Deep reads #0: Preface

Yes, it’s yet another new feature here on the site. This time, though, the idea behind it is very broad — it’s just going to be me writing about certain themes and concepts present in games and anime series and other forms of entertainment I like.  This gives me the opportunity to cover both works that I’ve written about before in greater detail and sharper focus and works that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  I’ll be lumping most of these posts into sub-series sorted by theme that might run anywhere from 2 to 4 or 5 posts.  I hope this whole series/sub-series setup doesn’t get too tangled up or confusing.

Hell, the title I’ve chosen for the feature is already confusing enough.  I went with “deep reads” because I’m covering these works in greater depth than I normally would in a basic review and because every other title I thought of was too clunky, but the “reads” part doesn’t make much sense because I probably won’t be covering any books.  I do a mind-numbing amount of reading at work anyway.  Someone else can write theses about profound works of literature; I’m sticking to weeb-centric and weeb-adjacent games and shows just like I always have.  And western stuff as well.  Anything that grabs my interest, really, but the point is it will be the same sort of stuff I’ve written about for the last few years here.

I admit I’d play video games for 3 days straight if I could get away with it, but I wouldn’t do those second and third things just to be clear

Since these posts are going to be more analyses than reviews, they’ll all be full of spoilers.  If you’re curious about my opinions of these works but you don’t want to read a particular post because you’re avoiding spoilers, here’s a blanket statement that you can rely on: I recommend checking out every single work I’ll be writing about in this series, because I more or less like all of them.  They might not all be for you, of course, which is why I say I recommend checking them out instead of buying them right away.  Though if you trust my judgment and taste enough to do that, I’d be very flattered.

You can look forward to the first post in this series soon (or soon-ish, at least.)  In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter even though I hardly ever post there.

The Sunshine Blogger Award Challenge Part 3: Revenge of the Sunshine Blogger

Thanks to Pete Davison of MoeGamer for my third nomination for this prestigious award!  If you don’t follow MoeGamer, you’re missing out: Pete posts a lot more than I do (well, that’s true of most bloggers around here, but never mind) and he’s not afraid to write about all kinds of games, including lewd ones the big sites won’t even mention except to pump out ill-informed hit pieces.

Here are the rules of the game as usual:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  • Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

And now Pete’s questions:

  • What’s your favourite piece of media (game, book, anime etc) that you think goes underappreciated, and why do you like it so much?

Gregory Peck as Ahab in the best-known film adaptation. I don’t think it’s really possible to adapt Moby-Dick into movie form that well, but Peck killed as Ahab.

Moby-Dick.  I don’t know about using that as an example because it’s one of the biggest, best-known classic English-language novels.  However, it was famously a flop when it was released.  And even though it achieved wild success after Herman Melville’s death, Moby-Dick is now used as one of the go-to examples of a classic novel that’s actually a big ponderous boring piece of shit, which I think could not be further from the truth.  Sure, Melville goes on a bunch of tangents about the shapes of different whales and how much butter Dutch whaling ships packed into their holds in the 1600s, but the novel’s plot and characters are amazing.  There’s a good reason Captain Ahab and the White Whale are so well known and so commonly used as metaphors now, even by people who have never read the novel.

For all the talk about whether Moby-Dick is an allegory, it’s at the very least a story about a man driven so insane by his personal cause of revenge that he ends up dragging a crew full of men along with him who originally joined only to kill some whales for their oil and get their cut of the profits at the end of the journey.  And Ahab’s revenge is not against another human, but against a monster whale who destroys entire giant whaling ships by ramming them into splinters.  It features action, suspense, conspiracy, philosophy, and what some people argue is a gay marriage 150 years before it was legal in Massachusetts (see Chapter X, though you could also interpret it as a sort of “sworn brother” situation that 21st century readers are seeing too much in a modern light.)  I really recommend checking the novel out, even if you have some preconceived notions about it being too difficult or boring.

  • How long have you been creating things online, and how did you start?

If any kind of writing counts, I’ve been creating for almost ten years now, when I took work as a freelance writer through a site creating website copy for small business clients.  This blog is my longest-running project by far.  I started it as something non-law-related to do while I attended law school, and I’ve kept it going far longer than I ever thought I would.

  • Do you share your creative work with your “real life” friends and family? If so, how do they respond? If not, why not?

I’ve written on this blog and in a couple of other places under pseudonyms for the last six years now, and I’ve never shared any of it with any real-life friends or family.  The biggest reason is that I want the freedom to write whatever I like, and if certain of my friends or relatives knew I kept this blog, I’d feel the need not only to censor myself but to delete some of the old stuff I’ve written.  Honestly, with my close friends it wouldn’t be such a problem if they knew.  With almost my entire family, though, I have to maintain a persona, and one that I wouldn’t be able to keep up if they read some of the stuff I’ve written here (like say my recent review of Nekopara — I don’t need to deal with the questions that might raise among the relatives.)  And once you’ve told even a single person, even one you trust, that you write a blog, that information can easily leak out in all kinds of ways.  It’s not worth the risk.

I don’t need them thinking I’m a horny pastry puffer, even if it’s the truth

To put it in a more positive way, I want to be completely open and honest with my readers, and I wouldn’t be able to do that if my real life family/friends knew about it.  I’m not really happy about that, but it’s just part of life.

  • Social media: helpful or harmful? Why do you feel that way?

I’m a bitter misanthropic weirdo, so probably not the best person to ask about social media.  My own highly skewed opinion is that it’s generally harmful, at least if we’re talking about Facebook. It creates an expectation that everyone should share every aspect of their lives, even the private ones, if they want to be part of society.  As much as Mr. Zuckerberg and his underlings might insist that they value user privacy before House and Senate panels and in press releases, they don’t.  Of course they don’t — destroying the concept of privacy is their greatest purpose.  How else can they sell user data to third parties?

Sorry, I’m getting all conspiratorial here.  I promise I’m not one of those guys who thinks lizard-people run the New World Order or any of that nonsense.  I’m just happy that I’m a loner who doesn’t have a Facebook account.  I do like Twitter, though, since it doesn’t demand you use your real name and encourages drunk people at the bar/club to make stupid comments on their phones they regret in the morning.  Twitter still has some negative effects on society, I think, but those are balanced by the entertainment value it provides.  Facebook, by contrast, is just a pile of shit.  The newer platforms I have no idea about because they came around when I got old (“old” here being past my early 20s, so apologies to my elders.)  Maybe they’re shit too, maybe not.

  • You’re presenting an important meeting, and you feel a horrific, probably unavoidable fart brewing. What do you do?

Excuse myself.  If I’m asked why, tell them the truth.  If they would prefer to have some kind of android who doesn’t fart, let them build one.  And if I get into trouble with my boss for it, well, so be it.  I’d rather lose a job like that than keep it.  Hopefully everyone there is understanding.

  • Have you done anything that has taken you out of your “comfort zone” recently? How did you handle it?

I recently went to a friend’s party full of people I didn’t know and most of whom I couldn’t talk to much because they 1) weren’t lawyers I could talk shop with and 2) weren’t weird nerds I could talk weird nerd stuff with.  Or if one of them was the latter, I wouldn’t know how to broach that kind of subject on a first meeting.  Basically, I’m socially inept — a lot less inept than I used to be, but still inept.  I was happy to be there for my friend, of course, but I hated it otherwise.  If I could, I’d never leave my comfort zone again; fuck everything outside of it.  Sadly, that’s not an option for me.

I’ll never get my social link ranks up with this attitude.

  • How have your tastes in media changed from how they were as a child and/or teen… if they’ve changed at all?

They haven’t really changed that much.  I still like fiction with sci-fi and fantasy elements, I still like anime stylings, I still like the same kinds of video games (even if I no longer have time to play all the 50+ hour RPGs I’d like to), and I still don’t care for most of what’s available on TV aside from sitcoms that are both funny and break the usual sitcom model (like Seinfeld, The Office, and I’d also argue The Simpsons, Futurama, and South Park even though they’re cartoons.)  And my favorite novel is still Moby-Dick.  I guess I haven’t grown much at all in the last two decades.

  • Surprise! You have a single “save game” slot, and you somehow managed to trigger it to save right before something from your life that you want to try again. What is the thing you want to try again, what would you do differently and how do you think that might change your current life, if at all?

Can I cheat and say “my whole life?”

Okay, fine.  A real answer.  I guess I would go back to high school and try harder at math.  I have a lot of interest in astronomy, biology, and other sciences, but I can’t understand them on anything higher than the layman’s level.  Sure, I know law well enough, though at this point my knowledge is still much more theory than practice.  But if I could get on that STEM track, maybe I’d be happier now.  I don’t know.  It could also be a case of the grass being greener and all that.

  • What are some things you feel comfortable talking about now that you wouldn’t have been able to discuss when you were younger?

The only thing I can think of that I can talk about more openly now is my depression, and then not even with certain people (some of my relatives who don’t believe depression is a real thing come to mind.)  I used to just hate myself and think that was normal, but when I realized that it wasn’t, I understood that I had a problem.  Even then, for a long time I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone about it, but now I see it as more of a mechanical issue than something that’s “my fault” if that makes sense.  There’s no shame in a machine having a broken part, even if that part can’t be replaced.  You just have to keep working as best you can.

  • Someone online writes something that you think is irredeemably stupid, and you’re pretty sure you have the specialist knowledge required to dismantle their argument comprehensively and grind it into dust. What do you do? Be honest!

Years ago, I’d have to admit that I would have taken that fucker apart completely.  Today, though, I wouldn’t do it.  I can’t even remember the last internet fight I got into, it was so long ago.  However, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign of maturity so much as a sign of apathy.

  • Regrettably, the fart escaped before you were able to leave the meeting room, regardless of your intentions. It was a right old noisy ripper and it stinks. How do you handle the situation?

Own up to it.  I don’t think there’s anything else you can do in that situation.  Blaming it on someone else will only make things worse for you.  If you’re honest, people will appreciate your honesty at best.  At worst, they’ll think you’re an asshole, but at least an honest one.  And it’s better to be thought an honest asshole than a deceptive nice guy.  Again, years ago I might have given a different answer, but I no longer have the energy to pretend any more than I absolutely have to.

These were some very insightful questions.  Thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer them!  Here are my own questions, as the rules require.  However, I couldn’t think of eleven good questions this time.  I’ve already done this twice, after all.  So I cut the number of questions down to seven, but the last question is an extra-long hypothetical to make up for it.

1) Have you played a game that was so immersive and compelling that you ended up feeling disconnected from the real world while playing it?  If so, what was it and what do you think drew you into its world?

2) Is there a game that’s had a profound impact on you, either as a kid or as an adult?  What was that game and what influence do you think it’s had on you?

3) Is there a game that you loved as a kid but that disappointed badly when you revisited it as an adult?  What do you think appealed to you about it then, and why do you think that appeal’s been lost?

4) How do you feel about the use of subtitles in games?  Would you want every game made in a foreign language to be dubbed into your native language if possible, or do you prefer subs?

5) Have you ever sold a game, game console or handheld, accessory, or similar object that you later regretted selling?

6) With the dominance of Amazon and digital game markets, do you think brick-and-mortar game stores will be able to hang on for much longer?  If they can’t, will we lose anything meaningful as a result?

7) Your government approaches you with an offer: join its upcoming first manned mission to Mars.  You’ll receive a large salary, and if you have a family, they’ll be very well compensated.  If the mission is successful, you’ll be away from them for at least three or four years.  However, the mission is so dangerous that there’s a high chance (let’s say for the sake of the hypothetical 70%) that you will never return to Earth.  No matter what happens, you’ll be immortalized in history if you join this mission, and if you end up dead or stranded, your family would continue to receive a large pension.  Would you take them up on the offer?  (Assume also that you have skills that would be essential to such a mission, but that other experts would be equally able to perform the same functions, so the mission would still proceed if you decline to join.)

And the nominees this time are:

Angie of Backlog Crusader

Strange Girl Gaming

The Otaku Judge

Honest Gamer

A Geeky Gal

Best Nerd Life

One More Level

The Dragon’s Tea Party

gamergal.exe

Geek. Sleep. Rinse. Repeat

Sega Does

And also Red Metal and Lost to the Aether — apologies for throwing this tag at you again after answering my last set of questions so thoroughly.

On reviews, scores, and objectivity vs. subjectivity

I’m in despair again.  This time about review scores.

It’s never not a good time to use screenshots from SZS

Let me back up about a decade and a half (I promise there’s a point to this trip through time, so don’t worry.)  Back in my school days, I used to follow two music reviewers: George Starostin and Mark Prindle.  These guys maintained websites dedicated to writing album reviews well before the modern age of easy blogging — before technologically untalented people like me could start free WordPress and Blogger accounts and dump words onto the internet without knowing anything beyond the most basic HTML tags.  Messrs. Starostin and Prindle were both excellent writers, very knowledgeable about music, and incredibly prolific (in fact, Starostin is still writing at a different address, though he seems to be on hiatus right now.)  Most importantly to me, they were independent voices that I felt I could trust far more than the hacks at Rolling Stone, Spin, and the other big music magazines.

However, Starostin and Prindle’s review styles were very different.  Starostin seemed to try to take a more objective approach to his music reviews.  While admitting that he couldn’t be totally objective, being a human with his own likes and dislikes when it came to music, he still tried giving a fair chance to artists whose styles he wasn’t naturally fond of (though he could and would tear an album up in a very entertaining way if he thought it was lousy.)  Prindle, by contrast, seemed not to give a damn about even trying to be objective.  He could and often did also write deep and interesting analyses of albums, but they also felt more personal in the sense that you were getting his opinions based purely on what he liked and disliked.  Prindle’s more personal style also came out in the various rants, anecdotes, and obscene jokes he’d drop into his reviews, usually without any warning to the reader.  Even though their styles were so different, I liked them pretty much equally, and I’m sure both of them have had a serious influence on my own reviewing style.

Source.  Though how “Movie X no longer has a 100% RT score” could be considered a story worth writing about, I have no fucking clue.

Now back to the present day, where people on Twitter and other platforms are tearing their hair out over the Rotten Tomatoes scores movies get.  Red Metal at Extra Life covered this already in a recent post about the reaction to the film Lady Bird getting one bad review from a critic, knocking its score down from 100% to 99%.  Some people were apparently losing their shit over this development.  If it can even be called a “development”, really.  No doubt they’d also be piling onto Red Metal if his own mixed review of Lady Bird had been factored into that score.  I haven’t seen the film, but I can say at the very least it’s impressive that a movie managed to get such dedicated fans that they’d scream bloody murder over a single poor review.

Or is that really what’s going on?  It looks to me like many people have expectations that certain artworks should be insulated from negative criticism, as though they have a God-given right to a perfect score on RT and maybe also on every other review score aggregator.  I have no idea where these expectations come from.  Even among my favorite games and albums, I can’t think of a single one that I’d yell at a reviewer for over a poor review.  I’d certainly disagree with said review, but as long as it was reasoned out well enough, I’d just think “Fine, that person has a different opinion than I do.”  Because we all have different tastes, different perspectives, different life experiences.  Not everyone has to like what I like, and I don’t have to like something even if almost everyone else likes it.

I like drinking beer, chewing on dried squid, and playing visual novels, but a lot of people don’t, and that’s okay.

So how should I approach my own reviews?  I’ve been writing reviews of games and other media for six years now (not on a very regular basis, as you can tell from looking at my index of reviews and dividing their number into six, but still, six years is a long time.)  I always try to write my reviews in such a way that they’re useful to every reader who follows this site or comes across it through a Google search.  But when it comes to the score I assign a work, I sometimes find myself facing this conundrum: if I score the work based too much upon my own subjective tastes, the score won’t be meaningful to a reader with different tastes from my own, and if I score it based too much upon some kind of as-objective-as-possible balance of factors, I’m removing my own views from the process so completely that I may as well not review the work at all.

I usually try to strike a balance between these two extremes, but sometimes that’s difficult, especially when the work I’m analyzing is directed at a niche audience.  I’m facing just this issue with the game review I’m currently writing.  Maybe I should just not worry about the problem at all and write whatever I want like Prindle, or maybe I should still try to take a more objective view of things like Starostin.  Maybe I’m overthinking this like I overthink every single other aspect of my fucking life.

Maybe don’t worry about cutting the cake precisely Chiri, maybe just cut it and eat some god damn cake

I have another question for you, the reader: if you write reviews, do you run into this problem?  How do you resolve it?  Or is it even really a problem and am I just overthinking things? If you don’t write reviews but only read them, do you really care about how objective or subjective the reviewer is trying to be?  And should anyone even care about Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic scores aside from the film and game studios and distributors?

Sorry, that was more than one question.  You don’t have to answer all of them if you don’t feel like it.  Or any of them.  In the meantime, I’ll go back to finishing my next review.  Maybe one day, I’ll write a review that will get me a headline on Indiewire about how I’m an asshole who made people on Twitter cry.  I can only hope.