All posts by Jeff Han

The Four Fundamental Assumptions Everyone is Getting Wrong About Anita Sarkeesian

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Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist, media critic, and blogger who writes and produces a Youtube series/website called Feminist Frequency. Her videos about women in video games are well thought, insightful, reasonable, and absolutely correct about the values they reflect (if you haven’t watched them yet, I recommend it). Despite this or probably because of it, her most recent video, which explored violence against women as background decoration in video games, earned her death threats and a swarm of misogynistic retaliation.

With that, I present the following list of four fundamental assumptions I see made against her that everyone is getting wrong:

1. Anita Sarkeesian hates video games

This one is usually the first assumption people wrong about her make and the one they couldn’t be more incorrect about. She starts every video by stating “it is possible to be critical of some aspects of media while still finding it enjoyable or valuable,” and looking at how aggressively detailed her videos are about video game history or keeping track with the sheer number of examples they cite should make it very clear that she knows her shit. Think about how absurd it would be for someone to invest that much time and energy playing something as obscure and dated like Star Fox Adventures just to make a point (seriously, that game sucked).

2. Anita cherrypicks some of her examples so her entire argument is inavlid

Yes, there a handful of examples Anita references in her videos that are cherrypicked, taken out of context, and made to look a lot worse than they are. Being hypercritical about these specific elements weakens her arguments, but that doesn’t mean they’re all completely invalid.  Feminism in video gaming  is  a somewhat “new” concept that many haven’t contemplated or have the grasp of knowledge to argue about, and it’s because of this that Anita has been elected the unofficial “face” of this movement. Leveling personal criticisms or flaws against her for particular misgivings shouldn’t be enough to dismiss her ideas which speak to something much greater.

Which brings me to…

3. Anita is a feminist which means she hates all men and assumes all men actively hate women

Feminism is a loaded term that immediately puts some on the defensive and conjures up images of bra burning women castrating men en masse while getting an abortion and giving each other high fives during a Melissa Etheridge concert. Yes, there are extremists in feminism who would probably dig that just as there are extremists with everything in life, but that shouldn’t undermine the core ideal of feminism: to promote and encourage ideas and actions that strive to treat women with the same regard and respect as men. Anita doesn’t argue that there can’t/shouldn’t be violence against women in video games, that there can’t/shouldn’t be male protagonists, or that all developers are actively trying to promote sexists ideas.

She wants developers to be self-aware about their influence on culture and make efforts against misogynistic practices.

4. Anita is trying to destroy gaming as we know it

If you can’t see her videos on gaming culture as anything else, then look at them as an argument against bad writing. A lot of game developers are very technically minded people so it’s no surprise that they aren’t the most creative writers when it comes to storytelling. Using violence against women to give a story “grit” as a shorthand to establish “amorality” in a game’s world or to set off a hero’s quest isn’t terrible just because it comes at the expense of women – it’s terrible because it’s lazy writing. Gaming is a still relatively new art medium, but it has the potential to explore ideas and topics in much deeper ways than other art mediums can. If videogames continue to rely on the same tropes, though, they’re going to reach their max potential for storytelling really quick.

Some would argue that they already have.

Let’s just hope developers are taking note.

Russian Subway Dogs

While Russia might be more known for its pussy riots, its common knowledge to the residents that there are dog riots too! ………

In Russian Subway Dogs, you must terrorize kindly subway travelers into dropping their food. The more food you eat, the more stamina you gain and the longer you last. The problem? You have to fight off hoards of rival dogs and avoid other travelers who drop explosive vodka bottles instead of food to do it. It’s a fun survival game that should hopefully enlighten the world to the noble plight of the subway dog.

You can download the game for free here.

Super Hexagon

Super Hexagon, designed by Terry Cavanagh (who also made the excellent VVVVVV), is a mind bending, seizure inducing assault of color, sound, and action that features music by 8-Bit musicians, Chipzel. Learning to maneuver through the maze is frustrating at first, but it doesn’t take long to get addicted.

You can get a download link to it from the game’s site here.

In some acid fueled dystopia run by rave obsessed oppressors, school children will be taught the names of polygons with this game.

Things About Music on Netflix

If you’re like me, you can only watch old episodes of Breaking Bad so many times before you start to reconsider keeping that Netflix account open. While Netflix has its own set of problems with its lack of well known things to stream, there are still a lot of great lesser known titles on there to check out. Specifically, music related. While there’s the usual stuff like this Pink Floyd doc or this Queen one, the following is a list of lesser known titles you can (currently) stream, are W.A.H.L. APPROVED (not sure if this stamp of approval really means anything to anyone), and that don’t suck (this last part is probably the most important).

I Need That Record! (2008)

Description: “Imperiled by the rise of downloadable music and the chaotic state of the record industry, the American independent record store is fast becoming a dying breed, as chronicled in Brendan Toller’s shout-out to these beloved spaces. The documentary captures visits to indie record stores across the country, and includes interviews with Dischord Records founder Ian Mackaye, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, philosopher Noam Chomsky and many others.”

PressPausePlay (2011)

Description: “Exploring the connection between fear, hope and digital culture, filmmakers David Dworsky and Victor Köhler profile the leaders of a digital revolution that’s allowed anyone with a creative spark to become an artist.”

The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks (2005)

Description: “Alt-rock favorite The Flaming Lips invite filmmaker Bradley Beesley, who directed many of their music videos, to join them on a journey through the past as they take a look back at their countless escapades. See what the band is like onstage and on the road; listen to the members reminisce over the highs and lows of their 20-year career; meet the people who surround them via interviews and video footage; and more.”

A Technicolor Dream (2008)

Description: “Pink Floyd. Notting Hill. The UFO Club. The International Times. The people, places and happenings that defined the 1960s U.K. underground movement are revisited in this colorful trip back to yesteryear.”

Yanni Live: The Concert Event (2005)

I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (2009)

Description: “This raucous documentary profiles the nascent Muslim punk-rock movement, a musical subculture largely inspired by author Michael Muhammad Knight’s fictionalized account of an Islamic hard-core band. Director Omar Majeed hits the road with various groups for a problem-plagued tour across the U.S. and to Lahore, Pakistan, where the musicians continue their mission to thrash and shock, and both skewer and celebrate their deeply felt religion.”

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (2010)

Description: “Good-time specialists Fishbone get the spotlight in this lively documentary about the all-black punk-funk band that sprang out of South Central Los Angeles in 1979, signing a record deal before their principals were out of high school.”

Moog (2004)

Description: “Filmmaker Hans Fjellestad tells the story of Robert Moog, a pioneer in the realm of electronic music who invented the Moog synthesizer in 1964. Initially viewed as a threat to “real” music, the Moog opened up a world of creative possibilities.”

Absofacto

Jonathan Visger, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the experimental pop act known as Absofacto. I recently discovered his 2011 album, Sinking Islands, and have been playing it in heavy rotation since. His music combines pop sixties sensibilities with modern electronic in a mesh that plays to each genre’s best aspects. If Tycho went rock, this is probably what it would sound like.

You can check out his music via Spotify here or on his site here.

Super Crate Box

Advertised as a game “to bring back the glory of the golden arcade age, when all that really mattered was getting on that high score list” – Super Crate Box is incredibly easy to pick up, but crushingly difficult to master. In it, you face an infinite horde of enemies, but your only objective is to gather as many crates as you can. The catch? Each crate spawns you with a different random weapon, forcing you to drastically change your play style with each crate pickup. Super Crate Box is incredibly addicting, and you can download it for free from the game’s site or you can pay for the iOS mobile version from the itunes App store to play on your phone, instead.

September 2012 Mix

Cover Art Credit: Aimee Brodeur

Stream on Spotify

1. Pyjama – Teengirl Fantasy ft. Panda Bear
2.
Rainbow Road (Teen Daze remix) – Monster Rally
3.
Journal of Ardency – Class Actress
4.
Imaginist – Space Invadas
5.
A Queens Story – Nas
6.
Kimmi in the Rice Field (Balam Acab remix) – Twin Sister
7.
The End (Extended Version) – Lemaitre
8.
Changes – Twin Shadow
9.
Raga Megh Malhar – Charanjit Singh
10.
Altibzz – Autechre
11.
Sympathy – Rare Bird
12.
Lady Daydream – Twin Sister
13.
Baby – Os Mutantes
14.
I Was Made For Loving You – Hypnolove
15.
Tranquilium – Tonto’s Expanding Head Band
16.
Dive – Tycho
17.
Love Theme – Ilaiyaraaja

The Basement Collection

As it is in any artform, the first thing an artist is recognized for is very rarely the first thing they’ve “done.” A lot of  game developers start off by publishing smaller flash games for free on sites like Newgrounds, and Edmund McMillen, the mastermind behind Super Meat Boy & The Binding of Isaac, is no exception. The Basement Collection gathers all of Edmund’s best freeware games from 2006-2009 into a packed collection stuffed with updated graphics, alternate soundtracks, commentary, easter eggs, and art. While this release will probably only be played by fans already familiar with Edmund – it’s an excellent compendium of work that showcases the talent of one of the best developers in gaming today.

Seven games are featured here including the original flash prototype for Meat Boy. While the original Meat Boy features a lot of the core components that would define its later release like its heavy difficulty and enemy free platforming, the controls are clunky compared to the perfected ones of its sequel. Coming from someone who has beaten Super Meat Boy 100%, the relative simplicity in the level design of the original in comparison to its major release counterpart makes the game frustrating to play especially when dying over and over is caused more by bad controls than difficulty.

Although Meat Boy is the most instantly recognizable game in the bunch, it’s also the flimsiest and, thankfully, the only game here that feels included for posterity’s sake. Time Fcuk, a trippy puzzle platformer about a guy facing his (literal) inner demon that with gravity shifting and dimensional hopping puzzles, and Spewer, a physics base platformer about a small worm whose vomit manipulates the world in different ways (it’s not as juvenile as it sounds), both showcase Edmund’s amazing talent for level design. Although the thematic content of Time Fcuk is stronger than Spewer’s, both games are incredibly well thought out and could hold their own as standalone games.

Coil and Aether, two other games in the collection, are the most artistically minded out of the bunch.  While Coil is an interesting diversion that really stands out from the other games, its appeal rests largely on its unique approach. It’s an abstract, experimental meditation on death, but there’s not a whole lot to it. Aether, on the other hand, is definitely the biggest accomplishment here and the less said about it, the better. It explores the idea that deep rooted anxieties are never easily fixed, but challenging them will broaden your worldview more than you ever thought. It’s the most honest and personal game here, and it’s the game that gives me the most promise about Edmund’s potential.

Triachnid and Grey Matter are the last two games that round out the collection, and they’re good but not amazing. Triachnid’s hinders purely on convoluted controls (which I guess is the point), and they’re such a struggle to use that it will make the game unplayable for a lot of people. Grey Matter is a standard arcade style “shooter” that is probably the most difficult entry in the collection, but there’s not a lot in it to differentiate it from other games like it.

Regardless, The Basement Collection is an absolutely essential purchase if you’re a fan of Edmund’s other work. Yes, you can still play all of the games here for free on Newgrounds, but the extra goodies and the cheap price make it well worth purchasing. Although some of the extras do feel needlessly self-indulgent or come off as unfocused rambling (Edmund answers the same question about Coil in the Q&A section about five times), it’s good to know that The Basement Collection wasn’t a half-assed cash in.

If you’ve seen him in the documentary Indie Game: The Movie or read an interview with him anywhere else, you’ll know Edmund McMillen is an extremely generous guy that gives to his fans as much as they give to him.  For only $4, The Basement Collection is an absolute must have. Dude, get it.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Developer: Edmund McMillen & friends(!)
Platform: Mac, PC
Reviewed on: PC

Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Centipede Hz
Label: Domino
Rating: 7.0 out of 10

Being an Animal Collective fan is frustrating sometimes. They’re the rare kind of group that gains popularity by defying audience expectations, but this failure to do so feels less like a creative independence sometimes and more like an intentional sabotage. Until their breakthrough 2009 release, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective were an extremely polarizing act – either you “got it” or you didn’t.  The straight forward, easily accessible melodies of Merriweather put a lot of that to rest, though, and this approach to songwriting surged the band in popularity. Despite this, Animal Collective aren’t an experimental group that turned into a psychedelic pop one, they’re an experimental group that happened to make a psychedelic pop record. Centipede Hz then is a return to form to the kind of music they made before, a blaring assault of sonic and electronic exploration that hides melodies underneath its layers and will definitely polarize people to the group again like their older records did before.

The problem with Centipede Hz isn’t the obvious shift in aesthetics, though, it’s the furious explosion of sound that makes the songs feel claustrophobic and packed. “Moonjock,” the album’s intro, has so much going on that it feels a typhoon of noise. This problem is alleviated somewhat by listening to the album on speakers where the tracks have more space to breathe, but on headphones this might initiate mild levels of panic attacks. Groupmember Deakin, who returns after taking a hiatus from the group, contributes the track “Wide Eyed” which is a nice respite from the chaos when it hits near the halfway point, but his parts are so prominent on the rest of the album that it’s frequently distracting.

Regardless, this album still has its fair share of great moments. “Today’s Supernatural,” the album’s first single, is classic Animal Collective, and “Rosie Oh” (one of two tracks written by Panda Bear) slinks through with an infectious groove.  “Father Time” is another highlight that recalls the best moments of Avey Tare’s excellent 2009 solo release, Down There, but “New Town Burnout” (the other track written by Panda Bear), sounds too much like a track from his 2011 solo album, Tomboy (understandable as it was written right after that album was recorded). It’s still good, but a solo version that stripped away the excess of the group and kept things minimal would have worked better for it. “Pulleys” is a nice palate cleanser before the closer “Amanita” that uses the hectic atmosphere established by the rest of the album to good effect. “Honeycomb” and “Gotham,” two excellent tracks the group put out as a single a few months back, are completely absent from the album, and their replacement of other songs on this album like “Monkey Riches” or “Mercury Man” would have been better choices.

Despite everything though, Centipede Hz, like so many other Animal Collective albums, is not an album that can be easily digested on the first few listens. These songs take time to sink in, and maybe a lot of the criticisms leveled at it will change when the initial hype dies down. Regardless, Merriweather Post Pavilion wasn’t the best thing the group has ever done because they sacrificed their sound for the sake of accessibility, it was the best thing they’ve done because, for once, it didn’t sound like they were intentionally trying to subvert the power of their craft. No matter what they do, though, Animal Collective are still an incredibly unique band that exist purely in their own realm. They just don’t always have to work so hard to prove it to us.

Captain Murphy…Flying Lotus?

Captain Murphy debuted a few weeks ago on Adult Swim’s music label, but little else is known about the gravelly voiced rapper. While a lot of people suspect that it might be beatmaker Flying Lotus on the mic based on his relationship with Adult Swim and his established affinity for naming himself after Adult Swim characters, the few tracks out now are all kinds of awesome. Hopefully we’ll hear more from this soon.