zimmerman was raised by a veteran of the Korean war and a Peruvian woman to be a dutiful civil servant. He has anxiety issues and his application to join the police force was rejected on the grounds that he had been arrested twice for committing violent crimes.
Before I go on, it must be said: yes, I read it in the Daily Mail, but if nothing else that is what drove home the weight of my realization of how skewed this whole issue has become. Because to learn any of this, I had to read it in the f***ing Daily Mail.
I don't believe it's possible that race didn't play any part in Zimmerman's actions because I don't believe anyone is immune from making racist judgements now and again. Like a lot of human personality traits, it's a quality that exists on a spectrum. In Zimmerman's case, it's probably more severe, given his history with race-driven actions. Even I assumed initially that Zimmerman, a man from a gated community with a German surname, was probably a crazy, old, rich white guy.
While racism doubtless contributed to it, I do not think Zimmerman's thoughts before confronting Trayvon fell along the lines of "gotta kill them dern darkies what be stealin' our stuff." I think his underlying motives were the product of a strong yet invalidated desire to contribute martial civil service to his community.
Basically, Trayvon Martin was killed by an overzealous wannabe cop.
Nobody is all good or all bad. We all know that, but knowing it doesn't matter if we don't use that knowledge when passing judgement on other people. Again, I first assumed Zimmerman was a rich old white guy, and hence was as a given, crazy and racist...and I'm a white male.
Zimmerman is part Hispanic, part white. At time of writing he is 29, not old. He lived in a gated community, but he was hardly rich.
The media is having a field day with this case, and we owe it to both Trayvon and Zimmerman to remember that. Trayvon's life ended long before it truly began. Unfortunately, the point of mass media is to use that kind of information as a means to do business. Whatever kind of person he was or might have become, Trayvon deserved better than to be made into a sanctimonious idol through which political agendas are driven, through which money is made. Let us mourn Trayvon, do what we can to make sure it doesn't happen again, and move on. The fact is that making him into a martyr is the easiest way to turn this whole farce into something far worse.
Like him or not, Zimmerman is a human being who made a very big mistake. He made that mistake due to profound ignorance, something everyone is capable of, no matter how good or smart we think we are. Condemn him if you must; one day you might do wrong to a similarly egregious extent, and it'll be you who needs forgiveness. We can condemn him, and further condition ourselves as a people to punish offenders without mercy. We can cause more pain to ripple through Florida, the United States, and the world at large by destroying Zimmerman's life through condemnation and ostracization. We can give dignity to the idea of turning human beings into angels or demons, ideas rather than organisms. Or, we can seek to understand and forgive them, punish them no more or less than they deserve, and attempt to salvage a passionate, if disillusioned young man for the good of society.
For our own sakes, let us strive handle this tragedy with not only passion, but also reason, civility, and empathy.
Friday, May 31, 2013
Sorry for the extended silence from this, my corner of the Internet. This play I was in happened, then final exams happened, then I put on a robe and sat in the Sun for four hours before getting handed a nice piece of paper bound loosely in cardboard and leather, saying I was now something called a "Bachelor of Arts." It was all very hectic, very blurry, and I remember feeling the rush of a mixture of some very powerful emotions, then I guess I moved into an apartment. Anyway...
I recently played through a so-called "Half-Life 2" mod, "Dear Esther", which is and should rightfully be called a game in and of itself, rather than "a mod."
|Creepy lighthouses are a hallmark of good storytelling.|
This will be part review, part speculation about the game's notoriously ambiguous ending, so if you don't want the ending spoiled (and you don't), you'd best heed the warning sign I'll give just before I dredge into spoiler territory. By clear and obvious, I mean that which is pictured below: the face of the man who is himself a walking, talking spoiler: the former star of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, Sean Bean. Once again, if I'm going into spoiler territory, you will see the face of Sean Bean. You have Bean warned.
|The Starks of Winterfel are not known for their sense of humor,|
nor their tolerance for contrived puns.
(NOTE: The above picture is an example. No spoilers exist herein.)
"Dear Esther" is an entirely first-person game, meaning that the player's perception and that of the Protagonist exist at a 1:1 ratio. Because we see what the Protagonist sees, and only what they see, we share their experience. The story is not spoon-fed to the player through exposition, but given to the player in bits and pieces. If you rush through the game, you may miss key details to understanding the plot.
There are two mechanics besides the "Pause" menu in the game: "Look" and "Walk." You cannot run, jump, pick up items, punch, or shoot anything. You can only walk, listen, and see the story unfold before you. It's a different kind of first-person video game, one that primarily involves the player using two of their five senses and their frontal lobe to gather and process information, rather than basing the experience around the boilerplate "run-jump-shoot" rigmarole.
What fascinates me about this game is not just the simplicity of its design, nor the beauty of its story, but the artfulness of its presentation. "Dear Esther" is a story told only partially with words. Through necessity, it compels you to live the experience of the storyteller.
There is a motif of parallel lines addressed a couple of times over the course of the game, which spans about 60-90 minutes on one's first playthrough. Simple depictions of parallel lines show up on walls in the form of graffiti in areas throughout the game. We are given the testimony of someone's experience on an unnamed Hebridean island (one of a cluster within an archipelago off the coast of Scotland) via letters written aloud by a character whose identity is kept ambiguous, at the same time that we are seeing the island firsthand. If one is compelled to look closely, listen closely, the player starts to see similarities and discrepancies, implicit and explicit, between the Narrator's testimony and the player’s firsthand- to "read between the lines." The challenge of the game comes in synthesizing a plot from the data we are given, all of which seems disjointed, incomplete, even superfluous at times.
The soundtrack is fantastic as well, and is available for digital download. If you have the extra cash (neither the soundtrack nor the game are expensive as games and soundtracks go) I highly recommend, nay, demand that you download and play it.
Right. Now that that's done...
At the end of the game, the Protagonist follows a ghostly figure up to a radio broadcast tower, or an "aerial" as the Narrator refers to it. The man's clearly British, if nothing else. Not unlike our friend Sean.
If he's the same person as the Narrator, he's a gibbering madman with a diseased, gimp leg at this point. If not, he does what he does for even more enigmatic reasons.
The Protagonist, or whoever's eyes and ears the player has been borrowing throughout the game, climbs to the top of the radio tower whose ominous red light the player has been following since the first chapter. He looks down, then jumps as some unsettlingly mellow piano music plays. The Protagonist's body passes the face of a great rock covered in cryptic graffiti slathered on with luminescent paint, which can clearly be seen at the beginning of the chapter.
Rocks and waves get closer and closer, and it becomes apparent that your character is about to die. Only, they don’t. For much of the chapter, the Narrator has gone on about feeling that he wants to leap off of a cliff and fly to safety. Just before he hits the rocks, the Protagonist pulls up, and then soars across the beach like a bird. The player has gone the whole game walking in, around, and out of water, yet for the first time what seems to be the reflection of the player-character can be seen: a seagull.
The Protagonist soars over to a little corner of the beach, where the Narrator mentioned he'd taken all the letters he'd written to an unseen character, Esther, and folded them into little sailboats, pushing them out to the sea. The Protagonist stops right at the furthest sailboat, and the game fades to black. After a few seconds, the Narrator's voice is heard for a final time: "Come back.
Obviously this can be taken in a few directions, but there's something important to consider when interpreting the ending: time.
Time is an utterly subjective concept. If you've ever stared at an analog clock to see how long it takes for the "seconds" hand to make a full circle, you know that a minute seems a lot longer when it's measured objectively, with something like a clock. Or a chronoscope, if you're an old-timey psychologist.
The time it would take for the Protagonist to fall from the top of the aerial to the rocks below is obviously much shorter than the amount of time it would take for him to turn into a seagull and fly across the beach. Therefore, it must be one or the either, right? He couldn't have died and flown to safety, could he?
He could, actually. If you believe that one’s perception of reality and objective reality are separate, but equal realities. I don't.
There are two ways one learns the story of "Dear Esther": through the Narrator, and the experience of the Protagonist. Neither can be trusted as totally reliable. There are discrepancies between what the Protagonist can see and what the Narrator tells us, such as a book he claims to have burnt, yet can be found unburnt in the fireplace of the hermit Jakobson's house in the second chapter, where the Narrator claims to have set up camp.
Sometimes the two experiences intersect in unexpected ways. The Narrator mentions he's hurt his leg badly on a fall, and that it's become infected. "Pain flows through me like an underground river" he says, just as the player crosses an underground river in real time. The Narrator mentions time and again a car crash, a drunk driver. After a particularly deep fall, the Protagonist undergoes a sequence where he crosses a highway on foot, his whole world immersed in water. There is a hospital bed, and just past it, broken car parts and skid marks. The Protagonist then wakes up underwater.
The Narrator's descriptions of his journey become increasingly deranged and nonsensical as the Protagonist reaches the game's conclusion. However, in addition to many of his narrations seeming to coincide with what the player experiences in real time, even the Protagonist's perception comes into question with the aforementioned sequence, as well as other moments dotted throughout the game in which a shadowy, ghostly figure appears, constantly watching the player’s progress with an ominous stillness.
I think it's reasonable to conclude that the Narrator and Protagonist are the same person. If that's true, then his perception cannot be trusted, because A) he's clearly become unstable due to the grief stemming from, possibly, a drunk driving accident, B) he's dying of infection, and C) the only thing he's eaten or drunk for at least three days, as he says, are painkillers and saltwater.
The difference between the scenario of hitting the ground (which seems the more logical result) and flying to safety (which suggests a more mystical resolution), can be explained thusly: the Protagonist has been breaking down physiologically and psychologically for days...both of which tend to affect one's perception, including one's perception of time. The Protagonist's body could have hit the rocks in the same amount of time that he experienced turning into a seagull and flying away, particularly if he's psychotic.
|Which he absolutely was.|
Have you ever had a friend get really upset and emotional, then try to explain why they were feeling that way, only to leave you flummoxed by their explanation? Alternatively, have you ever been upset and emotional, only to be frustrated by the inability of others to comprehend the reason for your distress? That's what "Dear Esther" is like. The player simultaneously lives the experience of a madman while listening to his own account of it.
Despite this, the world we see in "Dear Esther" is not inhabited by nightmares and demons. It's a world of mystery, solitude, and beauty. The journey through the island is one well worth making, even if it is not clear why, or how, or even when whatever it is we are experiencing is taking place. In a world that views insanity with fear and contempt, the Protagonist's journey in "Dear Esther" shines its brightest lights on the spots of the Protagonist which demonstrate that, although he is indisputably cracked up, he is also indisputably human.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Once again, these two have graciously given me permission to post their commission online. If you'd like me to write one about you, hit me up at email@example.com!
Otherwise, prepare yourself....
Dan Walker and Hannah Ireland: The Legend, The Legacy
Prepare yourself for a tale of the greatest friendship that ever was, or will be—the tale of Daniel
Walker and Hannah Ireland.
They were destined for friendship from the moment of their first meeting. They met not with
words, but a…no, the bro-fist of the age.
The extraordinary connection between these two paragons of human achievement was more than
a mere schoolyard comradeship; their very minds were as one. It is said that they had matching
outfits, though few have ever actually claimed to have seen them. Neither Hannah nor Dan have
ever addressed them publicly.
To this day it is rumored that they only donned these outfits when they sensed that they were
needed somewhere in the world. Some believe that they were donned as a symbolic gesture, like
Superman putting on his cape. Others insist that the outfits were given to them by a Maori
shaman long ago, and that they granted the wearers superhuman speed, strength and agility.
Others believe that they simply got really drunk one night and stole an incongruous set of
costume parts from the Beloit College scene shop.
Together they journeyed to nations consumed by starvation, extensively stocked with non-
perishables and agricultural equipment, distributing them freely, defeating hunger worldwide in a
mere fortnight. They robbed half the banks in America and had parades that congested entire
blocks of major metropolitan areas for hours, in which they literally threw billions of dollars at
cheering pedestrians. They even sang the national anthem of the United States at a major league
championship game, and didn’t embarrass their country, or themselves.
And they did it all while earning degrees at Beloit College…and graduating on time.
I must ask, do you remember the nightmarish rise of Mecha-Hitler? Do you remember the streets
filled with corpses? Do you remember the pterodactyl sentinels, the cyborg centurions? Do you
recall the fall of man? Hannah and Daniel are the reason you don’t. They changed the world, the
two of them, so that the irreparable damage caused by the Cyber-Führer and his underling, the
eternally scorned Rasputin Gingrich, was wholly erased from time.
Because these motherfuckers could travel through time.
Yes, Hannah and Daniel were indeed extraordinary individuals. Lesser civilization may have
even called them gods.
Yet, I know that they are not gods. They have not had comparable contemporaries, but there
have been others like them, individuals whose friendships with one another allowed them to do
Lewis and Clarke. The Blues Brothers. Bonnie and Clyde. Those jacked dudes from “Contra.”
Now, finally, in our own time, we have Hannah and Dan.