Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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Adult Swim Comes to Hulu

April 24th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet | television - (5 Comments)

Rick and Morty
…and we all have a lot of catching up to do.

I got a press release regarding Turner Broadcasting and Hulu reaching an agreement. But as many stations as Turner owns, and as many programs as it has the rights to, the press release spotlighted Adult Swim coming to the streaming site.

This is both interesting and refreshing to me. While other shows on TBS and TNT draw larger viewing figures regularly (understandably so, being as Adult Swim is only discovered by those who have trouble sleeping one night), Adult Swim’s programming pushes the envelope. And while it’s by no means always good (hello, Assy McGee!), it’s at least always interesting. To see these shows being heralded above the more traditional comedy fare on its sister stations represents a much-deserved step forward in terms of visibility.

The press release doesn’t specify a date, and it’s crawling with future-tense, so I have no idea when these shows will actually arrive. But it promises full back catalogues, so get ready (seriously, get ready) to work your way through some of the best alternative television ever made.

HERE I MADE YOU A LIST

  • The Venture Bros.
  • The Boondocks
  • Moral Orel
  • Tom Goes to the Mayor
  • Metalocalypse

And anything else you feel even slightly compelled to watch. The above, as far as I’m concerned, are varying degrees of required viewing, with The Venture Bros. easily — easily — ranking high on the list of my favorite shows of all time. (Don’t tempt me to prove it by making the list.)

The press release also mentions some great Cartoon Network (non-Adult Swim division) fare coming along as part of the deal. Adventure Time, Regular Show, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and lots of other great stuff. I’m…really excited about those. Even more than I am the Adult Swim stuff, because I have much less experience with them, and I’m thrilled to get to know them properly.

And, yes, the choice of header image is deliberate, because a few people here have asked me to check out Rick and Morty, and I haven’t, because I’m a stubborn ass hole who hates you. But with it coming to Hulu, I’ll be giving it a spin. I can’t promise I’ll review it or anything, but we’ll see. As of right now that screen grab represents all I’ve ever seen of the show, so we’ll see where it takes me.

Regardless, I’m excited, and I hope you are too. Viewing these shows was always a hassle to do it legally, requiring cable (which I rarely have), the ability to stay up late (which I also rarely have), and the luck of catching whatever it is you want to see in their constantly fluctuating schedule (which I almost never have). The Adult Swim site has episodes available to stream, but they rotate as well, meaning any time I wanted to sample a new series I’d have to buy the DVD, or buy an episode through iTunes…both of which are definite gambles.

This will be a great way to help people fall in love with these shows, and I’m excited to discover more of them myself. I hope you are, too.

(Watch The Venture Bros. at least. You owe that to yourself.)

Anonymous Death

November 5th, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet - (2 Comments)

The Black PageI spent Tuesday night with some friends. They may be moving to Germany. I may be able to count the number of times I’ll see them again on one hand.

It was a fun night. I came home late. Tired, but not enough to sleep. So I went onto 4chan.

No, I’m not linking to it. Nor will I include any pictures. Because during a night of aimless browsing — the very last context I’d expect — I witnessed a murder.

An actual murder.

This is not a metaphor. This is not a cutesy way of making a point.

There was a woman who was murdered and I was there to see it.

I’ll explain, but at the same time I’m not sure how much I can explain.

4chan has a reputation, of course. But I know people who use it, and enjoy it. I think you need to go into the site knowing you’re going to hear a lot of inflated, ridiculous talk. It goes without saying that that talk will focus around subjects that polite conversations do not. You can come up with your own examples. I don’t need to supply them. If it comes to mind, it’s there. Right now.

But it’s talk. It’s words. What are words? I can say anything I like. That doesn’t make it true. And if you get offended by it, you can visit another blog. Right?

Words.

4chan was only words.

And pictures.

On and off over the past few weeks I’ve been dipping into 4chan. No real reason. It just felt like a blind spot to me. It’s a well-known (albeit not well-regarded) corner of the internet that I knew almost nothing about. And, sure, I’ve seen it before. But I hadn’t really explored it. Scroll through the nonsense and you might find something funny. You might not. Does it matter what you find?

I found a murder.

This night, this past Tuesday night, I knew I just wanted to kill time until I fell asleep. And I figured that was as good a time as any to give that site another chance.

The first photograph I saw will be easy for you to find online, if you’re so inclined. I recommend you don’t. It was a woman, naked, on her back. She was in bed, with her head hanging over the edge of the mattress. Her skin was a sickly bluish grey. It was instantly, deeply haunting.

But I did not know what it was.

Online, you can find pictures of dead people. It’s easy. Real, and realistic fabrications. Over-the-top effects to rival Hollywood. Sometimes you can’t even tell them apart. Things spread as fact. Sometimes they might even be.

So I thought, maybe, it was something like that. Some crime scene photograph of an unfortunate corpse that recirculates every so often in circles I don’t have any reason to frequent. Just to gross people out. Just to make them uneasy. Like I was now.

I didn’t click into the thread. But the next thread was something more benign. I don’t remember it now. I think it was something like, “Share something you’ve never shared with anyone.” That was more interesting. Without clicking into it, I could see the most recent reply. Somebody said, “This murder thing has me really worried that it’s real.”

Other threads cropped up. I still didn’t click into the original, but I also couldn’t look away. I didn’t want to know more, but I think what I wanted was to find some logistical flaw. See the string. Spot the seam where the photograph ended and the retouch began. I wanted something I could end on. Some punctuation that would let me go to sleep with the assumption that it’s at least possible that this didn’t really happen.

But it did. As more threads appeared and more photos appeared and old comments by the murderer were mirrored, I was finding it more and more conclusive.

Many pictures.

The same woman.

Impossible to tell how old. 40? 35?

I’ve never seen a dead body before. At least…I don’t think I have. I’ve never even attended a funeral service. I find them disrespectful. And yet, here I am, presented with naked photographs of a woman who has just been murdered. Disrespect to the dead cannot come in any purer form than that.

The first picture was shared with a comment along the lines of, “It’s harder to strangle someone to death than you’d think.”

Can you blame people for thinking it was some kind of very dark joke?

What on the internet isn’t a joke? What on the internet isn’t to be taken lightly? You need to let these things roll off of you.

More photos. The marks on her neck were clear. Somebody worries that it’s real, saying he can’t believe that “a woman was murdered on 4chan for our amusement.”

Whatever amusement there was died down quickly. At least overall. There were still assholes, but it’s impossible to know if they still thought it was some kind of gag, and didn’t want to be on the embarrassing end of some grand reveal.

“Nobody knows,” the murderer said. “Her son will be home soon and he will find her and call the cops. Right now, you people are the only ones who know.”

Who was she? Where was she? What happened? Why was she naked? Were they lovers? Did he initiate some dangerous sex game with her and then take it too far when he knew she’d let him?

Nobody else heard anything. Her neighbors were home. There was no struggle. There was no breaking and entering. Whatever happened, this woman was expecting something very different. She’s dead now.

Her murderer took her life, fully intending to do so. He planned it. He took photographs. He posted them online. He said he wanted to share them before he got caught. As of right now, I don’t know that he has been caught.

Someone finds an article online. Sure enough, the woman’s son found her dead body and called the police. Breaking news. Before long at all, it’s tied to the photos posted on 4chan. That was her. She had a family. Her son has no mother. A woman’s life is over, and I watched it happen. I watched it move from sick possibility to cold, stony permanence.

My stomach hurts. I don’t know what to think. If I think about it at all, I feel dizzy.

Why was she murdered? We’ll probably never know. But the urge to post the single most disheartening, disgusting thing in the history of a site known for being disheartening and disgusting certainly comes to mind.

I don’t know if it matters. Whether this woman was killed in an argument gone awry or she was killed for the “amusement” of a website, she’s dead. It certainly doesn’t change anything her family and friends and neighbors are going through right now.

There’s a real danger to creating an environment that takes things too lightly. Desensitization is very real. I know, because I experienced it. Just a few hours of browsing 4chan over a couple of weeks had exposed me to think I wish I’d never seen or read, but it all just becomes a sort of beige palaver after a while. Drugs, violence, depravity, yes, yes, I’ve seen all this. You just keep scrolling. These things lose their meaning. These things lose their identities. This things, in a very real way, become just words, and you pay no more attention to them than you do a licensing agreement when you install software.

You’re on the computer for something. These words are not that something. So on we scroll. Down, down, down, down.

I saw a dead body. I saw a woman killed for my amusement. I was on that site, wasn’t I? I was scrolling. What was I scrolling for? Had to be something, right? And how much did I have to scroll past to find it? There was a kind of escalation involved, and it was one I didn’t even feel.

Didn’t even feel until it hits like a brick to the gut.

And a woman is dead. Strangled in what sounds like it was a long and difficult murder. Her neighbors watching television. Eating leftover Halloween candy. Her son on his way home, unaware that anything, anywhere, has changed.

That’s what happens, I guess. When you scroll down far enough.

Now how the fuck do we get back?

Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson

Vimeo now has Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes available for rent or purchase. That’s fantastic news in itself, but the best part is that they’d like to make more episodes available in the future…episodes that have never been legally available due to rights issues.

Their catalogue right now consists of 80 episodes…which is plenty to keep people busy, but also more than enough to overwhelm the uninitiated.

Episodes are an hour and a half long, after all. It’s an investment of time to decide whether or not you even like the show…and the fact is that they’re not all created equal. Each episode features a riff of a complete movie, which is what causes distribution rights issues, and also either boosts or restricts the comic mileage. Some films are ripe for riffing, others…not as much so.

I want people to support these videos, as this might be the only way we do get proper releases of long-missing episodes. At the same time, I want the people who support them to…y’know…WATCH THE GOOD ONES AND ENJOY THEMSELVES. So here’s a quick and dirty list of 10 legitimately brilliant episodes that are available right now. And since I haven’t seen all 80 yet, please let me know your own suggestions in the comments.

10) Eegah (1962)

(Season 5, Episode 6, Host: Joel)
EegahStarring the recently-deceased Richard Kiel, this is a perfect “gateway” riff for the uninitiated. Every aspect of terrible filmmaking is on display in Eegah, from hilariously awful ADR to incongruent musical sequences. The film itself is about a giant prehistoric man who lives on an (ostensibly) snake infested mountain, and then he goes to a swimming pool. This riff unseats Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure by featuring the single funniest usage of the song “Tequila.”

9) The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

(Season 8, Episode 12, Host: Mike)
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up ZombiesI’m pretty sure the folks making this movie realized what a pile of shit it was before they released it, which is why it has a title that screams parody…and nothing else about it that does. An evil sorceress and her hideous assistant Ortega do that voodoo that they do so well, I guess, even though the zombies that the film is named after are barely in the thing. There’s also an incomprehensible comic relief character, and it all adds up to one of my favorite underappreciated riffs.

8) The Final Sacrifice (1990)

(Season 9, Episode 10, Host: Mike)
The Final SacrificeA Canadian action film that reminds the world of why there aren’t more Canadian action films. One of the great joys of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is watching them pull apart a film that means so well…and yet accomplishes nothing. Good intentions and horrid execution are a perfect comic match, and those are the films that lend themselves naturally to hilarious mockery. In The Final Sacrifice, the central pairing of heroes is so bungled it becomes a film-length joke in itself, with mustached pick-up truck enthusiast Zap Rowsdower helping a gangly youth find his father’s lost Lemon Mines.

7) Soultaker (1990)

(Season 10, Episode 1, Host: Mike)
SoultakerBoth films “starring” Joe Estevez make this list, and with good reason. Soultaker is some kind of severely mishandled meditation on fate, mixed with a story of love that outlives life itself, and has Joe Estevez. Joe Estevez plays Joe Estevez to perfection, as a Joe Estevez who takes souls with a little plastic ring he found under the couch. There’s a lurking sense of menace that never actually shows up, because that menace is played by Joe Estevez.

6) Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)

(Season 3, Episode 8, Host: Joel)
Gamera vs. GaosAny of the Gamera films are good choices for download, as, for whatever reason, the giant flying space turtle lends himself well to being made light of. Go figure! I almost chose the first film, Gamera, instead, but ultimately I’d have to give Gamera vs. Gaos a slight edge, as this one sees our meat-filled hero duking it out with a ropey-looking bat monster that appears to be in constant pain. There’s also a blood fountain. Like, one that somebody built on purpose. It’s pretty great.

5) I Accuse My Parents (1944)

(Season 5, Episode 7, Host: Joel)
I Accuse My ParentsMystery Science Theater 3000 is mainly remembered for riffing awful sci-fi and monster movies, and with good reason. However I Accuse My Parents is strong evidence that any kind of film, in the right hands, can become a comic masterpiece. This one is about one young man’s helpless slide into juvenile delinquency…the tragic and direct result of winning an essay contest. (I’m not kidding.) I’m sure somebody’s going to be upset that I put this one well above The Final Sacrifice, but I don’t care. This is one I absolutely love, with its bizarre tonal shifts and bungled moralizing. No, it doesn’t feature a man in a stupid rubber suit, but the riff is brilliant all the same.

4) Mitchell (1975)

(Season 5, Episode 12, Host: Joel)
MitchellIt’s the last of Joel’s riffs, and quite possibly his best. Mitchell is about one heroic cop that doesn’t do things by the book, but he gets results, dammit. Oh, and he’s played by Joe Don Baker, which means that this thrilling, devil-may-care attitude is filtered through an obese, repulsive idiot. As a character, Mitchell embodies perfectly the disconnect between intention and reality that Mystery Science Theater 3000 exploits so well. Mitchell arranges drug deals with elderly ladies, gets in shouting matches with children, and seems to forget what case he’s working on, as the crime that opens the film gets resolved off-camera through a single line we hear on the radio. Oh, and he comes with his own theme music. This one is a must see.

3) Werewolf (1996)

(Season 9, Episode 4, Host: Mike)
WerewolfAnything in the top three is good for an hour and a half of straight laughter…but I admit I have a slight preference for the Mike years over the Joel ones, so your mileage may vary. Werewolf is the other Joe Estevez masterpiece, and it is brilliantly, perfectly, gorgeously awful. It’s also, I think, the only werewolf film that features the titular monster driving a car. The lead actors (and / or the screenwriters) have no concept of correct grammar, and the big twist at the end of the film is something you’ll see coming from the opening credits. Speaking of credits, this one closes with a great singalong that’s worth the price of admission in itself.

2) The Pumaman (1980)

(Season 9, Episode 3, Host: Mike)
The PumamanYou know when a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy comes out and people who see it say things like, “No, it’s really good. Actually good, like a good movie. For real.” That’s because of movies like The Pumaman, which gave a truly terrible name to superhero films, a stigma that lingers to this day. Fortunately, though, this episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 justifies the staining of the genre’s legacy. It’s an unforgettable film about an Indian who throws people out of windows, a man who adopts the powers of the puma (including flight for…some reason…), and an awful lot of poorly choreographed fighting…which this movie equates, inexplicably, with jumping from one side of the room to the other. Donald Pleasance is in it, too, in the role that made him wish he’d never been born.

1) Laserblast (1978)

(Season 7, Episode 6, Host: Mike)
LaserblastThis is it. The holy grail of movie riffs. Granted, “Manos”: The Hands of Fate isn’t available for download, but even if it were, I’m sorry…the Laserblast episode is the single funniest thing I’ve seen in my life. In fact, I remember watching this one when it first aired quite vividly. I didn’t know what it was called, but a few years ago I happened to see it again, and so many of the jokes came back to me. The two idiot cops, the absurd alien teleconferences, and a sex scene represented by kneaded back-fat all kept me laughing for weeks on end as a teenager. I think I only saw it once on television, but it’s stuck with me ever since, and revisiting it (which I’ve now done multiple times) never diminishes its charm or its brilliance. If I had to recommend only one, this would be it. Yet I can easily recommend all 10 on this list, and I look forward to reading your own suggestions below.

Tusk.

Reviewing, Reviewed

September 15th, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet | personal - (8 Comments)

Statler and Waldorf

This past weekend, my final review for Nintendo Life went live. It’s the quiet punctuation at the end of a five-year+ tenure with the site, and, as you might imagine, the decision to quit wasn’t an easy one.

Well, actually, forget that: it was pretty easy.

Not because of the site itself. After all, I had a regular audience tuning in regularly to read my thoughts on whatever game it was (or games they were) that had been assigned to me that week. It was an audience that numbered in the tens of thousands. It was a massively visible platform, and a chance for me to write regularly about things I enjoyed.

And it wasn’t the people who made it easy to leave. On the internet, five years equals something like twenty years in terms of the number of acquaintances who come and go. For that reason, yes, there were at least a handful of team members over time that I didn’t entirely get along with. But, largely, the great ones stayed, and the great ones that didn’t at least stayed in touch. Now, as I leave, we may actually have our strongest and best team yet. So saying goodbye, in this case, is certainly not saying fuck you.

It was easy because of the readers. If you’re insulted by that, I might as well anger you some more: readers don’t understand what reviews are.

That’s daunting, and discouraging, as a reviewer. While, certainly, there are plenty of reviewers in the world who are perfectly happy to crank out whatever amount of low-effort plot summaries is necessary to keep their job, there are a large number of them — myself included — that work extraordinarily hard to provide worthwhile content to readers. To have effort like that met with an opaque misunderstanding of what the medium even is wears one down more quickly, and more severely, than you might imagine.

This was not a problem by any means unique to Nintendo Life. I’ve written reviews for many sites in the past, but with the large audience specific to that site, the problem reared its head more frequently. And because the site maintains a policy (which I still happen to endorse) of not needlessly picking fights with its readers, it wasn’t something I was ever able to address openly.

Now, certainly, I can. And will.

1) Reviews are not rigid.

Reviews are easy to misunderstand, I think, because they can take so many different forms. At least, they should. Instead what we face is an odd sort of retroactive standardization, in which one’s opinions are expected to follow some invisible, mathematical rubric. Which, in itself, is tragic.

The expectation becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because readers expect to find a relative balance of criticism regarding graphics, controls, sound, storyline, etc., they, in large part, abandon and ignore the reviews that give them more, or the ones that actually tailor their approach toward the game in question.

It’s an oddly archaic expectation that these things be given anywhere near equal weight. Do you need me to tell you what the graphics look like? You’re on the internet, and the odds are good that whatever page you’re looking at has screengrabs right there for your reference. Do you need me to tell you about the soundtrack? Putting aside the innate impossibility of translating one medium into another — really, now, can text ever give you more than the vaguest possible idea of what music sounds like? — there’s the fact that we live in the YouTube age. You can listen to game music (often made officially available) on your own and come to your own conclusions.

“Your own conclusions” being the operative phrase. Because if I love the graphics, and tell you in some predetermined number of words why I love the graphics, does that change your mind when the images running alongside the review look to you like steaming shit? Of course not. Nor should it. The same goes for the soundtrack, which I might find to be dull and forgettable while it moves you to tears.

Yes, that boils down to difference of opinion, which is to be expected, but it’s a difference of opinion that really didn’t benefit anybody to express in the first place. The benefit of a game review is easy to see: somebody took the time to sit down with a game, become immersed in it, and would now like to share with you what he or she thought of that experience. The benefit of a book review is to give somebody an idea of whether or not a 500 page novel is worth the weeks it would take them to read it. The benefit of a film review is to give somebody a little help deciding whether or not their night (and money) would better be spent seeing something else.

That’s what the review should focus on: the compound experience. It’s not graphics, sound, controls. It’s a piece of art. And it’s exactly why books, film, and music aren’t reviewed by dissecting them into similarly unhelpful chunks. Game reviewing, for whatever reason, has developed and sustained this fragmented, destructive approach, and when one deviates from it, readers get confused. “You didn’t even mention the story.” “You said the soundtrack was good, but what does that mean?” “Do you jump with A or with B? I’m not going to buy it if you jump with B.”

The compound experience is what matters. Details, when they stand out, warrant a special mention. But if a reader can see and hear what a game looks like without ever having to plunk down one cent, isn’t the reviewer’s time better spent explaining and exploring the things that aren’t already apparent?

At the very least, one thing that would be apparent to someone who has played a game and not apparent to somebody who has not would be the weight that these components deserve. Braid, for instance, has a storyline that outright defines (and then, arguably, redefines) the experience. Should that not be discussed heavily? VVVVVV has the barest hints of a story at all, and allows you to disregard it altogether without missing out on anything. Do we need to discuss it at all?

The Wind Waker deserves exhaustive discussion of its animation and visual style while New Super Mario Bros. certainly does not, and should probably be discussed instead in terms of its approach to level design and replayability.

A Guitar Hero game needs to have its soundtrack discussed song by song, but a review of an Elder Scrolls game can disregard that entirely and run down the types of locations and side-quests available. The Binding of Isaac, meanwhile, can be discussed entirely through the filter of its warped spiritual message and warnings. Does it really matter what button you press to shoot?

By allowing reviewers to assign appropriate weight to different aspects of the experience, we allow them to convey passively to the reader what the experience is. Write more about the narrative, and the reader should understand that that’s what’s important. Disregard the controls and the reader shouldn’t conclude that you didn’t take note of them (how could you not?), but they should rather assume that they didn’t warrant a mention over something more important to the experience of playing this particular game.

A review should conceivably be written without discussing any of the above, except where necessary. Every game is different, and if we want to think of them as works of art, we need to be prepared to discuss them as works of art. That is to say, on their own merits. We discuss how they affected us. How they challenged us. How much they stuck with us for weeks on end. And if an element of a game didn’t happen to stand out, it’s dishonest of a reviewer to pull it out and discuss it as if it did.

2) Reviews are not timeless.

One great thing about the internet is that so much of what you can find today can still be found (in some form, somewhere) tomorrow. One not so great thing about the internet is that so much of what you can find today can still be found many years down the line, when it may no longer apply. And this is, sadly, a necessary problem.

Reviews need to be timely. Why? Well, you know why. A site’s traffic is determined by how many people want to read about the thing that you’re posting about. It’s a bit reductive to say that and leave it there, but if you rely on advertising revenue to maintain your site, you need a large amount of regular traffic. If you want that regular traffic, you need to write about popular things promptly, while they’re still popular. This leads to reviews being cranked out before opinions have settled into their more permanent forms.

How many times have you seen a film, read a book, listened to a song, or anything along those lines, and never, ever had your opinion change? I can’t speak for you, but my opinions change constantly. The silly ending of North by Northwest reveals itself to be darker and more subversive the more I think about it. The incomprehensible labyrinth of Gravity’s Rainbow resolves into a gorgeous meditation on the helpless self-destruction of humanity between readings. The catchy little toe-tap of that “pumped up kicks” song becomes an irritation because you can’t go anywhere without hearing it.

These are the things that reviews, ideally, should reflect. However, they don’t. The fast turnaround requires insight to be shallow, and judgments to made quickly. There have been games to which I’ve awarded low ratings that, in retrospect, should have probably been higher, if only because I’ve found myself returning to them long after I ever expected to care. In other cases, a game that seemed great at first might have gotten a lower score, had I been able to spend more time in it, and probe it more exhaustively. The mad dash from Stage A to Stage Z might have been fun, but if I’d had more time to explore the side missions, perhaps I’d have discovered that the game was actually a buggy mess.

Most unfortunately, the speed with which reviews are required to be turned around reflects most poorly on the games that try hardest. A simple, mindless clone of Bejeweled might get a decent score simply because it works. There’s not much to see, so it’s relatively easy to get a “representative” idea of what’s on offer. A much more complex, interesting game, with multiple paths, multiple solutions, randomly generated items / characters / situations, various endings, and so forth wouldn’t get a fair shake anywhere that relied on prompt reviews, because there’s simply too much to see. To a gamer, that probably sounds like a great thing. To a reviewer, it’s a potentially unfair negative. After all, you won’t be able to see everything, let alone fairly assess it. You’ll take a path through a game. Maybe you’ll have time to take two. Were they the easiest paths? Hardest? Most rewarding? Least? Funniest? Scariest? Buggiest?

When your experience cannot reflect the questions of your audience, you’ve failed as a reviewer, and I will say conclusively that strict turnaround times on reviews mean necessarily that your experience cannot reflect the questions of your audience. You have failed, are failing, and will continue to fail as a reviewer as long as the deadlines are more important to your publisher than fair appraisal.

I had a friend who once suggested the idea of a tech review site that would use phones, computers, and other gadgets for one year before reviewing them, that way the reviewers would be far better able to speak to the long-term advantages and disadvantages of things…potential problems and boons that simply can’t be seen with a few hours of superficial usage.

Of course, people don’t want to wait a year to buy things. They want things now, and they want your opinions now. If readers could exercise patience, they’d find themselves rewarded with mountains of more reputable, reliable, respectful reviews.

3) Reviews are not objective.

Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective. Reviews are not objective.

Seriously. Reviews are not fucking objective.

This has always been pretty clear to me, but it’s easily the most common misunderstanding I’ve seen in my years of writing reviews. Readers are concerned about objectivity…in an opinion piece.

The fact that I even have to discuss this baffles me. I’ve been accused of being biased in my reviews of games. And, here’s the thing: I am. I’m going to give better scores to the things I enjoyed, and worse scores to the things I did not. Because that’s what a reviewer does.

Bias is not an inherently negative thing. If you believe it is, then that’s fine, but you should not be reading reviews, because the two concepts are inseparable.

An objective review is an oxymoron. Objectivity would result in a list of facts and features. You know, the kind of thing you’d find on the back of any given game’s box anyway. The fact that reviews exist at all is evidence that objectivity isn’t enough. People want to know what they’re getting involved with, and the reviewer can explain that….but the reviewer can’t explain it without bias.

Here’s the thing: video games are creative works. And, like all creative works, we are each going to react to them differently. While it’s obvious that something like the soundtrack, for instance, will impress or disappoint different people to varying degrees, the same is true for even technical features. Lower frame rates, for instance, might not matter to the reviewer as long as they don’t affect gameplay. They may well matter inherently to a reader. So what is a reviewer to do?

The answer is obvious: the reviewer needs to score the game based on his or her own experience with it, and not on the experience he or she expects somebody else might have. The latter option would be dishonest, and honesty is far more important in reviews than some vague and impossible avoidance of bias.

This is where readers should be taking the verb in their title more seriously. As a reviewer runs through the positives and negatives of the gaming experience, the reader needs to focus on what’s being said specifically, rather than generally. That is to say that if a reviewer didn’t like a game because the humor was sophomoric, focus less on the fact that he didn’t like it and more on the fact that the humor was sophomoric. If that kind of humor appeals to you, then the review was still helpful, even if you ended up disagreeing with it. The reviewer is not obligated to ignore bias and pretend that he or she enjoyed the humor; the reviewer is, at best, obligated to provide you with enough information to decide whether or not the things that were important to him or her would be important to you.

Bias, in fact, can be extremely helpful to readers…if they understand it. After all, there’s no shortage of game reviewers on the internet. They’re a click away, and reading their reviews almost never costs more than the time it takes you to do so. If you find a reviewer that shares your biases, you have probably found a very good guide through the release calendar. Follow that person’s reviews and put more stock in them. The more often you end up agreeing — for the same reasons, natch — the more weight that reviewer’s opinions should have when you make your purchases. On the other side, you may find a reviewer you never agree with. That’s exactly as helpful, and, actually, it’s kind of beautiful.

Objectivity in reviews would lead to a sea of reviews that all say exactly the same thing and reach exactly the same conclusion. They’d be long problems of provable algebra that take the medium of fun and attempt to reduce it to a string of inarguable equivalencies. In other words, it would be impossible, and also fucking bullshit.

When you ask for objectivity in an opinion piece, or decry the evidence of bias, all you’re doing is betraying the fact that you don’t know what you’re reading.

4) Reviews are not exhaustive resources.

In many cases, reviews are subject to wordcount restrictions. This is something you might think I’m less than thrilled about, considering my rantlette about rigidity above, but, honestly, I find wordcount to be one of the more productive restrictions. Nintendo Life helped me to hone my voice. Had I thousands of words at my disposal, we’d end up with something like we have here: a meandering kind of explorative essay that helps me explain things to myself as I attempt to explain them to others.

Reviews, however, should be a bit more concise and to the point. And I like that. I think we owe it to the readers and developers to focus ourselves. That’s not to say that a review can’t be 20,000 words long if that’s what it takes to truly discuss it…it’s only to say that if it takes 20,000 words to truly discuss it, don’t use 50,000.

Due to these restrictions, however, not everything can be covered. Again, I’d argue this is A Good Thing. By keeping limitations on length in mind, we gravitate toward covering the most important aspects of the game. In some cases this might be its pacing, in others it might be its stellar narrative. You know…something that defines the individual piece in a way that other pieces are not defined. Something specific to the game, and the experience of playing it…which you’d think might be a good thing to focus on.

However, people get upset when features aren’t covered. In perhaps the silliest example of this, one game that I reviewed was ported to the 3DS, and a commenter complained that I didn’t mention that the title screen had been changed.

Could I have mentioned it? Of course. Do I think mentioning it would warrant distraction from the things far more deserving of mention? Absolutely not.

Other times commenters were concerned that I didn’t mention how long it took to finish a game, or how many levels it had. To be honest, these are things that are nearly always pointless to me. Sure, a 50 hour game sounds nice, but if it’s 50 hours of boredom, wouldn’t I rather spend my money on an exciting and fun game that only lasts for 30 minutes? Does it matter how many levels are in the game when I’d rather talk about how well (or poorly) they are designed? The impulse to artificially pad out games is destructive, and the more we demand longer games and more content for the sake of longer games and more content, the less we’re actually getting for our money. Sure, it might be bigger in a mathematical sense, but if the experience is shallower, isn’t that more important to note? That’s the kind of thing I’d prefer to discuss: how deep or shallow the experience is. What do you learn from hearing that a game has 12 levels? If you’re anything like me, you learn exactly jack squat.

What’s more, there’s a kind of “best-practice” that discourages giving away too much information. While I go back and forth on the whole spoiler debate, the fact is that people don’t open a game review and expect to read about the ending. They also probably don’t want all of the surprises along the way ruined. Secret weapons, hidden worlds, Easter eggs…these are all things that exist in order to reward the impulse to discover. To make these things explicit to somebody who hasn’t yet played the game is to rob them of that part of the experience, and I’m not comfortable doing that. Yet reviews tend to be “wrong” or “incomplete” (or “half-assed,” if you’re on a site that allows such language) if any stone is left unturned.

Again, why would you come to a review for that information? If you want a list of all the hidden items, there are resources for that. A review isn’t one of them. A review isn’t meant to be exhaustive, and things that you might feel are important will be left out on the grounds that the reviewer did not find them to be important. Remember, it’s ultimately the reviewer’s opinion that needs to be honestly and accurately expressed…not yours.

5) Reviews are not reliably factual.

Or, at least, they don’t have to be. Ideally, all of the information contained in a review would be correct. However, reviewers are human beings. They make mistakes. They have deadlines to respect. They have played so many games it’s impossible to keep everything straight. Sometimes well-meaning copy-editors will even create errors where there had been none.

And it’s okay, because that’s not what you’re coming to a review for.

If the reviewer doesn’t know everything about the Zelda timeline and speaks incorrectly about a game’s place in the overall series chronology, that doesn’t render his opinion on the game any less valid. If he thinks the game is lousy, it doesn’t matter where in the timeline it falls.

It doesn’t matter if they incorrectly credit a voice actor, or if they don’t realize that the character you play in this game is the vague relative of some other character in a different game.

It doesn’t matter if they get a year of release wrong. It doesn’t matter if they think Koji Kondo wrote the music when he really only supervised it. It doesn’t matter if they say there are 11 villages to explore in the game when there are actually 12.

Why not? Because none of that changes the main point of the review: this was / was not worth playing, and I’d like to tell you why.

Roger Ebert a few years ago got in trouble with readers because he walked out of a film he wasn’t enjoying. He was honest about that in his review. That honesty is what got him in trouble; otherwise, nobody would have known that he didn’t finish watching it.

He caved to pressure and went back to watch the entire film, appending his review to reflect that fact. Lo and behold, his opinion didn’t change. It went from being a film he walked out of to a film he only wished he could walk out of. And I’m sorry that he did not stand his ground. The fact that he walked out of a film — Roger Ebert, who has seen more films in their entirety than possibly any other human being, from masterpieces to the cheapest, laziest cash-ins — saw a film that finally made him say, “No. This is not worth my time.”

That is a review. That is all we need to know. If we’re reading an Ebert review, it should be because we want to know what Ebert thinks. If Ebert thinks it’s not worth two hours of sitting in a chair, that is a review, and he should not have let himself be browbeaten into producing something more traditional.

I’ve seen film critics — Ebert included — miscredit actors. I’ve seen them report incorrect running times. I’ve seen them repeat lines that were clearly only half-remembered. But none of that matters. None of it. Because the main thrust of their review — whether or not they enjoyed it — is unaffected by these mistakes, or oversights.

Again, ideally, these facts would be correct. But we don’t live in an ideal world with ideal writers and ideal editors. In fact, you’re on the fucking internet, so…y’know. You’re about as far from an ideal world as possible. The fact is, though, that these mistakes ultimately don’t matter. Point them out, certainly, but don’t attempt to call the review’s validity into question, because, I assure you, correcting the error won’t change somebody’s opinion.

So, that’s an awful lot of aimless talk about what reviews aren’t. What are reviews?

Reviews are a writer’s best attempt to put into words that which can never be adequately expressed.

…and that’s something so many fail to grasp. And it takes its toll. As much work and effort as I’d put into my reviews, it was disheartening to see comments appearing more quickly than it could have possibly been read, with concerns about the score being too high or too low, and the effort dismissed as a result. It’s futile enough just trying to express through one medium the merits of an entirely different one…why lump complaints on top of it just because it didn’t achieve irrelevant goals as well?

Cries for objectivity, dismay that certain things were or were not mentioned, and the preposterous idea that a piece of art can be ranked in the first place all speak to a fundamental misunderstanding of the actual value of reviews. They exist for a purpose, but everybody seems to want them to exist for a different one. An impossible one. And in doing so, they miss out on the discussion and debate and inward reflection that an actual review — a real review, doing what real reviews do — can provide.

I’d much rather have you — specifically you, reading this right now — than ten thousand readers who don’t understand what they’re looking at. I’d be lying if I said that the above reflects the readership at large that I dealt with at Nintendo Life, but I’d also by lying if I said it didn’t often feel like it did.

And that’s why I’m staying here. This group of regular readers and commenters will never be as large, but it will always be more fulfilling. Because as many times as you call me out on my rightful bullshit, you understand what you’re reading.

Which is ultimately what things boil down to. Respect.

You don’t have to respect every piece of writing that you find. You certainly don’t have to respect anything I’ve ever posted here. But if you don’t, you can move along to something you do respect. And if you do, you can disagree with everything on the page, because you’ll be engaging with it rather than dismissing it.

Reviewing could be a wonderful thing, if only anyone knew what the fuck it was.

Jennifer Lawrence
…but you’re not one of them.

The big hubbub this past weekend, as I’ve sure you’ve heard, had to do with leaked photographs of Jennifer Lawrence. Some other celebrities (only one of whom was male, as far as I can tell) had photographs leaked as well, but the attention has been mainly on Jennifer Lawrence.

It’s easy to see why. She’s at the height of fame. She’s popular with both critics and audiences. And she is — this is a fact; there is no room for argument — an incredibly beautiful woman.

Wait…did I forget to mention that she’s naked in the photos?

Because she is. Sorry, that was probably important to bring up.

Oh, and…actually, did I refer to the photos as leaked?

Ugh, sorry. I’m not paying attention at all today. I meant to say “stolen.” And that’s absolutely crucial to bring up.

I like Jennifer Lawrence. I’ve never seen The Hunger Games or, well, most of the stuff she’s been in. If I hear that she’s going to star in a film, that doesn’t make me much more likely to see it. And, really, if she retired from acting tomorrow, I can’t imagine my particular future as a movie-goer would be impacted at all.

But here’s why I like her:

She’s real. She’s humble. She’s down to earth.

She’s a charming human being. She has a natural wit and warmth. She’s intelligent and, by all accounts, friendly to a fault.

It’s rare that I’ll catch an interview with an artist (of any kind) that I don’t already follow and find myself won over. And yet, I hear her speak…I listen to her engage with her interviewers and fans…I see an honesty in a smile that has every right to be forced…and I think, “I respect you.”

She’s also beautiful. I’m positive that if we met in real life and she fell in love with me, I’d have no qualms about engaging in a sexual relationship with her.

…but that hasn’t happened. She doesn’t know me. The odds are very good that she will never know I exist. And so it’s irrelevant how attractive she is. It’s irrelevant how many people would like to sleep with her. It’s irrelevant, because we don’t get to choose whether or not we get to see her naked. She gets to choose.

Which is why those photos exist. Those were taken for somebody that she wished to see them. That person wasn’t me. That person sure as hell wasn’t you. They were taken because she chose to let that person — that specific person — have them. That is her choice. She is famous, and she is gorgeous, and she is a human being. It’s the third thing that matters here…the first two are only details.

This is also why it’s important to distinguish between “leaked” and “stolen.” A “leak” implies that somebody involved — deliberately or not — released into the public something that wasn’t scheduled to be released. Sometimes it will be an early cut of a film, a draft of a script, a record album that won’t be in stores for another month. In other words, things that eventually we would see, in some form, at some point, anyway. Other times it will be somebody’s private letters. A sex tape released by a jilted — or money-hungry — lover. A surreptitious recording of a politician quantifying the precise number of people in the country he doesn’t actually give a shit about.

Leaks can be noble, leaks can be selfish, leaks can be problematic. But, strictly speaking, a “leak” needs to occur somewhere along the chain of custody. Somebody involved takes a look at what they’ve been handed and says, for better or worse, “I’m supposed to do A with this, but I’m going to do B.”

Theft is different. Theft is overtly taking what you are full-well aware does not belong to you. And that’s what happened with these photos.

The distinction, I think, is important. Had Jennifer Lawrence taken nude photographs for a boyfriend who later, embittered, released them, that would be a leak. It would not make their circulation much less troublesome, but there’d be an element of accountability there. Charges could be pressed, for instance. Jennifer Lawrence could step back and think twice about the kinds of guys she trusts with these sorts of things. While the end result might seem the same to passive observers like me and you, there is still a degree of corrective action that can be taken. A chance to reflect upon the decisions made that caused something like this to happen.

Instead, somebody just took them. I don’t know the specifics, and I wouldn’t understand even if you laid them out for me, but, essentially, these photos were retrieved from data accessible through the cloud. Not directly, and not openly. Somebody sought these out, identified the things they would need to do, break, and exploit in order to get them, did those things, got them, and distributed them.

No breach of trust, no apology, no lesson to be learned. Unless, of course, you count the lesson that the world is full of assholes.

We can fingerpoint. We can say that she shouldn’t have stored those photos in the cloud to begin with. But…did she? It’s possible, but I doubt she deliberately stashed them there. More likely, something synched in some way she didn’t expect. The hacker who stole them, however, played his part in this game will the full knowledge of what he was doing. There is very clearly somebody at fault here. And it’s a thief.

To circulate, to save, or even to seek out these photos is an act of cruelty, and it’s one that dehumanizes an innocent woman.

You have every right to decide who does and does not see you naked.

Think about that. Imagine, now, a world in which that was not the case. That somebody, with enough work, could retrieve photos, videos, transcripts, phone conversations, love letters…or anything, really…that you shared with somebody. With one specific somebody. Somebody you trusted and cared about enough to share them. And that once those things were retrieved, that’s it. It’s over. From that point forward, you no longer have any control over who could see you naked. (In any sense of that word.)

To deny Jennifer Lawrence that basic respect is to reduce her to sub-human status. It is to say, I am in command of who I am. I am also in command of who you are. My decision to see you naked overrides your decision to not let me see you naked.

And that’s pig-headed. Disgusting. And a pretty easy way to perpetuate the horrific rape culture we’ve so successfully built up around us. Sure, a woman might say she doesn’t want us doing this…but, really, how’s she going to stop us?

The disconnect here — preventing us from seeing this for what it really is — seems to be facilitated by the fact that she’s famous, as though that’s actually the key factor here. But it’s not; the key factor is that she is a human being who is now being exploited.

It could be your significant other. Your spouse. It could be one of your children. It could be your niece or nephew. Your colleague. Your best friend. Your neighbor. If any of them were being exploited in the same way, would you be just as quick to dismiss it? Would you seek out the photos yourself? Would you send them to your friends?

Everyone has — or should have, and needs to have — this basic right: the right to their own body. You don’t lose that right when you become famous. You don’t even lose that right if you choose to become a porn star or anything else extreme; you are still making the choice of who gets to see you naked. Maybe that choice is “everyone.” That’s a perfectly valid choice. So is “no-one.” And “I will decide on a case-by-case basis” is more valid still.

I haven’t seen the photos. I don’t want to see them, because that’s unfair. Jennifer Lawrence is one of many thousands of women I’m sure I’d enjoy seeing naked. But if they don’t actually want me seeing them naked, then that’s their choice, and I’m compelled to respect that.

I’ve never met her, and likely never will, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t — or can’t — respect her as a human being. Think of all the people you don’t know that, in the blink of an eye, could suddenly cease to respect you as a human being. What a cold and frightening new day you’d find yourself in. Could you willingly do that to somebody else?

Here’s my thing:

Jennifer Lawrence managed to be wholesome. Maybe not personally (I wouldn’t know) but in terms of her image. That’s what I liked about her in those interviews; the sense that she was a person. Not a body. Not cleavage. Not veiled entendres and teases. Her body was not her language. She was a young, attractive woman in Hollywood who managed, against all odds, to build and maintain a career based on something other than sexuality.

That’s valuable to me. The moment a beautiful young woman enters the public eye is the moment that the clocks start ticking down until we successfully drive her to abandon all self-respect for the sake of our entertainment…at which point we chide her for being a slut, and move on to the next one.

Jennifer Lawrence has sex. Big deal. Jennifer Lawrence lets people see her naked, in the privacy of the bedroom. Who cares? Jennifer Lawrence is the kind of star we need more of; stars with dignity, with talent, with a personality that refuses to be crushed by the machines we’ve built to crush it.

If you want to see a woman like Jennifer Lawrence naked, work on making yourself worth her time. She dates. She flirts. She fucks. She’s a human being.

The least you can do is treat her like one.

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