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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.



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.