How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 5.2

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 5.2 (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. The first part of Part Five is here. Today, I finish off by talking about my picks from the last decade or so.

Era 5: Next Generation, continued

Adventure Genre
“Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door”

Even though there’s a “Zelda” in the category–“The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” to be specific–I voted for “Paper Mario” because of localization. There’s a tricky art to the practice of taking the in-jokes and idioms of a game made in Japanese and making them work in other territories. It’s led to unintentionally funny bad Engrish translations before in video games: the All Your Base meme of the early 2000s came from botched localization. So, it’s a triumph that fans all over the world get to see how “Paper Mario” games poke fun at their titular hero and the lore that accrued around the super-successful character. These games also expand our understanding of what the iconic character can be and how his universe can be understood.

Action Genre
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”

It was a tough fight between this and “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.” I’ve written about “Prince of Persia” and my love for it before. “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” is a time-hopping, Lovecraftian horror game. Aside from the creepy atmosphere of the gameplay experience, it found ways to scare players that crept into the real world. At one point, the game tells you that your save data’s been corrupted and that you’ll have to start over. Tons of gamers panicked that what they saw onscreen was actually true, but it was just a supreme mindf**k on the part of “Eternal Darkness.” However, ” PoP” looked backwards and forwards simultaneously. Reaching back to 1989, it revived Jordan Mechner’s iconic indie game with a modern take and more mature sensibilities. Then, it changed the way that platformer game mechanics looked and felt. The first time that I saw the Prince run across a wall, I did a double take. And the first time I saw him rewind time, my jaw dropped. Most compellingly, “PoP: SoT” develops its lead character even as gameplay is happening and glorifies storytelling in a way that’s fitting for a title that acknowledges a debt to 1,001 Arabian Nights. It felt, played and looked a bit of digital folklore, something from the past re-envisioned for the now. The Prince will probably enchant us in some form or another for decades to come.

Target Genre
“Boom Blox”

So far the only game to come out of EA’s partnership with Steven Spielberg, “Boom Blox” plops players into a wobbly, block-built universe populated with cartoony, cute cube-shaped critters. Players are tasked to either harvest magical gems by knocking them to the ground. The game mechanics combine aspects of dominoes, Legos and Jenga; the main modes of interaction involve dislodging the onscreen blocks by throwing a virtual ball at the screen). I loved how the EA game made the Wii’s then-new motion controls feel infectious and natural. Even as the

Action Genre
“Super Mario Galaxy 2”

I’ll just repeat what I said when I included “Super Mario Galaxy 2” in the Best Games of 2010:

In a year where the company mascot notched a 25th anniversary of starring in games with “Super Mario” in the title, the little plumber starred in an adventure that exemplified how Nintendo earns such vibrantly loyal fans. “SMG2” felt vibrantly alive and quivered with ingenuity at almost every turn. Everything in the game — from the partnering with Yoshi to the power-ups and the puzzle-like structure of the worlds — felt considered and easy to understand. Factor in the automatic assist of the Super Guide and you get a title that nearly everyone can finish despite its burly difficulty. Experiences like the one “Super Mario Galaxy 2” delivered are the reason Nintendo design guru Shigeru Miyamoto gets compared to Walt Disney. Play and learn, everybody else.

Combat/Strategy Genre
“Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure”

I loved that this under-appreciated and clever puzzle game from Capcom made the nomination list. Done in a wild over-the-top manga art style, “Zack and Wiki” made players rethink the Wii remote’s relation to physical space by having them turn it this way and that to solve riddles. It’s a brainier implementation of the gestural controls available through the Wii, making the glut of waggle-centric games that clogged the console look simple by comparison.

PlayStation 2
Adventure Genre

The Smithsonian exhibit’s focusing on the artistic aspect of video game creation, so it makes sense that “Okami” is on the list of nominees. The 2006 release dedicated itself to visual beauty in a way that few other games have. Playing as Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu in lupine form, you purge demons from a mythological, feudal Japan blighted into drabness and reintroduce color into the world. From the mystical powers you invoke by drawing symbols to the little bursts of flowers that spring up at Amaterasu’s feet, “Okami” created a feast for the eye. After playing it only once five years ago, I still remember how vivdly the world vibrated as I played.

Action Genre
“Shadow of the Colossus”

The work of Fumito Ueda and his colleagues at Team Ico does away with many video game design clichés, leaving players with unique and beautiful experiences Ueda’s an artist/designer led the team responsible for another Playstation 2 classic called “Ico.” “Ico” and “Shadow” share the same spare, haunted visual language, as if a vast storybook universe were abandoned and players come upon it eons after the glory faded. In “Colossus,” players control a young man trying to bring a dead love to life. To do so, he must kill the 16 colossi scattered all over the world. The quiet and enigmatic Colossi could be the lovechildren of Ray Harryhausen and Maurice Sendak, and are among the most memorable creations ever to appear in a video game. Yet, while it looks amazing, “Shadow of the Colossus” uses it’s impressive looks and sharp design to deliver an unforgettable emotional impact.

PlayStation 3
Target Genre

Call “Flower” a tone poem, a small slice of pure feeling. You control a solitary petal borne aloft on the wind making other flowers bloom. Designer Jenova Chen and cohorts at dev studio ThatGameCompany built a game moves from leafy exhiliration to urban gloom to an eventual truce between the two opposites. And your heart moves along with it. “Flower” doesn’t use any words (or even human characters) to tell its story but its sublime interactivity results in a experience that anyone can appreciate.

Adventure Genre
“Heavy Rain”

Here’s where an exhibit like the Art of Video Games can early shine: by taking a genre (or specific franchise) and charting how it’s evolved through out the ages. It’s likely that there will be more than one “Mario” or “Legend of Zelda” game on the final list and attendees will be able to see how innovations like 3D rendering affect the look and design of the familiar characters. In the case of “Heavy Rain,” it’s the mostly dormant adventure genre that finds unexpected resurrection in Quantic Dream’s cinematic thriller. The same mechanics as were found in “Grim Fandango” show up in “Heavy Rain”: find people, seek out objects in the environment and suss out the embedded connections. The eerie realism in “Heavy Rain” adds weight and mood and its divergent story branching up the ante from what adventure games used to be and point them forward in a tantalizing new direction.

Action Genre
“LittleBigPlanet 2”

Another face-off between three standout nominees. “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” stands as the pinnacle of a certain game type: the balls-out, bullets-and-wisecracks derring-do formula and “Call of Duty: Black Ops” is the latest outgrowth of a hypercompetitive multiplayer culture that breeds its own intricate strands of strategic, twitch-reflex DNA. But, simply, “LittleBigPlanet 2” (and a very few games like it) encourage you to create and disseminate. It looks like a lovingly, hand-crafted world It gives back to the medium that spawned it. I’ll bet money that the game designers of 20 years hence will say they first caught the itch when playing “LBP2.”

Man, if you stuck with me through this whole long mess, it’s duly appreciated. The Smithsonian will be revealing the games that people voted for next week, so we’ll see just how many of my personal picks will be shown in Washington, D.C. when “The Art of Video Games” opens next year.

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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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