Rockstar Games Seventh-Generation Retrospective Spectacular #02: Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Red Dead Redemption (also known as “Texas Hold’em Addiction Simulator 2010”) is the sequel to Red Dead Revolver (2002) in name only. Red Dead Redemption maintains the open-world gameplay that made Rockstar famous, but trades the gangster film influence of Grand Theft Auto for Westerns. Set on the American Frontier at the end of the Old West, the player character is John Marston, a reformed outlaw seeking to go straight for the sake of his family. Marston’s wife and son are kidnapped by government agents, and he is blackmailed into hunting down the other members of his former game in exchange for their release. Marston is vague about his past, only saying that he and his gang fancied themselves the Wild West’s own merry gang of Robin Hoods, stealing only from those who have too much.
Rockstar Games Seventh-Generation Retrospective Spectacular #01: Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
Grand Theft Auto IV (or “GEE-TEE-EH-EYE-VEE” as it is called by my cousin) is the eleventh game in the Grand Theft Auto series. The protagonist is Niko Bellic, a newly-arrived immigrant to America from an unnamed Eastern European country. The game begins with Niko being greeted at Liberty City’s docks by Roman, his fat cousin with a loud mouth and an even louder wardrobe. Roman is a compulsive liar with addictions to gambling and beeg Ehmerikan tittees. Niko is convinced to move to America by Roman’s exaggerated stories of his success in the land of opportunity. In reality, Roman owns a small taxi company, lives in a bug-infested apartment, and is in-deep with loan sharks. Niko takes it upon himself to deal with Roman’s creditors who happen to be members of the Russian Mafia, and soon finds himself immersed in the criminal underworld of Liberty City. Niko has also come to Liberty City to find the person who betrayed his battalion during the Yugoslav Wars, and to learn the reason for their treachery.
So, Clerks. Kevin Smith’s accidental magnum opus. A tribute to all the twenty-something go-nowheres. A film with no plot outside of two guys trying to get through their daily struggle. The original ending of the film had convenience clerk Dante (Brian O’Halloran) being shot and killed after closing by a robber. It mirrored the earlier scene where Dante and his slacker best friend, Randall (Jeff Anderson), argue whether The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or Return of the Jedi (1983) have the more depressing ending. Which is more depressing: the heroes losing everything, or the implied mass murder of thousands of innocent civilians? Dante remarks that Empire is darker because its a closer representation of real life: a series of down endings. Randall advocates for Jedi: innocent people caught in the crossfire.
Enter stage right, an armed robber. Armed robber shoots Dante. He stuffs an insignificant amount of cash into a paperbag as Dante bleeds out on the floor at his feet. Robber exits stage right. How mindless. What a waste of life. And he wasn’t even supposed to be here today. It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where the family are discussing whether or not it is even possible for there to be a happy ending to a love story. Even the most beautiful and committed relationships end, usually with the death of one of the partners, leaving the other to spend the end of their life alone.
Recently, I wrote about how much I enjoyed Beyond Good & Evil mostly because of its lack of cynicism. Today, I will be writing about a game that I enjoyed equally but for the opposite reason: Rockstar Games’ 2006 hidden gem Bully. I obtained my copy of Bully for the Playstation 2 shortly after its release. My brother and I were standing in the games department of Future Shop with $60 in hand and I suggested Bully. My brother repeated the story that had been going around: Bully is a Columbine simulator in which you physically assault and emotionally torment other children for your own pleasure. I had been following the pre-release controversy surrounding the game so I knew this wasn’t true. The controversy was fuelled by the fact that Bully is made by Rockstar Games, most famous for their Grand Theft Auto series. The year prior to Bully's release the company found itself eyebrows deep in shit when a mod called “Hot Coffee” for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gave players access to a crude, incomplete sex simulator hidden in the game’s code.
Professional troll Jack Thompson was the game’s most vocal critic and seized upon the opportunity to continue his campaign against all things Rockstar. His campaign would eventually reach the peak of hilarity with the release of Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008 which Thompson called “the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio.” Thompson, the real-life lawyer version of Helen Lovejoy, argued in court that Bully constituted a “public nuisance” and should not be sold in the state of Florida. After the judge ruled against him, Thompson threw a legendary tantrum and wrote an open letter to the judge claiming that the decision had “consigned innumerable children to skull fractures, eye injuries from slingshots, and beatings from baseball bats” and compared the trial and the judge’s decision to the Iranian nuclear crisis. The Bully case and Thompson’s reaction to the verdict were among the many events that would start Thompson on the road to disbarrment from the Florida Bar for behaviour “inappropriate by a member of the bar, unprofessional and contemptible.” That’s right, Bully is partially responsible for Thompson losing his law licence. Things are already looking up.
#1 Beyond Good & Evil and #2 Black
You may recall in my previous post that I said a bunch of stuff about how the video game industry has become obsessed with shooters set in grimy environments and you might have sense that I feel a great deal of contempt for these games. I should probably use this opportunity to expand a bit upon this trend and why I dislike it. The shooter genre is the video game equivalent to the action film and it has the same strengths and weaknesses. The strength are, obviously, that everything gets blowed up and the baddies get what’s coming to them and what is coming to them is an entire clip of ammo right in the teeth. The weaknesses as, obviously, that they are very rarely engaging beyond that. An action film doesn’t need to be a Citizen Kane style exploration of the rise and fall of an optimistic, altruistic young hero into a spiteful narcissist, but there should at least be some reason that the hero has to mow down legions of baddies or else it’s just violence for the sake of violence and that’s somewhat disgusting.
62 Days of Video Games: #0
"The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer." - Fridtjof Nansen
I devised an incredibly stupid plan yesterday: I would complete all forty-three of my PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games in alphabetical order before school starts on September 4. I made an even stupider decision to broadcast this plan to all my friends both in real life and online and thus have tied my own hands. I subsequently made the most ridiculous promise to myself to write a review of each of these games. To top it all off I am now writing to tell everyone that not only to I intend to play these games but write about them as well. Once you make one awful choice you might as well make three or four more because why not, right? This blog has been dead since, well, since Amy Winehouse died, and there is a very good reason for that: I have been writing a piece about James Cameron and his films. Yes,this entire time. No, it is not done. I have encountered two problems while writing it: firstly, I have not written much about film so I am still learning how to convey my thoughts and feelings regarding them; and secondly, I am lazy and possess little sticktoitiveness so a project like that tends to take forever. Another issue is that I am not being paid to write it, not is it a school assignment so all of the deadlines I have set have come and gone because they have all- in a sense- been non-existent. In addition to those three things I have become incredibly neurotic about it being perfect which has significantly hindered progress and leads to a cycle: I believe I can complete it and write a lot, realize that despite how much work I have put into it it is nowhere near completion, get discouraged and stop writing, and repeat. I have no doubt that I will, at some point, complete it, but I realize now that for my sanity it is probably best to work on something else for a while. So, why not take on another impossible project?
The Life, Death and Work of Amy Winehouse
"Well-behaved women seldom make history." - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
When I was a child I would hear the deaths of famous people announced on the radio but I never knew who any of them were. Around the age of eight I realized that the reason I did not know them was because I was too young and that as I got older the deaths being announced would start becoming people I did know who had had an effect on my life. It was one of those early sobering existential moments. For most people around my age our grief for dead musicians tends to be retrospective. They died before we were born or before we were old enough to appreciate them. It is not an active grief, it is more of an occasional moment of melancholy that someone who seemed to understand to our predicament is dead.
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way
"I am- as a blonde woman with tits and ass- very proud of my accomplishments as a musician. And I say that with lots of strength. People call it arrogance. But I do believe that women in pop music have a very bad rap and I think people have learned to expect very little from all of us and it’s very unfair; it’s very prejudiced. So, me and my tits and my ass and my brain are very proud to be here today." - Lady Gaga
If you had told me on the twentieth birthday in January 2009 that Kanye West’s next album would be better than Radiohead’s next, that blink-182 would reunite, that a Korean pop girl group would be my most played artist on last.fm and that an Italian American girl from New York City with a big nose who wears lobsters on her head would be the biggest pop star in the world my reaction probably would have been hysterical laughter. It’s amazing how things change. I can barely read my older writing without cringing. In January 2009, I was one of those music fans. You know what I am talking about. If you don’t I suggest you take a look around a Radiohead message board for topics on popular music. For instance a topic on one about Adele titled “Fat Ugly 21 year old beating Radiohead in the album charts, sign of the times?”. You can practically hear them snickering as you read it.
"Was it everything you hoped for?"; "I’ve been finding a lot of things funny lately, but I don’t think they are." - Ellen Ripley, Alien: Resurrection
My mother hated Lost in Translation when she first saw it and did not watch the entire thing. When I showed it to her last year her reaction was, “it is so bea-u-ti-ful”. I have this policy of never not completing a film because I am a pedantic completionist and I always have this nagging feeling that if I don’t complete a film I might be missing something. I push myself to complete virtually everything except my writing. I used to have to watch the entire film in one sitting but I have stopped doing that. They put a pause button on my media player for a reason. Some films really test my patience, however. It took at least half a dozen attempts to get through the first fifteen minutes of Alien: Resurrection to the point I considered abandoning my policy altogether. I wrote on my Twitter: “When I watch it I feel a combination of boredom and anger which is pretty much the worst thing a film can do”. That was before I watched the entire thing and realized it is bea-u-ti-ful.