What the Puff: Pipes in Pop Culture

I smoke tobacco pipes. I’ve enjoyed them since I turned 18 and even make them. So, I am pleased when I see television or movies including characters smoking their pipes. You’ll never know where pipe smokers are going to turn up in these things, from Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds to Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean. Even the First and Fourth Doctors in Doctor Who were seen smoking pipes. However, I’m almost always infuriated when I see how they smoke them. This is because many times the characters smoke their pipes wrong. Typically, these characters seem to be most interested in making as much smoke as possible. This isn’t wrong because of arbitrary etiquette, but rather is wrong because it ruins the taste of the tobacco, burns the mouth, and can ruin a pipe over time.

Gandalf Smokes his Pipe Continue reading

Hope the Game vs Tropes in Games

The climate surrounding video games today is characterized socially by the “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” series, which is digging ever more uncomfortably deep into the unsatisfying state of women in games. This leaves us all increasingly more aware of the universality of the problem. Part one of “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” is devoted to the Damsel in Distress, which is a theme investigated in a unique way by the new game Hope: The other side of adventure, developed by Mr. Roboto Game Studio (english translation.) By giving the player control of the princess locked in the tower, you are effectively locked in the tower with her. Continue reading

Maoyu: A Review, Confession, and Discussion

I’ll start with a condensed review. Maoyu is very, very good. It deals with highly complex and intelligent themes with a maturity I haven’t seen in an anime. I’ve seen some smart and mature anime’s, but Maoyu seems to exist on a higher intellectual plane. Watch it for the war, romance, class struggle, or economics. Just please do watch it. It is quite far from perfect, but it is entirely worth powering through those imperfections. I enjoyed it so much that it made me extremely angry. Who the hell likes being that happy?! Check it out on Crunchyroll. That ends my review. I’m excited to delve deeper into this anime, but first allow me to communicate to you my falling out with anime.

I haven’t enjoyed anime much at all since high school, having been disenfranchised from the form for a variety of reasons. Why does Inuyasha have an overarching plot if there seems to be no intent of developing it? I don’t enjoy being strung along. This phenomenon carried me a fair emotional distance from anime. Jumping forward a few years, I heard they’re doing a Valkyria Chronicles anime. “Super good,” I thought, “I love the Valkyria Chronicles game and can totally see the narrative being compelling as an anime!” Then I saw what they did to Alicia Melchiott…. No, I’m not watching that. Fuck anime.

At this point, it’s been easier to say that I generally hate anime and qualify those that I like rather than the reverse. Common hates bring people closer than common loves, so I’ll justify this position by saying I’m just a social butterfly. I’ll segue back into Maoyu by asking you a question, reader. Given my history, why on Earth would this anime be the one to suck me back in? Continue reading

Giants of Our World: Terry Cavanagh

The video game industry is packed full of talented and creative people. With dozens of AAA titles hitting shelves every year, even more AA titles, and ever-more independent developers taking their creations to the net, it can sometimes be difficult to know where we should be paying attention. It’s even harder to look outside of our comfort zones to find something new. That’s why I would like to begin highlighting some of the most gifted men, women, and studios that should get us all excited. They’ve been able to make lightning strike twice, and we heighten our understanding of our medium by better understanding them. All of that being said, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather kick this all off with than Terry Cavanagh. Continue reading

Masculinity in Games: Actualization through Violence

Sean Connery once said that “there is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in a man.” Of course this is just as true for women as it is for men, but the statement contains a certain subtext about masculinity. Failure to thrive under pressure is the trait of a boy, not a man. There are these calls to action that are supposed to define us as men. Defeating a challenge is one; capability for violence is another. Men are generally well aware of the cultural pressures on us to be violent. Even though most of us are not violent people, we still sometimes feel the need to respond to the pressure by asserting that we would be very dangerous if we wanted to. The two ideas are at odds: societal norms that say men are violent while violence actually has nothing to do with masculinity. It can certainly Oddparents gifbe argued that a male’s inclination toward violence coupled with the ability to back it up has served both males and the human species as a whole quite well in the past. However, what was a virtue in the past is not necessarily a virtue today. And even if violence were hardwired into men, we’re still much more than just blood-thirsty beasts. And the reason we play violent games is more than our own bloodlust. So why, then, do so many games portray violence and masculinity as being so closely intertwined? Let’s take a look at some of these games. In particular, we’ll look at: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; and a lot of God of War. Just a warning, this whole article is going to be chock-full of spoilers, so read cautiously. What these games all have in common is that they make a statement about the connection between masculinity and violence. They deal with issues like “is violence rewarding,” “can violence defeat evil,” and “is violence just how men deal with their emotions?” What lies beneath all of those statements are these facts: men are not very free from cultural norms, men are not empowered or nurtured properly as men, and society seems to have no idea of what masculinity is at all.

Continue reading

White House Calls for Research on Links Between Video Games and Violence

The White HouseYesterday, the White House unveiled “Now is the Time: The President’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence.” Super good! I don’t intend to attack the the President, his plan, or even the fact that he calls for more research into any possible relationships between video games and violence. With the trauma of gun violence being so severe in American culture, encouraging research into what many citizens believe to have a causative relationship with violence, i.e. that violent video games lead to violent crime, is the right call. While it is politically unfortunate that the President seemed unable to find a place for video games in his plan than under the section to “End the Freeze on Gun Violence Research,” (page 8), I don’t think that we have much to worry about regarding any lasting effects on public opinion. We know that all good research into the topic, assuming fair distribution and reporting of research results and data, is going to show that video games and their place in society are nothing to be afraid of.

Here is my point; how do we already know that we have nothing to fear? Hasn’t research already shown that violence in video games has a lasting effect on gamers, causing them to be desensitized to violence and therefore less likely to check impulses toward violent behavior? Since video games are more immersive than other forms of media, doesn’t it stand to reason that they affect a greater ability to impact and change the human psyche? Let’s look into why not. Continue reading

Sharing Games with Non-Gamers or: How I Stopped Worrying and Got Drunk

It’s the new year, and I feel excited about video games. I am excited about the mountain of games I acquired as presents and with gift cards, as well as games coming out later this year. For as much as I love good games, I am sad over how many of my friends and family just don’t enjoy them the way I do. Whether they lack interest or skill, it’s always difficult to share this part of my life with them. That’s why I’m trying to think of new ways for me to try and share my gaming experience with them.

There are of course the games that are fun to play with a group despite the challenges of the game. Games like New Super Mario Bros. U, Call of Duty, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 are great because, due to their tendency toward bullshit difficulty spikes, the whole group enjoys the accomplishments of even two players finally beating a level. Plus, the shared suffering leads to lively conversation. Other games which have narrative arcs which tend to appeal to those outside of the medium are always fun to pass and play, even if some people are terrible. These games include Alice: Madness Returns, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Resident Evil 5, and they tend to be just as fun to watch as to play if you are already invested in the subject matter. Hell, some games are such a spectacle that it’s fun to pass and play without any narrative context. Call of Duty and Halo attract droves of casual players who only play in groups. Any of these are fine, but I feel my repertoire lacks a certain “universally appealing” punch. So imagine my delight and excitement as I realize a way to better involve more people in the same games I already love. Continue reading

Dark Souls 2: What to Worry About

A short time has passed since the announcement of Dark Souls 2 at the VGAs, and the community has been busy digesting all of the information we’ve gotten so far. There have been some strong reactions, particularly regarding the potential changes. In fact, EpicNameBro has already posted several videos digging into what we know so far. Most of these reactions center around the reality that Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creator and director the entirety of the Souls series thus far, will not be directing Dark Souls 2.

Instead, Dark Souls 2 will be directed by Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura. Although Miyazaki is devoting the majority of his attention to another project, he is still supervising Dark Souls 2’s development. As supervisor, Miyazaki has said that he is making it a point to protect the core aspects of the series. In contrast, however, Shibuya said that he is much more direct and open than Miyazaki, and that this is sure to be apparent in the finished product.

Dark Souls 2 screenshot

So, am I worried? Hell yeah, I’m worried, but I’m not scared. Dark Souls is precious to me. I have no problem saying that it is my favorite game of all time. In fact, Dark Souls has been an important point of reference and enjoyable experience for me as I have struggled with PTSD for the past year. My experience with Dark Souls is more meaningful to me than any other gaming experience I’ve had. Naturally, I am extremely excited for Dark Souls 2. I want my experience with it to be nostalgic and cathartic, but I still want it to be new and surprising. Of course I’ll worry about Dark Souls 2 as I anxiously await its arrival with my seemingly paradoxical desires, but I feel secure despite all of the reasons there are to worry so far. Dark Souls 2’s new direction will be more a result of its new directors, who are new to the Souls series, than anything else. Second to that is the extra staff they have working on the game, who are also new to the series. Given these factors, what have I got to feel secure in? Continue reading

Tekken Tag 2: Fun, Sexy, and Deeply Confusing

I have enjoyed the Tekken series since I was a youngster playing Tekken 2 with my friends. It has always been fun for me, and after missing out on the series for some time, I finally picked up the newest title, Tekken Tag Tournament 2. As an adult, I am noticing some things about the game which I either failed to notice before or missed in their development.

The first thing that I noticed is how funny this game is. It makes fun of itself and the fighting genre, which works well with its powerful and serious characters. Its good humor makes it difficult to understand what exactly it is really saying sometimes. Tekken is, like many arcade games, highly sexualized. However, it is very aware of this and pokes fun at the clash between violence and sex. For example, the opening cut scene begins with Jinpachi, who is glowing with a powerful aura, riding in a cab presumably on his way to the fighting tournament. He tells the cab driver that it should be obvious where he is going, as he needs to unleash his awesome power. In a follow-up cut scene available in the gallery, we see that the driver mistook Jinpachi’s cryptic remark to mean that he wanted to go to sin-corner to pick up a prostitute. In other games, the character Ganryu fell in love with Michelle after kidnapping her mother and Michelle subsequently kicked his ass. After Michelle was written out of the series and replaced by her daughter, Julia, Ganryu arbitrarily forgot about Michelle and fell in love with Julia.  Continue reading

Pop Masculism: An Intro to Frasier

I’d like to periodically talk about masculism here, and specifically its issues exemplified in pop culture. If I’m going to talk masculism, I need to clear the air regarding what that means. Masculism or masculinism can refer to an ideology principally concerned with restoring male power and subjugating women, like those good old natural days. For my part, I believe that ideology is wholly harmful and destructive. I have a great distaste for this ideology and a distaste for the unparallel grammatical rules applied to the word ‘masculinism,’ (it’s not femininism; that sounds silly). Thus, I’ll refer to that ideology and movement as masculinism. Masculism, then, will refer to feminism’s male counter-part, which focuses on male empowerment, equality, and general advocacy. The first rule about masculism is that it is not ideologically opposed to feminism. For reasons I’ll touch on over time and which also are available here, the world needs masculism. And masculism needs feminism. It needs it as a framework, it needs it as inspiration, it needs it for support, and most of all it needs it for equality. So with the air cleared, let’s get into some of the masculist issues I identify in one of my favorite shows, Frasier.

Frasier and Niles Crane are what some people would call post-feminism men. Their behaviors and interests are very much different from those traditional of men while never losing their masculine self-identity. Yet, they still suffer from many of the same problems that most men struggle with. They get sometimes get unreasonably upset if their masculinity is called into question. They are almost completely incapable of properly dealing with and communicating their emotions. They have a often feel they need to prove their manliness by either being aggressors or providers. And, despite both being psychiatrists, they are often incapable of properly empathizing. Their emotional unintelligence, communicative shortcomings, and shallow gender-identity, despite their otherwise feminist-empowered lives (they escape certain gender roles and attempt to embrace feminist ideals), are a great representation in fiction for why we need masculism in addition to feminism.

The Crane brothers’ father, Martin, provides an excellent contrast; he is a blend of men with and without feminism. While his attitudes toward women are impeccable, he is very much caught up in the old male gender roles. Be a provider, do not access emotions, avoid affection, do not change, and evade the unknown. As the show develops throughout the seasons, the somewhat more empowered Frasier and Niles gradually effect positive change in Martin, making him a much more well-rounded and happier person. He enjoys openly loving relationships with his family, accessing and expressing emotions, and develops his sense of gender identity to incorporate such things along with his love of sports, pragmatism, and cheap beer.

Niles and Frasier, however, do not develop quite as much as their father. One could argue that they have less distance to travel, but I would tend to disagree. Sure, they develop a much healthier relationship with their father and each other, but they don’t really change much when compared to their father. Niles gains confidence, Frasier puts himself back together after divorce, and they both become ever so slightly less fussy (though they will always prance gleefully for a glass of sherry!), but their identity as men doesn’t develop. They never feel empowered to be anything but a provider. They never stop feeling pressure to be aggressive. They never really reconcile what society says men are with who they are as men.

He’s listening… but he’s also bored.

There’s a lot to get into with Frasier as it relates to this subject – far too much to get into all at once – so let’s wrap it up here. The main female characters in the show, Roz and Daphne, are both very imperfect but very much empowered women thanks to feminism. Other than some superficial similarities, they hold very few similarities to the old and destructive female gender roles. That is a good thing, and is often a sign that things are moving in the right direction. Certainly they are empowered to be providers, to be sexually liberated, to be aggressive, and to feel proud in their femininity. And, it’s certainly true that the Crane boys are very different from the old male gender roles. But Roz escaped the traditional social requirements of chastity, staying in the kitchen, feeling shamed for being a woman, and needing a husband. Frasier and Niles feel empowered to enjoy their interests and to pursue a healthy personal life, but they never escape the need to provide, the need to aggress, or the lack of specific pride as men. Thanks for reading; I really hope I’ve gotten you thinking a little about masculism and feminism. Also, you should watch Frasier. It’s hilarious.