You Buy It I Play It: Revelations 2012

This video is part of my series where I will play anything that you buy for me.

I’ve started branching out into “video content” for games that seem like they would be better for showing and talking than writing, and the first video in that trauma is Revelations 2012, a weird little Left 4 Dead clone that I had a strange time with.

Check out other games in the “You Buy It, I Play/Write It” here.

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Review of Arkham Knight at Paste

About halfway through my time with the game, I quipped on Twitter that Arkham Knight has some of the best comic book writing in the sense that the writing is terrible, and while I’m not sure I think that’s exactly true (because there are some great comic books), I do think that the game suffers from some terrible comic book tropes that actively hurt the game’s ability to tell an engaging story. Characters die in dramatic moments only to reappear with an explanation akin to “you hallucinated, it’s magic.” There can be no true loss for Batman, because no matter what, he has prepared some kind of response. There’s a world where that could be engaging and interesting, but that world isn’t this one, and the reason is that there’s no setup. There’s a world of difference between “here’s Batman’s contingency plan, here’s the contingency, watch the plan work,” which could be a really engaging if ham-fisted way of writing as opposed to “here’s something bad, OF COURSE BATMAN PLANNED FOR IT,” which mostly seems like a bad way to write yourself out of a corner.

All of these story complaints put a different way: people often say that it’s difficult to write an engaging Superman story because he is all powerful. Arkham Knightsuffers for the same reason. The game’s story conflates Batman’s intelligence and wealth with the ability to prethink and out-expend anyone in the field of resources. Blow up his stuff? He has better stuff. Overwhelm him? He can now hack your weapons. Your dad is powerful? Batman is my dad and he can beat up any of your dads.

 – “Batman: Arkham Knight Review

I reviewed the newest Batman game for Paste, and I’m pretty happy with it. Click here to check it out.

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May Waver On The Nature of Cybertwee

I feel like we’re referencing a lot of the ideas your cybertwee manifesto covers. Can you tell me a lil bit about that?
Definitely. the term cybertwee was coined by Gabriella Hileman, and in the fall of 2014, she, Violet Forest, and I met up to write this declaration of what it’s about. The central idea is that in our current “digital moment,” sweetness is not weak or frivolous, but rather an important tool for surviving and thriving. It’s a foil to the legacy of cyberpunk and male-dominated tech culture. Cybertwee is a concept or practice that can materialise through art, fashion, music, a personal politic. It’s flexible and queer and cute and clever.

– Isabelle Hellyer, “May Waver sees strength in tenderness

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I Need To Save This Prime Content And This Is The Best Way To Shore Up My Ruins

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A Quick Note On Jupiter Ascending’s Politics

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There’s a short response to my previous post on the films of the Wachowskis over at Fuck Yeah Jupiter Ascending, and I just want to take a moment to think about it and be a little more explicit at how what I think Jupiter Ascending is doing in how it positions it characters in a relationship with interstellar capitalism.

Right at the top, I want to say thanks to FYJA for reading and engaging with what I wrote. Thanks you!

The author takes issue with my calling Jupiter Ascending a nihilistic film and they write this:

However, while Jupiter Ascending doesn’t show the total defeat of space capitalism, I strongly disagree with the suggestion that it is nihilistic. Nihilism holds that life has no true meaning, significance or purpose, and that is essentially the opposite of Jupiter Ascending’s ethos. Jupiter Ascending is a deeply humanistic film in that it demonstrates immense faith in our base human potential – Jupiter is stubbornly normal, with no special abilities or magical powers to speak of. She is simply herself, and she does what anyone in her situation could do – she makes tough choices when met with limited options, asks questions to attempt to understand what’s happening to her and fights to live. As far as the film is concerned, these qualities make Jupiter heroic and special. The film’s happy ending is not Jupiter saving the universe – it’s Jupiter finally finding happiness, purpose and meaning in life.

Jupiter Ascending is ultimately a very small, personal story of self-realisation and personal growth wrapped up in a glittery, quadrant-spanning package. And while it is non-committal on our potential to tear down the systems controlling the operations of the universe, it is resoundingly optimistic about the human condition and our capacity for good.

When I say that Jupiter Ascending is nihilistic, I don’t mean that it is some kind of deep dive into a dark hole that somehow rejects human existence. What I mean is that the very setup of the film presents us with an incalculably large scenario of politics, that of space capitalism, and at the end of the film Jupiter, and therefore the audience, turns away from that system precisely because it is so complex and difficult.

I agree 100% that Jupiter Ascending is life-affirming, but the particular kind of life that it affirms is one of acceptance, of “rolling with the punches,” and when put into a sequence with the revolutionary idealism of the Wachowskis’ previous films, it looks an awful lot like walking away from the political itself.

Jupiter’s normalcy is the vehicle that enables the film to be so nihilistic in the sense that, no, she is in fact not a normal person. She is one of the wealthiest people in the universe. She has the fate of millions of humans in her hands, and she has the support of a universal policing agency behind her. She has even defeated her greatest rival, the only real threat to her asserting power, and come out completely unscathed in the sense that she has lost nothing. Assertions to her aggressive normalcy, in a weird moment of translation, feels a lot like this story.

In many ways, Jupiter Ascending is a lot like The Matrix (the first film, not the trilogy) in that it presents us with a character who has an extensive amount of power. The endings match closely, what with some plot knitting being done right before someone uses their newfound abilities to fly around a city (in wildly different ways, however).

The nihilism comes from the question “what do we do now?” It is a question of a program, or a set of politics. As I argued in the previous post, the Wachowskis have moved from an ambivalent unhappiness with capitalism (in which a person can fight, and at great cost, maybe win) to an unhappiness that nevertheless accepts the capitalist realism of the universe.

When one of the richest, most powerful beings in the universe asserts “normalcy” in order to move away from engaging in some kind of direct politics, that feels like nihilism. The disavowal of one’s self, and one’s position in relation to others in the galactic system of harvest and oppression, so that you can live a particular kind of life that you’re used to feels like exactly what FYJA was claiming is not there: it is the rejection of significance and purpose in order to avoid dealing with that purpose.

And I loved the film, unironically (I’ve sort of realized that I need to say that around this film, which is odd), but I also think that it signals a particular far end of a political journey that the Wachowskis have been on for a long time.

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Val Kilmer as Batman

“Val Kilmer was the most beautiful Batman. The perfect face for that mask. Those lips.”

– Stephen Goldblatt,

Batman Forever: The Story Behind The Surprise Hit Nobody Really Wanted

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Three Readings of Films by The Wachowskis

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I. The Matrix Trilogy

The Matrix Trilogy presents us with a supposedly linear vision of time that is revealed to be completely static. In the second film, the council member takes Neo beneath the city to show him the machinery that allows Zion to exist. He explains that they have no idea how it works or what the systems might even look like. They look into the heart of the last remaining human civilization and quite literally find a puzzle box.

It is eventually revealed to the characters and the viewer that Zion exists purely because of an excess in the machinery that controls the world. Humans must be given a choice, even if it is a choice that they cannot perceive making, and after having made that choice they can either live happily in the virtual world or unhappily on a ruined Earth. The machines, for the most part, are happy either way. The end of the final film contains this little exchange between the Oracle, a machine that sided with humans in the war, and the Architect, the grand designer of The Matrix itself:

Architect: Just how long do you think this peace is going to last?

Oracle: As long as it can.

Up until this point, the films have been very interested in telling us about the cyclical nature of things. Time does not move in a linear way. Rather, humans accumulate in Zion until they need to be harvested, culled, by the machines, at which point the machines invade and kill most of them before reseeding the city and beginning again.

And this, as many other have said, looks a lot like capitalism itself. Your consumptive choices are always choices even if they don’t appear to be, and your everyday existence is one of carefully ignoring the vast violence that, say, owning an iPad supports. When the contradictions of capitalism come to the surface, or when the violence against people or the environment overcomes the pleasure of the system itself, then you might have a revolutionary moment of fighting back on the part of the people (or an earthquake, or acid rain, or another expression of an anthropogenic chaos in the environment).

And maybe things are better for a while, or at least they don’t get any worse, and the “peace” is attained for a blip in the capitalist timescale. It holds for as long as it can.

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II. Speed Racer

Speed Racer is the most literal possible translation of a cartoon into physically-grounded semi-animated reality unmatched outside the recent G.I. Joe films. At the moment I am writing this, it rests at a low 37% critical rating on Metacritic, and there’s nothing surprising there: the movie has John Goodman suplexing ninjas and lots of straight-down-the-camera mugging from race car drivers and children and even some giggly looks from a chimpanzee.

The Wachowskis threw nothing out when it came to adapting Speed Racer from its anime roots into a feature film, but their additions are what make it a “Wachowski film” as opposed to some kind of cash-in adaptation.

The Hunger Games depicts a national game where life’s meaning is derived from the performance of some murderchildren in a heavily-augmented gamespace. And it works–they politically transcend that, power comes back to the people, the revolution comes, you pick the right option.

Speed Racer contains a worldgame in which everyone, from bottom to top, understands themselves in relationship to the spectacle. The most powerful companies in the world support and define themselves by the wax and wane of their racers, their technologies, and the weird capitalism that happens behind the scenes. Speed Racer takes the technoliberationist claim that one day there will be milk and honey for everyone and asks what the hell the shady capitalists will bother doing in that time.

The shady capitalists, like everyone else, will absorb themselves in games. Worse, they will turn their current activities into yet another game. And the races will be awesome.

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III. Jupiter Ascending

The two previous films I have mentioned contain a dire nihilism at their heart. Even if things get better for a moment, the wheel will turn again, and things will be bad again. Yet in both The Matrix and Speed Racer there was a desire to try to spin that wheel yourself. Maybe with the right people who are woke to the right ideas you could do something to make the world less horrifying for a moment, even if that meant being eradicated in the process (Neo) or playing the game so that the good guys can win a small victory (Speed Racer).

Try to beat them and you might, but things will collapse again. Play the game, and play the game well, and you can at least be sure that your team wins, even if you can’t shut the game down.

Jupiter Ascending gives up on all of that, and while it is certainly one of the Wachowskis more interesting films, it is also maybe their most deeply nihilistic (even Cloud Atlas, a movie literally foreclosing its future over and over again, has the hint that things can change).

Protagonist Jupiter is the heir to a literal universal fortune, and she gets embroiled in a great many political struggles that take her into the giant rendering factory that we know as the planet Jupiter. She comes face-to-face with a space capitalist who explains the harvesting of resources and the desires of capitalism itself, which demands that its victims and resources be faceless and wiped clean of any mark that would make them nonequivalent.

Jupiter beats the space capitalist to death with a pipe and leaves with her title and fortune intact, and for the long story beat this really only means that she is able to prevent the Earth from being harvested of its human resources by the evil space capitalists. And in the final scene, she flies off in cool space skater boots.

I thought Jupiter Ascending was an excellent film all around, and put into a progression with other Wachowski films, you can see how their politics have shifted. There was always a nihilism, that the future is closed, but in JA we are literally presented with a system of control and calculation so large that it doesn’t even make sense to attempt to address it. A single person, even a person who owns the Earth, can do little to nothing against the monstrous maw that roams the universe and chews humans up.

In The Matrix, a ragtag group might be able to change things. In Speed Racer, a ragtag group can grab the world’s attention for a moment to change things, ultimately falling back into the system. In Cloud Atlas, you can embrace a slight moment of kindness before being utterly absorbed. In Jupiter Ascending, your only shot, even if you’re a space princess, is to kick a capitalist in the crotch, blow up a factory, and call it a day.

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