Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
I guess if you run a tumblr called "My Dark Appetite" anything which isn't instragram pictures of the organs you remove from the people you Take is probably an improvement...
And as luck would have it, I watched a movie this evening about a girl who did...well, not that, but everything but.
(Err, says the complete video game newbie who only recently finished a game for the first time ever. Making this only the second game I've ever finished.)
I'm not sure I could completely honestly say I enjoyed (all of) it (exploring a spooky abandoned house in the middle of a thunderstorm? Bit of a tense experience!), but I'm glad it exists and I'm glad I played it. So thanks for the rec, and for the list of criticism, Bryn!
If (like I was) you're in 'must read all about it' mode now, Gone Home has attracted a remarkable amount of really interesting criticism and discussion, both from people who have reservations about the game and people who are super-enthusiastic.
This seems to be one of those special things which manage to be completely awesome without actually being in any way good.
So, you've got the Bechdel test and you've got the Russo test and there's the Mako test and potentially there's other tests out there I know nothing about.
Let's take Pacific Rim: One of your links, Michal, stated that the Mori test was most likely introduced because someone liked Pacific Rim but felt bad about it not passing the Bechdel test. So there's another test that it passes and that proves that it actually is a movie that can be enjoyed from a feminist perspective.
But why not just state that PR doesn't pass the Bechdel test and yet it's a story that includes a strong female character (if you think it does, if you think it doesn't, give reasons too)? Instead of going to the textual level, people create another "formula" to prove inherent value.
Yes, the point Bechdel made in her cartoon, very few movies feature independent women as characters, is still valid. But if you just want to point out the central problem, why bring up the test when you discuss a specific piece of art, like Pacific Rim. Either the movie is sexist/masculinist or it has feminist tendencies or maybe both points are valid to some degree. Purely structural analysis oversimplifies the issue.
This text has a lot of points on the issue that I consider very valid.
Also, I might just be looking at a different slice of the internet, but I've always seen it noted when discussing it that the Bechdel test is not a high bar, that achieving it certainly does not make a movie 'feminist' on its own (as if that's binary), and that it's possible (e.g. with a very small cast) to have a relatively-feminist movie which does not pass the test.
I quite like Pacific Rim, but it's definitely very far into 'How to be a fan of problematic things' territory, and I certainly wouldn't defend it to someone who's not impressed. Definitely going to hold on to that 'No Award' link, thanks!
The problem is that it's a mechanical "let's tick the box" test that in and of itself does not offer any insight into why a movie might actually be sexist/racist/homophobic/orientalist/...
I prefer actual analysis that explains why a movie is problematic (or better yet: why it should be lauded), but I've got the feeling that content factories like Kotaku, Gawker, et al. just perpetuate the idea that such tests are a viable alternative to actually thinking about a movie, the events and characters in it and the context of said things for yourself.
"Imagine if Speed Racer had spent the first twenty minutes of its run time explain what exactly a 'car' was in the most minute detail, and how a 'race' worked. That's Pacific Rim. Now think back to the second Hellboy movie, and how the superfluous studio-mandated audience-identification character from the first movie was casually written out. Imagine they had killed off Hellboy instead. That's also Pacific Rim."
I've also seen people arguing that Pacific Rim operates under a fascist narrative, but I haven't seen anything to convince me of that yet. (Or, at any rate, that it's any more "fascist" than a typical action movie.)
I have to say, I'm starting to get annoyed by all the Tumblr-love for Pacific Rim. Case in point: this alternative to the Bechdel Test, the Mako Mori Test! Created, I guess, because Pacific Rim doesn't pass it.
Frankly, this article gives a better idea why I'm rather confused by its high status among bloggers. (Incidentally, "no award" is also my choice for the Hugos this year)
About a week ago, I came across a Tumblr post that pointed out a contradiction in the desire for flawed female characters, namely the desire for such characters to be imperfect yet not "problematic." I had a little chuckle over it, and thought that was that.
A few days after that, I was introduced to a manga series entitled Watamote (an abbreviation of the Japanese title, which translates to something like No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault That I'm Not Popular!). It's a slice-of-life series about a high school girl named Kuroki Tomoko and her quest to "become popular", which translates as a quest to overcome her own social anxiety. "Awkward introverted nerd character trying to become more social" is hardly a unique premise, of course, but I found Tomoko more interesting than most characters of her type since her social incompetence often pushes her into genuinely unpleasant territory. Most of the story comes from her own inner monologue, and while she does the typical fantasies of stage-managing scenarios to make her more accepted by the group, she also whips back and forth between contemptuous misanthropy and profound neediness. Her inexperience with interpersonal interaction has left her with a mild manipulative streak; it's tempered by her isolation and her inability to actually manipulate others, but it does lead her to do some rather ugly things. She's also in touch with her sexuality, but it's the sexuality of a 15-year-old girl whose primary understanding of sex comes from animé and hentai games, so you can imagine how that goes. Tomoko generally rides the ragged edge of acceptability (her behavior is generally mollified by the fact that she usually acts out of ignorance rather than malice, and usually hurts no one but herself), but I found I liked her character for the fact that she presents one of the most accurate portrayals of someone who doesn't know how to interact with other people.
A few days ago, one of hacks down at Kotaku lambasted Watamote (well, the animé adptation, which stays fairly close to the spirit of the manga), arguing that the story is based around making fun of the mentally ill. (It's not. At all.) So, yeah, anecdote becomes life.
As for the greater issue, I think my own ideas about what makes a character interesting are far enough removed from the mainstream that I don't think I can comment productively on this issue. When I come up with a person, I want someone who embodies something about me or how I've experienced the world, whether a mood, an attitude, or a worldview, and that's not something I can lock into a rubric of identity or into a procedural setting. I don't know what it says about me, but the female characters I've found the most memorable are those of James Tiptree Jr.'s work, who generally seem...well, upset about their femininity.
If puzzle games fit the bill for you, I like Jorinapeka. It's about working out the best paths to take to go over certain spaces, and, (eventually, as it becomes actually necessary) working out paths that will alter the board such that you'll have paths that go through the spaces you need. Lovely music, too.
Here's a couple of programming games: Light-Bot (which also has sequels I haven't tried) and Jahooma's Logicbox (even though the intro is incredibly hand-holdy).
One more, if you don't mind a couple of quick downloads (allegedly there's a browser option, but it doesn't seem to work for me) there's Lock and Key (about 2/3 down the page). It has a very strong do-it-again-stupid element since it's all about trying different things and seeing how they work until you find an acceptable combination.
But I've had a good laugh while checking through the links I just gave, so I'm feeling better now. Thank you everyone for the suggestions.
Hm... I still haven't finished the BBC's 6 hour marathon of Shakespeare's "Henry VI". I think I'll go back to that, before I completely forget what I wanted to comment about it when you guys get to it.
FWIW it might take us a *hell* of a long time to get around to Henry VI. We recorded /Two Gentlemen of Verona/ some time in January, but then Kyra and I both got super busy with work and general chaos so it's unlikely we'll be going back to Shakespeare for a while (we're not trying to podcast Edinburgh this year either).
As for online games ... depending on the sort of thinking you're after, and the kinds of games you like, I quite enjoyed Desktop Tower Defender. On the other hand, the thing about tower defenders is that they naturally involve long periods of downtime where you're just looking at stuff, so it might not really do the job you're after.