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       (Warning: some spoilers) When they decided to turn this Canadian comic into a movie, I’m not sure they were aware of what a cult smash hit this would be. Topping the charts for Blu-rays on the first day it was released on home video, it’s also been on several top ten lists. It appeals to […]
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      This is a digression from my usual topics, but I wanted to share some of my strategies with other unemployed or soon to be unemployed people out there. My job search has been the focus of my free time lately, so I figured it would be the perfect topic for my next post. 1)      Assess […]
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Games in Pop Culture


As video games have become more popular and accessible to everyone, they’ve been featured in more tv shows and movies than ever. No longer do people plug away at the Nintendo GameBoy “brick;” now Grandma’s got a Wii in her living room (and has no idea how to use it). Yet the changes in the way games are depicted in popular media have largely been superficial, and often make certain implications about games and the people who play them.

When people play games in movies or on tv, it’s usually a teenaged or young boy with a handheld device that makes the same sounds as old arcade games. Yes, the same stereotype that men are the only ones who game prevails quite often, though sometimes young girls play games too (Gaz from Invader Zim kicks way more gaming ass than her brother). Perhaps the reasoning behind the beeps and pews is because the earliest games for the masses were games like Space Invaders and Mario, and that’s the only exposure many people have had to games. The GameBoy is certainly one of the most recognized symbols for games even after the switch to the PSP and DS, though now it’s more common to see a PSP-like handheld in the media.

Haven’t games moved beyond 8-bit graphics and music? For that matter, most people mute games when playing in public, and to always assign annoying beeps and pews to every game not only assumes games lack finesse in musical qualities, it also assumes that gamers are thoughtless, selfish, and undiscerning. This is not to denigrate Mario, with some of the most often played video game music of all time; this is simply to say that not all games look and sound like Mario. Games now run the gamut from racing and puzzle to FPS and RPG, all with a variety of music, and tv and movies have not changed to reflect this.

Popular media sometimes features people talking about or playing Xbox, or maybe Wii. But the 360 is usually a symbol for the hardcore gamer, or someone who has no life (see Grandma’s Boy). The computer is a more commonly seen console now, although many interface elements are eliminated for the sake of the uninitiated viewer (World of Warcraft is featured in Zombieland and a recent episode in South Park). It’s rare to see people playing racing or shooting games, and when people play DDR in movies they look like “retards trying to hump a doorknob” without regard for actually hitting the buttons (–Dodgeball).

The way people play games on tv is often mindless. It is the same attitude people take when playing Mario Kart; concentrating and competitive. They never seem happy or smile; their eyes are glued to the screen as, emotionless, they go about some noisy task.

Games in commercials are completely different. Players are usually only featured in Wii games, because the focus is on the player and less on the game. Nintendo wants people to see people having fun doing traditional activities in new ways, like cooking or bowling. They have people of all ages, races, and genders enjoying playing trivial games together, or fit women exercising. This is partially because many Wii games are for casual gamers, and it doesn’t really matter to these people if they’re playing Wii Lacrosse or Wii Luge, as long as they perceive that they are “having fun.” Most other game commercials simply feature the game, because they are targeting people who actually know something about games.

Gamefly ran a funny game commercial with people freaking out, screaming, crying, throwing tvs and controllers, and generally carrying on. Their tag was ‘never buy another bad game again.’ This is a pretty accurate depiction of how frustrated gamers can get if they lose their save, die and have to redo everything, or generally are playing a bad game. I think this commercial also reflects how engaged gamers get in the virtual worlds they temporarily inhabit.

Stereotypes are powerful things. The more people are aware of these stereotypes, the more they’ll use them. Sure it’s funny to watch people leaping furiously at a game of DDR, but it may offend the true gamer in its complete inaccuracy. All of these depictions reflect a different kind of genre/gamer. Playing Mario Party with casual gamers can bring the kind of laughter so common in Wii commercials, and playing Bejeweled or Peggle may turn you into a zombie, but I believe it’s more common to see people getting engaged in games for their own sake. Maybe years from now, when the current gamer generation grows up, we will see middle-aged moms on tv  playing Final Fantasy, or old men reminiscing about the Wii’s great retro games. The landscape of gaming is changing, and media has a lot of work to do to catch up.

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Shattered Memories made me shatter my Wiimote!


Reimagining of the original Silent Hill does not mean improvement.

When I think Silent Hill, I think revolting monsters, shock value and creepy atmosphere, terrible fighting system, and general mind-melting confusion when it comes to plot. You get all of this, but with some huge changes, and surprisingly, they actually managed to make a game that I think is worse than the original Silent Hill for Play Station.

The basic setup of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the 2009 Wii game by Konami is that you play as Harry Mason who is looking for his missing daughter in Silent Hill. After that, there is very little in common with this and the original game. The first thing that strikes you when you start playing is the camera. It’s kind of like 3rd person over the shoulder, only the cameraman is a gay midget, because the camera is always aimed at Harry’s butt and Harry takes up most of the screen. It’s actually more annoying than the PlayStation camera angles.

The flashlight is somewhat cool, because you point the Wiimote at the screen as your flashlight. Yet like all Wii games that use the Wiimote in this way, it can be somewhat problematic at times when you have to interact with objects that are not entirely intuitive. This applies to the phone system as well; your phone is your link to everything, it includes your map, save system, photos, and messages, but it doesn’t always come naturally.

Harry will explore the real world and uncover clues about where his daughter is, interacting with other characters like our familiar nurse and cop, though even these characters are very different. Just when he seems to be getting a lead, he enters Silent Hill world. There it seems hell has frozen over; everything is icy, which is problematic because everything looks the same. Harry will then have to run from a shload of monsters that look basically the same (something like fast nurse monsters).

The objective in Silent Hill world is to run as fast as you can, avoiding this boring and endless stream of enemies, through tons of rooms, doors, and hallways that all look the same, until you happen upon the correct route of escape. It’s hard to use the map, because it doesn’t pause the game, and everything looks the same anyway. There may be a simple puzzle to solve. Eventually Harry wakes up in the normal world, to start the process all over again.

Survival horror is about knowing when to run and when not to run. This game is all about running, because you can’t actually fight enemies. You can only knock them off you if they jump on you, or scare them with flares, or knock furniture in their way to impede them. Frankly, it sucks. I miss the days of the melee weapons, and the guns with limited ammo. There is no sense of conservation of supplies because there are no items. You can collect “memories” which serve no real purpose for gameplay or narrative. There is also no health system; you can take a certain number of hits before you go down and have to start that whole area over again, which is almost as frustrating as save points can be.

In addition to the main story, there is a disjointed and fairly uninteresting set of side notes. They come in the form of texts, voicemails, and photos. It takes a somewhat investigative approach, wherein you must approach certain locations of spiritual disturbance, which is a neat idea. However, it includes so much useless information from the regular people of Silent Hill who do not matter and are not included in the main plot, and it does not enlighten any aspect of the back story of Silent Hill. Very frustrating.

The only interesting thing about this game is that your adventures between the real world and the ice world are broken up with encounters with your therapist. You get to answer questions that reveal something of your psyche and personality, and your reactions and choices are reflected in the game, for example, in characters’ reactions to you, their outfits, etc. Your choices affect the game, and even if it’s not always in significant ways, it’s a cool idea.

Overall, this game is a lot like the previous Silent Hills. Terrible cameras, annoying enemies. The end leaves you confused, freaked out, and somewhat disappointed. Has a few cool ideas but doesn’t really deliver (see Silent Hill 4). The differences? No fighting, not as much of a creepy atmosphere, and unfortunately not a very engaging story. If you’re looking for a re-imagining of Silent Hill, play the original on an emulator.