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How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 3

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 3 (photo)

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The Skinny: The Smithsonian gathered votes for its upcoming Art of Video Games and this week, I detail what I threw my weight behind. Part one is here. Part two is here. Today, I talk about my picks from the Sega Genesis System/Super Nintendo Entertainment System era.

Era 3: Bit Wars!

The thing about console video games is that you have to choose a machine. That choice defines you in some way and some effed-up part of human nature demands that you vilify who make a different decision. Current-day fan rage over the Xbox pwning the PS3 owes its roots to this kind of tension, which reached a flashpoint when the Genesis and SNES were duking it out for parental dollars. A lot of the marketing jargon tropes were the same: the games you want only come out for this system, our technology is way betterthan their little baby technology, etc. If memory serves, the console fanboy flame wars weren’t quite as disproportionately ugly in the 1990s as they are now but, then again, this was before the Internet changed everything. As the mostly proud owner of a Sega Genesis, I’d always wonder if I was truly happy without all those Nintendo games exclusive to the SNES. My peers tossed and turned at night over the same angst. So it goes today, eh?

Sega Genesis
Target Genre
“Gunstar Heroes”
What makes this side-scrolling co-operative shooter worthy of enshrinement? In a word, choice. You could choose which weapons to start off with and, as you progressed, you could combine them with other guns to create unique attacks. You’d need them against the game’s hardcore difficulty and cleverly designed bosses. Other trailblazing innovations was health management that did away with one-hit deaths, the ability to choose a shooting style and he option to start the game and You coul just tell by paying “Gunstar Heroes” that its great looks and insane action were the result of unfettered imaginations work in tandem. The end result gave players unprecedented freedom in a game felt like an adrenaline-fueled action cartoon.

Adventure Genre
“Flashback: The Quest for Identity”
I remember this sci-fi adventure as being one of the first times I really noticed the way a game animated. Even though developer Delphine Software used rotoscoping like earlier classics “Prince of Persia” and Another World,” I came to this game first and discovered its stylistic predecessors later. The animation style made the characters more expressive, which in turn made me more invested in the interplanetary conspiracy plot. When hero Conrad ran or jumped, I saw the effort in his body language. He needed me to get him to safety. I adored this game, even if I didn’t know enough to figure out that it was drawing heavily on cyberpunk genre tropes. The lush animation also reinforced clever design ideas and a cinematic approach, too. “Flashback” felt like a big evolutionary step, like a medium starting to mature in the way it used its tools. I felt more mature, too, just for playing it.

Action Genre
“Earthworm Jim”

Humor in video games is generally accidental, and even intentional laugh-seeking tends to stumble out awkwardly like someone shoved it onstage from the wings. “Earthworm Jim” proved the exception. From its very premise, which has an earthworm donning mislaid power armor to become a barrel-chested hero to its cartoony look, “Earthworm Jim” was a farcical and self-aware creation. The humor was shot through its gameplay, too, what with all the cow launching and head-as-a-grappling-hook moves. The game still stands an example of really good comedy in video games, achieved by being serious about its silliness.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Action Genre
“Donkey Kong Country”
Dkc_snes_boxart.jpgThese days, it’s Mario this, Mario that. But, the jump-happy plumber was only part of the formula that made Nintendo the success that it became. The other half–giant, girl-stealing ape Donkey Kong–moldered in obscurity. “Donkey Kong Country” gives props to the ape who REALLY started it all for Nintendo, as we find out about his family. The gameplay let players switch back and forth between the bigger, stronger Donkey Kong and the smaller, faster Diddy Kong as they hunted down the big monkey’s stolen banana hoard. While the option to play as two different characters appealed to gamers, it was really the eye-popping graphics that won them over. Seeing it at a friend’s house, I couldn’t believe that these images were coming from a system that had been billed as inferior to its competitors. “DKC” made me-and many others-a believer in the power of Nintendo all over again at a time when they desperately needed that.

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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.