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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”

“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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.