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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!

Xbox
Target Genre
“Fable”

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
“Psychonauts”

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
“Limbo”

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
“BioShock”

“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
“Portal”

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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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