Book of Life (Movie, 2014)

I don’t often commit to seeing a movie in theaters without knowing something about it. Movies are just too expensive to take chances on. I had heard good things about Book of Life and was struck by an interview with the main person behind it on NPR. While Mexican culture is mostly unfamiliar to me, I have a strange fascination with more ancient cultures, like the Aztec and Mayans, who undoubtedly have influenced Mexican culture alongside Spanish and Catholic influences. Knowing Book of Life was a visual film about the Day of the Dead, that alone was enough to get me interested.

First things first: the plot to this movie is dull. It centers on a love triangle where two local boys, one the son of a famous hero and the other the son of a famous bullfighter, fight for the right to marry the town’s most beautiful daughter. It’s a cliche and terrible plot device that has worn out its welcome even with superior character development, let alone the character development in this film, which is at a minimum given the focus on visuals, jokes, and keeping it kid-friendly. Thankfully the movie does try to subvert the plot in a nod to, you know, women being human beings capable of running their own lives, but it still grates.

Humor is where Book of Life hooks you. Yes, the visuals are amazing and the art style offers a unique glimpse of Mexican culture – you won’t go wrong with them. The humor, however, gets you laughing almost immediately when you are told that Mexican is the center of the world and the map depicting this puts a large mustache squarely on the country as a nod to its rich, well-coiffed facial hair history. Some jokes are a bit manic and some come at the expense of the film’s excruciatingly awkward soundtrack (Radiohead’s Creep as a song about unrequited love with a light Spanish guitar flair? WHAT?), but they all have legs. The film also doesn’t beat you over the head with them, which would’ve been an easy way for the Book of Life to cross out of Disney/Pixar land into the straight-to-DVD land of children’s movies.

Front and center, Book of Life does a fantastic job of showcasing the fantastical aspects of Mexican culture. The betting between the film’s two god characters, the journey into the culture’s two underworlds, and a large cast of psychopomps that give the second half of the film a new life all make this a worthy representative of a sadly underrepresented culture here in North America.

You won’t drop dead from the awesomeness, but, if you do, there may be a way to fight your way back to the land of the living. You’ll certainly want to because this movie belongs in the Land of the Remembered and it’ll need people like us spreading word of its many merits!

World of Warcraft: WOD ya dinkin mon?

Don't mind the guild. I always accept my first guild invite, but I've since left. Bunch of man-children!

Don’t mind the guild. I always accept my first guild invite, but I’ve since left. Bunch of man-children!

It is hard to like World of Warcraft when every change that has been made to it pushes the game further and further away from the core experience you fell in love with. It is hard to embrace the game when everyone you once knew has left and moved on. It’s hard to get too excited, especially when you’ve been gone for so long (WOTLK) and things are pretty radically different.

But here I am again.

I struggled with the question of to buy or not to buy, but an IRL friend’s interest tipped the scales. We opted to move to a new server together, though we remained Horde (ya mon!) – mostly because my old server of Maelstrom is a ghost town. Of all the guilds and players that once mattered, only their shadows remain, hardly replaced by the new raiding guilds that have sprung up in their absence.

Though the game has changed quite radically in my time away from it, I have too. I no longer look at MMORPGs the same way. Partly, because if I ever expect anything unusual or new, they always come short, and if I ever hope for something more akin to the classic experiences the genre wrought, my heart breaks and I am reminded that those days are gone forever. It’s virtual saudade and too survive it, I have had to learn how to control expectations.

If I never rise above being a filthy casual, then I’ll be happy. The fun thing about playing MMOs with this particular friend – especially World of Warcraft – is getting to mock and make fun of other players we meet in LFG. We don’t do it to their face, at least not anything above a very gentle teasing (mostly on his part). We both accept that, with few exceptions, there are no guarantees of quality players when randomly queuing for anything. We have just as much fun laughing at poor DPS or people dying for stupid reasons as we do succeeding.

In other words, I am remaining relaxed. Yes, I still care about optimization and rotations. I spent the first two hours on my new Troll Druid (Tecolote on Hyjal-US, play with me) just setting up action bars and keybinds. I may be a filthy casual now, but I will never be a keyboard turner or a clicker. I also look to improve with every dungeon run at my tanking, because mastering a character/class is just as much the game to me as navigating the dungeons.

As for Warlords of Draenor, I haven’t really sunk my teeth into it, but I like it. Honestly, this is probably the best questing that Blizzard has done, and I almost vote for another Cataclysm just to see the rest of the game brought up to its level. There are far fewer quests – this is good because I hate ‘questing’, quest grinding, and forcing too much poorly written story into a plot I can barely involve myself in. Objectives provide a lot of the extra experience/reward that loading up with a ton of fetch/kill quests would’ve otherwise done, but their implementation feels organic and more like a reward for exploration (i.e. looking at your All-Seeing Map). Rare spawns also add an additional reason to spontaneously group up/assemble with other players which seems like the complete opposite of Blizzard’s quest design direction since forever.

Garrisons are a strange mechanic. I like them if only because they give me a strategic management element to the game, but so far they’ve felt a bit on the shallow end. Things are slowly beginning to open up, but I still feel a little lost at how to do everything. I think in time the experience will be especially good, but I worry about them being too grounded in WoD content. While I understand not going with a more typical form of housing, I do wish Garrisons were account-bound rather than character specific and existed outside the frozen wasteland that is currently freezing my Troll’s banana-and-coconuts off right now.

I’ll have to force these words out of me, but to make a point more plain: I am having fun. Warlords of Draenor seems like a solid addition to a franchise that has weather the storm of stagnation and kept pace with trends and change. You can’t date World of Warcraft to 2004, nor am I still a 16 year old. I don’t have to be happy about every change, but I can still compartmentalize and enjoy what is in front of me.

I think you can too.

 

Unfinished: Lopunny isn’t funny.

This article has been in my draft box for a while now in various incarnations. I never found the exact words I wanted to say, but to celebrate Slowvember, I thought it would be fun to publish a few ‘dead’ drafts.

reasonsgamecultureneedswork

For full disclosure, the above image only showed up as a top image result on Google Search if you have Safe Search turned off. In other words, if you are a reasonable, responsible parent, you’ve likely taken some steps to prevent your children from seeing an image such as this. Also of note, considering that I first envisioned writing this article in early August, the image isn’t a top image any longer, nor is it easy to find though I definitely do not recommend searching for Lopunny images unfiltered.

Disclosures aside, this article isn’t about proper parenting in the Internet age nor is it necessarily about exposing young children to obvious images of rape utilizing characters marketed specifically at their demographic. Those are separate discussions for a different day. No, this is about a gaming culture that has for far too long celebrated the darkest sides of alpha male chauvinism alongside a deep love for games.

Rape isn’t funny – not even when the victim in question is an obviously female bunny monster.

I used to throw the word ‘rape’ around fairly liberally. There’s nothing wrong with that, though it is definitely an immature and irresponsible thing to do. Language works in funny ways: words represent acts and sometimes those acts are truly evil horrors, but despite that, words are infinitely reusable and are often re-appropriated in vastly different ways. I am not admonishing anyone who uses the word ‘rape’, especially in the all-too-casual video game sense of ‘overwhelmingly own/murder/destroy/annihilate/etc.’, nor am I going to go on a soapbox about how using the word so commonly and flippantly trivializes the severity of the act. With the use of any word, there’s always the question of intent, as well as a question of how it will be received. Using the word ‘rape’ outside of the specific crime/inhumane act is ignorant, pig-headed, in bad taste, very immature, and not at all polite. I just don’t do it anymore.

For some of you, this stance will seem too neutral. Surely, if I feel that using the word without any respect toward what it actually means is bad, then I ought to take a harder stance against it than “I just don’t do it anymore.” You’re probably right. With GamerGate and images like the one above, I probably shouldn’t cut a chauvinistic culture any slack when it comes to its attitude toward women, and especially its attitude toward rape.

I hate hard stances. I hate strong opinions. I am an optimistic hippy who wants to believe in the best of people and who believes that everyone can get along. I also know that I am wrong and that most people can’t get along. It’s a tough act trying to think something and share what you think, but not so fervently that you become pushy. It gets tougher when you think you have the moral high ground and, whether you do or don’t, you begin to fall into an ‘everyone who does x is an [insert insult here]‘ mindset.

That above image? It’s not funny to me, nor do I like it existing. I have deep issues with any depiction of rape that trivializes the horrors of the act for so petty an artistic intent.  I highly doubt (or at least sincerely hope) that the artists intent was such a trivialization, though that’s most definitely what I get from seeing the image. In no way does it represent gamers, gaming, or what games are about. Merely, it represents a sub-set of a sub-set and how ignorant that group can be.

Yet, it also means that we’re in the same group, even if we only overlap so much. We’re both ‘people who enjoy games’, though I don’t belong to the further sub-section of ‘people who enjoy games and trivializing images of rape’. That alone seems troubling to me, and then I remember that statistics and language have these funny ways of dividing reality so that I always live next door to one degenerate or another. It’s alarming to imagine that one person in my neighborhood could be a monster, even if the rest of the neighborhood is loaded with relatively pleasant human beings. There’s something about the thought that instantly sends me into a ‘cut off the arm to save the rest of the body’ mode, and I want to start rioting/picketing/ranting/writing forum posts/tweeting in anger.

Maybe it’s the hippy in me or maybe I am just too tired to keep the cycle spinning, but I think I am ready to give in. My moral relativism, cultural relativism, and linguistic relativism have joined forces and now I see images I really disagree with in some very serious, fundamental ways as forms of expression I just don’t understand.

I am not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but I imagine someone out there will be willing to decide for me.