Death of the Critic

May 2017

Superpowers and Storytelling

Written by: Tom Blaich

avengers_2


We love our superpowered heroes. Flight, strength, laser beams and more in the hands of people just like us. And the more powerful that they can be, the better. But as our heroes cross the limits of humanity, it adds more and more complications to how the story fits together, and how we, as an audience, can relate. When you start looking at superpowers, the very laws that govern our reality start to break down, and writers have to deal with the way in which this affects the plot. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are multiple characters capable of warping all of reality to their whim, unkillable monsters, stones that embody pure power, literal gods, and extradimensional entities that rule over time itself. Yet so many of these reality breaking characters play by the rules of our normal universe.

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Music with a Message

Written by: Tom Blaich

Everybody_Album_Cover


If you read a lot of writing about music, you will start to notice a common criticism crop up over and over again: that the song or album is shallow. It is particularly relevant when that project has a message that it is trying to convey. So, what separates an album that communicates its message well versus one that is shallow, even if both of them are trying to deal with the same level of subject matter: racism, sexism, violence, or more.

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Tokenism

Written by: Tom Blaich

As a follow-up to our discussion on the Noble Savage, I wanted to take the time to talk about the delicate issue of tokenism in contemporary media or literature. Put simply, Tokenism is the idea of diversity being included for show, of including minority characters in minor roles such that a single minority character has to represent the entirety of their group.

In less malicious contexts, this can take the shape of something that you might see on a brochure, a “multicultural” group of people that are diverse in appearance only. These characters are not allowed to express themselves in a way that would significantly differentiate them from the norm (read: white and straight). It is a way for studios to brag about embracing diversity without actually doing anything of substance.
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Product Placement: Realism vs. Marketing

Written by: Tom Blaich

subway-hawaii-five-o.0


It is a familiar experience for anyone who has watched a movie or binged a TV show: the main character will be talking, walking down a busy street and in the background, we will see storefronts plastered with ads for the same few companies, Coke or Taco Bell or some other massive corporation. Often, these ads don’t even stick out, fading to the background much like they do in our everyday life (which might itself serve as some accidental commentary about the massive marketing pushes we are subjected to).

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Anatomy of a Scene - Jarhead

Written by: Tom Blaich

Jarhead_Swofford


This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.

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Male Gaze

Written by: Tom Blaich

When we talk about the depiction of sex and sexuality, frequently the idea of the “Male Gaze” comes up, mostly in regard to female characters and their depiction. At its heart, it’s a rather simple concept, but it can reveal a lot about the intended audience of a piece and of who made it. The Male Gaze is how a scene is portrayed specifically to be attractive to a heterosexual, male audience. It’s designed to appeal to men, and it is evidenced through the difference in depictions of straight male characters, straight female characters, and lesbian female characters and their relationships in media.
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Bethesda's Review Policy

Written by: Tom Blaich

Much has already been said about Bethesda’s decision last year to stop sending out early review copies of their games to let “everyone, including those in the media, experience our games at the same time.” It is bad for many people, like those behind large websites, but most importantly it affects the consumers and how much information they have when they go to the store to pick out a product. It does actually benefit one other group besides Bethesda: small sites like ours that would never receive these copies in the first place. I’m not a fan of this policy by any means, but it allows me to sit on the same playing field as a writer for IGN, Polygon, Kotaku, or others.

When
Dishonored 2 came out, I got it the same day that everyone else did. I was able to play through it twice that weekend, and four days later I published my review. I managed to beat a lot of major publications to press (due in part to my ability to focus on one review instead of many things at once), and while being able to do this did benefit our site, letting us see a tangible traffic boost from it, it had no way for me to help those people that wanted to buy the game on launch day.

We don’t get many pre-release copies of games at this point. Most of our reviews come one to two weeks after a game has launched, and are aimed at the smaller group of players who are waiting to buy a game. But a large portion of a game’s sales happen launch or in the week following, and we cannot help these people. Traditionally, this is where larger outlets have been able to come in with Day One or pre-release reviews based off of early copies provided by the publisher. This lets Day One purchasers make informed decisions about how to spend their money and if the new game is worth it.

The problem, as it was seen by Bethesda, was that sometimes these reviews would turn out to be negative. Instead of taking this like the criticism that it is and improving their games, they shut it down, only letting people who would talk positively about the game (read: YouTube and Twitch channels) have access to games before launch. It is deceptive, and it presents a very real concern about publishers being able to manipulate the message before and after launch. But what is actually strange is that some applaud Bethesda’s decision.

Over the last few years, games writers have caught a lot of flak, and some people see Bethesda’s decision as an affront to the side that they dislike and not to themselves as consumers. It helps that the titles that Bethesda has published since this policy has been put in place (
DOOM, Dishonored 2) have turned out to be really good titles. But even with this relative confidence in the overall quality of games that Bethesda has put out, we should be able to weigh our options before we spend money on a game.

With decisions like these, Bethesda has proven that they just want your money, and the fact that they actually make good games seem to be less of a concern for them. No matter how many free things they give to streamers, or cool videos they put out, this is the cold hard truth behind their decision-making process, and in a way, it feels scummier than the blatant money grabs of publishers like EA or Activision, who are at least completely honest about wanting all of your money.

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Tommy_Tom

Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.



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Living Life Down the Barrel of a Gun

Written by: Tom Blaich

DOOM_Factory


For all of the broad range of experiences that games can offer to us, the actual ways in which we are allowed to interact with them is rather limited. Most game screens look remarkably similar from a UI point of view. There is some sort of health bar, possibly a map or objective indicator in one corner, maybe a crosshair in the center of the screen, but invariably, the bottom right corner of the screen is almost always taken up by a gun. There are a few games that don’t follow this, but in the mainstream, first-person games that don’t shove a gun into your hands are the vast minority. And if your hands are filled with a gun, they have a knife, or a sword, or a bow, your weapon is offscreen, waiting to be pulled up with a single button press, aching to strike out at someone.

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