Category Archives: Serious Time

FGC #444 Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Spooky!Today’s article talks about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. While my usual policy is simply “thar be spoilers” for the entire site, and, yes, today’s game is already a decade old; I highly recommend playing the title “blind” if you’re at all interested in ever picking it up. The reasons for this will become apparent in the article (somewhere around a thousand damn words in), but just giving anyone who hasn’t played the game a chance before we get going. You have been warned and whatnot.

Also, we’re going to be talking about death. A lot. It’s kind of a 4-thing. So I suppose that makes this little bit of a trigger warning, too.

We all on the same page? Great! Time for memento mori.

Videogames can be about anything. To take an easy example, many Pokémon games are about “gotta catch ‘em all”, but there is also the significant theme of discovery, of venturing out into the unknown, and, like a child, finding your way in this world of colossal poisonous insects. In the end, you will be the champion, but you will also know every town, monster, and gym from here to your mom’s house. Even when the “plot” of a Pokémon title is razor thin, there is still that underlying substance. And, like any good story, this information is relayed to the player/audience in an almost imperceptible way, so, even if you are just playing to finally hatch that shiny, maximum IV drowzee, you’re still soaking in the base message of the piece. This is true for nearly any game that is released nowadays, whether it be a Mario game that tells you there is a great big, diverse world out there for you to explore, or a competitive FPS that may be claiming that the only way old soldiers know how to retire is to repeatedly shoot each other for ten minutes at a time. Games have themes. Games have stories. And, whether you overtly notice those narratives or not, they are certainly there.

And maybe personal circumstances can influence your interpretation of those themes…

MEMORIES!A friend of mine died recently. It sucked. He died after a two year (or so) battle with cancer, and, while we were not particularly close (slightly above a co-worker level of friendship, kind of guy you predominantly only see in specific circumstances), he was still someone I considered important. Given he had been diagnosed a couple years back, and we all literally knew this was coming, the whole event was in no way a surprise. I was more “mad at the world” back when I first saw him struggling with the first chemo treatments, but by now, by the time of his death, I had come to grips with the typical “why do bad things happen to good people” issue (answer: it’s because we stand too close to microwaves). It was rough to see a friend die, but, unfortunately, these things happen. It’s death. You will die one day, too.

And when you die, I hope to God that you don’t have an extensive VHS collection of past performances that I have to sort through.

I’m a computer guy. To be more particular, I suppose I’m a “media” guy. People know I have a personal office that I erected nearly a decade ago with an emphasis on being able to digitally preserve anything. I am a data packrat, and, whether you hand me a record, cassette tape, or Kodak slide, I am prepared to find a way to transform that into a MP3 or PNG that can be replicated on a thousand USB drives. So, naturally, because my departed friend had been involved in theatre troops since his college days, he had a full stock of old performances on VHS. As I write this, I am literally looking at a stack of tapes going back to 1989, and I’m digitizing every single reel, because, ultimately, this was a man’s life. He saved these tapes. He thought these tapes were important. So I’m going to save them, pass along some USB drives to his daughters and friends, and keep the man alive.

Except he’s not alive. He’s dead. He is so dead, I’m digitizing tapes so we have some interesting bits to show at his funeral. He lived a long and generally happy life, but now, this all that’s left. A pile of VHS tapes and DVDs. Computer hard drives fat with “project” files. A bed that will never be used again, but currently shows an unmistakable imprint. This is all that is left of a man. Everything that was not recorded, every thought that he didn’t think to write down, that’s all gone now. All that’s left are these bits and pieces of a man. His own thoughts are now forever gone, and, in time, our own memories of him will mutate and fade. We’ll make up stories. We’ll claim he did things he never would have thought of doing. Moments that never happened will become “funny stories” we’ll tell about him. It will be wrong, but it will feel right. And, all the while, these tapes and files will be the only real proof of what actually happened. That he was a man, and now he is dead, but he was once alive, and did these true, concrete things.

And it kind of sucks, because these things that he did were obviously lies to begin with.

COME ON!These VHS tapes are almost entirely routines. As mentioned, my friend always not-so-secretly wanted to be a song and dance man, so he took pretty much any opportunity to perform on stage. Sometimes he sang his own, original songs. Sometimes he covered “Weird” Al numbers. But no matter the source of the performance, it was still a performance. There is an audience, and, whether it was intended for the theatre or a camcorder, he knew about the people watching. Even in the candid videos, the “behind the scenes” moments with family and friends, he knew there was a camera. He wasn’t performing per se, but I don’t need to tell you that there’s a gulf between reality and selfies. Having now personally watched literally decades of this man on tape, I can safely say that his real life persona was very different from anything captured on any camera. And this is not to claim that he was a completely different person, or somehow deliberately deceiving anyone that might watch these videos, but… well… Let’s just say he was good at Facebook before it was ever a thing.

With all that said, suffice to say I was somehow… not emotionally prepared when I was reminded that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories starts with an unseen person popping in a deteriorating, old VHS tape.

Steamy?Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is my friend. … Wait, that came out entirely too wrong. Take two… Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a lot like my friend. For one thing, this is a game that, like a certain someone, is a singularly unique experience (in fact, SH:SM is one of my favorite games). SH:SM includes a framing device of an unseen patient (that effectively becomes you) during a psychological session. And, while the average game might use such a setting as an easy backdrop for a character creator (“tell me how you see yourself”) or simply a way to heighten the horror of the situation (“oh, did my face just turn into a pile of snakes?”), here SH:SM outright tells you from the start that it is psychologically profiling you, player. Many of the most innocuous actions in SH:SM influence how things proceed within the story, and how the world of Harry Mason deviates and mutates in his quest to find his missing daughter. Whether you’re the type to obsessively check every area for hidden items or check out an abandoned strip club for… uh… research, the game is always watching, and forming an opinion on “your” Harry Mason. And, given the final reveal of the true protagonist of this tale, it becomes obvious that this is very deliberate action, as the only “real” Harry exists in ancient, concrete VHS recordings, and every action performed by “your” Harry was merely pieces slapped together by someone desperately trying to remember a dead man.

I can relate.

But the other truth of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is that I can never experience the game the same way ever again. Yes, such a statement is usually reserved for back-of-the-box bullet points (“Always a different adventure!”) that expound on how you’ll experience “70 hours of gameplay” and maybe even enjoy some RPG-Action-Adventure-Rogue-like-Fighting elements. However, in this case, it is 100% true… but not in a good way. It is inevitable that, after learning the final twist of the title’s ending, the player will realize what has been going on. There may be monsters running around as an easy distraction, but it’s pretty obvious that, when all is revealed in the ending, a player will learn “how” they were being watched. There’s no “Harry will remember this”, but a more focused, less frightened playthrough reveals the seams of the story a lot more perceptibly. LOOK AWAYThus, subsequent playthroughs make it nearly impossible to get the true “psychological profile” again, as, once you know what’s actually happening, you start performing. You know you’re being watched, being judged, so you behave differently. You’re no longer you-as-Harry, you’re now officially playing as your ideal Harry, who is inevitably very different from an “honest” Harry.

So, basically, on any subsequent playthrough, Harry becomes his own VHS-recorded ideal. The “real” Harry died the first time you saw the credits. You may as well aim for that ending with the goofy dogs now…

And maybe this gets me thinking about my own death a little more than I would expect.

Hi, and welcome to Gogglebob.com, where I have written 444 or so articles about videogames, some amusing recaps of a few other games, and two Let’s Plays that covered literally everything across four different games. In many cases, these words on this site are completely honest. In other cases, they’re complete dramatic bullshit. Have you ever tried to write a thousand words about a videogame featuring a cheerleader with a chainsaw? Do you know how easy it would be to just write “look, I was horny and had sixty bucks, now I got a game where there is literally an achievement for peaking up a woman’s skirt”? Is the article I’m directly referencing a complete lie? No, of course not. But is it the same article I would have written if I was the only audience for my own musings? Of course not. I have memories that are purely my own of literally every videogame I own, but I am absolutely not going to share that vaguely fatphobic version of Devil May Cry that I imagined when I first played Lollipop Chainsaw (long story, trust me). I know there is an audience, I know I am being watched, so this Book of the Dead that is my personal blog about my personal videogames is not exactly as personal as it appears. One day, someone will read through my site, and remember the man I once was, and the person they will remember will be a complete lie. And I bet they’re going to feel like a real jackass when they get to this article!

Here we go!But I’m not dead. I’m alive. If you’re reading this, you’re alive. And, as the game says, “you need to live your life”. We can spend all day dwelling on what might have been, or who a person really was, but, in the end… or maybe more appropriately, in the present, that’s not what’s important. We can pour over old tapes, or replay old games, but what’s past is past, and what’s past will never be “alive” again. Enjoy the memories you have. Learn from the mistakes that you’ve made. Acknowledge that the past has inevitably made you who you are. But don’t let it dictate who you are. Don’t let the dead dictate the person you can be. Your memories are fragmentary and unreliable. Physical objects are only as important as the feelings we ascribe to them. And even VHS tapes of people long gone are only showcases for one side of a person, one fragment of a persona forever preserved in amber by arcane technology (I assume most camcorders are designed by wizards).

One day you too will die. And one day, people will only remember you in unreliable ways, too. Don’t worry about that. Make an impact now. Make your life matter now. Because one day, you won’t have that choice.

FGC #444 Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

  • System: Nintendo Wii, and then PSP and Playstation 2. I will note in a moment why this title should never have left the safe harbors of the Wii…
  • Number of players: It is truly a singular experience.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Didn’t I? Look, I love this game, as it is one of the few truly unique gaming experiences out there. And that’s pretty good for a game that is already like the sixth in a franchise! Everything in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories jells so completely, it is hard not to be wholly absorbed into one of the few horror games out there that doesn’t just rely on jump scares…
  • I hate this placePlay Control: And a significant reason for SH:SM being so good is the way the Wii-motes are utilized. You have to keep your flashlight up at pretty much all times, which already forces the real-life you into a much more “ready” gaming pose than when you’re munching on pretzels while playing Final Fantasy. And the fact that your only offensive options are tied to literally shoving with the motes during high-stress, high-risk monster areas keeps the adrenaline up at the exact moment you should be “frightened”. This is the experience always promised by the “virtual reality” component of the Wii. … Or at least it’s better than bowling.
  • Speaking of Horror: If I want to play a horror game, please give me a game where my hero has practically zero weapons available. I want to shoot some mindless drones, I’ll just play Mega Man, thank you.
  • So which ending did you get? The sexy one. I am apparently a pervert that spent way too long staring at “hard bodies”.
  • Least Favorite Area: This is a horror game, so “least favorite” is the new “favorite”. Anywho, the high school scares the everloving crap out of me, and the moment it asks you to venture back into a monster-infested area to unlock the way forward… I get chills just thinking about it.
  • Did you know? I don’t think I’ve played a single other Silent Hill title to completion. Horror isn’t exactly my bag…
  • Would I play again: Probably not! Shattered Memories is an experience you can only truly experience once. I would like to play it with some fresh meat sometime, though…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to completely random and has chosen… Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax! Well, doesn’t that sound climatic? Please look forward to it!

CRAYON FACTORY

Wild Arms 2 Part 42: Goggle Bob and The Odessa Effect

Let’s Plays are inherently personal. Videogames are intimate experiences to begin with (how else would you describe a situation where you spend forty hours alone with your hands on your controller?), and expanding such an experience to include everyone willing to read/listen is immediately going to, strangely inversely, make that title more intimate to the Let’s Player. Let’s Plays, whether they be screenshots or videos, at least double the amount of time one dedicates to a game, so, assuming this isn’t a Player’s first rodeo, anyone going into a Let’s Play knows it’s going to be a long haul, even on a title as simple as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. On a JRPG, we’re talking about an experience that could literally take years.

This Let’s Play took years. Even if I were able to stay 100% on an update a week, these past forty updates would have taken nearly a full year. Why would I even bother?

Wild Arms 2 is a weird game. It is a late Playstation 1 JRPG that existed in that peculiar JRPG adolescence where everyone was simultaneously trying to chase the success of Final Fantasy 7, but also “advance the genre” in its own way. Many JRPG directors of this period had years of experience as being the audience for the likes of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and an age of post-modern JRPGs was due. But everyone wanted that phat Cloud Strife dough, though, so we saw a number of titles that seemed downright at odds with themselves. A title where a chosen hero battles a group of anime villains but also eventually has to repel an encroaching abstract idea while disproving the very concept of heroism is exactly the kind of title you’d see in ‘99/’00. Wild Arms 2 has a narrative that is seemingly doomed to be bonkers right from the start, as it stands at the intersection of conflicting goals that is “make a Power Rangers game” and “say something meaningful about the world”.

And the translation doesn’t help. Wild Arms 2 is already toying with some intellectual notions for a “typical” JRPG, and the fact that Irving might wind up explaining the same concept using three different incongruous homonyms isn’t helping. What’s more, the translation completely neuters characters’ voices, so the only characters that seem to get individualistic nuance are the heroes that have non-verbal animations that clearly convey their place in the story. Lilka has a tendency to “sound” like everyone else thanks to a dull localization, but her constant cycles of stomping her feet or waving her arms convey the emotions of an impatient young lady. Unfortunately, the majority of the rest of the cast doesn’t get such consideration, and thus characters that should be standouts like Brad and Ashley begin to blur together. This ain’t Persona 4: the localization of Wild Arms 2 is not only confusing for actual plot purposes, it also does an incredible disservice to one of the more unique casts on the Playstation 1.

So we come back to the same question again: why did I, the venerable Goggle Bob, star of stage and screen, bother to dedicate my precious time to Let’s Playing Wild Arms 2?

The answer to that question is a long one.

(Like you thought anything I would ever write would be short…)

NOTE: This section gets incredibly personal. I just started typing, and it happened. Also, general trigger warning for overwhelming grief.

Venture with me back to the bygone time of my college years. In fact, technically the absolute beginning of my time at college. I was to start my higher educational time at Montclair State University, a college chosen for the twin reasons of its affordability and great distance from my parents. It didn’t hurt that Montclair was a stone’s throw from the always-exciting New York City, either. Everything was going swimmingly until there was a snafu with my housing, which would make my college life difficult, as I was looking at a 2 ½ hour commute from home. After begging and pleading and straight up calling a senator (“Let me speak to this state school’s manager!”), I finally received some on-campus housing, and I was all ready to start my college career, albeit a few days later than expected. I was able to “commute” to my opening classes, but I finally moved in on campus on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

It was September 9th, 2001.

Two days later, things got dicey.

Like most people at Montclair, I had a front-row seat for September 11th. My first exposure to the event was being in the campus library that Tuesday morning (thanks to my class schedule, maybe the only morning I was awake that entire semester), and having someone nearby get off the phone and shout to a nearby coworker, “Some idiot just rammed their plane into the World Trade Center.” That’s what had happened in that moment, too. It’s hard to describe now, but immediately after the first plane hit, it was just kind of assumed that this was some random accident. Some jackass had a pilot’s license, and did an unthinkably stupid thing. Regardless, interested in what was happening, I walked over to a nearby hill that overlooked New York City. I could see the already smoking first tower in plain view, and then, in a moment I’ll likely remember to the end of my days, I saw the second plane hit the second tower, live. Actually, strike that, I don’t remember that moment clearly at all. Over the years, and even there in that moment, my brain kind of recoiled at what was happening. In my memory, it’s practically some morbid comedy routine. I “remember” everyone immediately looking at everyone else there on that hill, looking at the nearby dorm “tower” that rose next to the hill where we all stood, and we all collectively stepped out of its shadow, generally fearful that that nearby building would be next. That, obviously, never happened. I’m still pretty sure 9/11 happened, though.

And it’s hard to describe to anyone that “wasn’t there” how 9/11 impacted the entire campus. For future generations and younger readers: no, there was not widespread panic and rioting on campus. We were mostly just… confused. Something no one talks about is that the World Trade Center was a broadcast tower, so nearby Montclair State completely lost its television for a solid 24 hours. Phones were still mostly land-line based at that time, but the local circuits were literally overloaded for obvious reasons. The only information source available was the internet, which was still fairly new as a “legitimate” news source. In that moment, we had collectively missed the memo on the coming War on Terror or the president urging for calm or whatever, it was just… annoying? Like, people were dead. The nearby New York commuter lots were filled with cars whose owners were never coming back. There was no one on campus (including myself) that didn’t know at least someone who could already be dead. In many cases, we were just waiting for those inevitably terrible phone calls. And, again, we had no real idea what was going on. It was generally assumed that this was a planned attack, but the full breadth of what happened (including the attack on the Pentagon) wouldn’t be revealed to us until that evening. Yes, there were rumors abound, but nothing was confirmed for hours, and, in such a situation, hours can last for years.

And that left a bit of an impression on the campus at large. I would say that literally the entire student body was a little shell shocked by the event. You would see it literally everywhere. When a plane flew overhead, people flinched. No one was comfortable living on the higher floors of the dorms. Visiting New York City went from a joyous event to what was seen as a risky, dangerous proposition. And one thing that seems to be rarely mentioned nowadays: the 9/11 “death cloud” hovered over NYC in thickest black for at least a full week, and looking at the skyline any day thereafter seemed… wrong. There was a constant reminder of death and destruction right there, always outside a nearby window. In the weeks and months to come, the world at large would mutate, but right there at MSU, every last student and professor had to deal with a tragedy that was much more up close and personal.

So, on that cheery note, I’m going to switch gears to talk about my freshman anthropology course.

I was an incredibly enlightened high school student, so I naturally believed that, having figured everything out, I would take the smartest route through college. My plan was to take all the superfluous/required general courses first, and thus get those all out of the way early, and then focus on my real major studies closer to graduating and getting a job that would actually apply these skills. NOTE TO ANYONE THAT WILL LISTEN: never do this. Fun fact: if you transfer to a different school, they’re going to have different superfluous/required classes, and you will have wasted your time. It happens. But, during the summer when I was barely past high school, my plan was to take courses that were ultimately required early, and if a side effect of such a plan was that I’d wind up inadvertently lumped in with a bunch of “seniors” just trying to graduate and get out, so be it.

So this anthropology course was pretty much exactly what I already expected: a large group of chunkheads of various ages that were only taking the class so as to graduate. Actually, the majority of the class may not have been chunkheads, but, given no one ever said a damn word, I’m forced to assume they were all maximum chunkheads. In that class, there was the professor, and there were exactly three people that participated in class. There was…

  1. Myself
  2. One random woman
  3. One man, the younger brother of the one random woman

The siblings had apparently arranged to take this course together, as senior and freshman, and had that naturally intellectual thing going on where they wanted to discuss everything. I, as you’re no doubt already aware, cannot absorb any information without gargling out like a thousand words on the subject. Together, the three of us replied to practically every question the professor tossed out, and I’m moderately certain every other person in the class hated us. Or they loved us. I don’t know. They could have appreciated how we managed to railroad practically every topic into unknown, “this won’t be on the final” territory, and they knew they could just sit back and relax while we prattled on about comparing ancient tribal tattoo ceremonies to going to the mall and getting some fairy princess ink.

How ever the other students felt about us was inconsequential in the long run, though, as the professor apparently adored us. Later in my college years, I decided that this was because it was a once-a-week, 6 PM Wednesday course, and the professor assumed the class would be dead for a solid two hours. We livened up the place, and I suppose we were rewarded for our participation. The three of us collectively could do no wrong, and I personally tested this theory when I turned in a midterm essay about a week late, and received absolutely no punishment for my tardiness.

Which would be why I decided to push the boundaries a little further during the final. There was an in-class test, and a homework essay component. The essay was ridiculously vague: choose an anthropological concept, either from the book or an outside source, and apply it to modern humanity. Could be anything! Take your pick!

My pick? That turned into an essay titled “9/11 & The Odessa Effect”.

You have to understand that 2001 was a lawless time before googling for a source was something any old professor could do. Assuming you claimed a source was “foreign” or “contemporary” (or both), you could basically cite your cat as a valid voice on a term paper. Yes, there could be problems if you tried such a thing at the higher levels of learning… but for a generic anthropology course? You could get away with it with zero issues. And, while I am unequivocally stating that this was the only time I ever committed such a crime, I am going to admit that I may have gotten a name for a source from Gamefaqs…

The time after 9/11 was a time of seemingly impossible nationalism. The 9/11 incident allowed the leaders of our nation to whip the majority of the population into a righteous fury that justified invading at least one country that had nothing to do with anything. And that seemed almost impossible in those early days, given President Bush had previously been involved in one of the most divisive election victories in (then) recent memory. On the day that I moved into my dorm, Bush was seen by half the population as a passable leader, and the other half as a Saturday Night Live punch line that stole an election and was about as qualified for the position as your average toddler; yet, two days later, President Bush was lauded as the one man who could steer us through these turbulent times, and people on both sides of the political divide put their differences aside to hang cardboard flags on overpasses and buy action figures named “Freedom: The American Eagle”.

It wouldn’t last. While the Forever War would keep going until at least the end of this essay, people began to drift back apart and actually question the administration that demanded we rename our preferred potato side dishes. The Dixie Chicks were able to wake us all up (and not Evanescence, oddly enough), and, soon enough, we were back to a nation where a healthy portion of the population couldn’t stand to hear the lies about “WMDs” ever again. We were, in short, back to normal in just a few years’ time.

But there in that moment, in those scant few months after the attack, we were united. We stood together against any threats that might try to take away our Freedom. Particularly, there on that campus, collectively shell-shocked and flinching every time we heard a plane fly overhead, we were ready. We were together in the one singular goal of doing whatever the hell we were told just so long as nothing like this would ever happen again.

And if you told us to impregnate some random twin so as to trap an encroaching universe and then attack a giant monster fetus, we would have been all over that.

I am rather annoyed with myself that I did not preserve that essay in some manner. However, to relay the basic gist of the essay, I claimed that the current nationalism seen in the wake of 9/11 was described only a few years earlier by the modern philosopher Eitarō Nagano (one of the directors of Wild Arms 2 with what I figured was a foreign-enough sounding name), who described “The Odessa Effect”, a phenomenon whereby people would rally behind a heroic leader if a malevolent enough villain rose to power. The theory was so named for the example Nagano initially put forth, which would involve a hypothetical terrorist organization named “Odessa”, and an imaginary nation named Filgaia that would instantly unite against said Odessa. For a touch of flare, I added some random bits about Nagano being generally disliked in his home country for also using Hitler as an example, and seemingly calling out his nation’s former leaders for siding with the wrong side. However, the bulk of the essay focused on 9/11, and how our unity would inevitably lead to a potentially corrupt leader making broad changes with the uncontested support of the nation, just as Nagano predicted. Truly, this “Odessa Effect” was unambiguously applicable to our current situation.

And I got an A for that bullshit.

The professor sent me a personal email (it was the end of the semester, there was no reason for us to ever be in the same room again) about how it was one of the most interesting reports in the class, and she was going to miss my unique insight into current events. Given my interest in the class and the fact that I was obviously doing research on my own, she thought, if I was undeclared, entering the field might be a good career path. There was something in there about needing “more people like you”.

In the full scope of my life, am I proud of such a thing? Well, I can safely say I felt downright bad about apparently impressing my professor to such a degree through writing about a videogame (wow, what a shape of things to come). And academia is important and…. Phhhtt… I’m sorry, I can’t get through that sentence. Dude, it was complete BS from start to finish, but I managed to create an anthropological concept out of a random JRPG that I remembered from like a year prior. I didn’t even have the game handy! I would have much rather written about Super Smash Bros Melee! But, somehow, it all came together well enough to impress my professor, and, while I did legitimately feel bad for deceiving her, I very much enjoyed boosting my GPA with a little help from a Playstation game.

And, ultimately, that’s the reason this Let’s Play exists: I felt like I owed Wild Arms 2.

Wild Arms 2 is not the best JRPG out there. It is not even the best Playstation 1 JRPG. It has its moments, but, from a gameplay and presentation perspective, it could easily be lost in the sea of “wannabe Final Fantasy 7” titles that would flood the market until the dawn of “wannabe Grand Theft Auto 3”s. It has some memorable characters, but they’re drowned out by a slapdash localization. The puzzles are forgettable, and, while some monsters might be interesting, the actual combat is not. Wild Arms 2 is, at best, a mediocre experience.

But, like so much media out there, it can stick with you. It can shape your viewpoints. It can become an experience that is permanently a part of you. In this case, it was the strange intersection of current events and JRPG philosophizing. Was Irving right? Would his plan work in the real world? Or was it all the result of one JRPG writer reading Watchmen’s finale right before starting some plotting? Global peace through uniting against a common enemy? It’s been done before. It’s been done better. But Wild Arms 2 did it, too, and it stuck with at least one player. And that player utilized that thought for a college class. That player decided that that decades old game was worthy of further examination. And, it may have taken an ungodly amount of time, but that player wrote a Let’s Play.

Thanks for being you, Wild Arms 2.

Thank you to everyone that made this Let’s Play a success.

And thank you for reading.

Wild Arms Mission #30
Finish a complete Let’s Play of Wild Arms 2
Status: Success!
Notes: Well, that sure took a while.

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

Here comes a chicken!Let’s talk about Alfred Chicken, and what he means to the current state of our democracy.

The Alfred Chicken franchise, on its own, is not much to write home about. It’s one of those “weird European platformers” that seemed to pop up since the creation of DOS and carried on into the 32-bit days. Alfred Chicken (damn, I’m going to have to pick up some chicken alfredo before this article is over) runs and jumps around a number of levels that were maybe assembled in seventeen seconds through randomly smoothing graphical assets together until, I don’t know, I guess this collection of alphabet blocks looks like something passable. Alfred’s moveset includes both jumping and pecking, as he must to retain his chicken status. Eventually, the game ends, or maybe it doesn’t, and, look, I bounce off European platformers like a quick boomerang off a leaf shield, okay? I’m too used to my Marios and Castlevanias to waste too much time on some damn game where poultry has to peck at balloons.

And, really, that’s just fine in this case, because America, land of the free (chicken nugget deal), only ever saw one Alfred Chicken title. On my corner of the Atlantic, Super Alfred Chicken was only ever available for the Super Nintendo. But in the fabulous land of lifts and roundabouts, Alfred Chicken dominated (loosely) the NES, Gameboy, Playstation, and whatever the hell an Amiga happens to be. Some platforms had different versions, some featured 3-D, but they all had Alfred Chicken to spare. Oh, and speaking of platforms, there was that whole Alfred Chicken political party, too.

Yes, if you lived in the Christchurch, Dorset constituency in 1993, you could have voted for Karl Fitzhugh of the Alfred Chicken Party.

Blah blah blahNow, before you go thinking that the Alfred Chicken Party had anything useful to contribute to political discourse at the time, consider that Karl Fitzhugh was absolutely just the marketing arm for Alfred Chicken’s Amiga (amigo? Were you trying to say amigo? How about amiibo?) debut. The Alfred Chicken Party was rightly pegged as a publicity stunt, and wound up placing second from last in the election (and, to be clear for my American readers, this is not a situation where “placed last” also means “won the popular vote”). In fact, the Alfred Chicken Party was such a flagrant and obvious publicity stunt, it rapidly inspired new legislation that would require a candidate to acquire many more signatures to actually appear on a ballot. Democracy works! Through Alfred Chicken!

And, 25 years later, it would be nice to believe we had learned a single blessed thing.

Alfred Chicken, in his time, was immediately identified as a spurious, frivolous candidate. This was just a random animal mascot character (arguably before they were cool) attempting to use general politics as a springboard to some free(ish) advertising. No one would legitimately elect a member of the Alfred Chicken Party, because you’d have to be some kind of moron to actually think there is anything more to that “political party” than a naked cash-grab.

But how many people reading this article would vote for a candidate from the Nintendo Party? Hell, how many people writing this article would vote for the party of Mario, Link, and Pikachu? The answer to that question is a firm “all of them”.

UglyIt has come up again and again in recent months, but people show a surprising amount of loyalty to faceless corporations that don’t care if the average consumer lives or dies. Toys Я Us recently went out of business, firing every last employee while its board of directors skipped town with giant bags adorned with dollar signs. But it’s been determined that “the brand” is still viable, so Geoffrey the Giraffe will be back in our faces soon enough. And a huge portion of the population is going to eat it up with a multicolored spoon! Toys Я Us? I love that place! That’s where toys come from! And videogames! Just like Gamestop! And who cares if one single company has been selling me $60 games for years, and then buying them back at 60¢, I’ve got brand loyalty! I’m a Powerup Rewards Member! Sometimes I earn a free pen! I will follow these companies straight into Hell, so please show me your viable political candidates! Who is the leader of the Think Geek Party? Does he need a donation!?

And, at first blush, this all sounds insane. After all, there is no Wal-Mart party, and, while we vote with our wallets every day, no company is brazen enough to actively run a candidate. Except… that’s completely wrong.

Okay, already uttered their name, let’s take Wal-Mart as an example. Right off the bat, apparently Wal-Mart has made $2,192,327 in political contributions in 2018. And, if you’re curious, about half of that money went to candidates, and the majority of the rest of that went to PACs or political parties. In addition to all of that, fifteen senators own Wal-Mart stock, so there might be a bit of an interest in our government keeping that poor company afloat. And if that wasn’t enough, in 2017, Wal-Mart spent $6,880,000 lobbying for various causes. And the kicker? Wal-Mart isn’t even in the top 50 for purchasing government support.

In 1998, $1.45 billion was being spent on lobbying. In 2018, that has become $2.59 billion. And how much is that? Well, to revisit Wal-Mart, that’s a company that makes $14.7 billion in profit a year.

So, to be clear, the US government can be purchased for a little under a fifth of one company’s total profits.

SliceyAnd the most unfortunate thing about all of this is that there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can vote for your favorite party, you can vote for the candidate that is going to save the world, and you can canvas your neighborhood and drum up support in every way you know how. But, end of the day, Wal-Mart is still going to make literally billions of dollars, and whoever is in charge of those billions of dollars is going to make just a smidge more of an impact on the political landscape than anything you could hope to achieve with a “grassroots” campaign. And do you think you’re ever going to compete with Wal-Mart? Fat chance, little voter.

Except…

I always look to Blockbuster Video in times of hardship.

When “video rental stores” (ask your parents) first became popular, there was one in every shopping center (ask your parents, again), and they were all local mom & pop shops with names like “Microplay” or “No Name Video”. Then Blockbuster Video hit the scene with inventories that would be completely impossible for any given neighborhood shop to ever procure, and, almost overnight, Blockbuster Video was literally the only game in town. And, by about the late 90’s/early 00’s, Blockbuster Video was the only way to rent anything. The chain had eliminated all competition, and there was no way to borrow a copy of Leprechaun 3 (that’s the one in Vegas) without your trusty Blockbuster membership card. Had overdue fees on your account? Sorry, you’re stuck in DVD-less purgatory for the rest of your days.

No, it is notBut a funny thing happened. Netflix came along, and, in a few short years, Blockbuster was dead in the ground. Netflix was cheaper, more convenient, and less overtly evil than Blockbuster, so people took their business elsewhere in droves. And it didn’t matter that many areas still have terrible internet connections. It didn’t matter that Netflix and its ilk could never support the historical selection of a well-stocked Blockbuster. It didn’t matter that streaming services would doom us forever to a fragmented system wherein you just kind of hoped your favorite new release would drop on a subscription you already own. No, none of that mattered, because Blockbuster simply could not compete with the new monolith that was streaming, and, in practically no time at all, Blockbuster was resigned to the same fate as the dinosaurs (mostly frozen in remote regions of Oregon). Blockbuster was once king of the hill, and now it is barely a footnote in history.

And if there’s any hope for the future, we could learn a thing or two about Blockbuster’s failure.

No company is too big to fall. Just within the last few decades, we’ve seen hundreds of once enormous companies fall to the inevitable march of the internet. Technology moves forward, and with it, new opportunities arise for those that will take risks (and get lucky). Fossil fuels are killing our planet as we speak, but they could become a thing of the past with cheap, effective alternatives. It sounds impossible, but if every new car with a new fuel system cost just a couple hundred less than the gas-guzzlers currently on the market, we’d have a healthier planet in no time. We just have to find the people willing to support these companies, and not those that foster the industries that should have died decades ago because God forbid Mickey Mouse fall into the public domain. We have to vote for people that are going to support forward progress. And not just in the voting booth! We need to be conscientious consumers, and support companies that in turn support good candidates and business practices. VroooomNo company is ever going to be perfect (they are, almost literally, money making machines. That has a tendency to step on a few ethical toes), but maybe you don’t need the latest make believe horsey game if it is also apparently responsible for 80% of all crunch misery in North America. Or maybe that company could just produce one god damn game with a female protagonist. That would be a step in the right direction…

My final thoughts on this subject are simple: absolutely vote on Election Day, but remember to vote every other day of the year, too. Support candidates that encourage progress, and support companies that do the same. It won’t happen all at once, and it might not even seem like it’s happening at all, but change is possible, and you can help it, every step of the way, every day.

And don’t vote for the Alfred Chicken Party.

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

  • System: Super Nintendo. I understand the other versions/ports of Alfred Chicken are pretty similar to this version, but there is no way I am going to confirm this in any way.
  • Number of players: Start and options? Yep, looks like this is one of those single player platformers.
  • Chicken or the Egg: So the plot of this title is that eggs are being kidnapped, and Alfred Chicken has to venture forth to save the widdle eggies. Except… Alfred Chicken appears to hatch from an egg at the start of every stage… so why are eggs seen driving cars and being their own, autonomous creatures? Are eggs just, like, the unevolved forms of chickens in this universe? Is this U.S. Acres fanfic?
  • What is even happening?Other Questions: And Alfred collects eggs as one-ups, and hatches from a new egg after every death. Is there more than one Alfred Chicken? Does each collected egg start the cycle of life anew for our hero? The theological implications of this game alone…
  • So, did you beat it? No. Come on, this game gets repetitive by approximately the third level. And there are at least fifteen? No thank you.
  • Favorite… uh… Stuff: This is a very generic platformer. Alfred… barely does anything. He jumps! He pecks! He has some sort of weird power-up ball thing that doesn’t work quite right! There is barely anything that distinguishes this game from any other… so… uh… The colors are nice?
  • Did you know? The Alfred Chicken Party came in second-to-last in its election. The biggest loser was, apparently, the Rainbow Party. There is no force on Earth that would allow me to effectively google “The Rainbow Party” in 2018.
  • Would I play again: Nope! This chicken doesn’t have any meat on it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy for the Nintendo Switch! The prophecy has come to pass! Please look forward to it!

Happy Flower

Goggle Smart Kid

Photo credit: guessThe most dangerous thing I ever read in middle school was Harrison Bergeron.

For anyone that hasn’t read the story and doesn’t have time for a short story that you can google in six seconds and would probably be a better use of your time than this essay, Harrison Bergeron is a 1961 short story by Kurt Vonnegut. It tells the story of a dystopian future where every American has been “averaged”. If someone is beautiful, they are forced to wear an ugly mask. If someone is athletic, they are tied to heavy weights. And if someone is smart, they are equipped with a helmet that randomly dispenses blaring, concentration-destroying sounds. This “averagefication” of America is legally mandated, and this short story tells the tale of one intelligent, athletic Harrison Bergeron, and his short, easily stymied revolution to bring extraordinary back to America. Spoilers, Harrison is shot and killed almost instantly, and his parents, an idiot mother and an intelligent father forced into a thought disruptor, barely register the tragedy thanks to their handicaps. Looks like the Bergeroniverse is going to stick to its “average” existence.

And that scared the hell out of me.

Identity is always important. I’m not certain at what age such thinking starts, but I know nine-year-olds and fifty somethings that both seem to be in the same boat: they want to know who they are. But it seems like the nine-year-olds have an easier time of it, as they more readily accept the descriptors assigned by their peers and/or adults. Tell me, were you ever described as the fast kid? The fat kid? The smelly kid? The cute kid? The kid that can eat eleven tacos in one sitting? The sports kid? The smart kid? Who assigned you that moniker? Was it a parent? Grandparent? Teacher? Sibling? Friend? Bully? And, regardless of source, when did you start to internalize that description of yourself? You are the fat kid, and no matter how much weight you lose, you still see that pudgy face in the mirror. You are the fast kid, even though you haven’t run more than three feet in the last decade. Maybe you’re still convinced you have a skin condition you got over in college, or maybe you’ve been happily married for ten years, but still think no one on Earth would ever date you. These descriptions we internalize, they can last whole lifetimes, and sometimes they just originate with a random, careless comment that was forgotten by the commenter as quickly as it was said.

Photo credit: guess

Me? I was the smart kid, and it wasn’t hard to understand why. I don’t have any siblings, and I was raised by a very attentive pair of parents, and 3 out of 4 grandparents (my paternal grandfather died the year before I was born). And everyone in my family, one way or another, was very educated. Since I didn’t have much of a peer group 90% of my time (no siblings or cousins around to play Ninja Turtles with), I mostly conversed with my parents. I want to say they dumbed down the conversation a bit for my young ears, but they never lowered their vocabularies or talked down to me (my father actually has a distinct loathing for “baby talk”, which likely explains why he couldn’t stand it when I flipped on Rugrats). This is why, when I was a wee lad of about eleven years old, my friend’s mother asked me, “Why do you talk like a forty year old?” I took it as a compliment. Regardless, whether or not I have ever been smart, I have always sounded smart, and so I happily adopted the “smart kid” identity. I liked school! I did my homework! I could always spout “fun facts” and lecture my friends on the application of metaphors! I used phrases like “the application of metaphors”! And, looking back, I have no idea if it was because I enjoyed doing such a thing, or if the act of committing to the “smart kid” persona just properly tickled the pleasure centers of my brain. See! I’m the smart kid! And I’m doing smart stuff! Me so smart!

So I wound up in the Gifted & Talented Program, and, one day in sixth grade (or thereabouts), we read Harrison Bergeron. And I liked the story, naturally, because it was funny, quick, and absurd. If that wasn’t already the entire base of what I look for in entertainment, it would become such in the coming years. And we discussed the story in class (Gifted & Talented was a forty minute “elective” class containing like ten students. While we were discussing Vonnegut, the kids in “normal” class were, I don’t know, learning how to entice termites onto sticks or something). I seem to recall the girls found the story sad, while the boys were busy chuckling about some dumbass getting his brains blown out. We talked about the ludicrousness of an entirely “averaged” society, and then we moved on to the next topic at hand (which if memory serves, was Flatland, for some reason). In a way, that should have been it. I can’t distinctly recall the thoughts “around” most anything else we read in Gifted and Talented, and Harrison Bergeron should have been no different.

Photo credit: guess

But some time not much later, a thought started to creep into my head, and I’d argue that it never left. That thought was rather simple, and it irrevocably changed my life:

They want to make you stupid. They want to make you stupid, just like them.

Before we go any further: I want to plainly state that, as an adult, I see Harrison Bergeron as nothing more than some light satire about what would eventually be identified as “politically correct” culture. It’s a silly story that is meant to highlight the ridiculous potential endpoint of homogenizing the human race. It’s not a manifesto, it’s a farce. As an adult, I understand that.

But as a kid? At the age of twelve? I want to say it was the hormones. I want to say that, at that age, with my kind of mentality, practically anything could have set me off. It’s like having your sexual awakening while watching Rescue Rangers, right? You were going to be get turned on by something, it could have been MTV’s The Grind, or it could have been Gadget Hackwrench. Best not to think too hard about such a thing. But, source or no, somehow Harrison Bergeron radicalized my own thinking. It was no longer enough to be “the smart kid”, now I had to defend that position, and keep my precious brain safe from all those that would attempt to bring me down to their level. I’m the smart kid, dammit, and you damn normies aren’t going to catch me unaware! Going to a hockey game this Wednesday? Ha! That’s clearly a trick! I’m going to stay home, and read books! That’ll show ya! My galactic brain will stomp out your brain, which is clearly as dull and lifeless as your hair. Ain’t nothing gonna bring me down!

And I thank God every day that I had great friends, activities, and teachers during that time, because if I didn’t? I’m pretty sure I would have been a danger to the world.

I’m a white male living in The United States of America. Statistically, that means there is likely something wrong with me. According to all available data, there are good odds that, more than the women and “minorities” in my school, I could have been a danger to myself and others. This isn’t some self-depreciating statement, this is a simple fact proven over the last few decades since Columbine (which, incidentally, occurred while I was in high school). I am well aware of this fact, and, every time there’s a shooting (which is depressingly often), I think about how such a thing could happen, and if such a thing could have ever happened to me. And, no, I don’t think about if I could have been shot while in high school, I think about whether I could have been the shooter.

Photo credit: guess

And, deep in my heart, I hope that I could never have been that person. I’m not violent by nature, and I think I’ve been in exactly two fights my entire life. I traditionally see violence as an absolute last resort, and it’s a rarity that I even consider hitting someone, left alone jumping down the long series of philosophical hoops that would lead to me wanting to see someone dead. I can barely bring myself to stomp out a spider! They serve a valuable purpose! But I also think about being a teenager, and how every little kiss and breakup and math quiz was the most important thing that had ever happened in the history of mankind. I think about how quickly those emotions could be amplified into something terrible. And I think about what I was thinking about at that time, and who I was.

And I was the smart kid.

When I was twelve, I determined that the world would try to drag me down to average. It never did. I kept my ears open, I kept my nose to the grindstone (book stone?), and I scoffed at obvious attempts to lower my IQ (a fear that alcohol is the “new” opiate of the masses may explain why I have a distaste for beer to this day. Ditto on drugs in general… which may literally be opiates…), and, thankfully, I made it out of my teenage years with my brain intact. My identity, who I considered myself as a person, was never truly threatened. The Harrison Bergeron World was not one that ever intersected with our dimension, and I was safe in my little smart kid bubble. I am the smart kid, and I would continue to be the smart kid.

But I feel that only proves that I’m lucky.

I never really chose to be the smart kid. At some point, I made it an integral part of my identity, but the things that made people identify me as such, the things that made me “the smart kid” were all just random bits of fate predominantly inspired by parents. I understand it’s like a kōan to ask something like “who would you be if you were born an entirely different person”, but the point is that the identity I clung to like a security blanket for so long was less my own doing, and more of an identity thrust upon me. I wasn’t “smart” because I was the most studious second grader in South Jersey, I was smart because I sounded smart next to my friends that were still aping Ren & Stimpy. Adults told me I was smart, I told myself I was smart, I studied to prove I was smart, and then I defended my smartness through smart activities. Would you like to see my high school yearbook again? I think that would prove my nerdity once and for all.

So, in a way, I can’t imagine being a different random white boy with a different defining personality trait. And, more importantly than that, I can’t imagine having a different “Harrison Bergeron”. It’s only through deep meditation and reflection (re: got bored while watching Jessica Jones) that I came to the realization that one simple story impacted my life in significant and subtle ways. So if I barely know myself, I can’t imagine we are even capable of discovering the “trigger” for the white boys that actually decide to kill others. And, in a way, that’s to be expected. We are, by nature, selfish creatures that look out for our own interests. We are capable of empathy, but considering we barely admit our own motives to ourselves, it really is nearly impossible to truly know and understand what someone else is thinking.

Photo credit: guess

And why do I bring this up at all? Because it doesn’t matter.

I was never violent, but my own thinking was radicalized by a humorous short story. Similar things may have happened to other children. It may not have been Vonnegut, but it could certainly have been a television show, movie, or videogame. It could have been a random comment by a commentator on Westminster Dog Show. It could be anything. And that’s important, because we could outlaw all media except for Sesame Street, and someone could still get the idea for a murder spree by misunderstanding Grover. And that’s just addressing “media” as a radicalizing agent, let’s not even considering what kids say to each other. Kids are mean, and someone just trying to be funny could leave permanent scars on a psyche. And some scars never go away, and simply fester and ooze until they control a life, steering it directly into something that is going to require “thoughts and prayers”.

And how do you deal with that? You don’t.

I’m not saying that people cannot be healed. I’m certainly not saying that someone cannot be convinced to, ya know, not be a mass murdering terrorist. There are good, wonderful people out there that help people with these scars, and there are people that have been pulled back from the brink by even the tiniest glimmer of kindness. But can we rely on that happening? Can we say we can eliminate every radical stimulus, and thus live in a perfect, terrorism free world? Hell no. The idea that we could “nice” away violent behavior is absurd, and, frankly, right up there with “your spouse won’t hit you if you are just nicer” or “stop wearing that dress, you’re asking to be raped.” It doesn’t truly address the problem, and it hoists the blame onto the victim, not the perpetrator. The thought of being pleasant all the time is insane to begin with (you are allowed to be sad, irritated, or angry, boys and girls), but the idea that you must be a smiler, else it “set somebody off”, is downright dangerous. Someone hurting people is not your fault any more than it is Vonnegut’s fault that I was a dick to anyone I deemed unworthy of my intelligence.

So if someone tells you the solution so school shootings is to be nice to the goth kid, go ahead and tell ‘em they’re on the wrong track. White males are allowed to have their ridiculous identity issues, but, as long as we present the solution to those issues as violence, we’re going to keep seeing violence. “Proving yourself as a man” is horribly ingrained in our society, and how many deaths can we attribute to the boys that internalize that message? How many times are we going to see someone “solve a problem” with an assault rifle? How many people have to die before we change not how we interact with each other, but what we allow to define our society every minute of every day? “Being nice” was never going to be the answer, and we need to change so much more than our social circles to stop this problem once and for all.

Anyone can be radicalized by anything, but the overarching “morals” of our society too often present violence as the answer to solving problems. People are going to keep identifying themselves with simple characteristics, and when those assumptions are threatened, they will lash out. It’s up to us to limit the methods by which someone may lash out. It’s up to us to save lives.

Getting rid of guns would be a good start.

Hey, it would have saved Harrison Bergeron.

Photo credit: guess