Category Archives: Longreads

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD is the latest battleground in the ongoing war for the soul of gaming

breathOfTheWild1

The age-old debate about video games has been settled. The only ones who continue to hem and haw about classifying interactive audio-visual experiences as art are those same people who balked at comic books, and rock music, and rap music, ardently refusing to acknowledge the scores of people globally for whom these forms are critical pieces of cultural knowledge and understanding. We’re at a place where one can confidently claim, “video games are art,” with no need to defend the statement. Finally.

The questions now are not ones of classification, but of purpose and nature. What should we do with games, and what is core to the form? What makes a game? These questions are trickier. Some of the more vibrant debates being had continue to revolve around the maligned genre derisively referred to as “walking simulators” – games more or less devoid of active gameplay and defined instead by the player’s ability to freely roam and uncover bits of narrative scattered among a detailed environment that conveys the story of what happened (in better cases, the story of what is still happening) there.

That many of these games – Gone Home being the most famous – also center on issues of identity and representation (Gone Home is ultimately a story about a young teenage girl coming to terms with her identity as a gay woman, and the burgeoning romance she experiences) only obfuscates the artistic debate here. Battles over social justice and the poor treatment of women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals in the gaming industry are important, just as they are in the culture at large. But these are broader cultural battles that go well beyond the scope of video games (even as the video game industry has more trouble with these things than most – see 2014’s GamerGate hate movement, and the alt-right individuals it fostered who later became critical members of the Trump machine). These debates are over the soul of society; the debates over the soul of video games are different debates, buried beneath these stronger, more visible (and, admittedly, more important) ones.

Within this walking simulator debate is the key debate, the one that reveals the core tension of contemporary video gaming: that of story versus experience.

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The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s best film

WindRises

The Wind Rises is a haunted film. It is a beautiful film, easily possessing the greatest animation of Miyazaki’s considerable body of work. But all of that beauty comes at a price: the haunted horrors of war, illness, and the torment of an artist’s soul.

Telling the mostly-true-but-fictionalized story of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aviation engineer who developed a number of planes for the Japanese war machine during World War II, The Wind Rises is a significant departure from the typically-fantastic style Miyazaki is known for. To be sure, the film does not always present a realistic reality: in many cases, even outside the film’s spectacular dream sequences, the reality presented is idealized and fantastic in nature. The billowing smoke clouds over the devastated city of Tokyo. The decidedly human voice of an earthquake. The otherworldly, paradisiacal scenes set at Satomi’s inn. These things mask a profoundly unsettling and uncomfortable reality that lies in the dark fringes of this haunted film. The spectre of war looms intimidatingly over all, and colors everything that happens in the film’s epic plot.

This is Miyazaki’s best film. Let’s talk about it.

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Frozen is Disney’s best film in over 15 years

frozen

It shouldn’t be a revelation to any of you that I love Walt Disney Animation Studios, because I’ve never really made efforts to conceal that. I’ve always worn that love on my sleeves, happily belting out lyrics, buying tickets to every new release and rerelease that the studio pushes into theaters, memorizing the release order of the whole canon, and encouraging anybody who will listen to me to not overlook them simply on account of their being animated. I’ve stuck with the company even through the dark times, when films like Brother Bear and Chicken Little and – I shudder as I even think about this one – Home on the Range were populating the theaters. They are one of the most enduring influencers on my life and outlook. And they tell stories about princesses.

Today, I’m going to talk about canon film number 53: Frozen. It’s a film I saw a few months back and enjoyed greatly. It’s a film I didn’t talk much about at first, but has been in the back of my mind the whole time. It’s a film I am now ready, after several repeat screenings, to talk about in full. This is going to be a long article, so I hope you’re ready to get your think on.

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