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How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 5.1

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 5.1 (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. Part three is here. Part four is here.Today, I talk about my picks from the last decade or so.

Era 5: Next Generation

Maybe it’s because they’re compressing so many games on more consoles than in any other era, but Next Generation presented me with tougher decisions than the other four time periods. But, more than that, it’s a little trickier to judge the lasting merit of cultural production in the moment it’s actually happening. I mean, it feels like I just played “Limbo” a couple of months ago and I know it’s great. However, the questions that come up with voting for The Art of Video Games are, “Is it great for the ages? Should it get the time capsule treatment?” (BTW, answer is a resounding “YES.”) While the games of 30 years ago may be hard to reckon with because they’re further back in memory, the games of today still feel a little too fresh, maybe. Anyway, one more round! In multiple parts! Because it’s so damn big!

Target Genre

Renowned designer Peter Molyneux fixates on the idea of games-as-Rohrschach-blot. Even if the execution doesn’t fully deliver on the idea, it still gets players to invest in the gameworld and character more deeply or in a different way. “Fable” is a game where you find yourself wondering on the idea of how good or bad you can be, then acting on it to see what the consequences are. Your behavior changes the way you look, too, and seeing how your character changed in the game’s wonderfully pointed visual style was as strong a motivator as the plot or gameplay. Once those devil horns started growing, you never wanted them to stop.

Adventure Genre
Action Genre

All three of the games on this ballot try to do something apart from the norm. “Jet Set Radio Future” uses graffiti and unfettered artistic expression as inspiration and “Halo 2” cedes much of its playtime to the Arbiter, a member of the villainous Covenant collective, basically forcing you to play as a bad guy. “Psychonauts” turns to neuroses and yearning for its gameplay and narrative ideas, resulting in hilarity and poignancy few games ever match. That’s why it got my vote.

Xbox 360
Adventure Genre

Three great games faced off against each other in this genre. I didn’t play “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” (I know, “gasp!” Never been one for high fantasy.) but I love “Mass Effect 2” just as much as I do any game of the last five years. Except for maybe “Limbo.” It’s almost unfair for these two games to face off against each other. In “Limbo,” you have a game that’s been stripped down to raw gameplay and presentation, where nothing superfluous exists. Contrast that to “Mass Effect 2,” where players get thrown densely knotted threads and are encouraged to wander down as many of them as you want. In the end, I voted for “Limbo,” because it was maddeningly hard and dedicated to its own sensibilities in laser-focused fashion.

Action Genre

“Gears of War 2” and “Halo 3” are installments of franchises predicated on blockbuster action. Both series throw players into epic military conflicts where the fate of whole planets are at stake. They treat their weapons like fetish objects and entreat players to explode and eviscerate enemies with orgiastic abandon. The action in “Bioshock” is of a different sort. Oh, you’re still killing genetically modified freaks in Rapture, a failed underwater Objectivist paradise torn apart by civil war. The Art Deco aesthetic, the radio play narrative and the chillingly sweet rleatioship between the Big Daddies and the Little Sisters pull you into a well-sculpted gameworld. But the more compelling action in “BioShock” occurs on a philosophical level, where the player steers the mute protagonist Jack along a series of decisions that come to a surprising end. You don’t save the world in “BioShock”; hell, you don’t even really save Rapture. It’s still a ruin at the game’s end. But, depending on how you play, you can save a soul. That might be the most important action of all.

Modern Windows
Target Genre
“Everyday Shooter”

At first, I was upzzled as to why this game’s here as a Windows release when I knew it as a PlayStation 3 title. But that doesn’t matter. About as singularly psychedelic as games come nowadays, “Everyday” owes everything about its fusion of sound and visuals to the creativity of one guy. Jonathan Mak did the graphics, design and most impressively all the audio work all by himself. Every sound in the game comes from Mak’s guitar, with notes bending and ringing out in unexpected ways. Each level in the game offers its own abstract visual language where, once you start shooting things, elements bloom in startling and attractive shapes. Beautiful, in its own prickly way.

Adventure Genre
“Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”

Should I vote for “World of Warcraft,” a game whose cultural global impact is undeniable but I’ve never played? Or there’s “Fallout 3,” which was huge and impressive but I failed to finish. Ultimately, “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” got my vote, for adding shades of morality to gameplay experiences. In titles like “Deus Ex,” video games had played around with consequence and branching story paths but “KOTOR” blew that idea out exponentially. Also, the light side vs. dark side duality made a perfect fit for a Star Wars game and it made “KOTOR” not just a great game, but one of the best Jedi vs. Sith experiences in years.

Action Genre

As soon as this page loaded in the browser, I knew I was voting for “Portal.” Part of it’s the “Portal 2” frenzy that led up to the sequel’s release. But, then again, that frenzy comes from the fact that “Portal” is a nearly universally beloved game. Humor, minimalism, a single, brilliantly executed gimmick comes together to create a narrative drawn in negative space. “Portal” does more with the stuff it doesn’t do than other games do with the tricks they do pull off.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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