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Sunday 27 May 2018

Women On The Battlefield

This is the cover for the forthcoming popular shooting game that I probably won't play, Battlefield V.

Looks much like all the rest of the covers of the series - contrasting colour flares that seemingly come out of nowhere and are apropos of nothing, bad-ass main character front and centre, general silhouettes of war and stuff in the background.

Guess what the usual crowd have been complaining about.

I don't feel the need to explain that women were heavily involved in all sorts of parts of WW2. That much has been done by pretty much every woman on Twitter that has seen the original set of crybaby complaints, and I feel no need to add to that - though I applaud every snarky takedown that I see, because it's totally justified and needed.

Having skimmed every other Battlefield and Call of Duty cover, and seen something of a pattern, I an only assume that the problem is that this cover is a problem because it's not got a white dude on it. Much like Battlefield 1, which inspired a similar furore - I found an article written a year and a half ago (that I'm not going to link to) claiming that it "black-washes" history.

Which just reminds me of this simple true statement:

When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression.

In recent times, various industries are shifting away from their standard target markets. We're seeing movies come out which upset the status quo. The outrage at Black Panther only having two white cast members stands out, and...well, it did pretty well at box office anyway, didn't it? Other recent scuffles over a movie "pandering to SJWs" include The Last Jedi, which again cleaned up. Both of them broke a billion dollars apiece, which only really tells me one thing:

Even if the same old crowd (and you know who they are) bitch and whine about your product, it will still sell, so you don't need to listen to them.

Let's look at this another way.

As movies have started to claw back Hollywood's generally sexist and racist baseline, and to elevate the medium of cinema to something better than it was two seasons ago, video games can do the same thing. As movies start to represent people, and to hell with those that start seeing their previous (unrealistic) dominance slip away, video games can too. The dollars they lose from people who are against proper representation (like, let's say, the guy that used to produce Eastenders) will be made back from the people seeing themselves represented properly.

"But John," I hear you cry, hands held aloft and dripping with chocolate pudding fresh from the vine. "But John, that's a terrible marketing decision, to deliberately alienate a market!"

Ah, but you aren't alienating a market.

The market is alienating themselves, and you should let them.

Let them go play whatever it is they want to play. There will always be the option where the white guy is the hero. In quite a lot of games you get to make your own character, which should solve that particular issue, but it seems the same mob of goons still take exception to options being available to other people. I don't know anyone personally that was butthurt by They being a pronoun you can select in Battletech, but I know there are people out there who object to it even being an option, because it stops them pretending that non-binary and trans people don't exist or something.

Fuck that. Put it in anyway. Make your games and make them good. Step forward. Video games has been seen as regressive for a long-ass time, for good reason. Leave that funk behind and start making games for the rest of the world, not just white dudes.

I will leave you with a link to an article about badass Russian female soldiers in WW2, any of which deserve to grace the cover of a video game.

If only there was a series of games specifically about WW2 snipers...

Sunday 20 May 2018

The Discovery And The Dread

So being something of a nerd/geek/dork I often see trailers and showreels from things that I immediately want to see more of, or at least am curious about. Hell, sometimes all you get is a trailer, or a short pilot - and that in and of itself is pretty great.

There's something I have become aware of, though. Something creeping up my back whenever I see such a thing - a sense, an awareness of the object I am witnessing and how it will be perceived by others.

An age ago, I said a little something about terrorist attacks - and the event being overshadowed by what follows in its wake.

Of course, what I'm talking about here is less serious. I mean. Surely.

To get an idea of what I am actually getting at, here's an image from an upcoming cartoon show.

It's called Thundercats Roar, and it appears to be a reboot of the original 1985 series in a new style, with a sense of humour, aesthetic and pacing more in keeping with a modern audience.

Now, when I saw the intro, I was highly amused. I mean - just look at how these guys look. Look at Panthro's grin, Tigra's concentration, Mumm-Ra's fury, Lion-O's cheery yelling. This could be fantastic. Look at the COLOURS. It looks like how tropical fruit juice tastes.

Five seconds into watching the intro, though, I was suddenly gripped with a whole other feeling.

I became unpleasantly aware of the existence of haters.

Now, haters are nothing new. Especially not to me. I have been witness and subject of haters hating for three decades. I myself have been a hater for various things, though as I will discuss later - I changed a few things about that which I hope made me a little less unbearable to be around.

I realised, as I watched these characters running around to the fast-paced music, that a hundred thousand angry youtube videos had just been born in the minds of the viewers. That Twitter's hot-take bar was about to go critical. That yet another item in the mental catalogue of my fellow geeks has been... and I can't help but shudder as I type this word...


It's almost like my actual enjoyment of this brand new spectacle, which I am looking forward to most distinctly, was tainted by the immediate knowledge of the acres of shit that are going to be spewed from the mouths of people who just have to let the entire world know just how BAD this is.

It doesn't matter if it is actually bad, by the way, and that's the worst thing. It's bad, because it is different.

Let me remind you of the Thundercats reboot before this one.

This was back in 2011, and nobody watched it, and a lot of people talked shit about it.

It was great.

It had plot continuity. It had characters that weren't just good-guy-bad-guy as just about every 80s cartoon was. The character designs were awesome. We skipped over the whole bit about Lion-O spontaneously growing into a man's body while still being a kid that needed to learn how to lead the Thundercats, because he WAS a kid that needed to learn how to lead the Thundercats.

LOOK AT PANTHRO. Look at him. He looks awesome. He looks like he can actually lift the Thunder-Tank. (Unlike the old one, who could toss it around with apparent ease.)

But this wasn't enough. No, the actual quality of the article was shit on, because - and stop me if it seems familiar - it wasn't like the original. No, it seemed that Thundercats had been...


Let me remind you of what the original Thundercats looked like, so we're all on the same page here.

...yeah, ruined.

We loved the original cartoon. We did. But we also have to be real with ourselves. It had flaws. It wasn't perfect. It was also very much a product of its time, which is partly why people like it, but also brings with it a certain amount of baggage.

A major criticism I am seeing of Thundercats Roar is that it looks like several other cartoons that are current. A major criticism I saw of the reboot in 2011 is that it looked like several other cartoons that were contemporary. Guess what? The 1985 version hardly broke any new ground either. It looked like all those other 1980s cartoons. It had half the same voice cast, some of the same sound work, same techniques used to indicate laser fire and other special effects which were difficult to do on an inked cel.

The sheer amount of people that vomit constant complaint about modern cartoons fitting within a specific style...well, this is why art history is important, folks. This is why it's good to understand something academically before you start to shred its pop-culture facade. Art has phases. Art has styling which occurs in cycles, which become the mode, then fall out of fashion, then become retro, then become vintage, then become antique.

Take a five-year slice of new cartoons, compare them all and I promise you, you will see similarities. You will also probably find at least one meme with that bracket where someone has compiled all the faces looking similar (the blank smile for the cover, for example) and contrasted it with an era they prefer wherein they have cherry-picked the interesting and dramatic deviations from that standard. Forward or backward, this happens a lot.

Nevermind that almost every cartoon or show that requires marketing requires some shots and frames which are as basic as possible, to use as stock for advertising. Nevermind that it is possible to find both extremes in any era of cartoons - that Disney copied their own old line-work, and yet also produced radically different animations that still bore their hallmark style, so unmistakably Disney and yet so varied.

I knew all of this would happen the moment I watched that intro. I can't find a good copy of it on youtube. All I found was people whining about it.

That's a feeling that I think needs a name.

The creeping dread that comes from seeing something, liking it, and knowing immediately that people are going to complain about it - needlessly, and unfairly.

I know several folk who learn about things happening not because of a news flash or someone telling them, but through back-tracking against the reactions. Because that's what happens, now. Backlash. Huge and immediate and sometimes ill-conceived depending on what is being lashed out against. Anyone who pays any attention to anything online or in the media has an idea as to how this works, and can see it coming.

Don't get me wrong. A lot of shit gets called out immediately, and deserves to be. That fucking ridiculous Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert? Yeah, that deserved to be ripped to shreds, it was a farce.

I don't think I saw as many angry videos about it as I did about this new Thundercats, and it isn't even out until next year.

The absolute worst thing is that the deluge of bullshit - the inescapable complaints, which I can even hear being composed in my own head just in expectation - will contribute...precisely nothing of any value to any of us that have to navigate it trying to find a decent upload of the show's intro or whatever.

There's only so many times I can hear someone talk about an entire franchise being ruined by something, and not roll my eyes clean into the back of my skull. You want to talk about franchise-ruining? I'm a Transformers fan. We've had five execrable movies, three web series that have been utter dross - and even that wasn't enough to ruin the franchise, because there's GOOD stuff out there too. Even while the latest messy CGI bullshit rakes in that military money for making the US Army look good, at least some of that money gets put into making neat toys, or the IDW comics, or the potential of there maybe being an animated movie again one day.

If you are suddenly filled with fury about a cartoon - please, just bring something to the conversation. Something new. If your immediate reaction to something is "this is going to be fucking awful because X Y and Z", ask yourself who needs to hear this. Ask yourself if your take on the offending article is actually worth projecting into the ether, for everyone else to try and step over as they look for good content. Maybe even assess why you dislike the thing, and ask yourself if it's a personal taste issue or an actual flaw in the work. Does the world need to know how little you like Steven Universe or Gumball? And how this Thundercats will be awful because it is stylistically similar? Do we, the human race, benefit from knowing that this is your opinion?

I hate things. I hate a lot of things. You'll often see it in this blog. That makes me something of a hypocrite, sure - but then, I like to think that if I hate something, it's for a decent reason. That my loathing of Transformers 5: The Last Knight was justified because it was legitimately a foul piece of cinematic garbage, not because the intro looked a bit like another cartoon I'm not a fan of. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I do need to slow down on the hating, and try and talk positive about stuff, even stuff that does ACTUALLY suck.

Maybe, though, I can also suggest to those who are convinced that Thundercats has been ruined:

The old series still exists, and you can probably get it on DVD.

Just go rewatch it.

Don't come screaming when you remember all the rubbish bits, though.

Sunday 13 May 2018

Warmer Weather

So the cold and the moisture really doesn't do me any favours. It hurts, physically. I always know if it will rain or has rained when I first wake up, because my knees and elbows hurt.

Then we get to a time of year when the sun starts coming out.

In part, one of the reasons this makes me happy is because it means stuff is happening. Events start occurring that draw people together. Walk The Wight is today; a lot of folks get stuck into that, and I don't doubt the feeling of camaraderie that must come from making the entire distance together. This island is its best self when the sun shines on it. It's just all better.

Another reason: even basic tasks become pleasant. Going to the shops in the rain is misery, and in the cold it's a chore - my joints are stiff and walking is just shit. When it's warm, though? When it's sunny, with a faint breeze? I will happily take my time, mooch along the street with the hot sun beating down on me, leaning against lamp posts and soaking up rays as I get some fresh air.

The biggest benefit to me is that it hurts a lot less to do anything.

Sure, I sweat - and I'm a big guy, so I sweat a lot. Nobody likes to see the fat man sweat. But I catch rays, and just standing still and letting the sun soak me seems to make shit hurt less. I don't even know how or why.

Maybe it's just because, when I was in school, the hot weather promised holidays. Not travel - time off school. I hated school, for the most part, so any time I wasn't there was just beautiful. Positive association, perhaps.

All I need do is look out a window and see that sunshine, and I feel better.

Heading home from work when it's still baking hot. 8pm and it's still warm and bright - that's my favourite time. That's the best time. The working day is well over, it's just segueing over to late evening, and still it's the weather to be out and about.

It's songs like Cruisin' by Smokey Robinson that capture this. The long and lazy summer days that just slide by, when everything is hot and glorious, and the entire world feels like one huge holiday.

So if you see me smiling more from now until about September, this is why.

Just a short one, this time. Just to check in.

Sunday 6 May 2018

Papers, Please

Back in May last year, the Conservative manifesto included plans to introduce restrictions at the polling station so that ID needed to be provided if one didn't bring their polling card.

This came into force in several areas in the country in the local elections held last Thursday the 3rd. A result that saw Labour make significant gains while still being shouted down as losing - something I am having trouble quantifying, but never mind, that's what spin is all about - came with a sideline: at least four thousand people who legally could otherwise vote were turned away from the booth because they didn't have their polling card, a passport, a driver's license, or a variety of less common bits of ID.

This is, apparently, a means to prevent people from voting twice. Which is somewhat unlikely. The only people I have heard of that vote twice in any significant number are second home owners in local elections, and that is perfectly legal, if not just as undemocratic.

What it actually does, is prevent a significant proportion of voters from voting. In some constituencies, that is literally enough to swing a seat. Here, last time there were local elections, one seat was won by a single vote - that's for the folks who say "my vote won't make a difference".

There's ways around it, of course. Bring your polling card, right? Make sure you have a valid passport or driver's license, right?

Well - here's a thing.

I don't have a passport. I mean, I do, but it is out of date. I need to renew it. Meaning it isn't a valid form of documentation, unless I front up £76, run the gauntlet of the renewal, and wait for six weeks. I don't have a driver's license, either - no, not even a provisional. For that, £34 and a three week wait. That is even if a provisional license is acceptable - it comes down to the individual councils involved.

Not much to pay, right? Except we forget: this is modern-day England, where food banks are in constant use, and children are being denied school meals that they need and are thus courting malnutrition. If you're on benefits or not earning very much, society shames you for being so gauche and unthinking as to buy tiny luxuries for yourself, let alone a driver's license for a car you can't afford or a passport for travel you can't afford to take.

So if for whatever reason you don't get your polling card - and I can think of numerous reasons for this that are all fairly reasonable and even likely - and you are guilty of the crime of being poor, then there's a greater-than-zero chance that you just can't vote.

Access to the democratic process is necessary for a democracy to be representative. The selective prevention of individuals from voting is a calculated move to increase a party's share of the vote, nothing more, nothing less.

I say "a party", because there is classically a demographic trend: those who earn more are more likely to vote Conservative - here's a piece from the LSE about it.

So in terms of local politics - you get to vote twice, in two different constituencies, if you own two homes and are thus more likely to vote Conservative. You may not get to vote at all if you are poor or disenfranchised, and are thus less likely.

I find it very, very difficult to believe that such a series of conclusions wasn't reached by those responsible for the voter ID scheme. They can claim it will help prevent voter fraud - of which there were a whole 28 cases in the 2017 General Election. 28. For that, we prevented 4,000 people voting - and that was in just five cities - Bromley, Watford, Swindon, Gosport and Woking.

To give you an idea - the population of those five constituencies in total is 529,625. Meaning that one in every 132 people was turned away specifically for the lack of ID. You apply that to the entire country and it works out to 492,360. Nearly half a million voters, legitimate voters, prevented from voting for no good reason.

But sure, we definitely don't need electoral reform.