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How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 1

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 1 (photo)

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For a national institution dedicated to preserving America’s cultural legacy, the Smithsonian’s been pretty good to pop culture. You can an egg from Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the road sign from M*A*S*H and a Kermit the Frog puppet created by the late, great Jim Henson.

Still the museum hasn’t done a lot with video games, though. That’ll change next year, with the opening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which Chris Plante detailed in this post. The fact that gamers themselves will be the ones to decide what went into the exhibit makes it interesting and relevant, placing it somewhere between a referendum and a top-down survey. I jumped at the chance to dive into the list of nominated games and see what awaited me. Voting ended yesterday and I’ll be talking about how I used my clicks over the next few days.

What made the Art of Video Games voting process tricky was the fact that you only get 80 votes. That may sound like a lot but a total of 240 games got nominated, meaning that you can only choose one out of every grouping of three. And trust me, there were times where you’d want to choose two or even all of each category.

To assure that I didn’t explode my brain, I voted in a series of passes. First, I cruised through all the categories and consoles of each of the five eras, clicking on the games that I thought for sure needed to be in the exhibit. Then, I went back and made tougher calls, weighing personal favorites against historically important titles. It wasn’t easy but it was rewarding. Even at this cocoon stage, The Art of Video Games offers a micro-history of the video games medium. Lifelong gamers who voted surely felt a mix of awe and nostalgia walking through the progress from Atari to Xbox 360, which bodes well for the exhibit coming next year.

Some caveats as you read on: I haven’t played every game on the ballot. (Maybe some person out there has. I hope he/she survived to tell the tale.) And I’m not going to detail every vote I made, because that just would be boring. Each era broke things down by console and had four sub-categories–Target Genre, Adventure Genre, Action Genre, Combat/Strategy Genre–for each game machine.

Era 1: Start!
Atari Video Computer System

Target Genre
“Yars’ Revenge”

Atari2600_Yars_Revenge_cover.jpgWhen I sat down and though about it, this wasn’t as hard as I thought. As the games that helped heat up the arcade craze of the 1980s, the importance of “Space Invaders” can’t be overstated. But even as a grade-schooler, I remember thinking how terrible the Atari port of the xenophobic shooting game looked and felt compared to its stand-up arcade counterpart. “Yar’s Revenge,” on the other hand, originated on the Atari 2600 home system and felt that way, with none of the scaled-down graphics and slower movement that the 2600 version of “Invaders” had. It also mixed offense and defense in a way that was innovative for games of the era.

Adventure Genre

“Adventure,” “Pitfall!” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” were nominated here. I still have my “E.T.” cartridge somewhere, but not because of any fond memories. After I grew up, I heard stories of legendary desert landfills where thousands of unsold “E.T.” games wound up and how the infamous movie tie-in game nearly bankrupted Atari. That sounded about right to me as an adult, because as a kid, “E.T.” stymied me with its impenetrable causality and bizarre logic. Not to mention the game looked horrible. So, “E.T.” stands a caution against romanticizing the games of the Atari era. There’s no way this game was getting my vote.

Atari2600_Adventure_cover.jpgBut, it was a tough call between “Pitfall!” and “Adventure.” I played both games religiously as a kid and both represent two poles that created their own evolutionary offshoots as the video game medium matured. As visually crude as “Adventure” was, you immediately felt like you were in a story. Not just any story, either. Warren Robinett’s classic dropped you into a sprawling epic with giant, marauding dragons “Pitfall” stands as a precursor to the platforming genre, which encouraged quick yet careful running and jumping throughout virtual worlds. I remember it being the first game that required me to temper my twitch reflexes. Jump over those scorpions at just the right time, not too soon or too late. One pixel too far on an alligator’s head and into his mouth you went.

So what we have here is one classic that combines strategy, exploration and puzzle-solving and another that centers on action, precision and reflexes. But, for me, “Adventure” wins out. It was the first game to take the tropes and mechanics of text adventure game and make them playable through a graphical interface on a console. More than that, though, it was the way it presented its world as a puzzle and a narrative at the same time that made me love it so as neophyte gamer and why I voted for it to be included in The Art of Video Games exhibit.

The Action genre in this era features “Pac-Man” as a nominee. Yet, iconic as he is, “Pac-Man” doesn’t get a vote from me here. The nominated version is a sadly inferior Atari port which, like “Space Invaders” had none of the speed or responsiveness of the arcade version.

The other systems in the Start! section are the ColecoVision and Mattel’s Intellivision console. I didn’t initially vote for any games for these systems as I didn’t own them growing up. However, I do remember jonesing pretty hard for the Colecovision versions of “Donkey Kong” and “Jungle Hunt,” as they resembled the coin-op arcade versions more than the Atari ones. And, in a case of brilliant marketing, “Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man” made me want an Intellivision system pretty bad.

Tomorrow: Sega vs. Nintendo vs. Commodore 64! Bring your Capri Suns!

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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