I’m not fond of excuses when it comes to critical thought. You hear a lot of them thrown around consistently, usually that a given film wasn’t supposed to be winning awards, so why are you critiquing it? Because apparently it’s impossible to both be a good action film and not insultingly stupid, never mind that Pacific Rim showed us exactly what Transformers could have been with a better script instead of the blaring obnoxious films that we’ve seen for years now. Just because a film is meant to be entertaining action doesn’t mean it also has to be bracingly stupid.
We need to tear down the idea that critical thought and questions somehow need to step out of certain discussions. It is possible for something to both be a straight action piece meant to show off cool hardware and explosions while also being a likable piece on its own merits. You do not get to defend blockbuster titles on the premise that they’re meant to just be action extravaganzas, as it’s possible to have both. But that’s the least of the defenses that I want to skewer and be rid of.
I have given up on explaining certain franchises to people without them sounding really weird. This doesn’t bother me, exactly, but it’s in the back of my mind, so these days I think I wind up actively looking for stuff that sounds either impossible to parse, bizarre, or just plain stupid when described in the abstract. Like Hellboy, which is about a friendly demon who punches secret Nazis and folklore horror figures in the face with the key to ending the world.
Okay, all right, the 90s were a different time for all of us, especially when it comes to comics. And despite his decade of origin and those scant details, the eponymous Hellboy is not a snarling antihero, having a demeanor closer to Detective Lenny Briscoe of Law & Order – wearied, a bit gruff, but mostly concerned with doing the right thing and helping people. Yet for all the fun of the very concept, for some reason the dude’s only got two games, both of which were horrible. Why’d that happen?
Roger Ebert was a brilliant man, a spectacular critic, and absolutely clueless when it came to video games. He wrote a long-winded defense of why video games can never be art which was wrong when he wrote it, then he wrote more on the subject which was still wrong, and he went to his grave being wrong. And it’s a shame that we lost him, and he was a great light, and his criticism helped shape my own critical voice, and had we met he would have had no idea why I did anything I did, because he thought video games weren’t art.
I’m not interested in opening that debate, though, because as far as I’m concerned it’s boring as hell. Are video games art? Yes. We’re done. No, what’s far more interesting is the question of why people would fight against that. Why would you spend time and effort creating definitions that try to peg it as not art? Why would you put so much energy into deflecting the possibility? Why would anyone want to ensure that video games aren’t seen as art?
It’s Halloween! By which of course I mean it is October, which might as well be a solid month of Halloween for all I care. I say this while also having a wedding anniversary and a professional anniversary in October. Halloween all day every day, from October 1st to October 31st. Possibly a bit further in either direction, too. I like Halloween a lot is what I’m getting at.
But as I settle in for another annual trip through every horror-themed movie, game, and novel I can find that I had held back for October, I know I’m going to run into some of the same stupid and tired crap that I find every single year. There’s a reason that for a long while I disliked horror in general and survival horror in games, and it was simply a result of getting so accustomed to crappy half-baked non-horror stuff that gets shoved along with it that I sort of tuned the whole thing out as terrible. I’m better now, but let’s be frank – what’s following is not really scary.
The main reason that I can’t say Pacific Rim was my absolute favorite movie of 2013 is simply because Frozen also came out last year. It was an absolute treat just the same, a summer action film that understood that it didn’t have to be dumb and didn’t have to assume you were stupid. There were giant robots, there were giant monsters, there were references to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the midst of it. Great stuff. I have seen it at least half a dozen times now.
Of course, the fact that we’re supposedly getting an animated series gives rise to the hope that we’ll get more toys and licensed products, but even from the film alone it seems incomprehensible that we didn’t get a great game. And we didn’t, of course – it was a weak game saved only by its connection to a film in which you punch the hell out of kaiju in a giant robot. But why is that? What makes the game so hard to develop in the first place? Is it possible that even with a sequel and a cartoon it’s still not going to lend itself nicely to a game?