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.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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