Location Not Found: How Vice Waypoint Never Found Its Way

Only Ahab’s chase after Moby Dick has rivaled my journey to write about the profound disappointment I have in Vice’s Waypoint. I’ve written several different articles at different occasions over the last couple of years trying to spell out said frustrations, and it just winds up being, like Waypoint, a incoherent, high-minded, overwritten “piece”.

The fault falls solely to me, the write up I did about the websites early days in my “Worst of 2016” was succinct in the problems I had at the time. And lo these couple of years, nothing has really changed. But I held out hope, believing that editor-in-chief Austin Walker would take the time and care to learn how to run a website, and grow it in to something. And he has grown it…in to…something.

If you look back to 2015, you can see why Vice found the idea of a Austin Walker helmed video game vertical all up in the Vice-flavored brand appealing. Walker, and the soon to be hired Patrick Klepek, had done some great journalistic work in the world of video games. Getting the scoop on the PlayStation 4 Pro being chief among their collective achievements. Both had a great many articles under their belt, and were good personalities on other websites and podcasts, that you could conceivably build a brand around the idea of their output. At Giant Bomb, Walker had fostered a freelance writer initiative that brought fresh voices and more perspectives to the stalwart brand, and in a much needed time in the face of a couple of “problematic” issues that plagued the site during that time. So much so that his hiring cynically seemed to be an attempt to assuage this problem.

And at first you could be fooled in to thinking that Vice’s Waypoint would be a “thinking man’s video game site”. Scanning over the iTunes reviews the words “cerebral”, “intellectual” and “thoughtful” come up like they were spit out by an algorithm. At the time, the discussions were a bit high-minded…intellectually a bit shallow…but the site was in its infancy, and would presumably grow and change with time. This being a video game focused site, the intellectual bar is pretty low and the addition of like-minded hosts could buoy the slack in the smarts department.

This was not to be the case as the next couple of hires, Rob Zacny and Danielle Reandeau, portended a less cerebral bent and lean to a more emotional pop culture one.

Had Waypoint set out to be a personality driven website, like a lot of video game websites, the personalities on display left a lot to be desired. Moreover, the intellectual gulf between the various personalities was on full display from the outset. Listening to the twice weekly podcasts, it becomes readily apparent that the other hosts are trying to up their smarts games, to even begin to level with the likes of a Austin Walker, and come up short. The “pieces” written echo that tired tilt towards overwrought opening paragraphs of social justice tinged baloney that tenuously attempts to tie in to the video game or topic at hand.

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If the website was Austin Walker and three other Austin Walker types, I think Waypoint would be something special. But it being Austin Walker and three video game writers of middling intelligence, you feel the strain of the others trying to sound intelligent, thoughtful, “cerebral” and failing. Rob Zacny is a modern day Paul Kinsey type that epitomizes try hard douche intellectual (which fits well in the Vice brand, notwithstanding), and Danielle Reandeau seems to reside in the hypocritical social justice ideology of “I’m a nice person, therefore I can say shitty things and that’s okay” mindset that was old even when it was started. Not to mention she’s probably the weakest link in all of the personalities in terms of what she brings to the Waypoint table. Hell, if Austin Walker doesn’t try to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, making her managing editor and lead host on one of the podcasts, all to no avail.

The lacking personalities don’t help, but neither does the social justice grandstanding, and odd political talk. The added “exhaustion” from life…or something…being sprinkled in about every single article and podcast, really beggars the question “Who is this for?” Video games are niche enough on their own, is there some mutant gamer that loves video games and vapid, facile sociopolitical discussion?

Waypoint doesn’t seem to know either as about every three months they trot out a new wrinkle to the brand. This year being a year of moving towards an embrace of being a pop culture website…like a Kotaku…or Polygon? So again, nothing new or fresh here…unless you’re dying to know how problematic a thing you like is to a marginalized person. This also flies in the face of my email from Walker explaining that Waypoint had their direction and voice firmly established. I found that largely untrue then, and even more so now that a couple years have passed and it seems as though the site is having a bit of an identity issue.

Most groan inducing has been this year’s heisting of a Polygon podcast feature: the disparate personalities reading their “pieces” and discussing them amongst themselves podcasts. While the Waypoint staff may think themselves awesome writers, they are not good performers and if you thought the “piece” was dry, atonal and overwritten to begin with, having them read their own work makes that abundantly clear. The discussion that follows is overdrawn and glib navel gazing writ large, and hardly ever boils down the “Why we game” thesis that the website masthead purports to adhere to.

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The hardest thing to witness during Waypoint’s tenure is Patrick Klepek try to navigate the duality he finds himself in. He’s not the best writer, but he’s seems like an okay guy trying to do good. But when he tries this “for serious” tone with his non news “pieces” it’s kind of laughable. Having spent the vast majority of his career in the games press, he just can’t relate very well when it comes to the social justice views of Waypoint.

The greatest tool a writer has is their integrity, and how it relates to their work. Having an opinion isn’t a crime, and no one should be able to rob you of the way you think about something, especially in the realm of “video games as art”. Time and again Klepek tests this by having a take and then if he’s in the minority quickly jerking away from the “wrong” opinion he has. On several occasions he has walked back his reviews or thoughts on a video game, a great example being his review of God of War getting push-back from none other than Austin Walker himself. Klepek resonated with the father/son dynamic, being a freshly minted father himself. Apparently this was a blind spot to more galling, problematic elements of the game. This lead to another “piece” wherein he states that arguments and viewpoints influence his thinking, and while he initially loved the game, may need to recalibrate. Funnily enough, he also talks about being frog marched away from his opinion on BioShock: Infinite, as if you didn’t need more evidence of his spineless nature as it appears in Waypoint.

Klepek’s scurrying tendencies make it hard to take him seriously as a writer or a person. There is a distinction between being open minded and being intellectually timorous in the face of opposing viewpoints and arguments. But if it’s not video game journalism, he’s kind of garbage in the punditry department. In addition to this, seeing as his previous work with Kotaku may have lost him a fair amount of contacts “in the biz”, it’s hard to really justify Klepek’s presence on the website these days. Waypoint doesn’t break video game news. It’s just one in a sea of countless reaction based video game websites that rewrite press releases for clicks. Excepting that Waypoint heaves a heavy sigh after each reaction, knowing that these articles are more popular than the contrived “pieces”.

Klepek is far from the greatest offender as the entire staff is often ham-handed in the way it approaches the serious topics of the video games industry. Workers unionizing in the has been at the forefront this year, but websites like Waypoint are not helping with their maladroit approach to this topic. During E3, several of the writers would bring up workers rights, in the middle of an interview, a game demo or standing in line to a food truck. Rob Zacny’s particular write up is galling in that he makes it appear as if he had struck a nerve and was having his interview shut down. With such clever nuggets as

|||“At this point Ubisoft’s PR handler, who had texted nonstop throughout the interview, is glaring” ||| and |||PR: Rob, I’m sorry, we’re just trying to stay pretty focused on the game. Happy to follow up with an email at a later time, we’re just going to try and I will respectfully ask that we [stay on topic]|||.

I’m assuming the brackets are his? Further, a careful reading proves that he is there to interview about a game, not discuss other topics. Most of the time these E3 junkets are public relations firms that were hired to show off a game, they have no idea who or what made the game. And so to be put on the spot by a “journalist” looking to grab a gotcha for some clickbait is a bit nauseating to me. Not to mention that Zacny has time to interview someone and check to see if someone else nearby is glaring. Truly profound levels of muckraking are being revealed!

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More loathsome is Waypoint’s chasing of the “hot new multiplayer game the kids are in to”, being all about PUBG one moment, then Fortnite the next. It wouldn’t be such a pity had the site not went out of it’s way to be all high-minded in the first place. To see it chase other sites and liberally steal their ideas instead having their own and trying to be unique in a sphere largely comprised of four shaved apes getting excited over flashing lights and loud sounds is where my true disappointment lies.

It’s also clear to anyone who is familiar with Waypoint that Austin Walker is in over his head as editor-in-chief. You can’t really argue with the man taking the gig when it was offered to him, who wouldn’t? But in the years since, it’s apparent that his attempts to learn on the job are largely why the site is so stagnant and now chasing the other video game websites instead of leading them. No finer case can be made than the one of last year’s NierAutomata forced feminization fan fiction that not only was published on the front page of the site, was also heavily edited by Walker himself.

A colossal blunder to be sure, especially considering how delicate the sensibilities of Waypoint’s audience. Then a hastily written apology, posted on the Spartan forums from Walker himself that read more like “I’m apologizing, but I don’t know why.” that ends in a similar coda that wafts off the website like a stale fart: “I’ll try harder in future.”

But that’s all Waypoint in the scant few years of its existence, a promise to be better, to try harder to be the ideals that Austin Walker set forth in the beginning. But they’re all cinder and ash now as the site has become a content vulture with aptly “tired” viewpoint, even by today’s standards.

It might not matter for much longer anyways, with Vice looking to reduce staff and consolidating lower performing verticals, presumably ones like Waypoint. This would explain the sudden shift towards more pop culture focus, though it’s no better a fit for the staff than the niche sociopolitical video game focused website they’re fleeing from.

Location Not Found: How Vice Waypoint Never Found Its Way

Video Game Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

Marvel’s Spider-Man is the kind of game that’s a time capsule of sorts. Bury it in the ground, and in a decade of so, dig it up to see exactly what a modern game was in 2018: an open world, graphically photo realistic, light-RPG leveling up system, tchotchke collect-a-thon, skill tree laden, stealth section having, dozen hour story, Batman Arkham combat video game. With the lone mechanic being a beautifully rendered recreation of the lone Spider-Man game mechanic that anyone cared for: the web swinging in Spider-Man 2 from ye olden days.

This isn’t to say that Spider-Man is a bad game per se, more that it aims straight at the 8.5 review scale in terms of not trying to establish anything new in the genre and preferring to be a culmination of this video game generation’s best elements. In 2018, it finds itself in good company with the likes of God of War essentially doing the same thing with its mechanical overall. Hey, Spider-Man does include that “paternal” Last of Us element with the inclusion of Miles Morales! Outside of the odd omission of micro transactions, it is 2018 The All Video Game™.

Outside of all the video game nonsense, Spider-Man is a great story wise. It has all the hallmarks of what most people know of the character, Peter Parker being constantly late and besieged by life, trying to balance the being a great superhero, but also trying to have a life and the push pull soap opera that is what people love about Spider-Man. Taking place eight years in to Peter Parker starting his career, being fresh out of college, and largely unemployed the drama is at an all time high!

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The great thing about Marvel’s Spider-Man is that it subverts the fans of the comic at every turn. In the game, Peter works as a lab assistant for Otto Octavius, a brilliant scientist trying to help the world with artificial limbs powered by science. Right at the beginning of the story, a freak accident happens while the doctor is experimenting. Knowing that Otto eventually becomes one of Spider-Man’s greatest arch-villains Dr. Octopus, the fan expects that this is the moment…instead the story pivots away. Nothing happens. This comic book subversion happens more than a few times in the game’s story and it’s refreshing that the developers took this route. It’s just too bad this bravery in tone and scope didn’t get out to the gameplay, which is as stale and staid as the aforementioned list of uber game design tropes scattered throughout it.

Spider-Man being an open world game apparently necessitates that the developer fill it with all matter of collectables. These show up in the form of tokens that can be collected and are necessary if you wish to level-up Spider-Man to make him…better? Honestly, many of the upgrades seemed to have little effect on the gameplay, aside from having more of them on hand to use. It being an Insomniac developed game; the developer takes liberties with the lore of Peter Parker being a mechanical genius and devises several clever toys that he can use to aid him in game. Outside of the web-slingers, I largely found the rest of them to be useless and hardly worth the effort to get more tokens to upgrade them.

Even more galling is the notion that there are six brands of upgrade tokens in the game. The only token collectable that I even felt compelled to seek out were the backpacks strewn throughout the city that contained little lore nuggets. I found that a fantastic touch, on top of the fact that I had somehow found a few dozen on them during the course of playing the game. Problem is, I then had hell of backpack tokens and never had to be called on to expend them on any upgrades.

Outside of being used to facilitate tool upgrades, the tokens are also used to unlock various Spider-Man costumes. In theory, this is great, especially for fans of the comics, but after you unlock the bulk of them the sad truth that they’re all pretty samey and lame rears its ugly head. Half of the costumes are some form of black, and anecdotally are antithetical to the gameplay. Spider-Man can be arduous at times to control, he can be a tad sticky, but when you can’t even see him during the darker portions of the game, what’s the point? I guess he does look cool doing Spider-Man stuff.

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There’s a duality to the controls of Spider-Man that is amazing to behold. While not as sticky as an Assassin’s Creed protagonist, you can find yourself getting pretty frustrated at how fluidly Spider-Man can control during the web-slinging flying high in the sky antics, but when he hits terra firma can be a little slow and aimless. Honestly, how can he run faster up a side of a building than he can in a straight light on the ground?

Oftentimes, Spider-Man somehow can’t navigate around a corner of a building or move from a wall to the ceiling during the more stealthy portions of the game. This is something that previous Spider-Man games nailed, so it’s really odd. It got to the point where I didn’t even bother trying to be sneaky and just dropped the floor and beat bad guys in they ass. It also doesn’t help when a lot of the “stealth sections” just transition in to a wave based beat-em-up section. Oh hey, another All Video-Game™ thing it does!

The one aspect of Marvel’s Spider-Man that is the worst is the forced stealth sections that are presented as some form of break in the action. Which, in the beginning acts of the game, where you can play hours upon hours as Spider-Man can be a neat little respite from all the web-slinging. Nevertheless, in the last act, when the game sneaks in two more, it is a sin most devious that is not only narratively useless, but absolutely destroys the pace of both the story and gameplay. All for antibiotics and the location of the end boss? Come on, Spider-Man could’ve done those on his own.

The stealth sections are bad and even with the mid-game “upgrades” of being allowed to use technology to move threats out of the way, do not get any better. This is the one thing that should be excised out of the obvious sequel, but that we all know is only going to be expanded upon and given gameplay band-aids to make it tolerable, at best.

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Spider-Man the comic book is known for the it’s vast array of characters and it’s in this that the video game does not disappoint. You got your Aunt May’s and your Mary Jane’s, and so on. The rogue’s gallery that is most familiar to the average person is on hand, though they aren’t really given much time to shine on their own. This culminates in the end game boss fights being each of the Sinister Six pairing off to fight Spider-Man. This was cool the first time with Vulture and Electro, but after that, it becomes clear that the developers didn’t have enough time to flesh out better solo boss fights, robbing the game of some crucial Spider-Man feel.

But if you came in looking for the 2018 All Video-Game™ you will not be disappointed as Marvel’s Spider-Man is jam packed with quick time event laden cut scenes and set piece moments that are amazing to behold. This is probably a Sony mandate as this year’s God of War largely got up to the same thing, then again, which is what the series is known for. It fits very well in the comic book laden world of Spider-Man though and lends great impact to gameplay. Excitedly, in the menu, you can completely turn off the quick time events and the game will just do them for you. More games need to do this immediately as I am an old man and my hands hurt. I don’t have time to mash buttons for dramatic effect these days.

This is what makes Marvel’s Spider-Man game such a great 2018 video game time capsule: it doesn’t take risks and is extremely average in everything it aims to do, trying to satisfy every one of its players. Those looking to collect a litany of baloney, those looking for a deep well acted dozen hours long story, those looking to unlock various things and upgrade stuff, those looking for shallow-but-satisfying combat that doesn’t ask much from you but yields great results if you think about it a bit, those looking for a game to show off on their fancy TV’s and on and on. It being a superhero video game, the bar is still set pretty low and the only other game to have cleared it is a bit of the Batman Arkham games. So that it is such an average product is something that’s truly in its favor.

Video Game Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

Video Game Review: Prey (2017)

That Prey is such a throwback to the cerebral first-person shooters of the late 90’s is refreshing and so infuriating in a modern context. Problems that plagued the genre in those early days that were fixed or made moot by modernization come flowing back in this loving mash up of games like Half Life, System Shock 2 and a little Deus Ex.

Prey makes no bones about its influences, which at first is refreshing, as Arkane Studios seems to be the only game developer interested in making first-person shooter flavored action role-playing games these days. But the game takes a sharp left turn when it comes to the analogies to modern takes of the genre seen in BioShock and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, in that it’s less about action or thinking your way out of scenarios and more about resource management.

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Which makes Prey’s “Play Your Way” exaltation’s at the beginning of the game aggravating when you realize that it’s a sign posted in a large fenced in area that is “How The Game Expects You To Play It”. You want to run-and-gun your way through levels, like a BioShock, you can sure play that way…for a few minutes, until the bullet sponge enemies soak up all your ammo and you’re left bludgeoning them with a far less powerful wrench or dying…a lot more than you’d like to.

Knowing this to be the case before I even stated the game, I set the difficulty to “Easy”. I was going in more to enjoy the story and not have to worry about resources that much. The throwback nature of the game is such that there is no such thing as an “Easy” mode playthrough. I took the “Play Your Own Way” moniker at face value and attempted to play it like a shooter…then the reality of the way the designers actually wanted me to play Prey set in quickly. I was constantly scrambling for ammo and playing my own way through whatever I had on hand in the vain attempts of getting away from Typhon enemies that were chewing right through any protection and precious health I had held on to.

This was present up to the end of the game wherein I was significantly “leveled up” and had my shotgun fully upgraded and still the Typhon would giggle and shout “That tickles!” as I peppered it with round after round from my gun.

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The juxtaposition is even odder considering that the game states that you can “Play Your Way” but then warns that it’s often better to avoid conflict and conserve resources for bigger, badder enemies. This would also explain the odd marketing surrounding the release of Prey where it was more action focused than the actual game on offer. It’s as if the game desires to be played slow and methodically, like a horror game, to be soaked in and not a run-and-gun Doom clone.

All of this is compounded by the notion of genre comparison to similar games like a BioShock or Deus Ex as it’s not inherently like those games yet it looks, feels and plays very much like them to its core. The game lacks the memorable characters of the former and the gameplay depth of the latter.

The one thing to note as a comparison to those in its genre brethren is the slavish devotion to the look and feel of the level design of Talos I, where the vast bulk of the game takes place. A good chunk also plays out in the outer space portions of the game, but they are mercifully short and there is little of note out there worth exploring, much to my chagrin.

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Every level of Talos I is completely unlike the other, and yet it feels like a giant space skyscraper that was built on top of an old ass 60’s era space station. Its interconnected nature is something to behold and you spend a fair amount of time in each level doing odd missions, reading emails and listening to audio logs. This is where Prey shines brightest.

Taking a page out of a game like Deus Ex and BioShock, Talos I feels lived in and real. Everyone you come across has a name, and more often than not, a little back-story you can uncover via the emails or audio logs you come across in the surrounding areas. Some Typhon even have the names of the people that they corrupted with their alien powers, which leans in to that horror game direction that is mostly the bread-and-butter of what Prey has to offer.

What is most disappointing about Prey is that the story is ultimately boilerplate and really doesn’t do the genre its aping justice. Maybe that was the point? Instead of giving that gut punch twist towards the back end of the game, the games narrative just plays out as you single-mindedly set about the task of getting off Talos I…all of three or four different ways, sadly.

The “twist” of an ending is such that you’re essentially judged for the few major actions you took during the game. Whom did you spare, did you take on any Typhon powers, and how you handled certain scenarios are played out and put under a microscope. I personally enjoy this type of trope, it was also done masterfully in the first season of Telltale’s Walking Dead where a character litigates the big decisions you make throughout the game. It’s nice to see what the designers thought of the way you played through their game, limited as it may seem.

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The disjointed nature of the narrative is mostly based on your characters experimentation with alien technology laden amnesia, but it also attempts to hide the more lacking elements of the story and how it leaves a lot of dangling threads that never completely resolve. I can’t tell if it was just a lack of development time or toying with the players anticipation of the “big twist”, but it is a problem that plagued Arkane Studios other recent release Dishonored 2.

Prey is very much the definition of a game that isn’t for everyone. I can’t imagine many modern gamers going in to it expecting a shooter to be satisfied by what is on offer. The combat is purposefully anemic and frustrating, there are no “bosses” per se and the narrative alone isn’t enough to provide proper motivation to finish it to see whatever ending is on hand.

Instead, Prey is a throwback to the olden PC games of yore, warts and all. The ludicrous load times (on consoles), the stiff difficulty, the obtuse design elements and the focus being more on environment and tone rather than story will turn a lot of gamers away. Nevertheless, if you’re patient (or a glutton for punishment) and play the game the way the developers intended, Prey is a very enjoyable game.

 

Video Game Review: Prey (2017)

The Worst of 2016

According to whom you talk to, 2016 was literally the worst! “This is the darkest timeline!” kind of stuff. However, there was a lot worse out there that may have gone unnoticed and for that I bring back the tradition of highlighting a few things I found to be subjectively the worst about 2016.

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Ghostbusters “Think Pieces”

Ghostbusters (2016)(heaven forefend anyone actually get a good and bad Ghostbusters films mixed up) was a mediocre movie, in a summer full of movies (see below) that wasn’t very good. However, before all that even happened, people started filling The Internets with “think pieces” about what Ghostbusters, with an all female cast, would mean for women…and science? How about the film being shouldered with the awesome responsibility of “proving Hollywood wrong” by anchoring the film with four leading ladies to show that that is nearly enough to fill seats with more female butts, thereby supplanting the dudebro iron grasp on butts in seats during summer movies?

I’m sorry that teenage boys tend to “muck up” the summer movie season. It’s either go see some banal movie with loud noises for hours at a time, or sit at home harassing women all day on The Internets.

It wouldn’t be so bad, had so many social justice websites not spent all their time leading up to the movies release being “exhausted” about the supposed nature of a film that they hadn’t even seen. Then take people (read: men) to task for hating on the horrible trailer, then the second horrible trailer that addressed certain aspects of the first trailer, flinging around accusations of racism and misogyny for no real reason other than it was apparently the perfect springboard to  finally cross the streams of nerd culture and social justice as critique. This would legitimize the entire enterprise I guess? Substantiating the need for the form?

What happens when the movie is mediocre? Silence. Snow falling on a winter’s night silence. Even social justice minded “movie critics” had to contort themselves in to liking the movie, because if you don’t like, then you’re a misogynist and racist and on and on and on. Better yet, where are all the “think pieces” on the Ghostbusters “think pieces”? The art form of critique cannot get better if there is never any self-reflection.

Or better yet, maybe next time social justice warriors pick their battles better.

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Amy Schumer

2016 was a pretty good year to be Amy Schumer. Your stock is never higher, you’re in a lot  more commercials, you are everywhere. Then the inevitable backlash as fans turn on you. First, there’s accusations of joke theft (a cardinal sin in the joke world), then a shitty fourth season of Inside Amy Schumer comes and goes, one of the shows writers, Kurt Metzger goes on a Facebook “supposed rape apologist” tirade that she gets dragged in to amid an internets shit spiral, then a horrible parody of a Beyonce video sends The Internets in to another shit spiral. What a great year to be Amy Schumer!

I wanted to preface this entry with a whole “I’ve been a big fan of Amy Schumer for long time, but…” and it’s true, I have been a fan of her work for a long time. When Amy Schumer Live at the Apollo came out last year, I felt something shift. The jokes weren’t that good; it was lower grade material than what I had seen from her in recent times. It quickly became apparent that after three seasons of a TV show and a movie, that maybe the Amy Schumer joke barrel was nearing the bottom.

But it’s not even that, Amy Schumer’s success has unleashed this monster of a person that’s not even remotely relatable anymore. Better yet, she has come to resemble what the olds think of the “millennial generation”, along with her compatriots Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham. Why do we give a shit when any of them fart on a napkin and post it to social media? Why is it news that Amy Schumer isn’t ashamed of her body? Who gives a shit? It’s been a part of her “act” for over a decade.

As an aside, Amy Schumer got on this list mostly because one episode of her show featured a “sociopath” named M.E. Thomas.

I read her book Confessions of a Sociopath and it is the most insipid, boring, grating, gross book I have ever read. M.E. is one of those people that has grown up and resided in a bubble their entire life. Being raised hyper-religiously in the Mormon sect, the book reads of some sheltered girl “pushing the boundaries” of…being a dick to everyone and little else. It’s reading a girl learn “How to Woman to Succeed” with the kind of results you expect from a selfish asshole: Nothing’s ever her fault and she’s always the winner.

The beginning of the book even has a doctor’s note saying that M.E. is a clinical sociopath, but if you read the note carefully, you see that M.E. has apparently been shopping around for this diagnosis and knows how to finagle diagnostic tests to get the results she wants. So much for being a sociopath, huh?

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Summer Movies 2016

Goddamn what a shitty summer for movies! It was so bad that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was my favorite movie of the summer. That movie wasn’t very good, mind you. To its favor, it lessened the Megan Fox presence, added Bebop and Rocksteady…and Casey Jones, it has to commended for that…even if the plot was nonsensical and clearly globe trotted for tax write-offs.

Even movies I thought would be great like Kubo and the Two Strings were just “Meh. Maybe the source material didn‘t speak to me, the film is beautiful to look at and what Laika manages to do with CGI and Stop-Motion Animation is astounding. Nevertheless, the film is overlong, boring and the voice acting is miscast. Now You See Me 2 possessed none of the charm of the first film and Lizzy Caplan continues to be an actor that cannot seem to adapt to a scene. I can always tell she’s acting, I don’t see any characterization, I just see Lizzy Caplan being snarky and sardonic in everything she does. She’s like an uncharismatic female Seth Rogen.

I mean most of the filler of “Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016” is the vast bulk of these summer 2016’s movies! This goes even further when you look at just how lazy some of the movies were, with their banal-ass bad guy(s) sitting around some giant world destroying hole in the middle of a major city. This is mostly a holdover from a lot summer movies past! Nothing from this summer stuck out…in a good way…and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pretend that summer starts at the beginning of May and laud Captain America: Civil War for not being a hot garbage fire!

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Waypoint/Vice

When any new site dedicated to video games pops up, I tend to get a little excited. For every one of those that pop up in a calendar year, there’s the inevitable two or three other sites closing down. Which leads to a free agency of sorts of the same faces you know and love/hate from other sites doing work hither and yon for the few that remain. Vice hiring Austin Walker for a new video game themed venture seemed like a good idea. And there was a time everyone thought that Polygon was a great idea too.

Austin Walker has done some great work, the things he writes about pop culture and gaming are insightful in a way without being too stuffy and “try hard”. He critiques on the video game industry, and by extension, the games press, leads one to believe that if given the opportunity his new website could be the shift towards better.

You begin to wonder why social justice types complain about diversity of thought and person and the like in the video games industry, when given the opportunity to be “game changing” they stick with their version of “status quo”. This is what Waypoint represents in the fullest.

Filled to the brim with people of dubious ethical integrity, such as Patrick Klepek and Danielle Riendeau, Waypoint states that it’s the future of games writing, but has the hot stale breath of an aging whore, who’s seen a few things, tried a few things, and BOY does her breath stink of sameness! I get the notion of hiring two “veterans” of the games press: access, after all, is golden. But those two specifically have proven to be less than worthy of serious journalistic and ethical merit for some time now.

In the sites infancy when it was just another “blog style site” about video games, I emailed Vice/Waypoint and asked if they were going to have someone like me on the site to be the consumer advocate type. Gaming is expensive, I stated, lots of us daisy chain trade-ins and use sales to stay current in gaming. I feel we’re being left behind. To his credit, and several months later, Austin Walker got back to me.

He agreed that there should be sites for that “everyday consumer” but thankfully, “dozens” of those sites exist. Did he give examples? Hell, no! However, he did go on to mention that Waypoint firmly established their direction and voice. But this was well after I sent my email. I visited nigh daily and was aghast at how little the site spoke to actual gamers. Who was this site for? He also continued that it was much more important for the site to focus on what they do and do it well.

This point is odd because, again, what is Waypoint doing and doing well? Even in it’s infancy it was little more than a concern troll Kotakuesque blog about racist aspects of Mafia III, deep diving on God Hand making the writer feel icky because it’s Japanese as fuck, and other articles that you surely couldn’t find anywhere else, like say a Polygon or Kotaku…or The Mary Sue?

Even now, with it’s voice and direction firmly established, what is Waypoint doing that supposes this is a future trend in games coverage? Do we have to endure another E3 where Austin Walker looks sad and frustrated at a trailer that “triggers” him? Patrick Klepek’s social anthropology experiment of watching gamers “oggle” the breasts of a video game character and then be disgusted to be a white male?

The site design is awful, and though there is daily content, there’s nothing of real value here. Unless you like scrolling down an article about something as “insightful” and “intelligent” as yet another BioShock think piece, and getting slapped in the face with a Taco Bell ad!

It’s an odd marriage, a site dedicated to critically thinking about video games and the Vice brand. Though they share that “academic try-hard douche bag” DNA, there’s an air of venture capitalist money demanding Vice add more verticals to their brand, and it just so happened to be video games’ turn. Waypoint is the video games press at its most self-indulgent and hedonistic, masking itself as insightful and cerebral. I don’t foresee it being around for too long when there are dozens of other sites out there that do this kind of stuff better.

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The Witness

Well, I got one game on here. The Witness is an overpriced iOS game with a $35 Jonathan Blow tax slapped on it. I tend to look at the $40 I wasted on this game as an investment in to future Jonathan Blow games, and that maybe the next one will speak to me more.

I wanted to like The Witness, I put a good few hours in, solved a bunch of puzzles, but learned nothing. I even looked up a little map to get some “direction”. I was punished for brute forcing puzzles and not learning the “correct way” of things. And while I was dazzled by some of the deeper elements I encountered, I was left deflated by what was on offer and my brain hurt.

As it stands, The Witness is a boring, pretentious, overly designed asshole of a game that is not worth buying at any price.

The Worst of 2016

The Best of 2016

It was pretty difficult finding much to love about 2016, compared to the worst of 2016, which I, as usual, had plenty of. It was almost to the point of doing that stupid “honorable mention” nonsense that creeps in to other lists. No! I am better than that.

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Swiss Army Man

A movie that uses people holding in farts as an allegory to human emotions and how we deal with them, Swiss Army Man is something to behold. What initially appears to be a gross out black comedy, really digs in to that dark black matter towards the end in a twist that you should see coming, but don’t. This is mostly because you’re spellbound by the performance that Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe get up to. Taking up the majority of the screen time, the great chemistry and bizarre world machinations of human interaction that two actors share takes you away from the real reason Dano’s Hank was hanging himself in the opening moments. That the movie ends with a giant prolonged fart joke makes this a modern masterpiece in its own right.

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The Batman parts of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

BvS wasn’t a great movie, fine, I’ll give you that. Nothing that Warner Bros. and DC are doing cinematically to set up this “cinematic universe” is really lighting up the cinema world. However, both BvS and Suicide Squad made a lot of money, so it can’t be ALL that bad, right?

I have a little Batman bias though, and I think the Batman parts of BvS are superb. If there was an “extended micro cut” of the film with just Bruce Wayne/Batman and Alfred fucking shit up, then I’d still pay money to see that. As an aperitif to the inevitable future Batman movies, the Ben Affleck helmed The Batman, it was a fantastic tease in to just how much potential this could have.

Ben Affleck is a phenomenal Bruce Wayne and Batman, which hasn’t ever really been the case in the previous castings. You mostly had to settle with a strong Bruce Wayne and an “eh.” rubber-suited Batman. Affleck is handsome and charming enough to pull off Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy, and brooding, square-jawed (and ripped) enough to play a….I don’t know what that suit is…Batman.

Jeremy Irons as Arthur and a sexy modern Batcave introduced in BvS shows nothing but promise, and made that movie infinitely better than it hoped to be.

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DOOM (2016)

DOOM was a game I was itching for that I didn’t even know I wanted. I started playing Wolfenstein: The New Order earlier in 2016, hoping to scratch that OLD SKOOL first person shooter itch. It got close, but when I started playing DOOM a few weeks later, that itch was scratched and then it kept clawing deeper drawing blood and horrified screams of maybe glee as I got exactly what I was looking for.

Hell, DOOM’s later levels eerily reminded me of Quake III Arena, so much that I was more than open to the notion of a NEW one of those.

Sure, the multiplayer is a mish-mash of also ran modern-day FPS baloney, but my god is that single player campaign the greatest thing video games had on offer in 2016!

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Stardew Valley

I’ve played games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing; they suck me in for a time, as is their wont. The “just one more turn” button in my mind being mashed repeatedly, as I try to make gains in those types of games. Then inevitably, the grind loses its appeal and I abandon my tiny little world. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that Stardew Valley hooked me real hard earlier this year.

Developed by one man, Stardew Valley was a slice-of-life simulator like no other. The only problem  was hitting the wall in terms of things to do. While there are lots to do…there’s not enough of it, and after a while I had gotten good enough at the game that I wanted for nothing, and all the years started their Groundhog Day like march of sameness. However, we’re talking after nearly a hundred hours of play.

It doesn’t look like much, but Stardew Valley is a hell of an indie game.

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Atlanta

Just squeaking in here at the end is Atlanta. Donald Glover’s “Twin Peaks with rappers” show that doesn’t quite fit that description, but what does that even mean these days? Weirdness jammed up in the mundanity of everyday life? Something that seems cool in the writer’s room that winds up being a throwaway gag at the end of an episode?

Better yet, an entire episode that is essentially a straight half hour of a public access television station? Where only one of the main characters, and it’s not Donald Glover, is the only face we recognize. This kind of stuff is unheard of a first season of a show.

Superbly acted from top to bottom, with Keith Stanfield and Brian Tyree Henry being the MVP’s of the series, carrying it deftly and hanging with the show as it changes beats on a dime. Atlanta is the type of show that needs everyone bringing his or her best, and a network like FX that lets the show operate as needed.

Atlanta’s humor is perfectly balanced with representing the darker side of living life everyday. The odd interactions that we all have from time to time. When you answer the door and a man in a gray sweat suit, wearing a Batman mask asks if your cousin lives there, then runs away. All the while, it tells a great underdog story that ends in a very small, realistic, victory. Atlanta recognizes that the road is long and hard, and it is going to take a lot more than ten episodes to suss out.

The Best of 2016

Just Say “No!” To “No. Just No.”!

Imagine my surprise this weekend when I cracked open one of my favorite newspapers, The Kansas City Star, to find an apology from the publisher for something that was printed in the opinion section over the weekend. “Damn it,” I thought. “What was so horrible that the publisher had to descend off the tops of lofty Mt. Pious and apologize for?!”

One could imagine just about anything what with all the things going on in the world. Namely shootings. Yeah, just mainly shootings. It being astride the Kansas/Missouri divide of Kansas City it is a pretty pretty evergreen topic. The KC Star prints all sorts of opinions on a cornucopia of matters, all in the name of fourth estate journalistic fairness…so it could be anything!

Then imagine my surprise once more when I discover it’s just another opinion piece from one of the papers “Midwest Voices” in the form of one of their patented dopey middle-aged white woman what got a bee in her bonnet over something.

There’s nothing to enjoy about these “Midwest Voices”: opinion pieces that are meant to collect the voice of the “real” people of the respective region. If you were ever curious about the poorly formed uninformed opinion of your average white person in the Midwest, you’d find much to love here. This particular writer, Laura Herrick is just another in a long line of middle-aged women “Midwest Voices” writers that is just “telling it like it is”. Much of the time it’s nothing harmful, if anything it’s mildly that passive aggressive racism and bigotry that many have come to know and love when visiting the Midwest.

To wit, Mrs. Herrick wrote about something I was thinking about writing but found no real way in. Where does personal responsibility come in to play with “he said/she said” alcohol fueled rape? Does the woman have some responsibility in taking care not to go to a frat rager, get fucked up, black out and then wake up behind a dumpster the next morning with her dress pulled up over her head?

What’s more irritating is that Mrs. Herrick is in agreement with all this “toxic masculinity” and “men are in constant Rape Mode™” nonsense especially with all her preambles and caveats about rape being bad that riddle her poorly written opinion on a lady’s personal responsibility. Had any of these “OUTRAGED!” SJWs taken any time to actually read the piece and form their own opinion, they would’ve seen that. Wait, we’re talking about SJWs of course “OUTRAGED” would’ve happened regardless. It has been a slow few months for them lately.

More frustrating is The KC Star pulled the piece from their website, so you cannot readily access it to see what all the fuss is about. What journalistic cowardice, and as if that stopped the article from getting out further. The Internets are forever!

I’ve written about the SJW game of telephone around this time last year. SJWs in blog form and on social media supposedly raised all kinds of hell over this. Yet, a cursory search provides no real evidence to this, aside from that yes; some social media got its panties in an uproar over it.

Which is kind of what it does, right? Where I’m often of the mind that this whole “the entirety of social media” more often than not means “a few very vocal assholes on The Internets who are more than likely teenagers with nothing better to do”. Yet again, social media is scant with the sheer amounts of “OUTRAGED” implied by various articles. I guess the 700 or so comments section in the Jezebel article count as “national” outrage?

All but one of the articles I researched for this article actually referenced Mrs. Herrick’s article, with most of them choosing to run with Jezebel’s piece that cherry picked the most damning parts of the benign article to make it the click-baitiest click-bait it could be. Therefore, we have a bunch of SJWs getting all riled up over nothing, acting as if Mrs. Herrick is a rape apologist and victim blamer, which she clearly is not.

Luckily for Mrs. Herrick the Star is establishing “measures“ to make sure something like a plea for common sense in the form of an opinion article is ever published again.

Like several noted on “social media”, I do wonder if the editors of the paper actually read what is published in their Opinion section. For the most part, “Midwestern Voices blogs are a ghost town for independent thought to die in. Several of the articles appear there first, uncommented on, until they are published in the paper proper.

Laura Herrick may be many things, but she isn’t a rape apologist or victim blamer. Sure, her opinion is bit outdated, and more for the closed-door mother “telling it like it is” brutal lesson imparting session and not a major metropolitan paper. Nevertheless, that doesn’t discount that in all this purported hullabaloo that women take care of themselves. Especially if the rumors of “toxic masculinity” and the threat “perpetual rape from men” are true.

There is no discussion to be had about this topic because of the SJW battle cry of “No. Just No.” when it comes to topics like personal responsibility and drunken regret sex. Hell, of any topic where the lines are blurred and there isn’t a clear solitary victim. “Rape is rape.” is all fine and good when trying to avoid the topic Mrs. Merrick was ham-handedly addressing in her opinion piece, but that doesn’t disregard her point.

Regretful sex and poor judgment shouldn’t absolve someone from the criticism of their poor decision-making. However, we also don’t need articles like Mrs. Merrick telling ladies that they should take responsibly for themselves; it should be implicit for anyone.

Just Say “No!” To “No. Just No.”!

The White Whale of Analytical Consistency

When I use the word “pundit”, I do so derogatorily. There are few things more loathsome to me than a pundit of any kind. It’s something I grew to be baffled by in my previous endeavor of a blog where I would refute or mock editorials by media pundits. It got tiring over the course of few years, but I learned how to suss out bullshit nonsense quickly when I started covering the culture wars a couple of years back.

When #GamerGate arose, several “video game journalists” began to try distancing themselves from the moniker after it had become noticeably tainted in the aftermath. It was alarming just how awful they were at trying to call themselves anything else, I mean these people write and “create” for a living…surely they could do better than something like “Oh…uh…were just some doods who make silly videos on The Internets”.

I started calling them pundits. Sometimes with the moniker “video game pundits”, but mostly pundits. And wouldn’t you know…it caught on with some of the more “vocal” amongst them.

I will not be so egotistical to believe that I started this “pundit” uprising…but it is surprising just how apt it apparently is considering the turn of all types of media from something resembling information to nonstop opinions.
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Couching of all of this usage of punditry is the notion that media critics no longer seem to grasp the ability to analyze a work or say anything without inserting anecdotal bullshit in to their work. For some reason, I know the sexual proclivities of several writers. In all cases, it was completely unrelated to the topic they were covering. Nevertheless, there it was on display, because they could.

On top of this, several critics have essentially stopped reviewing media and started recollecting what the media did to them.

It’s more apparent with millennial critics as of late. It’s as if they have zero capacity to leverage a fair critique perhaps because they’re generally stupid, and therefore must rely on the anecdotal to have anything worth noting about the media they’re attempting to consume and review for others.

It’s fair to say that they may not even be stupid…just ignorant, that perhaps they’re “lowering” themselves to what they think the average internet denizen may think of their piece. Maybe an editor is telling the reviewer to make the review more clickbaity to garner those sweet sweet clicks from traffic? Because several of these writers are college educated in fields (film history, and the like) that you think would lend well to a better review.
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However, time and again you have field reports about how a movie didn’t have enough women doing something for a reviewers taste. Alternatively, my personal favorite, being a joke scientist and attempting to explain that they don’t like a dick joke…because they’re a lady? A certain brand of humor doesn’t quite hit them in the “Ha-Ha Zone” and suddenly a comedy film is trash because it didn’t make the reviewer laugh enough times? Yeah, this is what we’ve come to with our current state of critique.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for this type of critique or writing. It’s best suited for a diary with a tiny locket to be stuffed haphazardly under a bed. Not for the eyes and ears of an audience looking to make an educated decision on their entertainment dollar.

Perhaps too is the notion that because you can doesn’t mean you should. It’s that in order to bridge the gap of ignorance in the field of media critique several people have lazily filled their output with anecdotes to perhaps “relate” to their audience. However, that’s the problem with being a vaunted “gatekeeper” you’re not supposed to be relatable; you’re supposed to be a “sage” of an informed opinion. Whether you like the color purple, or hate dick jokes because of a bad blowjob one time when you’re in college doesn’t help inform any kind of opinion on the media in question.

Mostly, it makes me wonder where in the hell these editors pluck these assholes from in the first place.
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The thing with pundits is that they don’t honor consistency and in fact, if you were to line up their output you would find mounds of hypocrisy. Granted, this is probably inevitable with the mounds of prolific output pundits tend to get up to, since they’re paid by amount not the content of their work.

Pundits love anecdotes, it helps them appear human, and since the bulk of them never cast a shadow near a real office door, they use them often. The bulk of our current media functions in much the same way these days. For the games press, you need look no further to sheer amounts of video games press that don’t bother to attend events like E3, yet somehow feel compelled to “cover” it for their respective tiny audiences.
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It’s where you begin to realize that this inability or lack of public interaction is what can lead to things like #GamerGate rising up in the first place. Where its fuel is purely based on audience alienation.

In fact, this continued alienation is fueling things on a larger front. The Internets has opened up the entire world to people, yet we find ourselves more insular than ever before. Now we can find all the confirmation bias we need in one or two places, we don’t need to have our ideas challenges and we don’t have to physically find our community anymore.

Therefore, you can begin to understand just why we’ve seen a collective dimming of the bulb in our “free thinker” pundits on down to the lowly asshole “ranter” on YouTube.

A pundit is a vestigial element of a less insular time. Add to it the democratization, for better or worse, of The Interents and we find ourselves awash in a useless sea of collective opinions that are like assholes: everyone has one, and they all stink.

 

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The White Whale of Analytical Consistency