Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Quotations: If I finish this, I can finally start watching True Detective

"The Governor was finishing his reply to the short speech of the Surgeon-General. I heard him say: 'The laws prohibiting suicide and providing punishment for any attempt of self-destruction have been repealed. The Government has seen fit to acknowledge the right of man to end an existence which may have become intolerable to him, through physical suffering or mental despair. It is believed that the community will be benefited by removal of such people from their midst. Since the passage of this law, the number of suicides in the United States has not increased. Now that the Government has determined to establish a Lethal Chamber in every city, town, and village in the country, it remains to be seen whether or not that class of human creatures from whose desponding ranks new victims of self-destruction fall daily will accept the relief thus provided.' He paused, and turned to the white Lethal Chamber. The silence in the street was absolute. 'There a painless death awaits him who can no longer bear the sorrows of this life. If death is welcome let him seek it there.' Then quickly turning to the military aid of the President's household, he said, 'I declare this Lethal Chamber open,' and again facing the vast crowd he cried in a clear voice: 'Citizens of New York and the United States of America, through me the Government declares the Lethal Chamber to be open.'"
--Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow.
Published in 1895. Eat your heart out, Futurama Suicide Booth.

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Announcement: There is nothing to announce.

Okay, I'm calling the "week of blogging" thing off. Let's be honest: we got some good pieces, and some... not so good pieces. I declare this experiment a resounding wash.

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Risk Taker

Sometimes, I wear my overalls to work. Because they're comfortable, damn it. Societal  conventions be damned! But I still wear a sweater over top, because I fear society. So in practice, it doesn't look any different from me just wearing blue jeans, albeit the sweater looks a little bulkier. But then it has the clandestine thrill to it. Like secretly wearing women's underwear, but without needing the courage to question one's one sexuality and gender identity. The downside is that it's a real hassle to take off what needs to be taken off in order to go to the bathroom.

There isn't really a point to this story. It was just less work than my original idea, "what does it mean to be a superhero fanwhen superheroes represent a fascist, somewhat misogynist, imposssible ideal?".

Later Days.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Merry Marvel Theorycrafting

I'd like to try out an exercise, where I just describe a game. Besides enthusiasts for a particular game, there's only a few people I can think of who do this description on a regular basis. There's game reviewers, who have to limit themselves based on a word count, and time restraint. There's academics, who generally don't focus on that sort of design close-reading unless they're in disciplines where user-testing is a factor (and then the focus is the user, not the game per se) or they're talking about procedural rhetoric, where they usually just describe enough of the process under question to make their point (which is largely how it should be). There's game designers themselves, though we usually don't see that part because it happens inside the design process and is usually part of nondisclosure agreements. Post-mortems often cover some of that ground, though not in detail. I'm thinking, for example, of the Planescape Torment design document that's floating around the Internet, which shows nothing but the player's confrontation with the night-hag Ravel, and it still runs over a hundred pages. Designers describe their games in great detail, because at the stage when they're doing that description, that *is* the game. (Which I guess makes just the act of describing a sort of reverse engineering.)

Planescape: Torment, in fact, is where this concept started from. In the course of my dissertation, I described in full how text is used (or absent) in the interface. And that took about six pages. In the process, I learned a bit about the game, but also a bit about how I understood the game, and that understanding changed as the description worked itself out. Not just how I described it, but what elements I'd overlooked started to come out (why is the font for this submenu different than that one? Why is this menu placed over here?) but even just the order in which I'd arrange things. This is probably one of those exercises where the result is not particularly interesting to read, but I think going through the process for a bit is worth doing. It is, incidentally, basically the sort of thing I did back way back for Resonance of Fate.

Those preceding two paragraphs, in case you couldn't tell, were originally written for the Ni No Kuni post that I've decided to let sit for the time being. Instead, let's talk about Marvel Heroes: Dark Reign: Puzzle Quest. (I'm not 100% sure what order the subtitles are supposed to go in here.) The starting point of the game is that it's the same basis as Puzzle Quest. That is, it's a game where you swap colored stones in order to make matches, and you do it in turns with your opponent. Whenever you make a match of three, your gauge for that color goes up. Swapping three yellow stones, for example, makes your yellow gauge go up by three. Once the gauges have reached certain thresholds, you can unleash a special ability. Both you and your opponent have a health gauge, and the goal is diminish your opponent's health while they're trying to do the same to you.

That's the basic Puzzle Quest formula, and Marvel Heroes builds on it in a number of ways. First, rather than playing as a single character, you field a team of three heroes, sometimes with one the game has chosen for you.Each hero has their own special ability set, with different qualifications for use, but all drawing on the same store of stone reserves. For example, if I have 10 red action points (as the game calls them) stored up, and the appropriate characters on my team, I can use Iron Man's Repulsor Blast (10 red AP, deals 248 damage) or Storm's Mistress of the Elements (9 AP, deals 11 for each environmental tile on the board, and then destroys them), but not both. Special abilities, in case you were wondering, can be played at the start of the turn, in addition to a match. Further, each hero has their own health gauge, and if they're killed in a fight, then you can't draw on their abilities or damage stats (which we'll cover in a second). From my experience, armor and general heartiness is indicated by health; the healthiest guys on my team, for example, are either the godlike beings (Thor, Ares) or the armored one, Iron Man, while the "normal" humans (Hawkeye, Black Widow) have comparatively low health.

Another big difference is how basic damage is done. In the original Puzzle Quest, you matched skulls, and then this number would be increased by your strength stat. Here, it's a bit different. In addition to health and special abilities, each character has an associated set of statistics that says how much damage they do when you match a tile of a particular color. At level 14, Black Widow has a purple stat of 10, which means that if I match 3 purple tiles, she'll do 3*10 = 30 damage. The game automatically sets things up so that when you're matching, it uses the hero with the highest stat for that match type. So if I'm matching three reds, and Storm has a red stat of 5 to Iron Man's 8, then Iron Man will do the attack. Who does the attack matters, because the character that attacks is the one on the front line for the opponent's turn. (On your turn, though, you're allowed to just choose who gets damaged.) So you're considering not just which character will do the most damage, but also which one will most likely be able to take the hit that comes next.

Beyond the six color types, the other two stats are the aforementioned environmental tile, and the multiplier. For the environmental tile, each arena you puzzle-fight in has one or two special abilities that either player can draw on, but only if their environmental gauge is high enough. Generally, for my characters at least, environmental stats tend to be low; I think my highest is a 4. The multiplier is a little different. If you manage to match four identical tiles in one go, you clear out the entire row (if horizontal) or column (if a vertical match). But if you manage to make a five column match, you leave a M stone. The M stone acts as a wild card--it's whatever color it needs to be to make a match, though it can't be an environmental tile. It's also a multiplier, in that whatever damage you wind up doing with it is multiplied by the attacking character's multiplying stat. For example, if Black Widow has a purple stat of 10, and and a multiplier of 4, and one of the stones in the set of three is a multiplier, she'll do 10*4*3 = 120 damage, which isn't too shabby, for a turn's work. In general, the "ordinary", non-powered heroes seem to be the ones with higher multipliers.

There's also a lot of variety in the abilities. To take just the set from the three characters I have out on my iPhone at the moment, Black Widow has Aggressive Recon--for 13 Purple AP, it steals 3 AP from the opponent's six colors, except purple, and gives them to me. And she has Widow's Sting--for 9 AP, it stuns the opponent it hits for five turns, and the rest of the opponent's bench for 1. (I should mention here that abilities are upgradable through items you collect (comic covers, actually); at lower levels, the sting could only stun for under five rounds, and didn't effect the whole bench.) Storm has Lightning Strike--for 10AP, it randomly shatters 10 tiles, garnering the damage bonuses and AP appropriate for those tiles; no word on whether they do damage at Storm's stats, or the best stats team-wide. And Mistress of the Elements, which does as listed above. And Hailstorm, which is a neat one. For 9 AP, it converts 18 basic tiles into attack tiles. Attack tiles hurt the opponent every round they're in play, and mine do two damage. That is, a little fist appears on 18 random tiles in the game when this ability is played, and until they're destroyed via matching or some other means, they're going to keep doing 36 damage, every round. It's a nice "death by attrition" type move. Iron's Man Armored Assault, for 8 AP, does the opposite; it deals 108 damage directly, but also creates 3 protect tiles, which puts three random little shields in play, and for as long as they're in the arena, all damage done against me is reduced. It's in a player's interest, then, to avoid making matches that will let the opponent match the protect tiles out of existence.

As you can gather, there's a lot of strategy involved here. When choosing characters for a fight, you can choose for the opponent you'll be fighting. If, for example, you're fighting Venom, Venom's most powerful ability is a black tile-powered move. So you'll want to take out all the black tiles before Venom gets them. That means you'll want a character who has a high black tile stat--probably Storm, given the characters available in the early game. But you can also choose for the abilities you find the most useful. But once you're doing that, you probably want to choose non-overlapping abilities. For example, if there are two characters with only yellow and red fueled powers, you probably don't want them to be fighting together, because they're drawing on the same supply. You also probably want at least one really healthy character. Finally, you can choose to maximize your stat potential. In general, out of the six color attributes, most characters are really high in three of the six. In fact, Storm is the only character I have at the moment who's really proficient in black and green; all the others have their three high options among a set of four others: red, purple, blue, and yellow. I did a bit of theorycrafting--working out all these stats mathematically--and determined that, in terms of being able to deliver the maximum amount of damage to the most different tile colors, the ideal team for me at my current stat levels is Storm, Iron Man, and Black Widow--but that's not considering their relative special abilities, or the particular foes they'll be going against.

And that's the strategy before the game even begins. Once you're in the game, on any given turn, the choices are many. Do I want to use my ability now, or save it for later? Which of my opponent's men do I want to direct this damage against? Should I focus on the one with the healing power, the one with the lowest health, or the heaviest hitter? Should I be trying to maximize damage? Or filling a particular color gauge? Or preventing them from filling a particular gauge? If I move here, am I setting them up for a four or even five match? If I have this character do the attack, will they be able to best withstand the next attack from them? Is it worth it to make this move if I'm cutting into my own attack tiles or defense tiles? Is it worth making a low damage move to cut into *their* attack tiles or defense tiles? There's a lot going on.

This isn't everything, either; there's a storyline here, and currency, and the actual money side of the free-to-play model (though so far, everything that can be done with money can be done in other ways, albeit slower). Marvel Heroes does a good job of introducing all this stuff very gradually. For the first stage, you'll only be doing matches you're fairly overpowered for, which means it's much easier to work all this information out for yourself, slowly. I appreciate a free-to-play model with some depth behind it. It's a bit early to say for sure, but so far, it feels like a good substitute for my Candy Crush craze.

Later Days.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fund My Research into the Importance of Research Funding

The one big thing I've managed to do for reading week is *almost* finish my lesson plans for the term (leaving room for in-class development, of course). One of the topics we're going to be going over is internet governance, and one of the sites our text suggests looking at is that for the Berkman Center for Internet Law and Society. The site does a weekly compilation of posts, and a highlight this week was a released study on a team creating digital media analysis tools to examine how media and public responded after the Trayvon Martin shooting. And I realize in retrospect that this is more detail than you really need to get to that final point.

Anyway, most of the results for the report are what you'd expect: the big news stations still act as gatekeepers of information, but have ceded more control over to online means, especially for pushing interest in specific directions. The online folk are mostly reacting to the news, but there are some attempts to generate sources themselves, especially of the sort that can be found online, such as Martin's social media presence. The part that caught my eye was the final conclusion: "Finally, this study demonstrates the complexity of contemporary media ecosystems and the need for tools, techniques, and data sources that allow us to empirically study the spread of ideas between media, examining influences of participatory media on professional media and vice versa."
First, it's great that this study exists. It's an enormous amount of work, and the fact that it's publicly available demonstrates a model for academic accountability and demonstration of value that I think is worth imitating in any and all academic forms. But c'mon--the final result of the study using complex data analysis tools is that we need complex data analysis tools? Funny how research never winds up proving that research wasn't needed.

Later Days.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Mundane Voyage of Self-Discovery

So about a month ago, I realized something about myself. Let me set the scene:

A friend in my graduate program was considering constructing a reading course for herself on the subject of games and feminism, and asked if I could suggest anything. I could. In fact, I pretty much stopped what I was doing, and spent the next hour or two developing a list. And it was after I sent it to her and felt a mild ping of satisfaction that I came to my self-realization.

I really like making lists.

Cross-checking databases, compiling information, gathering sources--this is my wheelhouse. I don't mean to say that any of these activities are fun. Because they're not, not really. It's not about fun--it's about doing something that I find personally satisfying. Why, I'm not sure. It may be the sense of mild accomplishment, or the pleasure of organizing something. And again, "the pleasure of organizing" sounds weird, until you stop and think that cleaning a room or cooking can both be loosely referred to in those terms. I've heard it said that the chief pleasure of many videogames, from Tetris to DOOM, is that they're all games about cleaning things up, whether it's errant tetrads of demon-spawned monsters. So even my videogame passion can be explained in terms of this satisfaction.

The weird thing is, this preference came like a huge shock to me, when it's a pattern I've preferred my whole life. Two years ago, I took it upon myself to set up a catalog of the department library's books. Whenever I get ready to write a paper, the first thing I do is read all the relevant research, summarize it, summarize the summary, summarize the summary of the summary, and collate it into my summary database. (Ok, I'll admit--that one's insane.) I've got a database filled with game blog criticism that runs over 600 entries, each typed by yours truly. Hell, this blog can be seen as one very long example of the tendency, especially the Bibliophile posts which are basically a never-ending task of combing databases and typing out commentary.

Psychologically speaking, a quick google search on this sort of tunnel-vission-esque obsessive working pulls up Asperger's Syndrome, specifically the part that references "an intense focus on topics of special interest" as a symptom. I don't think that's quite what's going on with me; for one thing, that description covers 90% of everyone who had a hobby, most Canadians during the Olympic hockey games, and everyone who ever went to grad school. For another, the same document says that another major symptom is being frustrated with having to do mundane and boring tasks, and this *is* a mundane and boring task.

So I don't know exactly what my list-like (can't think of a good word for it--database drive? search pleasure?) means in terms of the big book of What's Wrong With the Modern Human. But since I'm now aware of it, it means I can use it. Maybe not get rid of it, per se, but be aware of how it affects my actions. If I'm spending too long on the research phase of a project, it's time to reign it in. Counterwise, if I'm looking for what I can add a group project, I can push it in a useful direction. That, I think, is the real benefit to knowing yourself. Not necessarily trying to change towards something you're not, or something you can't do (though incremental change in a direction is usually possible), but knowing your strengths and how to shape events around yourself to best utilize those strengths.

Or maybe I should stick to talking about videogames.

Later Days.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I couldn't name a single athlete competing this year. Not one.

So it's becoming retrosopectively clear to me that I've chosen a poor couple of days to start a week of blogging. I'm just a) busy and b) bad at time management. So... I guess I'll just go over a list of things I did? That's usually a solid space-filler. I mean, subject.

--Thanks to the Olympics, my TV watching has dropped by a considerable amount. If only there were always sports events I'm uninterested in seeing preempting my regular slot of shows.

....Okay, I think I should get into my Olympics rant here. I have a lot of issues with the Olympics. Most of them are fairly easily dismissed. There's the aforementioned TV show thing, which is a dumb thing to complain about because my shows are coming back, and TV channels should be catering to what people want to see anyway; just because it's not my preference doesn't detract from anything's merit. There's the idea that the Olympics cater to industrialized entertainment under the veneer of jingoistic nationalism, but it's hardly the only endeavor that does that. I guess what really bugs me is what the Olympics say about the nature of national pride. Take yesterday's big event, the Canadian women's team winning gold for hockey. I don't doubt that these women are highly skilled. From everything I've heard, they played a damn good game, and they've worked hard to reach that point.

My issue, though, is that I don't think I really have any grounds to be proud of them for that. Or more accurately, I feel like I don't have the right to be proud of them for that. The only thing these women and I really have in common is that we're from the same country, which for me, since I was born here, is mostly geographical fluke. I suppose I could take pride in the fact that the Canadian government sees fit to sponsor and promote highly talented individuals to represent the country, but that feels like a pretty distant process too, since I've pretty much done nothing to support that endeavor. More importantly, even if I did get really into an Olympic team, the way the media coverage of these events work is that they only get spotlights every four years. To support a team's performance in the Olympics is to start caring for them only after they've already reached a high level of success to earn their spots in the first place. It's less putting an emotional stake in someone whose career I've watched flourish and more jumping on a bandwagon in the last round of the Stanley Cup.

It's not quite the same as supporting a favorite hockey team, or a franchise that plays hundreds or dozens of games each year. Then, you can follow teams on a regular basis. You can trace ebbs and flows in the team's fortune, buy regular tickets, be a fan. I suppose one of the appeals of being an Olympic fan is that it's much less in terms of commitment; it's calling for your attention for a few weeks once every two or four years rather than on a fairly constant basis. And for a lot of sports, it's the only opportunity we get to see some of these athletes ever, especially women's teams, because commercialized sports made their picks on who got to be popular a long time ago. (Although in the age of easily distributed video, really, every sport should be able to maintain SOME online presence.) But at the same time, following the Olympics does feel like a shallower option.

I don't have anything against people who do get really emotionally invested in the Olympics. I don't get it myself, but there are lots of things I don't get that have value And I have nothing but respect for the athletes. I kind of resent the implied invert of the statement, though, that if watching the Olympics is a patriotic duty, then not watching is un-patriotic.

I guess all I'm saying is that I'm looking forward to the point where I can go back to my regular viewing, and continue being conflicted about Suits instead of not watching sports.

Later Days.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weeeaaak sauce

Ok, I did have a very long blog post here about the role of Motorville in Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. But that turned into an idea bigger than I thought it would be, and I think I'd like to sit on that for a while longer. It might turn into a publication of some sort, and as such, I'd like to keep it in reserve. So instead... something shorter. I'm sorry about this--I absolutely don't think about the blog as a place to put my "b" material, but sometimes, I need to consider the best venue for the piece at hand. Medium is important. And then I started writing a sequel of sorts to the earlier Deep Space Nine post, but that got too long too, and so I've decided to finish/save it for tomorrow.

If nothing else, it's already proved the value of my "blog a day" exercise, as it's gotten some writing juices flowing.

So here's what I've got for today.
Here's what happened to me today, and happens on a regular basis:
Get out of the shower. Look at steam-covered mirror. Goddammit, Person of Consequence. Shave, THEN shower. The other way around doesn't work. You've had fifteen years to learn this lesson. Get it together.

The worst thing is, I'm so near-sighted, I need my glasses to do an accurate shave. So I'm staring through and at steam-covered glass.

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Journeys end in lovers meeting

The blog posts have been slow going as of late, so we're going to try a "week of blogging" thing to see if we can't shake things up a little bit. And we'll start with the current reliable standby, musical journey. after the break.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

“The beautiful journey of today can only begin when we learn to let go of yesterday.”

It is time for another musical adventure. I figure once a week, on a semi-regular basis, is the right pacing for this. Music starts after the break, with Crooked Still's "Little Sadie." (In case anyone is wondering, I've been taking the starting songs from the list that MGK is currently doing over at Mighty God King.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Game Changer

For the last few weeks, I've been playing through Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It's an interesting game: it's a traditional JRPG, but the art and character design has all been handled by Studio Ghibi. So it's a traditional JRPG that looks like a traditional anime. I can get on board with that. I'd go further into my thoughts on the game, but I'm saving the paratext stuff for the dissertation, and the immediate response for a First Person Scholar article that goes up next Wednesday. For the moment, there's just one thing I want to note:

This is the game that broke me.

That's a very melodramatic way of saying that it's the game that's shown me how my gaming desire has changed. If you follow comments for popular gaming sites long enough, you'll eventually come across a type: the lapsed gamer. The lapsed gamer is a guy (and it's usually male, though rarely the same sort of male that tends to be the Misogynist Idiot, another gamer type), who recalls in his teenage and university years that he spent hours, ridiculous amounts of time, playing videogames. But now, for the lapsed gamer, things are different. Exactly why that difference is there varies: children, spouse, work, extra school stuff, different interests, whatever. But whatever the why, the difference is the same, that there is no longer time to play those super-long games that once captivated them.

And to be honest, I sometimes get on the defensive when I hear those comments. Their authors generally mean them in a nostalgic way, regretfully looking back on times when things were different--not worse, but different--then they are now. But it's hard--because at my essence, I'm a person who can get very defensive about the personal choices I've made--not to see some of the comments as a veiled statement that they're doing something better with their lives now. Different strokes for different folks would be my conclusion, if I was in a generous mood.

Access to games is an issue that's getting more attention, along with most aspects of game culture. Essentially, when it comes to playing games, there's two scarce resources at stake, time and money. And by the time money increases to the point where all game desired can be bought, time is no longer there. (For one example among many, I have a friend whose husband was buying 20 games a month, and had time to play about one for an hour a week; for myself, my 380 games owned / 100 played Steam account speaks for itself.)

Now, it's not that I'm making money, or that I'm not spending a ridiculous amount of time on games. But what Ni No Kuni taught me is that I'm no longer willing to spend that ridiculous amount on a single game--not without souring on it entirely. I'm a completitionist player, which means I do my best to do every sidequest, every achievement, every fight. That means the simplest game takes a lot of time, and the longer ones take a lot more. I've sunk 70+ hours into Ni No Kuni, and as charming as the game is, most of that time has been spent doing activities that are less charming and more a mind-sucking grind.

It feels like a very odd complaint to have, given that I've spent so much of my life on games just like Ni No Kuni, in the JRPG genre: the Dragon Warrior series, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger, Wild Arms, Shining Force, Suikoden, Lunar, Radiant Historia, Star Ocean--and that's just a partial list. I like these games. I like the leisure that a turn-based JRPG offers, where you can play it while doing other things. But the last time I felt personally invested in a JRPG narrative was Radiant Historia three years ago, and before that... the only thing that comes to mind is The World Ends With You in 2008. And the gameplay isn't enough to keep me invested anymore. I don't want games that feel like they were padded out to fill some quota--it's AAA RPG, therefore it must be x hours long. I want a game that comes in, does what it intends to do, and bows out on a high note. I think my favorite game of 2013 was Kentucky Route Zero, and with both acts and some note-taking, it still only took me 3 hours to get through it. And those three hours are currently worth a lot more to me than Ni No Kuni's 70+.

And so, I feel like I have something in common with the lapsed gamer, even though I haven't lapsed in the slightest. What we share in common is that we've both taken a look back at what used to be so important to us, and realized we're not the same people anymore.

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The only journey is the one within

I know it's been music-heavy of late, but... well, no one's complained yet, which doubtlessly means I've finally tapped into my core audience.  That is doubtlessly what it means.

Brother Ali-- "Forest Whitaker."2003.  I'm not much of a hip-hop fan (surprise!) but I liked this song a lot. It's uplifting, it's got a nice tune. Further, according to Ali's Wikipedia page, his biggest "controversy" was his confrontation with sponsors who disagreed with how critical his lyrics were of the United States. That's the kind of controversy worth supporting. This feels like a promising start.

Mos Def. "Mathematics."   1999. This, on the other hand, is more what I associate with hip-hop. That is, unless the music really grabs me right away, it fades into the background and I can't remember a word of it a few minutes later. I know Mos Def is (was?) a big deal in the hip-hop scene, but I couldn't tell you a thing about this. It's a shame too, because I really *like* mathematics. Fourier transformation forever.

Tupac. "Hail Mary." 1997.  It says a lot about me that for most of the time that Tupac was still alive as a cultural icon, I would have likely confused him with Tuvok. In my teenage years, I lived in a small town that got no AM, never had the cash to participate in the peer CD exchange network, didn't have the internet access to listen to music, and didn't get MTV. So my music knowledge was stunted. (Not that this song would have been easy to access anyway.) It's fine, although my other problem with hip hop besides the fading in the background problem is that I personally don't have a lot of time for lyrics that include "Revenge is like the sweetest joy next to getting pussy."

Easy-E. "Real Muthafuckin' G's." 1993. Also, to continue the lengthening list of what I don't like about hip-hop: profanity. Not for moral reasons, but because it's kind of lazy. If you can find a really innovative use of a f-bomb, all the power to you. But the odds are against you. ...That said, the chorus here is kind of catchy. And there's some really interesting arguments about authenticity of performance in the lyrics--although again, it's a subculture I know pretty much nothing about. And apparently, authenticity involves a lot of swearing. The slapstick nonsense is kind of hilarious.

N. W. A. "Straight out of Compton." 1988. Immediate thoughts: wasn't Compton the name of the city in The Office? No, that's Scranton. Still, there's a crossover idea, for free. Also, 1988? Really? My ignorance about the roots of this genre are showing. Easy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice-Cube in the same group. Fun fact:  Compton was the home of the "Gifts for Guns" program in 2005, which, over the course of the program's run, netted over 7000 guns. 

Enimen. "Rap God." 2013. All right, there are many, many issues in hip-hop/rap that I'm aware of, but unqualified to comment on, thanks to my status as sheltered white guy. There's complex networks of race, wealth, misognyny, masculinity, homophobia (with masculinity very much creating and building off the terms it's squeezed between), drug culture, gang culture, and probably a dozen other things I don't know about. It would be easy to conclude then, that Enimen is a safe topic, by contrast. Well, it shouldn't be about being safe, or easy. I *should* feel uncomfortable about relating to hip-hop, because it exposes a lot of cultural issues I like to pretend don't exist. Enimen is... complicated. I think some of Marshall's stuff aspires to some artistic stuff, and some of it panders to ridiculous immaturity. As he's aware of (note the references to Elvis scattered throughout his work), he's built a career out of what could be construed as appropriating another culture's signature form. That's complicated. As for the song... it's pretty good. It's laughably antiquated for a VR exploration, but I think that's part of his point. I don't know if the suit and glasses are a Matrix reference; there's definitely a Max Headroom thing going on, which gets more geek points anyway.  

Red Foo. "Let's Get Ridiculous." 2013. I... don't know.  I guess it's... comedy rap? Rap parody? I appreciate the video's dedication to its cause, that it nominally points to the way ridiculousness as an abstract concept challenges power, while at the same time providing Keystone Capers-type escapades, and a dance beat. I can see the dotted line from Eminem to this, although this is a rather sanitized version of "rage against the machine" as you're ever likely to get. Could you make the case that this too is the appropriation of a musical form? Maybe, but it's just so ludicrously its own thing that I'd like to give it the benefit of the doubt. 

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. "White Walls." 2012. Okay, we're thoroughly in white rapper territory. I've got a friend who looks exactly like Macklemore; there was a brief period where he decided that this similarity was hilarious, and posted a bunch of Facebook profile pics in various overthetop rap poses. Watching this video, though, it seems that Macklemore is perfectly capable of doing the over the top thing himself. He does remind me a bit of Eminem, particularly his early stuff, in that one of themes, visually at least, seems to be lower economic class, ethnically white folk aspiring for more than the American economy has seen fit to grant them. But I just used economy twice in one sentence, so I'm venturing into grounds I have no right to talk about again. I do like the weird matador/cowboy/rapper thing going on in Macklemore's costume. 

Mike Will-Made-IT. "23." 2013. Well, that was... generic. It's got the same "defy authority" vibe in the hip-hop rappers taking over the school, although it's not like it's particularly interested in developing that. According to wikipedia, one of the criticisms about the song was a certain amount of doubt over Cyrus' ability to rap, and yeah, I can see where that doubt would come from. It's also one of those videos that's using sex appeal as a substitute for substance. I've been blissfully free of most of 2013's obsession with Cyrus, but, well, I guess you can see traces of it here, though without either twerking or wrecking balls.

Beyonce. "Drunk in Love." On the one hand, I was hoping Beyonce would classy things up a bit. (Nothing says class like "bootilicious. But c'mon--classier than "23" is a low bar.) On the other hand, the video is labelled explicit, and features Jay Z. It's got a slow start with a focus on the ocean. And then a much slower focus on Beyonce in a bikini, brandishing... a trophy? As you do. Man, she's got pipes, though. The lyrical plot seems to be about getting drunk, screwing, ("beautiful bodies grindin' up") and waking up the next day. I think I *might* have known that She and Jay Z were married. So this is part of the whole 2013 stealth album, huh?  I *eventually* get around to experiencing pop culture highlights. I can't say this is really my thing; there's not really much going on here. But when Beyonce kicks it up a notch, it gets impressive.

Kanye West. "Bound 2."   I was not expecting a Kanye West video to start with scenes of natural splendour and so forth. So it faked me out. Then it's back to the complaints about treacherous women. It's a juxtaposition that happens a few times, and it sort of works. But it also has "do you ever ask your bitch for other bitches" so... nope. Terrible. Also, I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be a symbolic topless chick straddling his motorcycle, but that can't be safe. 

James Franco & Seth Rogen. "Bound 3." I didn't like This Is the End, but I like this. I think that's a note to go out on if I ever heard one. 

Later Days.