(major spoilers for the film adaptation of ANNIHILATION, and minor spoilers for the book. if you haven’t seen or read either, I’d recommend them — they are not for everyone and challenging in their own ways, but unsettling and thought-provoking at a minimum)
i’ll write some extended thoughts on ANNIHILATION once I’ve processed a bit later this week, because it is a movie worth processing in detail, but my tweet is a pretty good quick summary of my feelings
ANNIHILATION is nothing like and everything like the vandermeer book/trilogy; it is deliberately slow, haunting and eerie, and ultimately horrific and bonkers; I want to watch it every day and let it get into my skin and my blood until it bears fruit
— Kybard (@KybardCSL) February 24, 2018
but instead of writing about BLACK PANTHER i’ll just link you to film crit hulk’s review which is nearly as beautiful and essential as the movie itself
over the past few days I completed a full playthrough of metal gear solid 1 for the psone. this game is 20 damn years old. and in 1998, I fell for it completely
finished MGS1. suddenly itching to write an academic essay comparing it to 1954's GOJIRA: two goofy but earnest meditations on the post-nuclear age and dissociative Japanese identity that tend to be remembered and loved for the least interesting reasons
— Kybard (@KybardCSL) February 24, 2018
I mean that both in the “fall in love” and in the “fell for the trap” sense. mgs is an earnest, goofy, clunky, artful mess of a game, but in my memory it was essentially perfect, full of thought-provoking philosophy and science, fourth-wall-breaking mind-blowing shit, and cool-ass action movie moments
(aside #1: I remember people complaining about how much the gamecube remake twin snakes amped up the matrix-y action scenes, but it’s pretty clear watching the original cutscenes that if kojima et al could have pulled off those sequences on PSX hardware, they totally would have. people jump to dodge bullets and do flips off very tall things basically constantly)
it certainly has those things but it’s also, like I said, extremely goofy. the voice acting is incredible for a ’98 Japanese import, but the script translation suffers occasionally from the standards of that time; characters have weird responses to each other and repeat things a lot. the music is still tremendous, but the cinematic cutscenes feel a little chintzy these days
(aside #2: man the PSX’s fixed-point math has aged so terribly. a game like final fantasy 7 has held up a little better because almost every sweeping camera movement in it was captured via pre-recorded FMV; here with every camera movement your eye just gets trapped looking for every surface that’s jittering or warping around like a coked-up squirrel)
it honestly reminds me of the original godzilla movie — gojira, the 1954 Japanese original. in graduate school I wrote a paper about that movie, how despite its low-grade effects and silly plot logistics, it’s fundamentally a very sad and complicated movie about Japan’s post-war dissociative identity. the monster is the nuclear future and also Japan’s warlike past; the movie’s ultimate hero is similarly both scientist and war hero, ushering in a catastrophic age and tied up inexorably with the horrors of war; hero and monster are reflections of each other, identical but opposite, and (spoiler for a 1954 movie) they’re both killed in a single action of recognition by the hero that the past must die to avert a horrible future
the first metal gear solid, a game that isn’t yet having to deal with the crazy silly storyline baggage of future games, is too all about legacy and war. all the characters are obsessed with vengeance and genetic fate; they’re all complicit in atrocities that have happened or that might happen, and they’re all struggling to find noble purpose in lives bent to the whims of the war machine. liquid’s all messed up; he wants to continue his father’s legacy but also hates his father and sees himself as an inferior double; the future he’s seeking is just the perpetuation of the war state he knows.
the game’s ultimately about how the past is a trap and an anchor, full of horror and trauma, and that the only way to live is to live beyond it, to accept that though there may be some fate written into our genes, we can’t know it, and letting it go is the only way to live for other humans instead of being obsessed with one’s own purpose and failings.
OK so basically metal gear solid 1 is a game about how trauma (including but not just war) creates families, and vice versa. it's a cast of broken people scrambling to assert coherent identities in chaotic systems. also, butt jokes
— Kybard (@KybardCSL) February 23, 2018
it’s a very Japanese game in this way, despite being so influenced by the long history of Western action movies. most killing is optional; the killing that isn’t (the bosses mostly) tends to come with long, tragic post-scripts emphasizing how the people you’ve killed, like you, are trapped in a cycle of bloodshed that can only end in death. (twin snakes added a tranq and the ability to not kill the bosses, right? I never played that game to be clear, but think this is not a good addition; the deaths of the FOX-HOUND members are important to the game’s emphasis on war as a cycle from which death is the only escape)
post-war Japan was literally blinded to its own recent past. during the USA occupation, Japanese newspapers were barred from running photographs or stories about the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. the country was basically in one night transformed from an imperial state to a pacifist Western ally, with no reckoning about the clash between those identities. gojira is wrestling with this really actively as a movie made in the early 50s, and at the end no one is happy, no one is cheering victory over the monster, everyone is simply brought low by the horror of widescale death and the inevitability of its recurrence
mgs ends more positive but is similarly a movie about how killing is awful and does awful things to those who kill. which is not a new angle for video games, not even really in 1998, but the resonance is so much more powerful here when things like nuclear deterrence and PTSD are so heavily frontloaded. it’s also not really that action-heavy a game, so the bursts of violence are more impactful and can be used to say more interesting things. other people have said more intelligent things about that aspect of the series but it’s definitely striking, even today, how ambivalent and ugly the game’s presentation of violence really is.
honestly it’s crazy this game was so successful in the USA in 1998. this is a game that is deeply bitter about the effects of the war economy on individuals, and it’s incredibly anti-authoritarian, especially and specifically as regards the American government. to wit, this frankly shocking passage at the game’s end:
Campbell: Washington isn’t stupid enough to use nukes to cover up a few secrets.
Snake: I wonder about that.
Colonel Campbell lies to Snake constantly but is just a pawn in the same game, and the chessplayer is always a higher authority, always mysterious but malevolent. do your job if it’ll save lives, but trust no one, especially not the people who claim to be your boss’s boss, especially not when those people control the weapons. that’s a crazy, wondrously progressive thought to have so well infiltrated a children’s video game in the Bill Clinton era.
assorted other thoughts:
- perhaps accentuating the impact of violence is how holy-shit awful the combat controls are in this game. I died a bunch fighting Metal Gear Rex not really because I didn’t know what to do but because trying to perform the right sequence of events (throw chaff grenade, run, switch to stinger, aim, fire, switch away, throw chaff grenade, etc) was so frustrating to do with Snake’s tank-like movement and the fidgetiness of the menus. the game also throws a bunch of outright unfair or stupid scenarios at you; it’s kind of shocking how fondly the game’s remembered given how bad the really game-y bits are.
- the sneaking aspects, meanwhile, are more mechanically stolid than I remembered (the cones of sight for the guards are ridiculously short and their movement patterns are incredibly basic) but still feel good, especially early on when your health bar is so low that avoiding detection is vital. the game also luxuriates in a few long silences which add to the sensation that you’re quietly working your way through this enemy base
- character dynamics feel underbaked across the board, but the game sells them still on the strength of the voice acting and the simple clarity of the scenario, i.e. it’s a war zone so emotions are heightened. I never really buy the love story with Meryl, but that’s OK. the love/affection stories that work best imply that a lot of the affection was built off screen, e.g. Otacon and Sniper Wolf or Naomi and Frank.
- snake is a dummy, but this is obviously on purpose; he’s basically a direct precursor to the guy you’re playing as in bioshock. but he’s also a lot funnier and more flirtacious than I remembered; his backstory and existence are pretty much top-to-bottom tragic horror, but his actual personality remains more John McClane than Man With No Name
- many of the game’s jokes land awkwardly now but are played so straight that they’re kind of funny anyway. see anything regarding Meryl’s butt, Otacon’s use of the phrase “Japanese animes”, the adventures of Stomach-Problems Johnny, and so on
so I bought Bayonetta 1+2 for the switch and started playing 1 this weekend. most (ok maybe not most but a lot) of what you hear about this game, if you’re checking typical places for game-thoughts, relates to the extremely good gameplay mechanics, which, you know, yeah, sure, obviously.
and playing the game only a little bit so far, I’m definitely down for that. I haven’t really played games like this since the original devil may cry and its first sequel (I played a hot minute of dmc3 when it came out and was atrociously bad at it, and thus my time with skill-heavy stylistic action went dormant) but this feels tremendously like a refinement and continuation of that legacy.
i think most of my fundamental issues as a writer and storyteller are tied to the fact that when I think of things that really moved me emotionally in my past, I end up trailing back to fucking metal gear solid of all things
(or my loose forty seconds punctuated with a lot of flop sweat and laughing at the as-yet-unsaid punchline to my own jokes)
being a ridiculously self-critical and anxious introvert is weird sometimes. one of the ways it’s gotten less weird as I’ve gotten older and started a career and shit is that I’m way more comfortable talking in public, to relative strangers, than I used to be.
so earlier this week I went to cancun with my wife and some other family and basically spent the whole trip laying around reading books. (picked some real nice lazy beach reads, light stuff like the handmaid’s tale)
one of the reasons I decided to make a blog is because I’m hip to trends and know better than you do that personal individual un-monetized blogs are coming back big, like ABBA or rickrolling
but one of the real reasons is that the only place I feel comfortable expounding at length about, well, anything is uh like personal emails? not twitter because character limits cramp my writing aesthetic of “too many adverbs and speech disfluency”. not instagram because I only use that for sharing blurry photos and looking at the feeds of famous dogs. and not facebook, because facebook is a place where my extended family and friends-of-friends live.
oh also because facebook’s a pile of shit.
I’m trying to get into web development from a variety of angles both as a hobby and as a serious career interest, so this blog also exists as a way for me to tinker with WordPress theming and dip my toes into PHP, so I assume/hope the visual look and feel will change with some degree of frequency as I try to figure out how many Shrek GIFs can fit into a ten-column CSS flexbox grid before madness takes hold
I haven’t touched a blog in over a year and I think part of the reason for that was that the branding felt a little too self-serious and personally important to me (tied up so specifically with the writing projects I had going on at the time). the other part of course is that I’m habitually distracted away from things like “introspection” or “deliberate thought” or other qualities necessary to a blog post that isn’t just copy-pasting the last YouTube link I was looking at.
but the thing about that is that I also want it to feel OK if my blog post is just the latest YouTube link I was looking at, and I want to not feel like every post should be either a) an at least semipolished work of fiction, or b) a fully polished academic essay in miniature. I don’t take the stuff that seriously in my own brain, it’s just hard to push past my trained-by-positive-reinforcement-since-childhood tendency to write like I’m still trying to please my AP English teacher(s) with impressive sentence structure and a STRONG THESIS STATEMENT
so here’s a place where I will dump whatever thought about whatever, in the interest of clarifying myself to myself in semi-public view since that way I can theoretically be held accountable instead of just having an incoherent argument in my own head and assuming it’d all read like gangbusters if anyone else had happened to be listening via psychic projection
OK cool thanks I love you