Quick Thoughts on The International 7 Grand Final

I have been thinking, for what seems like forever, about writing some history articles on esports, specifically DOTA 2. Watching The International Grand Final tonight, a specific similarity struck me; Newbee, favourites to win the best of five series, looked absolutely decimated after losing the first two games. Their body language was terrible, especially when compared to their opponents Team Liquid, who seemed loose and enthusiastic. It mirrored similar things I’ve seen watching sport my whole life: one team was shocked, stunned… waiting to be beaten. The other team was in the groove and probably could not even imagine losing. People turn these situations around all the time of course, but it’s not easy.

I was not stunned when Newbee went down in the third game (though a sweep was certainly shocking in the broader sense). They had already been beaten. They had the look I’ve seen on athletes’ faces again and again and again. In this little moment whatever barriers exist between traditional sport and esport ideologically or otherwise melted away for just a little while. It’s these little linkages that intrigue me. Up to now I have been mostly interested in looking at how DOTA, LOL and more recently Overwatch’s nascent economic structures either mimic or fail to mimic the early origins of professional sport. In particular I am interested in notions of national competition in esports versus traditional popular sport. In this particular regard newly crowned champions Team Liquid are particularly interesting: the team is North American, but the actual players were not, coming from Europe and the Middle East.

A lot to chew on, really. In short, it was a great tournament and well worth your time. We spend a lot of time talking about the prize money (the five members of Team Liquid now have to split ten million US dollars between them) but with each year that passes the championship feels more prestigious. This rings true when you see Chinese teams that under-performed in majors all year suddenly show up, and it comes home when you watch the increasingly more impressive video reviews of and callbacks to previous tournaments. This feels established now.

Video Games Criticism…

Don’t panic, this is short.

A lot of folks on Twitter and across the Internet today are talking about a video posted by popular YouTuber Videogamedunkey that supposedly calls out the video games journalism industry for its various follies, weaknesses and inequities.

It’s rather bad, really. His main complaint at the outset is that large websites such as IGN do not have cohesive voices that unite all of their coverage, as, for example, certain YouTube critics do. Conveniently enough.

I am completely bored with this entire conversation, and I have tried to write about issues in video game coverage before, and failed to do particularly well. This particular critique has a lot of weaknesses in its central assumptions; honestly, if you’re upset that IGN’s coverage of video games is not very good, I’m not sure what to tell you. It’s not exactly news. Beyond that, this video completely misses the central fissure between video game writing’s origins as consumer focused trade writing and attempts by some in more recent years to write about the medium more critically. When is video games writing Kelley’s Blue Book and when is it New York Review of Books?

There is room for both and there always will be both. This particular set of complaints, and many of the comments on the video, is uninspired and misses a lot of points, which rather undermines some of his points that have some validity (which Philip Kollar clearly identifies). I should write about this some more when I have more energy and a little distance, but in short: I’m much more interested in meaningful and interesting evolutions of video games writing than I am in taking down the enshrined hierarchies of corrupted or otherwise negligent video game writing, a concept both naive and obvious.

I moved my blog!

I have migrated my blog from one hosting solution to another, and it seems as good a time as any to start writing again. It’s been a tough couple of months, though with good personal news making me busy, thankfully.

The migration resurrected old thoughts of mine on Dune (an odd but extremely good book) and Timecop (it’s Timecop) and put them at the top of the feed. My site is apparently now called “Site Title”, a new label I was very tempted to keep.

In any case, I have thoughts and you will just have to read them. Come on by and say hello.

A Failed Attempt at Dr. No

I don’t like Bond films. I lasted a few minutes into Dr. No as part of an honest attempt to see where the appeal lays with this character and his endless shagging adventures. The latest Netflixpocalypse was on the horizon and I wanted to give the film a fair chance. But yet again, as has happened often before, I got bored and lost interest. I don’t quite recall what was happening when I gave up on the film. That was a major part of the reason that I gave up.

Now, I really don’t like negative articles. I mean, writing negatively can be fun if you have a bit of joy in it. Mocking the Twilight films is, for example, an almost victimless crime: Twilight fans will refuse to countenance my opinions (or acknowledge that I am joking in a mostly constructive manner) while I sincerely doubt anyone thinking of watching an entry in the series will be put off by an adult male blogger detailing the psycho-surreal nature of his enjoyment of the films in opposition to their intended message or aesthetic. No, I think I’m on fairly safe ground making fun of Twilight films, as if you like the films that much you really shouldn’t be offended because in essence your first reaction is correct: I don’t know what I’m talking about. At least not in any manner that would fit your definition of literacy in Twilight fiction.

That’s not meant as a cop out, it’s meant as explanation. I don’t get it. So, when I state that I don’t get it, it means that I well and truly do not understand the appeal. I’m not making judgements on individuals that do enjoy it or do get it. Thus I come back around (finally) to Bond.

I just don’t get Bond. Maybe it’s his arch-Britishness. I’m not sure. There’s something about the Bond films that just seems so homely and lacking in the glamour they supposedly have. Tacky, really. I’m no snob when it comes to older films, and I am very aware that fashion has changed throughout the decades. I don’t dislike Bond because I think it’s cheap. I dislike Bond because I think that it feels cheap.

For example, take the assassination that opens Dr. No: it’s fantastic, really. The marvelous opening credit sequence gives way to the three blind men pottering around Kingston, Jamaica. Their assault on the British secret agent is really rather wonderful; I’d be surprised to see a character removed in that manner today, with his final act on screen something so banal as reaching for something in his car with the camera looking on from inside the car. The three actors playing the assassins pop into view like something out of a cartoon. It’s fantastic. It’s cool. I’m beginning to believe, as Morpheus would say, his temples throbbing.

But then something happened. I had never realized that Bond’s habit of supplying his surname before his Christian name was initially a response to an alluring female opponent in a game of Blackjack. Still cool. Still interested. Then Bond visits M, flirting with Ms. Moneypenny on the way in and I’m reminded…

I’m reminded that I really don’t like this character at all. I just can’t get on board with it. I know it was a different era and I know that Bond has moved on as a character since then but I can’t shake how uncomfortable the whole setup makes me feel. There’s just something so backwards and boring about his manliness. The action always feels subpar, the sexual innuendo more frustrating that fun, and not because I’m sexually frustrated but because it all seems so pointless and needlessly patronising. I know a large part of Bond’s appeal is that he is an embodiment of the “tall, dark and handsome” archetype but I can’t help but think of him as a bit of a pratt. Leaving the pistol he’s been ordered to use in place of his beloved Beretta with Moneypenny was quite cool, but it was too late. I’d had quite enough of watching men with upper crust accents discuss strategy before heading out to pinch a few bums. I’m done.

Now, again, let me stress: I’m not trying to be a negative jerk about this. Bond just doesn’t do it for me. He may well do it for you. Lord knows the series has millions of fans. I don’t write in my blog to rant at the world. To be perfectly honest, I’m rather disappointed: I had assumed that watching some of the classics would finally turn me on to what I’d been missing. I couldn’t even get half an hour into what I understand to be one of the true classics. How on earth would I manage to get through some of the more mixed efforts? Then again, perhaps I’d like them. It’s entirely possible I imagine that I will one day sit down to write a “Dalton the best Bond” article. Then again maybe not.

So why write about it at all, then? Well, I’m fascinated by the disconnect. I mean, I understand why I don’t like Taylor Swift’s music: it’s not intended to perform the function that I ascribe to music. Taylor Swift fans participate in an entire culture, that of being a Taylor Swift fan. The music is secondary, if that. No, the Bond films are more confusing because they are more difficult to dismiss. Many people like them, and for different reasons, with differing levels of acceptance of the films’ various flaws. Some insist there are none, some find the flaws to be part of the overall positive experience.

And I’m missing out. I just don’t get Bond, and frankly I wish I did. It’s just too old, too sexist, too boring, too oddly comfortable with glorifying the British elite. It’s just not my thing. 

Missives from back pages and ones closer to the front

At the risk of this becoming another entry in a genre I continually declare to relinquish forever, that being of the blog post centered on the problem of my lack of writing, I wish to write for just a little bit on my lack of writing.

Rather, I want to just try something new, specifically my latest attempt to just write something without it needing to be something good or something clearly functional. Although I have more than enough ideas to write five such posts a week, well… I’m not writing them. So here we go, a little miscellany of ideas from my brain to keep this poor little blog alive in attention and imaginary pennies for another day.

This is at least partly, by the by, influenced by my reading quite some time ago now of Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree, comfortably my favourite thing of anything he has written, a collection of articles he wrote one year on the things he was reading. I have recently somehow found the time to read beyond the boundaries of the classes I am teaching this semester, and I have thoughts on such things, with many blog posts planned. Planned but not written. I’ve always liked the idea of writing about my reading, if only because it will in theory force me to read more. So for now, allow me to share:

    • I read Neuromancer! Why the exclamation mark, you may ask? I, like many people who read, have a pretty significant backlog of books that I have bought with every intention of reading (or in the case of Dickens re-reading) but have not. My success not just in beginning Neuromancer but actually finishing it is thus extremely rewarding, or at least creates associative feelings of such achievement in my brain.

 

    • I liked Neuromancer! Why the exclama… I did that bit already. Actually, I was not at all sure I would like Neuromancer after a couple of pages, and was if anything less sure sixty pages later. It did just enough to keep me, though (I am an extraordinarily willful and fickle reader these days, shorn of all guilt by fatherhood, work and other important things) and by the time I finished it I was very happy indeed.

 

    • I was particularly struck by elements of the novel that are noticeably cliched in a 2017 context but of course were not in 1984, largely thanks to William Gibson’s success in foreseeing our use of virtual space (or cyberspace, to use Gibson’s word) and his immense influence on so much work to follow, particularly in the cyberpunk genre which he basically invented. Or helped invent. It was intriguing how quickly I recognized my initial frustration at cliche as anachronistic and embraced the tropes: trenchcoats, mirrored glasses and cosmically spiritual Rastafarians are quite enjoyable when you instruct your brain to forget they’ve been done a million times and worse. I would strongly recommend Neuromancer though because it has a lot more going for it besides. A couple of Gibson’s characters have been tried since but with far less success.

 

    • I put Neuromancer down, picked up The Crying of Lot 49, another backlog book, feeling I was on a roll, but never actually started it and got into Infinite Jest instead. I’ve owned Infinite Jest for years, and it’s funny, as for a very long time I read nothing out of an astonishingly elevated and rather misinformed sense of dedication to literary snobbery, which involved rejecting all modern literary fiction, at least written during my lifetime. I know, I know. Ridiculous. I do still have somewhat of an issue with pretentious literature. I was pleased to find that the first fifteen pages of Infinite Jest are nowhere near as pretentious as I worried they might be, and were actually not as pretentious as the book’s introduction by another author who will here, at least, remain nameless. I can see why the book is so popular with literary types though. Even early on it really is extraordinarily impressive, and Wallace writes with confidence and a genuine sense of fun, though that seems lost quickly in all the things he does that impress everyone so.

 

    • I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with Infinite Jest. I’m already thinking of dipping in and out every month or two but I don’t trust my memory enough. I might pop into Dave Eggers’ The Circle, which has sat on my bookshelf for months now but has never tempted me. Recent trailers of the upcoming film have alerted me to the fact The Circle features a nefarious character several people, including Tom Hanks, later decided should be played by Tom Hanks in a film adaptation. This merits some form of revisiting, and given the trailer gives off a distinct “Weren’t those Da Vinci Code movies a BLAST?” vibe, a rather important tweaking of one’s expectations. Or reductions of one’s biases and preconceptions, fair or otherwise.

 

    • Finally, all this reading has put me in the mood to write, which is great fun, and brings up an old problem, which is the consistent concern and self-correctives over my tendency to write a little differently once I’ve been reading with a decent rate of regularity. Am I writing more confidently, more adventurously, or more pretentiously? All three? Should I care? The short answer is no, as I think the longer answer is also, but all the work in between the two is more interesting to me than to you, and so I think I’ll call it a day.

 

A Republican in College

Last week, a young woman took to twitter as young (and not so young) people often do, to share her feelings. Michelle Shampton wrote that “As a Republican in college, I am genuinely afraid to speak about my conservative views in fear of being stereotyped or labeled negatively.”

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Her tweet comes amidst an apparently endless, ongoing narrative from some that American universities are dens of socialist inequity whereby instructors fill students’ head with leftist dogma, resulting directly in mob rule that asserts various left-wing ideas as unquestionable orthodoxy. I would argue that such a view has genuine merit but moves very quickly towards the less interesting and not as laudable goal of throwing some red meat to a hungry audience, filled with incorrect assumptions about professor salaries and how we use our time. I repeat: the view has genuine merit. The compulsion to correct another, to enforce the correctness of an idea, is directly proportional to one’s conviction s/he is “in the right” and this rule applies to either side of the political spectrum, not to mention the various fragments contained within our increasingly outdated binary view of left and right. Unfortunately in the case of Shampton’s tweet, the Internet soon obliged in offering further evidence of this problem (just see the replies to her tweet). She was widely mocked, and many tweets quoted her comments in horror while pointing out that being murdered because of one’s sexual orientation, for example, is far worse than being worried about being stereotyped in college.

Well… yeah. I would agree with that, though I have trouble understanding why one would immediately jump to such a comparison unless it was an accepted truth that it is perfectly okay for conservatives or people holding conservative views to feel they are in the minority while in college. I do not think this should be an accepted truth.

It also strikes me as unfair that this statement was immediately met with replies that implied she supported crimes against LGBTQ people, amid other horrifying acts. She never said any such thing. I imagine no small amount of these responses were inspired by Tim Allen’s recent colourful description of being a conservative in Hollywood “is like ‘30s Germany”, a comparison that is both grossly disrespectful and borderline anti-Semitic in its carelessness and insulting to anyone interested in making genuine historical comparisons (don’t get me started on Trump’s election and 1933, by the way…).

However, Allen made these comments not in a thoughtful op-ed for the LA Times but while shooting back and forth with Jimmy Kimmel on the set of a talk show. He was trying to be funny, and silly. My argument here is not that one can say whatever one wants if it is couched in humour, but to point out that Allen’s comments drew disproportionate attention, which in turn surrounded some entirely valid criticism. I may be wrong, but I find it hard to believe this context did not help shape reaction to Shampton’s tweet.

I’m not interested in policing reactions to the tweet, nor am I qualified to do so. I do, however, want to point out that the reactions to her tweet were extremely unpleasant, and frustrating in how carelessly and often unwittingly they perpetrated a simple act of bullying. If one was to take Shampton’s tweet as a beleaguered cry from beneath chains of oppression, I can see how that would be extremely frustrating. It would also perpetuate a rather unfair critique of academia that, frankly, ascribes almost supernatural powers to the common college instructor in our supposed abilities to bend young minds to our frantic, insidious Socialist will.

I do not believe that American campuses are instruments of indoctrination by a liberal cabal, though I do acknowledge, readily, that conversations on college campuses skew towards liberal biases much more quickly than conservative ones, and sometimes with regrettable results. I also do not believe Shampton was seeking to make this point, though I could be wrong. I do not think this tweet, a short comment of 140 characters or less, don’t forget, made a compelling case. It was a succinct declaration of something this woman felt at that moment, which is what twitter is designed to help share with the world.

However, if she does feel that academia is anti-conservative not just in terms of public conversation but down to its bones, she has every right to think that whether I agree or not. If she was flippantly comparing the plight of being a young conservative in 2017 to that of a gay person in fear of her life because of her sexuality, I would have a problem with that, but I do not see how putting her down or mocking her moves any conversation forward in any way. Speaking as a college instructor, I find the idea that a young person has not yet figured out how to declare her political ideas in a thoroughly convincing way unsurprising, particularly given the reams of evidence much more experienced people, including myself, can often do no better. Furthermore, I welcome this idea. Is not merely understandable, but desirable that undergraduates are still finding their way towards a world view? This should be celebrated and protected. So much of this, I suppose, becomes subsumed into wider conversations about how we use the Internet, but I see no reason why we cannot work towards imposing a moratorium of our own on immediately leaping in to virtually eviscerate a named but essentially still anonymous stranger. The costs would seem less potentially harmful to me than those of benevolent harassment.

History of Games in Public Conversation

I had the pleasure this past week of sitting in as a guest on the Starting Point podcast with Brian Bentley And Corey Dockendorf. We had a great time (go and have a listen!) and in the midst of my unplanned advocation for a gaming lifestyle more or less entirely based on playing games by Blizzard, Brian asked me a great question on the history of video games. When we were young (Brian and I are both either at the tail end of Gen X or old and crusty millennials; I pick the former), video game consoles were toys, products clearly aimed at children; today they are sleek beautiful multimedia devices aimed either at the entire family or specifically at adults. When, Brian asked me, did I think the change that facilitated video games’ move as a medium from one to the other take place?

My answer, in short, was the early to mid 1990s. Specifically, I raised the issue of major sports games becoming extremely popular in public discourse and the subsequent normalization, publicly, of men in their 20s playing video games. Now the reality went both beyond sports games and beyond men in their 20s, of course; I do think, however, that the celebration of sports games in particular played a key role in broader public acceptance of video games as something on which adults spent their leisure time. This is… an idea I have discovered I want to spend a lot more time on. I have been saying for a while now I wanted to write something for a journal on sports and eSports, and this seems like a nice connection project into that, even as a longer blog post, possibly for History Respawned, with a bit more research and work behind it.

So look out for that.

This is the Dark Souls of a short post about a YouTube video

Oh my word. I am pretty sure that all human development to this point has led to this moment.

I genuinely appreciate being able to get jokes like this. My belated discovery of the wonder of Dark Souls last year, in addition to fostering an addiction to complex games essentially focused on esoteric storytelling and exploration, finally granted me entrance to a fascinating subculture of Dark Souls adoration that tends to be a lot more fun than such a description makes it sound. See  above.

Admittedly, the above video probably seems insane to someone who has not played a lot of Dark Souls, thought about Dark Souls, read about Dark Souls, and then played more Dark Souls. Yet it brings me joy on a busy Monday.

Deus Vult

I found this article in Polygon fascinating, discussing the odd conflation between an alt-right adoption of the term “Deus Vult” and the growing online community around the game For Honor. I find it fascinating in no small part because I gave my students Robert the Monk’s version of the famous Pope Urban II speech that gave life to this particular term, and did so with no knowledge about the online alt-right connotations.

Allegra Frank describes the historical nature of the phrase as “obvious and inextricable”, which is not a bad way of putting it in terms of its use in the game. I cannot help but find it all a bit disturbing, frankly. I had read previously of the alt-right community’s interest in monarchy and medieval standards of governance and (supposed) moral justifications for autocratic rule. Their approach, needless to say, is ahistorical and embarrassing. I’m not sure how you could come away from reading a version of Urban II’s speech in the early twenty-first century and come away thinking he was on to something exciting or that in any way gives us a useful blueprint for the future. The source is inseparable from its context, and it takes remarkably willful rejection of that context to draw parallels with challenges the world faces today.

As for For Honor, it seems the fans of the game use the term as part of their own celebration of their community online. Go for it, I say. There is something to be said for relationships between terms and I am grateful that even in the savage land of wild untamed memes there is genuine competition between representations.

The Holocaust and the Edges of Denial

This past Friday the Whitehouse shared a public statement to commemorate the international day for remembrance dedicated to the Holocaust, as they do every year. This year, however, had a notable difference from previous ones, in that the statement did not mention Jewish victims of the Holocaust. When asked about this, Whitehouse spokesperson Hope Hicks asserted that the Trump administration is inclusive, so inclusive in fact that they feel it is important to recognize the millions of non-Jewish victims of Nazi horrors including the physically and mentally disabled, homosexuals, Roma and other groups.

Looking past for a moment the astonishingly hypocritical claim to inclusiveness, this statement is very troubling. Ms. Hicks is completely right to point out that the Nazi Party turned its savagery on many groups other than Jews, but it is an unwarranted and unnecessary leap to then try and re-contextualize the Holocaust as a broad murder program aimed at a large number of groups. It was not. The Holocaust and Hitler’s “Final Solution” focused singularly on the global Jewish community. The extension of state-driven genocidal practices to other groups Nazis found distasteful does not alter that fact.

At first I assumed that this was a simple case of a costly error borne of a lack of expertise and experience, and that the Trump administration could not bring itself to admit to making a mistake; see also the mess this weekend derived from a poorly worded executive order and a foolish (truly foolish, beyond belief) decision to include green card holders in already restrictive and arbitrary policies on “vetting” entrants to the country. However, there was grounds for skepticism, and as John Podhoretz points out this odd and ahistorical desire to insist that not only the Jews suffered because of the Holocaust has an extensive history.

It is rubbish, and it is extremely bad history. Obviously, the willingness and eagerness of the Nazis to extend a message of hatred and eugenic exclusivism to a large number of groups that did not fit their entirely fictional Aryan race ideal is worthy of note and offers important lessons. Victims of their cruelty deserve to be remembered. However, the idea that the Holocaust was not the end result of a plan conceived from the very start as an attempt to solve a Jewish “problem” completely ignores historical fact. It ignores many, many things Hitler and his cronies said and were saying for long before he became Fuhrer. Hicks and her boss’ rather pathetic attempt to appropriate awkward language of inclusivity merely highlight a clumsy attempt to do an end run on the historical facts of the Holocaust, which should lead reasonable people to assume that someone involved in the drafting of that statement has a problem with Jewish people, acknowledged openly or otherwise, and that others who read the statement lacked the faculties or spine to fix it before sharing this message with the public.

If one truly wanted to be clear that the horrors of the Holocaust lie not just in the attempts by a state and a people to eradicate an entire group of human beings but that such methodology was then extended to various subsets of groups considered unacceptable to a stated norm, then there was an easy way to do this. Mention those who died at the hands of the state because of their sexual activity or ethnic origin, as an additional comment in support of the central horror of the Holocaust: the death of six million Jews and a meticulously constructed system that sought to kill many millions more.

To reiterate, this is among other things just bad history. You do not need to be an historian of the Holocaust or be familiar with the historiography to be able to point out the problem here. This is another evolution of the David Irving school of trying to chip away at the edges of the accepted historical argument. Irving and his fellows liked to cast doubt on the numbers of victims and dance around the reality that they were effectively denying the Holocaust. Irving even sued a historian for correctly pointing out that this is exactly what he was doing (a series of events recently dramatized on film). Dressing the omission of Jewish victims from a statement on the Holocaust in newspeak masquerading as post-identity-politics humanism simply takes the practice of Holocaust denial away from casting doubt on well-established historical fact to seeking to undermine well-established historical consensus. There is, in theory, room to maneuver here, but only if you are predisposed to argue that Jewish people are somehow over-represented in discourse on the Holocaust. If you are so predisposed, I am sorry to inform you that you are wrong. It was one of the great sins of human history, it has shaped all of our discourse on genocide and ethnic cleansing since, and adding to the long list of victims in the public consciousness merely helps spread the word of the sheer depth and breadth of its horrors. Those horrors, I am sorry to say, have expansive borders. There is no need to reduce the reality of the Holocaust’s defining anti-semitism to further illuminate them.