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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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