The All Too Familiar Case of Rebecca Thane

Rebecca Thane has been here too long to put up with your shit. She hates the runners, so repelled by the economic injustice of the dominant system that they choose to live outside of it, but somehow actually fighting against it is just a tad too far. She’s watched as the rich and powerful have killed her friends without reproach, and she knows that no matter what she does, she can ever rival the blood on their hands. She is not here to object, or to protest, or to run. No, like all good revolutionaries, she is here to win.

Unsurprisingly, Rebecca Thane is a secondary villain in Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. She is introduced angry, yelling at your boss Noah for refusing to do anything other than sit on the fence. She has a point, of course, but the anger is what matters here, a telltale sign that she could take things “too far,” whatever that means. Never does the game ask if anger and violence are perhaps reasonable responses to society-wide systemic violence, even while you’re kicking dudes off skyscrapers.

Instead, Rebecca Thane is another Daisy Fitzroy, another Marlene, another black woman doing the work of revolution because somebody has to, and ultimately condemned by the text for her efforts. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is another in a long line of games that wants to sell the idea of revolution and condemn the politics of it. The back of box tagline reads: “Fight Oppression. Claim Your Freedom,” the game opens with a text crawl saying “Citizens have been made willing slaves,” and Faith’s first act is to break free of mandatory corporate surveillance. Fight Oppression. Sign up for Origin today.

Six hours later, the game ends with a monologue where Faith proclaims that by stopping Kruger’s plan they’ve “started something.” They haven’t brought about revolution, but they’ve lit a spark, and finally people can start to fight back. Somewhere, Rebecca Thane is sadly shaking her head. Does all the work of her and her dead friends really amount to nothing? Maybe in twenty years, Faith will have grown tired of the moral high ground when it doesn’t do a damn thing to bring progress any closer. Maybe Faith’ll meet a young runner herself, disgusted with how angry and violent she’d allowed herself to become, and maybe that runner will break away and declare that after years of accepting oppression, they’ve finally started something.

Maybe.

Abnormal Mapping 50: Jump Cut Genocide

To listen to the episode, click here. To subscribe, click here to find the site feed on iTunes, or search "head falls off" into any good podcast directory.

The Abnormal Mapping podcast survives after its final episode to reach this, its milestone episode. It has been five decades since we began our humble journey, from our first game club of Space War through the Arcade Years and the Decade of Nintendo to this, our current configuration in our fiftieth annual episode. Blades will bleed. Shields will shatter. And we’ll travel back through our memories of a long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, when the Younglings gathered around their vidscreens and peered into the void to ask the age old question:

“Master Skywalker, what company won E3?”

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

Things Discussed: E3, #SPIDERMANPS4, Spider-Man 2, Mass Effect, Watch Dogs 2’s Promotional Videos, FIFA 17: The Journey, West Bromwich Albion Football Club (The Baggies), David Baddiel, Miitomo, Dishonored II, The Tragedie of Shigeru Miyamoto, Dirt 3, Uncharted 3, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Too Many Notes, Kingdom Hearts, Yakuza 3’s tragic love storyThe Sasuke Problem

Music This Episode:
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Joy by Shoji Meguro
Football Crazy by Robin Hall and Jimmie Macgregor
Star Wars and the Revenge of the Sith by John Williams
Ballad of the Wind Fish by Minako Hamano and Kozue Ishikawa
Under Logic by Yuzo Koshiro

Trashpect Ratio 23: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

To listen to the episode, click here. To subscribe, click here to find the site feed on iTunes, or search "head falls off" into any good podcast directory.

Hey everyone, Jackson here! It’s been an incredibly difficult month for me, with emergencies of both health and housing springing up, so it’s taken me a little longer than usual to edit this episode. But it’s here, and it’s worth the wait! We talk Zootopia’s politics, the comedic genius of Tyler Perry and get into our movie club: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Movies Discussed

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Zootopia
Belladona of Sadness
Steve Jobs
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

This Month’s Movie Club

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Next Month’s Movie Club

Inaugruation of the Pleasure Dome
Lucifer Rising

Morning Mega Man: Mega Man 2

Mega Man defeated Dr. Wily's Robot Masters once, but somehow this didn't actually change anything, so he's called into action once more. Will he defeat 8 more? Will this cycle ever end? Will he ever look cooler than he does in the title screen?

Jackson returns with Morning Series, and this time he's tackling the beloved Mega Man 2. He's very excited to play and you should be very excited to watch. Let's go!

The Dinner Lady

People think I’m weird because I don’t like butter. They say, “what’s wrong with butter?” as if I could produce an answer that would satisfy them. “Nothing,” I always say; except the way it sticks to the bread, existing in this gross mid-point between solid and liquid, making my mouth feel wrong. “I just don’t like it.”

After taking a bite, I place my sandwich back down in my lunchbox, and slide it off to the side. I login to the computer – admin for both fields, because teachers are smart – and load up internet explorer. For the last week, I’ve been playing a flight game. I enjoy the way the plane rolls when I tap the keys, the way it rises when I hold the accelerator. I’ve gotten into a routine, tuned myself to the calming movement on the screen. I type in the address only to find the website has now been blocked.

“No one else today?”

My breath tightens for a moment, and I look up to see the Dinner Lady coming down the steps. She comes in some days, asks me about how things are. I know she’s part time, but I haven’t been able to work out any kind of pattern in her appearances. Don’t they give you schedules? I think they give you schedules.

“No one else today,” I reply.

“God, I don’t know how the hell you see in here,” she says, turning the light on.

“With my eyes,” I say, smiling. Unless my eating is particularly loud, people walk through the hallway without turning to notice the kid sitting in the alcove. At first I kept the light on, but I quickly became tired of people asking me what I was doing inside.

Behind me, she opens the door to the main hall, and steps inside. I hear her pulling off a chair from the one of the stacks along the edge of the room, and a moment later she returns, setting it down next to me.

“What happened to Elliot?”

“He’s sick,” I say, “He wasn’t in for register this morning.”

“That’s a shame.”

I take another bite of my sandwich. Usually I’m a fast eater, but with someone else present I always take the time to be extra careful. I pause, looking directly at the screen, so as not to talk with my mouth full. Mum tells me that it’s easy to forget, which means it’s important to remember.

“So what Joshua did was get bright idea of playing football inside the dining hall,” the Dinner Lady says. “Anyway, long story short, bam, he hits a table and now there’s food all over the floor. I came in here to hide.”

I sent my sandwich back down, turning to face her flicking me a guilty little smile.

“Is he going to get in trouble?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Good,” I say.

The Dinner Lady says nothing. She maintains the silence until I move my hands away from the keyboard, her eyes intent on studying my reaction. I don’t know what she thinks she’ll be able to work out. I’m not very interesting.

“Was that the wrong thing to say?”

She shakes her head. “How you been doing lately? With everything?”

“Fine,” I say, which isn’t a lie. Ever since I got the diagnosis, people have been asking me big questions like this. They never sound big, they’re the same questions I’ve always been asked but I can tell that isn’t the whole truth. It would be a lot easier if adults said whatever it was they wanted to say, because when they don’t, all that happens is that old words become new. Why does anyone think that would make it easier?

“School’s gotten easier,” I say, realising that her silence meant I was supposed to continue speaking.

“Are people being a little nicer now?”

“I think so,” I say, taking another bite, expecting the Dinner Lady to ask something else, but she’s still sitting there, waiting for me. “Mum says that people just need to get to know me, and that it’s easier one on one.”

She nods, and rubs the left side of her face with her finger, my words only registering in so far as she can tell when I am and when I am not talking. I’m not stupid, I know she’s come here to say something specific, but she still hasn’t managed to work out the right way to do so. I used to be so sure that feeling went away as you got older.

“What is it?”

“Joshua.”

“Oh.” I look at the table, bite my lip. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to say it was good that he’s getting in trouble.”

The Dinner Lady laughs, for a moment, before placing her hand on top of mine. I tense up, but after a second I realise that she isn’t grabbing or restraining me. I can feel the slightest shiver pulse through her hand, and fall onto mine.

“Just tell him to sit somewhere else, alright?”

“What?”

“Tomorrow.”

“I, uh –” Her hand tightens around mine, and I look back in her direction. I don’t like to make eye contact often, it’s too much of a commitment. Her eyes look so much older than the rest of her.

“Okay,” I say, and she takes her hand away.

She gives the table one last tap before standing and picking up her chair. I turn back to the computer to find something new to do to past the time; there’s still thirty minutes of lunch left and I’m going to need to occupy myself somehow.

I call out to the Dinner Lady as she’s walking up the steps, making sure that she turns the light off before leaving.

April O'Neil: A Day in the Life

Megan Fox's Mikaela does not fare well in the Transformers movies. She exists to be an object, obviously, but that objectification is worth examining further. In the first movie, she is an object of desire and status, Sam's (Shia LaBeouf) attainment of her an affirmation of his heroic status. In the second movie she is an object of resentment as Sam has to contend with the fact that Mikaela is a human being with needs of her own. Finally, in the third movie she is an object of hatred, no longer on screen yet very much present within every action that Sam takes. She was a bitch, obviously, and Sam didn't need her. He's way happier with this nicer, better, hotter new girl. 

These movies are awful, and their treatment of Fox (both within the movies themselves and in the winder culture) is deplorable, yet they always left me wondering. Michael Bay's Transformers movies are such perfect illustrations of the toxicity and violence of masculinity that I've always wondered if, if made with an ounce of self-awareness, it could become something worthwhile.

That movie totally exists in the 2014 film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Despite his role as just one of several producers, Bay is inexorably linked to the new TMNT. He's arguably the biggest name attached to the film (the series is referred to as the Michael Bay TMNT films), and it owes a great debt to Transformers visually, tonally and conceptually. It's a dark and "realistic" live action movie based on a popular 80s kids franchise, with a greasy, lens-flare laden cinematography, a tonne of bro-out humour and starring none other than Megan Fox.

Yet TMNT diverges from the Transformers formula in its very first scene, as Fox no longer stars as object, but as our protagonist, April O'Neil. Although the film's gender politics are not that much better on the surface - the camera still leers, a gross older man and a gross teenage turtle both try to fuck her for the entire movie - April's role as protagonist means we see this world through her eyes. Through this framing, intentionally or not, the movie becomes an illustration of just what it is like to be a woman in a Michael Bay movie.

In the opening act, Will Arnett (his character has a name but I guarantee you that nobody on earth knows what it is) says flat out to April that she should be happy being the "froth." He tells her that she has been hired to look pretty and deliver puff pieces for the evening news, that this is why she is valuable and that should be enough for her. Arnett functions as an audience surrogate here and throughout the film, transparently helping April out of a desire to attain her; even his repeated acts of kindness and assistance are acknowledged as nothing more than ploys to get into April's pants. He wears a fedora. It's hilarious.

April never accepts Arnett's logic, or even entertains the possibility of a relationship with this dude clearly twenty years her senior. She remains resolute in her quest, which unfortunately for her is to try to convince the news to run a story about Vigilante Turtles, so she's fired pretty quickly.

It's important to say at this point that April is an idiot. She wrecks her own career, leads the bad guys to the Turtles, and is incapable of reacting with anything other than complete and total earnestness to everyone no matter how obviously evil they may be. April is not a Strong Female Character, she is still written as a woman within a Michael Bay movie. However, when she fucks up, the audience are brought along on that ride, and experience every beat with empathy for her position and her humanity, and her place at the centre of the movie is never questioned.

At the end of the film, April and the Turtles save the day, and Arnett is still hopelessly pining after her. He never gets April as a prize, or the reward of a catharsis for finally acknowledging her as a person. The epilogue centres entirely on April's newfound feeling of belonging, and the movie ends with her smiling between two idiots, finding comfort in her sense of accomplishment with what she's been able to achieve, yet still having to navigate their unwanted advances, Just another day in the life.

I don't think that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an amazing, progressive movie (in fact, I think all this praise just shows it meets a very low standard of basic decency), but it does deserve a lot more respect than it ended up getting. In a movie world in which noted Strong Woman Black Widow has done literally nothing but show up to propel dudes forward for over half a decade, a blockbuster marketed at young boys which invites them to acknowledge the humanity of women that other films so violently deny is something that has to be worth something. 

Abnormal Mapping 49: Requiescat In Podcaste

To listen to the episode, click here. To subscribe, click here to find the site feed on iTunes, or search "head falls off" into any good podcast directory.

A dark day comes in the lives of any video games person. A day where the joy is gone, and the game pad falls to the floor in utter defeat. This is not true despair, though, for that instead can be found on the internet, where said intrepid gamespeople go when their play is through, only to find a cesspool of fear and hate and suffering. That is the true gauntlet of horrors, eroding all of us into shapeless forms of old dreams, spent energies, and a dim animal sense that the world shouldn’t so easily gobble up things that are fun and convert them into things that are burdens.

For three intrepid gamespeople, in one tiny little boat of a podcast, in an endless sea of trivial bullshit? That day is today.

Come for the end. Stay for the beginning. Listen as we render all good things to dust and say goodbye to a friend in this, the last episode of a podcast that was, and a discussion of a podcast that might yet be.

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

Things Discused: Lego Marvel Superheroes, Stardew Valley, Uncharted 2, Hitman: Blood Money, Become A Great Artist in 10 Seconds, Car on a Stick

This Month’s Game Club Game: Hitman: Blood Money

Next Month’s Game Club Game: …

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Home Sweet Home by Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka
Super Mario 2 Ending Theme by Koji Kondo
Ave Maria by Franz Schubert and Vienna Boys Choir.

On Lego Games

The LEGO games have always traded in parody, drawing upon popular iconography of a particular franchise and then heightening it for comic effect. However, their success comes not from the comedic undermining of the subject matter, but the distillation of its subject matter to the core values. LEGO Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy‘s silent narrative captures the adventure, tone and thematic conceit of Star Wars arguably better than the movies on which it is based.

Traveler’s Tales have kept this up for over a decade now, taking an approach to adaptation which centers on identifying the essence of the source material and applying it to the established core design. Nowhere is this more obvious than LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, a far more effective way to understand the appeal of comic books the movies they draw from so regularly. The game revels in its characters, bouncing them off of each other in every puzzle and every cutscene, showcasing a incoherent cliff-notes Marvel Universe which embraces the ludicrous joy of its conceit rather than to (as is the trend in more mainstream adaptations) grapple with the logistics of its existence.

Whilst this element of the LEGO games is fairly widely understood, what struck me when playing is how this approach to adaptation remained true in terms of the game’s more formal design. In addition to adapting and distilling a fictional universe, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is an adaptation and distillation of modern video games, with how it frames its open world, highly scripted level design, and a trillion-and-three collectibles.

It isn’t that the game has these elements – almost every AAA game contains one or more of them these days – but that LEGO presents them nakedly, without the need to burden itself with context. The open world makes no attempt tobe anything other than a constructed sandbox in which you may destroy and explore; even superheroes need to carjack every once in a while. The scripted level design is merely a series of explicitly colour-coded signs onto which you must move the correct character, ad infinitum. You are not collecting coins and completing side-missions to improve the effectiveness of your weapons, or your gang, or your war effort, you are doing it because the number is low and dangit, the number should be higher.

These design techniques are no less effective than in an Assassin’s Creed, or a Destiny, or a [insert 75% of recent AAA Games here], but they do feel a great deal less exploitative. A LEGOgame is a passive experience of consumption, wherein you follow simple instructions in order to get more things, which unlock more simple instructions to follow. But that treadmill stands honest and alone, rather than to motivate the player through a narrative, or to trap the player inside a marketplace.

Just as LEGO games serve as an accessible introduction to the appeal of their chosen narrative source material, so too do they serve as an accessible introduction to the appeal of their formal source material. Alone, neither of these elements explains the series’ cultural staying power, but putting them together makes it a lot easier to understand just why the LEGO games have managed to be one of the last kids’ games standing on consoles.

Let's Play DOOM

When DOOM (2016) was released, I was sitting in my room all disappointed that I couldn’t afford it and what a shame that was because boy did I have a hankerin’ for some DOOM.

Then I stood up and realized that I could totally play DOOM and all I needed was a soundcard and 28MB of disk space. Thus began a new impromptu Let’s Play…

Trashpect Ratio 22: Possession

To listen to the episode, click here. To subscribe, click here to find the site feed on iTunes, or search "head falls off" into any good podcast directory.

May rolls around and so too does another fine episode of Trashpect Ratio! We mention superheroes for all of three seconds before moving into chat about Beyonce’sLemonade and Zulawski’s Possession. Click that play button or subscribe on the podcast app of your choice for monthly, interesting movie discussion between good friends!

Enjoy!

Movies Discussed

Civil War
The Jungle Book
Lemonade
World of Tomorrow
Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams
Possession

This Month’s Movie Club

Possession

Next Month’s Movie Club

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant