June 5, 2017

That Thing You Like Sucks (And That’s Okay)

I’ve been at this for a while without any major arguments or controversies.  So, time to jeopardize that in one shot with this post.  Because if there’s one thing I wouldn’t mind doing, it’s rustling tail feathers so much that the flesh will peel right off of the bone.

Ready?  Incendiary opinions, HO!

So our current president (citation needed) is basically a molding, pseudo-sentient orange whose spreading scent could overpower the average landfill.  The idea that something like that could happen in my or any other life time is, on some level, the sort of thing that makes my mind snap into pieces (and it’s not as if my mind was exactly pristine to begin with).  Still, if we’re forced to have people on the news or in articles say “President Trump”, then I guess we’ll have to deal with it.  For now, at least.  I’m licking my lips in anticipation over the seemingly-inevitable header of “Trump Removed from Office”.

But boy, that day feels like it’s still a long way away.  I’ve been trying to hoard and gobble up whatever news I can get from the online space and TV; like, I never imagined I’d reach a point in my life where I’d voluntarily watch CNN, but here I am.  And because of my quest for knowledge, I’ve found that I’m not the only one hungry for info (and having my productivity slashed because of it).  By the same token?  People on all rungs of society, whether they’re just concerned citizens -- Americans or otherwise -- with phones in hand or political experts who are watching the blackest history unfold before their eyes, are all trying to posit answers.  To find the truth.  To understand, quite simply, the key to one simple question.

How the hell did we get here?

There are a lot of theories and reasons based on evidence, analyses, and a straight knowledge of the sociopolitical world.  An exploited loophole in the Electoral College; blooming resentment from a voting populace whose presence went unnoticed until voting day; propaganda that built up one candidate as it broke down another; apathy and malaise that convinced people of the futility of the government, which created a self-fulfilling prophecy; the list goes on and on, and we’re not going to have a single definitive answer until the history books are written up.  Side note: oh God, we’re going to have history books that have to explain how and why we’re in the Donald Trump Arc.  Could we maybe take, like, sixty more episodes of the Namek Saga instead?

As someone who’s basically built a reputation (citation needed) for dumping on video games, I’m not the person anyone should turn to when it comes to discussing politics.  Granted I wonder if it even matters anymore, given that our commander-in-chief doesn’t seem to know anything about the Civil War, but I’d like to think that making any conclusive statements should be done when you have something conclusive -- and, you know, good -- to say.  So I’ll refrain.  And, more importantly, I’ll contextualize this issue in a form that’s easier for me to do.  That form will, of course, include myriad references to Kamen Rider.  Such is my way of life.

I’ve always thought that the biggest determinant of one’s outlook -- if not one’s way of life -- isn’t necessarily their class, or status, or family, or education, or even personality.  Well, that third one’s still pretty important, no question.  Still, I’m of the opinion that art (and its best buddy culture) touches people in a way that few other things can.  I’ve argued as much before, and optimistically.  But there is a dark side to art having so much sway over others, and here it is -- something embodied by Trumpty Dumpty in the Oval Office.

In a nutshell?  As good as art is -- and as absolutely, irreversibly vital as it is -- it’s still way too easy to become a slave to it.  If you can’t think a single centimeter beyond a base enjoyment of the art you adore, then you’re setting yourself up for a fall.  And by the looks of things, you just might take someone down with you.

As of writing, we’re about five months into the Trump administration (and I swear, typing that out just shaved 4.3 years off my life).  To say that there have been issues, debates, and controversies that have popped up within that timeframe -- and even within the first hundred days -- would be an understatement the size of Jupiter.  But despite that, some interesting statistics have popped up.  Apparently, a recent poll has shown that, of those who responded, 96% of Republicans who voted for Trump would do it again.  And as much as I value free will and differing opinions, the fact that so many people at that stage in the game would still claim “Yep, this is our guy” is precisely the sort of assertion that should, presumably, break reality in twain.

I guess this is the sunk cost fallacy in action.  Or Superboy Prime doin’ work.


I don’t understand it at all -- and yet, I understand it completely.  As foolhardy as it is, I can’t help but draw parallels between gaming culture (if not art appreciation in general) and culture in general.  I’d think that this election has shown that it’s not about facts or logic or reason anymore, but instead about whoever can reach out and touch someone’s heart…however dishonestly.  Feels over reals, as they say.  Guess what?  That’s exactly what art is out to do -- and while I’m not about to give Trump any credit or praise, the fact that he’s gone from a “mogul” with multiple bankruptcies and failed business to a wannabe tyrant (albeit one whose malice or incompetence could cost millions of people their lives) has to stand for something.

It’s all too easy for people to get roped in by something that seems airtight on the surface.  Trust me, I know; I’ve been suckered more times than I care to admit.  What’s important is being able to overcome that state -- to realize that mistakes were made, to put in an effort to correct them, and most importantly, to learn from them for future reference.  I’m of the opinion that, whether the Trump administration (HRRRGKH) lasts for a few more months or for all eight years (HRRRGKH), the pendulum is going to swing so far back in the opposite direction that it’ll smash grandfather clocks across the ocean.

But the process is going to be a lot easier if we start learning an important fact -- of art, of culture, and of life itself -- as soon as possible: that thing you like sucks.  And that’s okay.

I don’t mean that in the objective, analytic fashion.  Citizen Kane doesn’t stop being a world-renowned film just because some idiot blogger with a puffy afro said so.  What I mean is threefold.  First off: we need to recognize more readily that the things we like aren’t perfect.  Second: we need to understand that not everyone out there likes the things you like -- and may even hate them.  Third:  we need to stop associating the things we like with our identities, so that attacks on it aren’t perceived as attacks on us.

This should be the simplest damn thing in the world.  It really should.  But the fact that everything can and will turn to crap on forums and comment sections across the internet over something as piddling as a video game suggests that, as a society, we aren’t there yet.  We have vices that can’t be overcome by common sense.  And as trifling as it may appear, think about the escalation here: if people get ultra-butthurt whenever somebody dares to criticize some game or movie or TV show or whatever, then how are they going to stay civil and reasonable in the high-stakes world of politics?  You know, the world where people’s lives are on the line with every decision made?

It starts with art.  With culture.  With thought.  If we can’t change the minds of others for the better, then we’ve got no shot at changing the Earth for the better.  And again, maybe it’s silly to conflate these two separate, distinct worlds.  It has to be even sillier to suggest as much just because “my team” lost the election, and I’m residually salty despite having more than half a year to accept my loss.  I get that.  On the other hand?  I’ve read stories and comments again and again, explaining how there are droves of people who have dug in their heels and defended Team Trump even in the face of increasingly-overwhelming evidence that he doesn’t belong in the White House

Some of those stories come off as legitimately scary, going into how reasonable, intelligent, and/or well-off people -- friends and family members alike -- have bought into movements and propaganda.  When it comes to Trump, they’re willing to shut off rational thought.  And because of it, they’ll lash out at their “attackers” instead of think for a second that, hey, maybe there’s something wrong with this situation.  Not even “Trump is a treasonous traitor who sold us out to the Russians.”  Just the minor idea, the possibility that something he did wasn’t an instant ticket to the pearly gates.

When did we become these people?  When did we get so eager to bury our heads in the sand over trivial things, to the point where we’d bury our heads in the sand over crucial things?  I don’t know.  Maybe we’ve always been those people, and it’s only been exposed in the modern age.  The instant, constant, prevalent spread of information may have revealed our true nature -- and that nature has only been exacerbated, if not nurtured, by the media and technology we consume. 

All this talk about echo chambers, and safe spaces, and the like, coupled with concepts like groupthink…it’s the sort of thing that makes my soul hurt.  It hurts because I’m not just dealing with a bad day or a stroke of bad luck, or a nasty downturn in a story I like.  No, I understand it completely.  I’m not just dealing with nebulous notions or imagined preconceptions.  I’m not even dealing with a clouding, unrealistic air of cynicism.

I’m dealing with reality now.  And I have to do something about it.  

As unreasonable as it sounds, I feel guilty -- and even personally responsible -- for Trump’s win.  Did it happen because of circumstances beyond my control?  Or was it because I didn’t do enough to make a difference?  Did I honestly think that it would be over if I just got out and voted for Clinton?  Did I truly push back against a man, a campaign, and a hollowed-out creed I was so violently opposed to?  Or did I sit back so that others could do the work for me -- so that the guy who thought he was weak and cowardly could stay weak and cowardly?

I don’t know anymore.  But I have regrets and pain in my heart that I’m struggling to handle.  Having seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know with each venture online, I can feel it deep within.  Trump, his administration, the GOP, his Republican enablers -- their constant, baffling, heinous actions have kindled a flame inside of me.  Anger.  Passion.  A hunger for justice and order.  A desire to see the America I envision, with all of its ideals preserved.  With every last one of its people rightfully served. 

I believed that I didn’t have the power to do much.  I still believe that, to be honest -- because despite everything, I’m a coward who would cling to apathy for the sake of safety.  But every so often, when the need calls for it, even a coward can fight for what’s right.  And that’s exactly what I plan to do, in the only way I know how.  In the only way I can.

I’m going to write.  And I’ll use my words to change the world -- starting with these.

Uncharted sucks, The Last of Us is passable at best, and Naughty Dog is the most overrated western developer in gaming history.

To this day I’m still utterly baffled by the fact that Uncharted managed to become a tour de force in the gaming world.  I would assume that the answer comes from its “pioneering” usage of cinematic storytelling and pulse-pounding setpieces, but the first game came out in 2007, well after stuff like Sonic Adventure and Metal Gear Solid tried to rewrite the book on what games could do.  So I guess the deciding factor is the production values involved, i.e. throw lots of money at a project to make it look pretty enough to turn players into drooling, clapping dullards.  I’ve seen praise for A Thief’s End based on the fact that you can see the light shining through the cartilage in Nate’s ear, but who gives a shit when it’s married to terrible gameplay and a story that insults at every turn?

Whether it’s the 2007 entry or the 2016 finale, the gunplay is rote.  The difficulty is nonexistent.  The puzzles come off as busywork.  The climbing makes the game drag, but not nearly as much as the endless array of gunfights.  The movement feels clumsy and imprecise, with deaths that happen just because you jumped toward the wrong space in the level.  Melee combat somehow got progressively worse over the course of the series.  The setpieces are all a bunch of smoke and mirrors, especially when they’re repeated smoke and mirrors.  Each one of these games is totally dated, with A Thief’s End getting it worst -- mostly because it pulls features from other, better games to cross points off of the focus test-approved AAA checklist.

But as bad as the gameplay is -- and it’s bad -- the story comes off as truly soul-crushing.  The main character is supposed to be a charming rogue, but he’s written so inconsistently that he’ll change into a mindless murderer, a waffling pansy, or an enlightened saint depending on what the scene demands of him.  If I were a woman I would be genuinely insulted by their depiction in the series, given that one of its leading ladies comes very close to becoming a nagging, scorned, and bitter ex -- and the other one wants to hump Nate’s bones just ‘cause.  The villains are universally poor, as are their sidekicks.  Over the course of four console games, there’s only one character that rises to the level of decent -- and said character was almost completely absent for the second game.

The story makes no sense.  Things happen for no reason, whether it’s spawning enemies out of nowhere, ancient mechanisms that couldn’t have possibly been built with the technology or resources of the past, or minute-to-minute actions whose sole purpose is to make setpieces and explosions happen.  Every game past the first has ridiculous padding issues, wherein nearly every step of the treasure hunt ends with “Oh, now that you’ve found this hidden alcove spoken of in legends, let me show you where you actually need to go.”  There isn’t a single shred of self-awareness in the entire series, with Nate’s kill-frenzies never adequately discussed and actively whitewashed away in the fourth game.  There are no consequences, nobody learns anything (except love the girl…except when you can abandon her for the possibility of treasure), and half this series ends with a return to the status quo.  Because the adventure continues or some shit.

I would go off on The Last of Us, but I’ve already blown four paragraphs and almost 600 words hating on Uncharted.  Time to move on.

It should go without saying, but that stuff up there?  That’s my opinion.  It’s not the truth.  It’s not the law.  It’s just what I think about one franchise that I played through (barring Golden Abyss) and ended up hating more than nearly anything else in the world.  My opinion comes from a hands-on experience with all four games, and the conclusions derived from them coupled with a disdain so great that I’ve basically got a boulder shackled to my neck.  It goes to show you how much I hate Uncharted, but it’s also a glimpse of how I perceive something based on individual thought -- not just blind acceptance or following along with the crowd.  Simply put?  I know that Uncharted has a strong following, with fans that can and will lash out at anyone who disagrees.  But they need to understand two things.

First of all, Uncharted isn’t perfect.  Nothing is.  There are always going to be faults with anything, especially with art and media.  Pretending like something is perfect (or, alternatively, downplaying its faults until nothing is left but a fine powder) just because you like it is only going to hurt you in the long run.  Second, it shows that it’s possible to have a differing opinion -- however unpleasant, however extreme -- on a subject.  Someone, somewhere, for some reason, doesn’t like the thing that you like.  And instead of treating that person like an enemy, especially when you don’t know of their existence besides hearsay, you can try accepting them as well as their point of view.

Once again: that thing you like sucks, and that’s okay.  I can say as much, because that thing I like also sucks, and that’s okay too.  You know, this thing:

The Tales Series is on its way to becoming the JRPG equivalent of Call of Duty.  Bandai Namco keeps pumping them out at a stupidly-fast pace with few breaks in between, and the cracks have long since started to show.  The graphics aren’t making large enough leaps despite added horsepower, and either stagnate or regress entirely in terms of technical execution.  You would think that they would be doing better by now, given that they’ve loaded up each successive game with more DLC, but I guess they need to buffer the cost of hiring the next pop star or rock band for their intros.  World maps are MIA, some of the field areas have some serious copypasta issues, and composer Motoi Sakuraba needed to go on a break three games ago because his soundtracks are getting ludicrously stale.

They keep changing the battle system mechanics and features, but it’s all in a desperate attempt to do something about the eternal button-mashing frenzy that’s practically woven into the franchise’s DNA.  So far they’ve failed, and the option they’ve chosen before is to limit the freedom and combo potential for reasons just a hair above arbitrary.  Most enemies are punching bags, while most bosses will completely blow through your attacks with ridiculous amounts of super armor.  And good luck getting the AI to coordinate with you…or at the very least avoid casting magic an inch away from the troll that’s trying to smash them into creamed corn.

For a franchise that prides itself in subverting common JRPG tropes, it still crashes headfirst into plenty of others.  The eternal anime aesthetic has bled into the brains of the developers, so that each successive cast feels less like a group of real people and more like a dozen DeviantArt OCs mashed into one -- with the gaudy costumes to match.  Maybe if it focused on telling its own original story instead of skewering the conventions -- and sometimes wholesale plots -- of other, more popular games, then it wouldn’t take hours for the game to move out of Cliché County and into something good.  By extension, I hope that someday the devs realize that the best way to write a story with a plot twist is to not have a twist at all.

I don’t know what god decided to forsake them or which angel spit into their coffee, but the devs have a serious hate-boner when it comes to religion; nearly every time it pops up in their games, you know it’s just a matter of time until the big reveal has the church officials turning heel (or into flat-out monsters) or tasking the heroes with killing a god.  I guess that’s par for the course, though, since the Tales games seem to take pride in coming off as goofy and immature.  The average gamer is supposed to be in their early thirties by now, but this franchise would have you think that we’re all eternally 13 with Naruto headbands in one hand and spite for authority in the other.

…There we go.  An eye for an eye.  See how easy it is?

It doesn’t take much to guess which one of the two I prefer.  Still, my criticisms for both franchises come from a real place -- and part of that realness is based on a desire to prove potential worth.  I’m a huge fan of the Tales Series, but having played through so many games, I’m well aware of the faults (some of which are positively glaring).  I think I’ve earned the right to criticize them because of my service; even if I hadn’t blown through them, I could still leverage complaints for the sole reason that they exist.  Art -- and the things we like, generally speaking -- need to be taken under scrutiny so that we can get a better understanding of its worth.

If it can withstand that scrutiny (which it should), then you have proof of quality and merit -- and on top of that, the chance to build a deeper, more genuine bond with the thing you like.  If you feel like you have to coddle, insulate, and otherwise protect the thing you love from the scrutiny of others -- or even yourself -- then there’s a simple question that needs to be asked: was it ever good to begin with? 

Can you justifiably and properly defend something from others if you can’t tell if there’s anything bad about your precious idol?  Can you do that without spewing hatred and slander on your opponents, as if they’re the ones at fault merely for having a difference of opinion or status that doesn’t sync up with yours?  And crucially: if you can’t tell what makes something you love bad, then why would you ever stand a chance at naming what makes something you love good?  Why should anyone take you or your opinion seriously when all you can say about a subject is “I like it, so it must be good”?

The simple answer is that no one should.  It’s a losing battle for both parties; the defender becomes the attacker, the attacker becomes the defender, no one reaches a worthwhile conclusion or understanding, and everyone walks away angry.  That’s how it is in the online space.  And as much as I’d like to pretend otherwise, that’s how it is in reality.  Again, and again, and again, and again.  I would hope that it wouldn’t carry over into the political world, but…well, here we are.

I don’t know about you guys, but I want out.

If you’re reading this post, then it’s basically guaranteed that you’re not the target audience.  I doubt that the target audience will ever find this post, much less read it from start to finish.  But for now, this is my power to change the world -- to make it a better place, by cultivating the culture that we all enjoy.  I may not be able to do much to have an impact, but who knows?  Maybe I’ll be the spark that charges up a couple of others -- and they’ll spark in turn, and others will spark too.  And so on, and so on, and so on.

To that end, I want to end this post with a call to action.  A challenge, even.  I dare you -- you, reading this, right here and now -- to strike out.  Think of something that you really love -- a movie, a game, a TV show, a book, a comic, a character, a song, or even a politician -- and play devil’s advocate.  Put your feet in their shoes and try to rationalize why someone might hate the thing that you like, the same way I did with Tales.  If you can do that, maybe you can find some new appreciation for it.  If not?  Well, I don’t know.  I’m sure there’s plenty of other things you could become a fan of.

It’s a wide world.  Let’s not narrow it down to a single, binary, with-me-or-against-me mentality.  Instead, let’s do what we can to make the world a better place.

By the way, this was my 800th post on this blog.  Thanks for reading.  Now let’s celebrate.

Man I love that song.

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