Reviews

Klaus: A Santa Claus Origin Story

The animated film Klaus released on Netflix November 15th. The tale follows Jesper, a man who has been handed everything to him by his father. His father, fed up with him, sends him to Smeerensburg, a town on an island in the wintry north, to be a postman. If Jesper can send 6,000 letters in this town, his father will allow him to return home.

Upon arriving to the island, two old families, the Krums and Ellingboes have a long-lasting feud spanning generations, and their hatred for each other serves as a larger examination of generational racism, although it goes unexplored. That is of course okay for a family Christmas movie. In addition to that, their hatred also causes the town to stagnate, and not one person wants to send a letter out, resulting in Jesper being stuck in Smeerensburg. That is, until he finds Klaus, a man who makes toys, and the two team up, Klaus making toys for children as long as the children send a letter. 

For context, I watched this children’s animated Netflix film alone on a Friday night, and I do not regret a single second of it. Everything in the plot is very expected. There will probably be spoilers here, so beware if you care about spoilers for a children’s movie. I say that with no disrespect to children’s movies, and more so because their plots are usually predictable. That isn’t necessarily bad though. Jesper’s goal at first is to reach 6,000 letters so he can go home, and he has a very strong dog-eat-dog world view, saying that everyone is after something, and not believing in people doing things out of the goodness of their heart. 

Jesper begins as a conventional Grinch, obsessed with his own life, and even some times bullying and making snide remarks towards children in the town, but as Jesper gets closer to 6,000 letters, and freedom, he realizes how much he now enjoys living in Smeerensburg, and his goal has changed. Rather than returning home, he wants to bring joy to the children in this town. A heart-warming goal.

As the movie progresses, it covers a lot of the stories associated with Santa Claus. For the first toy Jesper delivers, he comes in through the chimney. When one of the children in town bullies another, Jesper says that the child must be nice, because Klaus sees everything, and if he is naughty he won’t get a toy. Then, Klaus and Jesper, riding a sleigh carried by reindeer, take a ramp over a ravine, after which a child says he saw Klaus riding a sleigh with flying reindeer. 

The film ends on a somber note, with Klaus in the woods, twelve years after the events of the movie, and Jesper narrating. Klaus says he is going to see his wife, who died many years ago, and who inspired him to make toys for their kids, kids they were never able to have. Klaus disappears walking into the snow, and Jesper says he could never find him, but every year around Christmas time, Klaus is there, and he sets a plate of cookies and milk out for him. 

That means the origin story for Santa Claus is that a man who lost his wife due to sickness, and made toys for his future children, but couldn’t conceive for an unknown reason, dedicated the rest of his life, and afterlife, to making and delivering toys to children, bringing them the joy he couldn’t to his own children.

Wow. I didn’t know Santa Claus needed a reason for what he does, but the reasoning provided in this film is beautiful.

The most humorous parts of the movie comes as the two families try to unite to get rid of Jesper, because his toys are bringing their children all together, and they want their children to grow up separately, hating each other. One of the family members says to a child,

“This is a tradition! Centuries of glorious hatred, passed down through generations!”

This presents itself as a larger symbol of racism, and how ludicrous tradition is.

Although these moments are funny with the two families, I wouldn’t categorize Klaus as a comedy. It is a very standard children’s Christmas movie, that I enjoyed tremendously. The voice acting in this film is also spot on, with J.K. Simmons voicing Klaus, and the art is extraordinary. There were a few scenes of snow falling on Smeerensburg which really brought out the emotions associated with Christmas, despite it being November.

My one complaint with the movie is the undeveloped romance. Jesper meets an ex-teacher, Miss Alva,  when he arrives in Smeerensburg, and soon leads children to her so they can learn how to write, for the letters to send to Klaus. Jesper reignites her joy for teaching, and they end up together. 

This romance seems forced, and only put into the film because every film needs a romance or love subplot nowadays, which I strongly disagree with, as I believe most others would too. If the plot is done well, then add it, but when it gets as little development as in Klaus, it can be scrapped, or Jesper and Miss Alva could simply be friends. If that were the image movies portrayed to our children, I think we would live in a much healthier society. 

Perhaps romance is an easy plot to pitch to audiences, because many of us hope that two people will end up together and be happy. It may be even easier for children to understand, but at no point in the movie did I get the sense that Jesper or Miss Alva were interested in each other. Almost as if they ended up together so they could finally be “happy”, a theme which should be used less in movies. If not so my children develop more realistic perceptions of love, then for me to enjoy these movies more. 

But really, we all know Jesper and Miss Alva wasn’t the true romantic plot of the movie; it was the bromance between Jesper and Klaus. They open up to each other, Jesper brings Klaus out of his shell of misery after his wife’s passing, and Klaus dies happily, going to see his wife, Mrs. Klaus.

Klaus brings a breath of fresh air to a genre in which I thought I would only be watching fifteen year old movies for the rest of my life. This is a Christmas movie you won’t want to miss, because it could easily become a classic, and I hope it does. This is the direction Netflix originals need to survive, especially in a world where the streaming wars have begun.

Comics, Reviews

Watchmen Episode 2 Review: Who is Will?

Wow, just got off the boat from my vacation in Antarctica where there’s no prime time television or internet so I watched episode two of Watchmen today. Sorry fans. 

But what an episode it was. The premiere started the show at about an 8 out of 10, and this episode brought it to a 12. From the meta-commentary and parallels to The Leftovers, to Will having friends in high places. Before I get started with that, I want to touch on the political turmoil going on in this episode. 

The episode begins with Will saying that he killed the police chief, but Angela has her doubts due to him being 105 years old and in a wheelchair. As a result of not bringing him in because he has information specifically tailored for Angela, the rest of the police go to Nixonville to round up all potential members of the Seventh Kavalry. 

The cruelty with which the police treat the white people in this scene furthers my belief that we may not get an episode from the perspective of the people in Nixonville, and it will be up to the viewers to understand the wrongs being committed as they occur, as we hopefully would in the real world too. 

Utter chaos erupts as one of the Nixonville people throws a bottle at a police car. Tensions are already high since the police chief was killed, and hanged from a tree. It enrages Angela even more that he suffered before the death, in which he was beaten and tortured. Rounding up the people in Nixonville is like using more drone strikes on villages in the Middle-East. It’ll only cause more people to join the Kavalry as their beliefs about the police are confirmed. No due process. Mothers and fathers taken away from their children, assuming the police didn’t also arrest the children living in the trailer parks. Now, we know these people are going to be tortured and interrogated by Glass and other members of the police force. 

Perhaps a future episode’s focus will be one of the people arrested by the police, but it is far from necessary to see that what the police are doing is wrong, and damn near totalitarian. 

In other news, Ozymandias makes another appearance. The use of Ozymandias thus far is one of my main concerns with the show. All of his scenes show him living in a castle, with servants, which have been confirmed to be clones. He puts on a play depicting the creation of Dr. Manhattan, and while I trust Lindelof the way a skydiver trusts his parachute, I hope this story ties into what is happening in Tulsa sooner rather than later, because so far it merely comes across as the only remnant from the original Watchmen, and as being there for the sake of being there. 

That being said, I thought Veidt would have attempted to actually make one of his clones into a Dr. Manhattan like being, rather than just burning the clone to death. Veidt is most definitely scheming, but I still don’t feel as if he is the smartest man in the world. If he were, chances are he could create another Dr. Manhattan by now through science. Or something else entirely through science, and yes, I realize he is making clones, but they are barely successful clones. In fifty years, there’s a chance we look at Veidt’s clones and say, wow, imagine if our first clones were like that, Montrose copy 732.

This show also parallels The Leftovers, aside from casting Regina King. Will has information which he chooses to withhold from Angela because she won’t be able to handle it, and this resembles the grandfather in season 2, who gives Kevin the poison which sends him to the afterlife, and then proceeds to shoot himself in the head. Or, Will could even be a parallel to one of the characters in the afterlife who help Kevin escape at the hotel. One of the men tells him he has to sing to be given passage back to life, and he appears to know more than both the protagonist and viewer about what’s going on. Maybe he even knows more than Lindelof.

I believe this show is headed in a drastically different direction than The Leftovers, and instead of providing some commentary on the afterlife and how humanity views it, we will instead receive commentary on current and future political occurrences, which just happens to be in the form of a Watchmen sequel.

However, Watchmen could easily go down the same path as The Leftovers, looking at religion after a catastrophic event, which would be the squid in this show, or it could also examine how people make meaning in their lives while Dr. Manhattan, a being who sees through all of time, and could destroy all of humanity if he desired, meditates on Mars. It would be redundant for Lindelof to tread where he has before, and instead we don’t know where he is going yet. But the parallels are there, and just as with the best episodes of The Leftovers being the ones where Kevin goes into the afterlife due to their perfect mystic attributes, I think this show’s best episodes will probably be episodes revolved around Dr. Manhattan.

One detail in episodes one and two which I feel needs to be discussed is the expert use of transitions between scenes. From episode two I remember the horses in a painting in the police chief’s house leading into Veidt riding a white horse. Or, the clock leading to another clock. Transitions are a tool that I’ve never seen done poorly in a show, but when they’re great it amplifies the experience. I thought this would only continue through episode one, because how many transitions can you pull out? Now I’m wondering which episode will stop the use of these intriguing ones, or if it will continue for the entire season. 

Something I else I mentioned in the last review was how Doomsday Clock tried to be extremely similar to Watchmen, which this show is also doing. Yet another way the show does this is through American Hero Story, a show set within the universe, and a pun on American Horror Story it would seem. This show so far tells the story of Hooded Justice, a vigilante from the Minutemen times whose identity was never revealed. The narration in it serves s a backdrop for the potential thoughts of Angela as she aids the police in capturing the people in Nixonville. This acts as The Black Freighter story did in the original Watchmen, although I never quite understood that story, American Hero Story, and it’s purpose within the show seems to be more clear. That could be good, and also bad. Perhaps the obscurity of the meaning behind The Black Freighter is what makes it powerful. It could mean anything the reader interpreted it to mean. But, I would rather a more straightforward metacommentary provided, also because it was extremely difficult to read the black freighter pages because of the story happening around the kid reading reading it, as well as the difficulty of remembering what happened between the little blurbs about it considering there was an entirely different story and world being crafted around it.

This is being said from a huge fan of obscurity. Murakami is one of my favorite authors, if that helps prove it. There is an important detail in American Hero Story though, which will help bring me to my next point. As Hooded Justice stops the robbers, he appears to be a white man under the mask. Obviously this is just an actor, but what if instead Hooded Justice was a black man? Perhaps one we already know, such as Will? If his identity wasn’t revealed, how would the creators of this show set within the Watchmen universe know? And would him being portrayed as white be another great example of racism taking place by people assuming their favorite hero is white and not black, even though he wears a mask and there is no way for them to know?

I think this episode provided more evidence for Will being Hooded Justice. First, Hooded Justice wears a noose on his neck which is cut. I believe this can only symbolize one of two things. It could be that Hooded Justice wanted to commit suicide but chose not to, giving up his old life for one of a vigilante. Ceding his being to a greater cause. Or, perhaps he was too large for the noose and it ripped. Just kidding about that one. The second one could be that Hooded Justice is a black man who escaped a lynching, or wears the noose as a symbol of the injustices committed against African Americans. Will escaped the Tulsa Massacre, and may have grown up with the anger Hooded Justice is portrayed with in American Hero Story. Anger at the world for tearing his parents away from him. Anger for taking his home away. Anger for a life living in fear of what people in hoods may do, and in turn, dawning a good himself. What if Hooded Justice, means justice for the hooded, such as the Klan? He may wear the noose in honor of the African Americans that have been lynched throughout history. 

Second, and the least likely evidence that Will is Hooded Justice, is the fact that he wears a red suit that matches Hooded Justice’s red cape. This would be too obvious, so it is not exactly a good reason for my belief in this theory. 

Hooded Justice would be extremely old right now if he were still alive, and this would closely line up with Will’s age. Also, when Angela is picking Will up off of his wheelchair to place him in her car, he appears to be quite tall. As tall as Hooded Justice? I do not know, but maybe he has shrunk in his old age.

Will being Hooded Justice would also help explain why Will killed Chief Judd, due to his warped sense of Justice, as we saw when he killed four men who were robbing a store in American Hero Story, which may be based off of a real world event in their universe. 

And of course, I can’t skip over how the episode ended. Will’s escape by the flying saucer with a magnet. This discussion will begin with evidence, and ideas that could be plausible, but may quickly devolve into tinfoil hat theories. 

Who exactly are Will’s friends in high places? I think Nite Owl is an obvious choice, given the design of the flying vehicle which rescued him. Also, since Hooded Justice was a vigilante with the Minutemen, it would explain how he has friends in high places. Perhaps he revealed his identity and is trying to do good with Nite Owl again, in a world where totalitarian police wreak havoc. This would mean that Nite Owl is not where the files said he is: locked up due to wearing his mask out. It would appear Panda may have been correct, and many of the things we assume to be true thus far are wrong. The Klan outfit in Judd’s closet allows us to infer that Will was right about him having skeletons. Whether he deserved to die is up for debate, but given Will’s docile appearance around Angela, and the fact that he is her grandfather, he seems to be a good guy. 

This episode I give a 9/10. In a world where the police wear masks, now seems like a perfect time for the return of the Minutemen. People welcome masks, assuming the police are generally well liked, and if the police aren’t liked, then the Minutemen can wear masks and pretend to be cops, because who is going to know? Who will be watching the Watchmen?

 

Comics, Reviews

Watchmen Premiere Review: It’s Fall and There are Too Many Leaves

The Watchmen premiere aired over a week ago, and I am behind schedule. Is it even worth writing a review, you may ask. Yes, I think. I don’t really understand how reviews for episodes come out literally the night of the ep, even sometimes within twenty minutes after. Do they write as they watch? See the episode early? Something else I am missing entirely? Given all of that, a week after is very late, but I hope this finds its way into the eyes of at least one person. Besides me.

Here’s a quick recap: The episode opens with the Tulsa riot in 1921. Then a cop gets shot in his car after the process to unlock his gun takes too long. The man who shoots him is a member of the white supremacists organization known as the 7th Kavalry who take after Rorschach. Angela, played by Regina King, takes and tortures a member of the group. They go to the base of the group, end up killing some of them and don’t capture any. The police chief is hanged at the end of the episode, and this appears to be done by an elderly man in a wheelchair. There’s a lot more which occurs but I would rather keep this part short. 

I plan on giving my thoughts in the form of rebuttals to the complaints I’ve seen about the episode. One of those is its use of the Tulsa Riot as an opening scene. While I don’t believe people have a problem with this scene yet, they have concerns that it’s purpose may have been to hook the viewer in, rather than the riot being involved in the story Lindelof is telling. With the ending of episode 1, the boy at the beginning who lives through the riot, appears to be the elderly man in the wheelchair. This almost definitely confirms the riot will play a role in the story, or at least as part of his back story. 

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Photo by Bruce Dixon on Unsplash. This photo came up when I searched Tulsa Riot 1921. Ideally, this would’ve been a black and white picture depicting the sheer destruction reported.

At worst, the use of this opening merely brings one of the most violent and racist attacks in American history that is often glossed over to the forefront of conversation, and at best, it does that, while also being an integral part of the story. I mean, with the amount of times we learn about the revolutionary war, and the civil war, and the great depression throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school, couldn’t a day have been put to this topic? I never knew this event took place until news of this show broke out, and spreading awareness of this topic, and the fact the show takes place in Tulsa Oklahoma so far, allows us to see the history of the town. 

Next, many people seem to have a problem with the show touching on race and political topics. I believe it has been done well so far, and have no problem with the show touching these subjects. No matter what side someone is on, I don’t think anybody likes reading or watching something that is clearly biased, especially in a medium where the topic doesn’t need to be touched. But in the case of Watchmen, it seems to take a critique of both sides of the political spectrum. Here are some of those cases. 

A cop is shot and almost killed at the beginning, largely because he needs permission to use his gun when there is a threat. I’m sure similar systems have been thought of for gun control, and to help prevent the killings of innocent civilians. This merely provides us with a dystopian possibility as a result of this law. 

File:Hong Kong protests - Kwong Tong March 20190824 - P1066386-edit.jpg

Dystopian possibility in America, but reality in Hong Kong.

This is again discussed when the police chief authorizes the release of all weapons in the wake of the news of the cop being shot. He says that their lives are in immediate danger, and Panda, the man who authorizes the use of guns, and who seems to take on the role of Toby in The Office, where nobody likes him, says that he is making a big mistake in doing so. I think this is foreshadowing some of the cops being part of the 7th Kavalry, the white supremacist organization. Although all the cops seem to hate Panda, his insistence on doing his job right, is for one reason only: to prevent shootings of innocent people. His intentions are good, and intentions are often overlooked.

The police also wear masks when they are working to hide their own identities from the public. Angela says that she was attacked on The White Night, and almost killed in her own home because people knew where she lived. This provides the explanation for why the cops wear the masks. 

One issue I have seen raised is that the POV of the white supremacists is not given. It’s only the first episode, so there is time to flesh this out, but I don’t see that it is necessary to give us their POV. A lot of what the supposed good guys, the cops, do in this show is met with an unwelcome glare, at least by me. 

Regina King tortures a man to learn where his friend who shot the cop is. She breaks into his home without a warrant, puts him in her trunk, and takes him to the police station. When he asks for a lawyer, he is told terrorists are afforded no rights. This takes aim at a slew of problems in America, mainly the use of Guantanamo Bay, but this could also point to the current detention centers illegal immigrants are being placed into.

The greater question posed here is, how exactly do we define terrorists? In this case, the man attacked did have information the police used, but if he did not, how would that change our portrayal of Angela and the police?

My complaints for the show so far are few and far between. The soundtrack fits well, a mix of classical music and hip-hop. One of the only problems I have is the absurdity of having to call someone and get a release for use of a firearm. What if the cop is shot at while not in his vehicle? Must he return, call Panda, and justify his use of the weapon? This feels like a half-baked attempt to criticize potential gun restrictions people have proposed for police. Some police do not even carry guns in certain countries, and while those countries are vastly different from America, this law would make a lot more sense if the police could carry their guns on them, but they could only shoot if given release. Perhaps how this is done will be shown at a later time, 

My next issue is that the episode, while establishing itself as a sequel successfully, I can’t help but hope characters from the original series are brought in, and I fear that besides Ozymandias they may be out of the picture. I feel as if Dr. Manhattan, and the exploration of his powers and what he does with them was the most interesting part of the original comic. If Dr. Manhattan is currently on Mars, he may not come to Earth or be in the show at all. I’m sure fans of the original comic may disagree with wanting Dr. Manhattan to be in it because Lindelof would need to tread lightly and ensure he uses the character properly, I hope he is involved more than he was in the first episode. 

Now into predictions and theories. My first prediction is that Jeremy Irons, who plays Ozymandias, also known as Adrian Veidt, will be behind the murder of the police chief. The blood of The Comedian drips onto the Watchmen pin after he is killed in the first issue, just as the police chief’s blood drips onto his badge at the end of the first episode. That may have just been an innocent reference to the original comic, or it may have meant more. And, if I don’t put all my eggs in one basket on this prediction when I have the least information, am I even watching an HBO show right? 

I also predict that the two people who call him master in his castle are clones of himself that he created, and they are works in progress, which is why the one man tries to hand Veidt a horseshoe to cut the cake. Maybe that’s the least original prediction of all of these, because there is definitely something up with them. For that reason, I’ll spend the least time on it. 

Another interesting question after the first episode is why were the Kavalry hoarding the watch batteries? I believe this is because the Kavalry want to summon Dr. Manhattan back from Mars, and with Manhattan being the watchmaker’s son, as Veidt calls the title of his play, means that the Kavalry are performing some odd ritual with the watch pieces. Angela and the police chief believe they were, or will be, forming a bomb with the watch batteries that have since been outlawed, but I am doubtful of that. 

4PCS LR44 A76 Small Alkaline Battery Power Supply Button Battery Cell

You didn’t know watches had batteries, so here’s a picture of some.

This brings me to my last and final prediction, which is that Veidt will kill a large group of people, perhaps a few hundred to a thousand, except this time, it will be white and black people he kills at some event, in an effort to bring the two races together. Perhaps Angela will go on a long detective chase to figure out he is behind it, and she will realize the 7th Kavalry are actually right about the squid attack being done by him. This will be the play which he calls a tragedy that he is creating. While this would be interesting to create some inner turmoil in Regina King’s character, I would appreciate more if the story went in it’s own new direction with Veidt. For him to use the same plan again is a little bit too predictable. 

This is the path that Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns went down. Although I love that story to death, Veidt doing a similar plan, and working behind the scenes is too expected. It would also reinforce my belief that he should be killed by Dr. Manhattan, or whoever figures out his plot, because a man willing to sacrifice millions of people under his circumstances should not be free. 

By circumstances, I mean the fact that Veidt’s plan in the original Watchmen is stated to be a genius plan, crafted by the smartest man on Earth, but I believe there are too many maybes for him to take the action he does. For example, he kills millions of people because the world is on the brink of nuclear war. However, being on the brink of nuclear war, does not guarantee that it will occur. Veidt gambled and decided to kill millions, when he may have not needed to take any action at all. Also, if Dr. Manhattan didn’t kill Rorschach, then Veidt’s plan falls to pieces. The predicament Veidt puts the heroes in is an interesting moral conundrum, but to sacrifice millions on the bet that none of them say anything is insane. 

Also, as Dr. Manhattan says, “Nothing ever ends, Adrian”, he alludes to the fact that just because of Veidt’s action, it does not mean that the US and USSR will be at peace in the future. He may have simply prolonged nuclear annihilation. I, on the other hand, would like to see Veidt tackle a more imminent matter, one that may bring even more backlash against the show. Perhaps climate change, as the first episode’s title suggests. “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice.”

I give this episode an 8.5/10. While I don’t have many complaints, and the pilot has firmly hooked me in to watching this show, it is hard to give a perfect score. If Lindelof is in the same form as he was when writing The Leftovers, I’m sure multiple episodes will be getting perfect scores. In reference to other show’s pilots, I place it ahead of the GoT pilot, the Westworld pilot, but behind The Boys pilot, which is the gold standard for television pilots. 

 

economics

Psychological Flaws in the Climate Debate

Recently, Putin said in a comment aimed towards Greta Thunberg, to “Go and explain it to developing countries why they should continue living in poverty and not be like Sweden.” Now, I could point to a few flaws in that statement, first of which is the odd fact that Putin points to Sweden, a country that isn’t even in the top ten oil consuming countries, or top oil consuming countries per capita. That seems like a strange case to make. I don’t think most people in developing countries think, “Hey, I want to live like they do in Sweden.” But maybe they do, what do I know?

Second is that developing countries have the most to gain from preventing climate change, so to be intelligent about their decision in how to develop, they should not follow the developed countries’ paths. Part of this is because in colder countries, the warmer weather can increase productivity of workers, and in warmer countries, if the weather warms more, then this decreases productivity, which has led to Norway benefiting the most with a 34% increase in GDP.

On the other hand, Sudan lost the most, with a 36% decrease in GDP. While I don’t believe GDP is the end all be all of a country’s prosperity, percentages in the thirties are extremely high. This means that while it may be cheaper for a developing country to use fossil fuels to grow right now, in ten or twenty years they will suffer more from this than the richer countries. Also, this shows the unfair impact of developed nations continuing to contribute to climate change. 

Third, climate change disproportionately hurts those living in poverty, so developing countries have even more to gain. A five degree difference on a given day from 60 to 65 degrees may not be detrimental, but in sub-saharan Africa could lead to a drought. A hurricane or similar extreme weather events are much more catastrophic to areas with poor infrastructure, such as less developed countries. Wildfires are not as easy to tame for these countries, increasing their devastation as well. If those living in poverty don’t have a/c or heat, more extreme weather also hurts them more.

Rather than those points, I would like to discuss a tactic which has been used to divert funds from climate change, and excuse inaction, and that is making downward comparisons to the actions of other countries. This happens all the time. As stated previously, Putin says that developing countries will have to pollute and produce more CO2 as they develop. This can easily be turned into an excuse for a developed country to do nothing. Well, if all of Africa still needs to develop and pollute, then whatever our country does has no impact. 

Or, as Trump says in this tweet, “The problem w/ the concept of “global warming” is that the U.S. is spending a fortune on “fixing it” while China & others do nothing!” Is it ‘unfair’ that the US may have to bear more of the burden on fixing climate change than other countries? Maybe. We are third in CO2 emissions per capita, so we should definitely bear a larger part of the burden, but as for fairness in terms of destructive capacity caused to the Earth, how exactly would we measure that? 

Looking at total emissions shows a whole different picture. In total emissions, China is at 9 billion tons of fuel combustion, and the US is at 5 billion. Could you say China is worse for the environment than us based off of that? Sure, if you want to ignore the fact that their population is four times ours.

These aren’t the psychological flaws here though. The psychological flaw in making these comparisons to other countries’ actions is that it makes us complacent in our own actions. We make similar comparisons as individuals all the time. Leon Festinger, a popular social psychologist, also known for cognitive dissonance theory which you may have heard of, created social comparison theory. 

This theory states that we evaluate ourselves, and determine our personality and abilities through others. How do you know your skill in a particular sport? By seeing how others perform in your game. 

However, we don’t compare ourselves to others in every single category. If we did, we would be constantly faced with our crushing failure to be successful. As an alternative, we compare to others only on certain dimensions. If I care more about money, then I’ll compare our salaries.. If I care more about physical prowess, then every time I meet someone who makes more money than me, I can justify it by saying I bench press more than them. If I meet someone who makes more money than me and can bench press more than me, then that person is on steroids and got their job through knowing someone.

Also, generally speaking, people compare themselves to others who are similar to them. I would compare myself to other people at my college, not people at Harvard. If I play football, I would compare myself to who I play with, not with Tom Brady. 

In the case of CO2 emissions, comparing the US to China follows suit. We don’t compare our emissions to Monaco because Monaco is not an economic powerhouse. We mainly compare ourselves to China because there are fears that China may overtake the US as the largest economy in the world. That is even a defense used in opposition to climate change, because if we slow down GDP growth to reduce our damage to the Earth, then China may overtake us as the largest economy. 

Finally, the direction of comparison is crucial. Upward or downward. In the case of an upward comparison, we compare ourselves to those who do better than us. This may jeopardize our sense of self. Downward comparisons, in contrast, can raise our self-esteem. If we are going through a tragedy, thinking of others who have it worse may make us grateful. It also may not. A more concrete example would be if I, as an average student, compared myself to someone failing. This doesn’t encourage me to do more, because I see that I am better than someone, but in reality, I am not putting in my all. This may boost our self-esteem, which can be good, but we may also become complacent as we are.

In justifying the US’s inaction by saying that China emits more and does less, we are making a downward comparison. It is a way to justify our inaction, and at the same time boost our self-esteem on the global scale. We still do more than many developing countries, although that may be due to the fact that they are developing. 

These comparisons aren’t inherently bad as you may think. We need a healthy dose of both upward and downward comparisons to live a healthy life.

So, what can we do in regards to climate change? First off, we should focus on ourselves. Every self-help book will tell you in different words this same thing. If you are improving yourself, then everything will work out, hopefully. Having trouble dating? Work on yourself.  It’s the only consistent factor which you can actually change. This mean our countries should each do our best, regardless of what other countries are doing. The UN does not have much control over what China or India does, so no matter how much we may want them to change their ways, we can’t force them to. 

Second, work on decreasing the price of renewable energy sources. They have already decreased drastically (source), but if we put even more money towards improving their cost-efficiency we can encourage other countries to adopt them as well. This is one way we can actually influence another country’s actions, by making it the most affordable option, so by purely economic means they should choose it. This is how China pours supplies into our country. It’s cheaper to import their products than to produce them domestically, so we buy them. 

This way of decreasing the cost of renewables also avoids hostilities between nations, such as trade wars, or war wars, which we haven’t seen for quite some time, and I think most of the world would like to keep that way.

Third, as this article describes, diverting our funds and investments from oil will aid tremendously. As long as we are investing in oil, and the companies we support are investing in oil, then the shift to renewables will take longer to occur. As for what we the consumers can do, well, that is an even greater problem than the one discussed in this article, and would make a great topic for the future. 

Until then, the global catastrophic threat of climate change will continue, and we will have sat idly by, doing nothing, scrolling on our smartphones, and filling up our pick-up trucks, because of ‘unfairness’.

 

Uncategorized

Review of Frogcatchers by Jeff Lemire

Here is my review of the new graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, Frogcatchers. There will be spoilers below, so continue reading only if you’ve read it, or if you’re cool with spoilers. To each their own.

Just as the story is brief, my review will most likely follow the same fashion. Frogcatchers advertises itself as a horror comic. Everything seems out of place at the beginning, and the reader can tell something is amiss. Although the protagonist wakes up not knowing where they are, it doesn’t feel as if his life is at stake. Instead, it seems like he is within his head, or has some form of dementia. 

When the protagonist releases two frogs later on in the comic, and the kid he’s with freaks out, the horror doesn’t set in. Frogs just aren’t that scary. But then you start to think about the imagination the kid has, and whether he knows the frogs are incapable of actually doing harm, and he just wants to play with the old man. Is this the protagonist as a child, I wondered many times throughout the book.  

The child also says they must avoid the frog king which is in the room the protagonist came from. This made me think of the yellow king in True Detective, but can a frog king really be scary?

What I pictured as the frog king.

The use of colors in this story, just as in Roughneck, is genius. Whereas it was used to portray the past in Roughneck, this time colors are used to portray the present, which happens to be the protagonist lying in a hospital bed. The book ends with the protagonist flatlining while in the hospital. He seems content to be going though, and somehow that almost evokes more emotion than if he were sad. 

But then after, there’s a few pages in color of a boy catching frogs, and I can’t quite tell what to make of these pages. Is the boy the protagonist as a child, or is it another child living a life similar to his, showing that the joy and memories he made other people will continue to make? Is it his life flashing before him? Are these pages the same as the ones at the beginning, only they are in color now, expressing a happier tone to them perhaps? Although the ending is a bit ambiguous in what the final pages mean, I don’t mind it. Murakami is one of my favorite writers, so ambiguity is not something I have a problem with.

How would I rate this story? First, I must state what exactly I am grading. What metric I am using to determine the quality of the story. In my opinion, a good story makes the reader feel something. This could come in many different forms. If the protagonist is a villain, perhaps it brings about some inner turmoil, wanting to root for the character, but realizing the wrong in doing so. Or, if the story is about loss, it could make the reader cry. Frogcatchers falls into the latter category, although the loss isn’t of another person. The story makes me feel as if Lemire wants us all to consider, as a collective, the things we lose when we die. Memories. Regrets. Joys. On this front, in making the reader feel, the book does a fantastic job. I felt more in the twenty minutes it took me to read this than I would watching a year’s worth of reality television on MTV. This book could be one I revisit in coming years when I feel myself needing a good cry. 

I wouldn’t label Frogcatchers as a horror comic in the traditional sense of the genre, but in terms of the horror the protagonist faces, the true existential horror reveals itself: facing one’s own death. Facing one’s regrets. Facing one’s memories and joys. The sum of an entire person, what creates them. The narrative we tell ourselves, and how with our age this narrative can deteriorate due to degenerative diseases. That is the true horror within the story, and it is scarier than any fictional monster which may haunt our dreams. 

8/10

 

Comics

House of X #5: Discussion

House of X #5 has a lot of information to digest. Rather than discussing the actual X-Men component to an X-Men story, I want to discuss the philosophical and scientific questions posed by Hickman. Full spoilers for the issue and story are ahead.

In issue four, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Penance, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine all die. Despite all of their deaths happening in quick succession, there was still an emotional intensity to them. The stakes feel high, although whether they actually are we, as the readers, have been unsure. Until issue five. 

I’m not going to speculate that I understand everything in House of X and Powers of X. Nor would I even say I understand 10% of what is happening, but House of X #5 I believe I have understood the points and dialogue a bit more, and this is what I will focus on.

Issue five reveals that through a very particular process, including five mutants with specific powers, mutants may be reborn, or as Hickman puts it, resurrected, through a plant-like process which includes injecting them with a preserved part of the given mutant’s DNA. Then, the mutant arises from the egg. The mutants are brought back as fully grown adults, but how do they get their memories back? This is where the already insane issue gets nutty.

Cerebro is explained to originally have had a different purpose. Rather than just reaching a mutant anywhere in the world, now it gives Xavier the ability of “copying the mind, the essence, the anima–of any mutant Xavier found. So he could one day put a soul back into its mutant shell.”

This is how the X-Men are resurrected. Are they truly resurrected though, or are they clones? I mean, literally, they are not the person who died, because their body died, but since they have the same memories, just how different are they? Resurrected has a religious connotation, often referring to Christ rising from the dead. In this case, what Xavier is doing, is not resurrection at all, because the mutants are not being raised from the dead. Their bodies are being cloned through a copy of their genes, and their memories are implanted into them by Xavier. Their bodies are new, not old, and their minds are the same. Is it even the same person they were before they were resurrected?

Basically, the question we are asked is, if given the same memories and genetics, would we be who we are today? Me and my brother were discussing free will the other day, and I said, “If someone else were to live my life, given the same experiences and genetic makeup, they would make the same decisions as me, so do I have free will?” Now, I know that’s a dumb argument in the context of free will that made in the moment, but that’s not the point. This isn’t necessarily about free will in House of X, but more so whether these clones are the same as the people they were. 

Nature vs. nurture boils down to a comparison between the importance of two things that make us who we are. Nature being our genetics, and nurture being our experiences, or in the case with Xavier and the mutants, their memories. If we don’t remember something, will it affect who we are?

I’m sure in the case of repression it will, but generally speaking, memories have an integral role in our development and how we learn. Besides that, our genetics determine our physical aspects, and much of our mental capabilities. So when Xavier uses the same genetics to replicate the mutant, and then implants their memories into them, which he has access to due to being within their mind, is the clone really the same person?

Assuming we can trust Xavier, which may not be a safe assumption, then the only “wrong” being done is the sacrifice made by each of the mutants when they die and before they are cloned, although this is done of their own free will each time. If we cannot trust Xavier, then that means he could be eliminating parts of these mutant’s memories each time they are cloned. He could choose who they become by changing their memories. If this is someone else who has obtained Cerebro, then it could be that this person changed their memory of who Xavier is, so that he could more easily fit into that role and obtain their trust.

Then, of course, there are two factors related to the cloning that Hickman poses to us, the reader. On one of the informational pages, Hickman writes, “There has been no experimentation regarding what happens when you combine a mutant MIND with a HUSK that is not their own.”  So, could Cyclops’ mind be implanted into Jean Grey’s body? And, if so, what mutant power would he have? Is that determined based on the body and not the mind? I would think so, which means that powers could be given to any mutant’s mind. 

In addition to this, Hickman then explains the conditional situations in which copying the mind to a husk is acceptable. Sometimes mutants go missing, and they are unsure if the mutant is dead or simply MIA. Should they clone them in this case, and assume they are dead? This is known as the Resurrection Protocol. Hickman writes here, “…because of fears regarding duplication [and other general questions of morality], unless an actual death has been documented, someone believed to be dead cannot be resurrected until their death has been confirmed or they have been undetectable by Cerebro for one month.”

This sets a limit to the amount of mutants there can be, but what if the X-Men didn’t place a limit on duplication? Sure, it says there are general moral concerns over duplication, but what is really wrong with creating clones of people presently alive? Especially if the clones have mutant powers which could aid the X-Men in a potential war or in overcoming an extinction event. How is it any different from the concept of reproduction? What if the consent of the mutants that were being duplicated was obtained, and then they were cloned? Five or ten cyclopses could roam the world, if not hundreds more if Xavier so desired. And if the original Cyclops gives his consent to this, that means the clones would have consented as well since they are him. That is, until their experiences begin to differ, which they will. Maybe one of the clones will have a rebellious teenage tone and yell at Xavier, I didn’t ask to be born!

Last, I want to touch on the five mutants who make the cloning process possible. These five are: Goldballs, Proteus, Elixir, Tempus, and Hope. They are described as cultural paragons on Krakoa, the new island the mutants live on, and where they are building their first civilization in this series. With how much the cloning process relies on each one of these five, it is most likely in the best interest of Xavier and all the mutants to create clones of these five in case one dies. 

Could they leave the mutant in the gestation period and bring them to life if one of them dies? Probably not, because it takes all five to bring about life. But then this leads to the duplication problem. This is explored partially with Proteus, who’s power is reality warping. In the notes, Hickman says that Proteus’ body usually burns out within one week, so they always keep a backup husk for him, which is combined with the genetic material of Charles Xavier.

The only reason they have a backup for Proteus is because they know he dies every week, or even sooner. Since they don’t know when the other mutants may die, they should probably create husks for them as well, so as to ensure the cloning process can always continue. This can prevent the extinction of the mutant race, which is what the mutants have been fighting for for years now. 

One last part to touch on. Hickman brings up the 16 million mutants who died from Genosha, where the Scarlet Witch depowered millions of mutants. Discussing the cloning process, he brings up the potential to restore every single mutant who died back to life through resurrection. He says this would take 300 years at current estimates. The Five can only resurrect about 200 per day now; however, he goes on to explain that this could increase to 6,000 per day as the Five reach their economies of scale. This is the point in production where they work at their most productive due to increases in their skill, efficiency, and resources. The Five have improved drastically since they first started, and they even feel closer to each other as a result of bringing their “children” to life. This is in direct contrast to the impact having children has on married couples, but that’s the topic of another article. 

Back to the point at hand, resurrecting 6,000 mutants a day is unachievable currently because Xavier cannot copy 6,000 minds per day with Cerebro. So, what’s the solution to that? Create copies of Xavier, and more Cerebros, if that’s possible, until all the Xaviers of the world can copy that many minds per day. This is why House of X is so amazing. Hickman gives us just enough information to explain how the world, process, and scientific advancements work, but leaves enough room for our imaginations to wander and consider all the possibilities of what he is implying, as well as how these advancements may be handled differently if they existed in our world. 

So, is the process resurrection or cloning? That’s really up to you. Perhaps it is only resurrection in so long as they only create people that are dead, but as soon as they begin to create copies of people that are still alive, then it becomes cloning. Either way, Hickman is a genius, and I cannot wait for the next issue of Powers of X and House of X. 

Comics

Dead Man Logan: A Worthy Successor to Old Man Logan?

I read Old Man Logan during my first semester away at college. I listened to this album while I read it. In particular, the song fallout, which fit the apocalyptic theme of the story. When I listen to the song now, scenes from Old Man Logan flash through my head. Mainly the gruesome scenes. Wolverine’s claws piercing through his skin, and the full page of the snikt sound effect. Or, him cutting through Bruce Banner’s stomach after being eaten by him. Either way, not only the scene, but the feeling the scene created. After Logan holding out for the entire beginning of the story, he finally unleashes his claws and unleashes Hell.

The story starts off with Wolverine, the man first to jump to violence, has made a pact to never release his claws again. Why did he make that promise to himself? Because the last time he used his claws Mysterio made him believe all of his friends were villains, and he killed the X-Men while under that illusion.

This was the first Wolverine comic I read, but it felt so different from every Wolverine I know, whether it be the X-Men movies, or a video game. It felt dark, in a way Wolverine should be written. Like the Logan movie, being rated R, and showing what his claws can really do to people. Obviously Old Man Logan came first, but the levels of brutality between the two is very similar. The final issue opens up with pools of blood laying around the Hulk’s family that Logan is coming for because they killed his family. I knew this story would be cemented into my memories for a long time after that. 

Since then, Old Man Logan was teleported into the normal Marvel Universe, which I have not bothered to learn the number of because there are a bunch of different ones and I get confused. I know 616 is one of the Marvel Universes, although it may not be one of these particular two, so that’s good enough, right? But, the Old Man Logan stories since he’s been in Marvel stories have been written in more of a PG style. This makes sense because the entire premise of the story isn’t Wolverine murdering his friends. It isn’t an elseworlds tale where the villains decided to finally team-up and win, separating the Earth into their territories.

I wouldn’t expect his stories to be dark in the main universe, and it’s okay that they weren’t. In Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan, the original, the stakes were high because there wouldn’t be consequences that other writers would have to deal with if they were. Mark Millar could kill who he wanted, and he did.

But then Dead Man Logan was announced. Now that OG Wolverine is back, there’s no place for the both of them, one being about fifty years older than the other. So, naturally, they need to get rid of one of them, and it only makes sense, just as the real world works, for the old man to go first. 

Is Dead Man Logan (DML) a worthy successor this story? I believe it is, although I still have my qualms with it. DML is a twelve issue miniseries, with the basic premise that Old Man Logan’s healing factor has weakened due to his age, and now he is dying. On a limited time-span, what will Logan decide to do with his time?

Naturally, his decision involves killing. The first six issues set in the main universe are Logan going after Mysterio, the main perpetrator behind him killing the X-Men, but in doing so, he gives other villains the entire idea of doing what Mysterio did: teaming up and tricking Logan into killing his teammates. Wolverine wants to ensure that what happened in his universe never happens to this universe, and to do so, Mysterio must die. It ends with Logan believing he killed Mysterio, although that was, once again, an illusion. 

The second arc, issues 7-12, which currently had issue eleven just come out, deals with Logan returning to his universe where the heroes lost. Here he reunites with Dani Cage, Luke Cage’s daughter, and Bruce Jr., one of Bruce Banner’s sons, who he rescued as a baby at the end of Old Man Logan. Now Bruce Jr. is a teenager, and it deals with the fallout of people wanting to utilize the Hulk for their own material gain, but also the looming question of whether Logan can raise this Hulk to be different from Bruce, who became a cannibal in the apocalyptic world. 

Now this would be the time for the story to return to its bloody roots. They’re back in the gruesome universe where consequences only matter to the few “Old Man” line of stories left (Old Man Quill and Old Man Hawkeye [which is over by the way]). And Sabretooth makes an appearance at the end of issue seven, saying he is after Wolverine after his seven year disappearance from this universe.

While the story returns to its roots by dealing with Mysterio in the first half, the second half, taking place in the Old Man universe, is lacking in brutality that the original had. Don’t get me wrong, issue seven includes Logan being eaten by cannibals who continually eat just enough of his flesh so he regenerates, and provides them with an unlimited food supply (a truly vile idea for someone with a healing factor). Although it is brutal, the art borders on cartoonish more than realistic. This is likely due to the vibrant colors in DML rather than the dark and brooding ones in Old Man Logan. Also, the art in general is quite different. Mike Henderson, the artist for DML, while great, the art does not have the realistic aspect that Steve McNiven achieves. I still want to give props to Mike Henderson for the great art in DML, and I feel as if I have no right to criticize art since I can’t draw at all, but it is not that Henderson’s art is bad, it is simply different from the style of the original comic, which is okay. 

Despite the lack of brutality, this story is a worthy successor. Some final arcs to comic stories beat around the bush too much, or don’t feel like an end, but this one does. I am expecting the next issue, the final one, to be the death of Old Man Logan, or the end to his story, whatever that may be. I don’t want to spoil what happens at the end of issue eleven, but I hope like me, you are along for the ride with issue twelve. No matter what happens in the next issue, it could be the final time we see Old Man Logan for a long time, so it won’t be an issue you want to miss.

economics

The Irony of using #TrumpRecession

Quick, don’t continue reading. If you continue reading, then chances are you’re going to help cause a recession to happen. Yes, you. So just close the tab, don’t change your spending habits, and ignore any news you see with recession in the title.

Oh, hello there. You decided to continue. Thank you, I’m honored. Here, I’ll explain the stupidity of the current hashtag, TrumpRecession, which is trending on Twitter, along with why recessions are caused by the self-fulfilling prophecy. But first, before we get there, let’s take a trip back to the 1920’s.

Ah, the roaring 20’s. I wonder if we’ll have that again for the next decade. The roaring 20’s actually just ended with where we are. The depression has just hit, and just as all your friends are doing, you are going to rush to the bank before it closes, because if the bank fails and closes, then you’ll lose all your money. You have every incentive in the world to go to the bank. Either you wait on line and don’t make it in time, or you don’t and the bank still closes, because you know everybody else is rushing to the bank. 

This represents a classical prisoner’s dilemma, although the problem here is scaled up and includes more than two people. What I mean by a prisoner’s dilemma is that the optimal outcome can only be reached if everyone works together, but everyone has an incentive to defect, thereby ensuring that the worst outcome, bank failures, occurs. This means people defect and go to the bank to try to ensure they get their money, making it close, and the non-defectors lose their money, ruining the economy.

Bank runs exacerbated the problem of the great depression tremendously. Now, we have the FDIC to insure the money we have in banks up to a certain amount. So, how does this relate to today?

Well, there is a new trending hashtag on twitter, #TrumpRecession, which, regardless of your opinion on the president, only serves to harm the economy. This is done through the self-fulfilling prophecy, which the economy is extremely susceptible to. This prophecy is when the adoption of a belief in turn affects a person’s behavior to make that belief a reality. 

Here’s an example which has more to do with psychology, the root of the term: I believe nobody is going to read this article, so I write an example about the self-fulfilling prophecy in it that includes this belief of mine, and when people see this, they think, wow, that guy is insecure, so they don’t read my future articles. 

The economy works in much the same way because it depends on individual’s behavior. If people expect the economy to plummet, as some do now due to an inverted yield curve, which is a common sign of a coming recession, then people will save more money, not invest, withdraw their money from the stock market, etc. This in turn slows the economy down even further, causing a recession. 

It works in the opposite direction as well. If people believe the economy will do well, then they’ll spend more, and the economy will do better. That’s why I told you to close the article before reading this. Although I am trying to dispel the false beliefs that a recession is coming, by merely talking about the subject and mentioning it, people will spend less, and cause a recession. 

This study examined if messages about a coming recession changed people’s behavior. The way the researchers tested this was through having participants blow up a balloon. The larger the balloon, the more value it has, but the more likely it is to pop, resulting in the participant having nothing. The researchers hypothesized that if the participants receive a message about the possibility of a coming recession then they will be more risk averse, inflating the balloon less. They also tested how participants responded to positive messages.

Just to emphasize, the messages only brought up the possibility the economy going south. They didn’t definitively state that the economy would go one way or the other. 

The results show us how truly irrational people are. Not only did participants change how much they inflated a balloon based on the message, but they also responded more greatly to the negative message. This makes sense due to the principle of loss aversion, which says that people feel worse when they lose $20 than if they were to win $20.

What are the implications of this study? If we are currently receiving messages about a coming recession, we will spend less and be more risk averse, hurting the economy, but also, we will hurt the economy more this way than if we see a positive message next week. So it’s not so easy to quell fears and doubts citizens may be having. 

Right now there’s a trending hashtag about a coming recession, and of course everyone wants a scapegoat. Trump blames the Federal Reserve Bank, who he appointed the head of, by the way, and democrats, among others, blame Trump and his trade war. Right now, it is probably too soon to tell if there is a singular cause. 

What we know for certain is that the hashtag is doing damage to the economy as people cut their spending, so please just stop using it. Stop talking about it. Stop looking for a scapegoat. Just stop.

Video Games

Open World Games at E3

I just got through my first playthrough of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and by the end of the game I was ready to give it up. I lost all hope of defeating the final boss after the hours it took me of trying to defeat only Genichiro. My gaming skills aside, Sekiro is a game on the cusp of being open world, and open world games are one of the best types of game.

The first open world game I ever played was Grand Theft Auto, and I was most likely way too young to be playing it. Then I played Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, and after that, I don’t even know. So many of them are among my favorite games. Dark Souls, Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City. I could list probably eight or so more, but there’s no point. Open world games used to be a like a prestigious steak. A rare sight in the gaming community, and when I stumbled upon one, I would take my time with it. Do the side quests. Immerse myself in the world the creators crafted for me. And as the final boss crept closer and closer I wouldn’t want to fight them and leave where I’ve spent the last day, week, or even months. 

Now, most of the games I play are open world. With the Playstation Days of Play sale, I bought four games. Dark Souls 3, The Witcher 3, Horizon Zero Dawn, and God of War for the PS4. All of these are open world, if you’re unfamiliar with them. Some of these games are a year or two old, but they aren’t the only open world games. Many more are on the horizon.

E3 revealed Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2, Borderlands 3, Cyberpunk 2077, and Elden Ring. I haven’t played the first Breath of the Wild, but I’ve heard that it is the ultimate open world killer because it utilizes the ability to travel anywhere in such a genius way.

With E3 this past week, and the absurd amount of open world games announced, I want to ask the question, why are open world games so popular, and should we go back to gaming before open world?

What is an open world game? Wikipedia defines them as: “an open world is a virtual world in which the player can explore and approach objectives freely, as opposed to a world with more linear gameplay. While games have used open-world designs since the 1980s, the implementation in Grand Theft Auto III (2001) set a standard that has been used since.”

Put more simply, open world allows players to have options. You can choose to either do forty side quests before even talking to the person who will take you on the main quest, or you can do the main quest and then do side quests. The ability to choose what to do in a game makes every player’s experience unique. When my brother played Skyrim he did the main quest and unlocked the Dragon Shouts much earlier than I did. When I started, I walked all the way to Riften on the other side of the map because I didn’t know quick travel was a thing. 

And the great part about choosing what to do in games like these is that having more options isn’t a bad thing. The paradox of choice  applies when one choice, such as choosing an item of food on the menu at a restaurant, leads to the inability to select another choice. This means if there are only three options on the menu, then you may be happier than if you had to choose between 250. Obviously, The Cheesecake Factory does not believe in the paradox of choice, and studies have been incapable of replicating the results of the paradox, so it may not be true, but the theory still exists. People spend more time thinking about what they didn’t select than being happy about what they did select.

All that being said, in open world games, one option usually does not prevent the player from doing a different side quest. There might be an option within the quests, or the option to become a vampire, but this won’t lock certain quests off. Also, you know, the fact that this isn’t real life and your options won’t have an impact on your future, unless you’re playing Heavy Rain that is.

Another reason open world games are so sought after is that when you buy one you know you’re getting a good bang for your buck. Even if you just do the main story in Sekiro, that will probably take about thirty hours, but if you want to beat every boss and complete some side quests, it may err more on the side of sixty hours. For a sixty dollar game, that’s a steal. As Dunkey would say, “That’s a masterpiece for your wallet.”

With all these open world games, what makes one game better than another? Besides what games are usually ranked by, such as plot, or combat systems, there are certain things only open world games have that can be ranked. 

Assassin’s Creed is, in my opinion, a bad example of an open world game. At least the newer versions are. AC2 is one of my favorite games, but playing Black Flag made me lose all interest in the series. Sure, I can go anywhere I want, but the side quests are just grinding. Hunt and kill this guy. Blend in and follow someone. Deliver this letter in a certain amount of time. There’s nothing gained from doing these side quests. No deeper understanding of the world, no complex storyline or character development, whether it be for the protagonist or the character who gives you the quest.

In Skyrim, a lot of side quests start out with a mystery. Figure out why people are going missing in a cave. Or, the side quests are a long line of quests if they’re part of a guild, such as the thieves guild. And at the end of these quests, you feel like you have accomplished something. You become the leader of a group of assassins. You get the Grey Fox mask, allowing you to become the legendary Grey Fox when you steal items.

More than fulfilling side quests, exploring the world needs to feel important. When I walked all the way to Riften at the beginning of Skyrim, I had no quest to complete. I simply heard that town was where the introduction to the thieves guild took place. So I walked, tried to get my horse to climb a mountain which worked some times, ran into enemies I was not ready to fight, and Discovered Dragon Shouts even though I hadn’t unlocked them yet. I had no purpose in Skyrim or in life, but traversing the terrain, slaying monsters, picking up new weapons, and leveling up kept me going. Exploring the world was interactive and engaging, unlike Assassin’s Creed where I would go on a horse and gallop to the next city over, without upgrading my character at all along the way or learning anything about the world my character is in.

So freedom, exploration, and meaningful side quests are all integral to an open world game. With the success of many past open world games, it seems like today more and more games are adopting this strategy. But is it necessary? Does it make sense to have an open world Mario game? 

Pretty much any franchise can pull this strategy off. Breath of the Wild is one of the best open world games, and previous iterations of Zelda were not open world. As I mentioned earlier about many games at E3 being open world, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means I’m never going to complete any other goals of mine once I start these games. 

I can’t comment on these games from E3 since they haven’t been released yet, but if they don’t fully utilize what can be done in an open world game, then maybe it is time to go back to the simpler ways of past games, where there are levels, or a clear plot and path to progress through, rather than introducing incomplete plots which only take away from the main story. 

Uncategorized

Why I disagree with the backlash for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones

Full spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 Below. You have been warned.

Where do we even start with this Game of Thrones episode? The absolute sense of dread at the beginning? The characters who survived? The ending with Arya? No matter what point I choose, there are parts of this episode some viewers felt disappointed with. I’d like to address the disappointment that many fans feel after that episode, one which I personally loved.

First, why are fans disappointed after an episode that is an hour long battle? There are basically three reasons. I’m not here to say that these reasons are without merit. I want to explain why I, personally, disagree with them, even though they may be fair criticisms.

 

  1. Not enough people died.

 

Game of thrones has set up the precedent in previous seasons that they are not afraid to kill important characters, and this episode left most of the main characters alive. This is one of the few shows where the characters don’t have plot armor because there is really no main character. Daenerys and Jon both survived, along with Arya, Tyrion, Jaime, Sansa, and Bran.

The difference between GoT’s past and this episode is that those past deaths occur in an unexpected situation. Ned, the main character of the first season, bending a knee to the queen and then getting executed. Oberyn somehow defeating the mountain, but then his cockiness and self-confidence gets the better of him and the mountain gets an edge and kills him.

A battle like this is an expected situation for deaths, so their deaths aren’t as meaningful or impactful if they do die. I can’t speak for GRRM, but I imagine Ned’s and Oberyn’s deaths were more symbolic than Jon or Daenerys dying against the Night King. Oberyn shows us not to brag in a life or death situation, and to wear a damn helmet. And Oberyn’s defeat not only was his defeat, but then the set execution of Tyrion Lannister.

A character dying in this episode against the horde of undead, unless it is in a sacrificial role (see: Theon, Jorah, Edd, Beric) is a meaningless death. And all of the deaths in the show prior have had some sort of meaning to them. It’s literature. Everything happens for a reason, right? Or we give it the meaning we want to. Am I talking about literature or life?

Back to GoT, what the show has set up is that just because the good guys are the good guys in our eyes, that doesn’t mean they will win. So we went into this episode expecting the good guys to lose. When the dead started charging Winterfell in the hordes piling on top of each other, it seemed lost from there. It seemed lost when the Night King killed Theon and walked up to Bran. We expected this episode to end with loss or retreat, but they defied our expectations again by most of the characters surviving. Even more so with Arya and not Jon killing the Night King.

When expectations are defied, it’s reasonable to be upset. What I don’t think is reasonable is being more upset by this episode than by The Red Wedding or The Mountain and The Viper episodes. Both episodes had unexpected moments in them, the only thing that’s different about this one is that the show is now in its end game, and when people are upset, there is no way for the writers of the show to rectify it because it will all be over. And everyone wants the ending to be perfect. People don’t get what they want with GoT though, especially not when they’ve been crafting theories. Which brings me to my next point.

 

      2. End of all the theories.

 

If you search online about Game of Thrones, frequent the Game of Thrones subreddit, or go on any forum, then you’ve read a theory or two about the show. They’re fun to read. With an open enough mind, most of these theories are half the fun of the show. I mean, when you have to wait a week between episodes, a year between seasons, what else is there to do, besides speculate? Some of these are about what the Night King’s motivations are. Is he a past heir to Winterfell? Is Bran the Night King? Others are extremely in depth. Is Bran the infamous Bran the Builder from 8,000 years ago through some time travel trickery?

That’s not even discussing the background to the Azor Ahai prophecy. A prophecy that states more or less that a character will stab one of their loved ones to craft lightbringer, the blade that will kill the Night King. That fell through completely in this episode.

And when none of these theories are confirmed, and all shutdown in a single episode, it’s bound to leave some fans disappointed. Do I wish there was more to the Night King? Maybe an entire episode of back story to him? Yes, I do. I actually wish the episode ended with him walking up to Bran, giving his signature smirk, and saying hello, rather than Arya killing him. Because this was the grand threat of the entire show, and now it’s gone. In one episode.

I’m also going to discuss spoilers for True Detective Season 3 here. The third season was considered by many to be a let down. The ending was much more straightforward than we thought. Seven episodes built up to the end, giving us tiny scraps of information to go off of. There were theories on the subreddit about Rust and Marty coming back and helping solve the case. There were somehow more theories about Roland potentially having an affair with Tom. None of these were true, and the answer was much simpler than anticipated.

So what do we learn from True Detective and GoT? Sometimes the answer is much simpler than we think it will be. Most of the time it is, within TV shows and outside of them.

Right now, there are two posts on the GoT subreddit. One explains why the Night King was a mistake to be in the show and used as a failsafe button to end the white walkers. You can read the points laid out on the post, but to say the Night King was a mistake is in my opinion ridiculous. They say D&D (the writers of the show) focused too much on the Night King after the audience liked him in season four, but then had to get rid of him in this episode. If they focused too much on him, they wouldn’t have ended him where they did. Or, another complaint, is that he was used too little to be built up for eight seasons. So which one is it? Used too little, or used too much to make fans happy? I’m not sure. People can have different opinions, but when these opinions are based on incoherency, I disagree with it.

The other post explains exactly how the Night King death surprised us, just as past deaths have surprised us. A character that is overly confident meeting their end to something they thought couldn’t touch them. In this case, Arya. The Night King always thought it would be Jon, as did we. But it was not. And with it not being Jon, the theories about Jon being Azor Ahai, or even Jon being Lightbringer, and Rhaegar being Azor Ahai, are laid to rest. People given too much time to think on a show leads to this. It’s not anyone’s fault and it sucks. But it definitely doesn’t justify criticism to the writers because viewers crafted insane theories about their show.

The next point is more of an extension of this part, but more specific to letdowns people experience.

 

      3. What about the Night King?

 

It seemed all but destined for Jon to duel the Night King in an epic final battle. Hardhome alluded to that. Jon being raised from the dead alluded to that. The signs were everywhere. And it almost happened, until the Night King raised the dead and just left Jon to fight them instead. Now the Night King’s dead and there isn’t going to be an epic duel.

That definitely would have been epic. But once again, our expectations have been defied. Instead of a duel, the Night King is assassinated by Arya. I think perhaps this is the most GRRM moment in the entire show. And by GRRM moment I mean goes against the typical cliche.

All of GoT is built on building up a cliche, and then tearing it down. Once again, Ned, the honorable man, gets executed. He doesn’t get an epic final battle. That’s not how the world works for GRRM. The tropes are purposely put there to lay them to rest. I just about expected the Night King to win.

There are definitely cliches in GoT. Daenerys’ story arc is one. Princess rises from ashes, literally. C’mon. When half the cliches end in unexpected deaths, and the other half come true, we don’t know what to expect. This uncertainty is pretty much what made Game of Thrones such a great show, and the uncertainty in this episode, even though many characters survived, still surprised nearly everyone.

It is sad we didn’t learn anything more about the Night King. But this isn’t the first time we’re seeing the Night King, so people need to stop acting like the biggest threat of the show was thrown away in one episode.

We had Hardhome. We had him going after Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven. We had the battle beyond the wall where he killed a dragon. It would’ve been nice to get more background to him, but if he survived, and the next few episodes were more battles with the undead, I think viewers would’ve got sick of that too.

I think the Night King was utilized quite amazingly. The fear instilled in me during that episode as he walks up to Bran. Or as he walks away from Jon, or survives the dragon fire was unlike a fear on any other show. It wasn’t a jump scare, or a visceral fear that made me scream. Instead, I felt dread. An absolute sense of dread overtook me, because I really believed Bran would die, Jon would die, and they would lose.

People are allowed to have different opinions. That’s fine. I think casual viewers, ones that don’t frequent forums, or read the books, probably really loved this episode. And from that it follows that the dedication and effort put into this show by some is what causes them to dislike this recent episode. Their expectations are too high. With millions of viewers, some will be disappointed no matter what end the show takes.

But the thing is, we aren’t even at the end yet. There are three more episodes. So before you decide that the ending of GoT sucked, or jump to any hasty conclusions, please wait off until you’ve seen the final three episodes. That’s only fair to see the whole picture and if any problems you had with this most recent episode are explained in the next episodes.

Reviews

Why Do We Play Old Games?

Why do we play old games? Is it for the nostalgia? To remind us of a time when we were happier, able to immerse ourselves in a fictional world? Will we romanticize the past like this, regardless of how happy we actually were? A question for another time. There are many games from my childhood which I have revisited and played, not because they were remastered, just because they were that much fun to play. Among these are: Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, Dynasty Warriors 5, Megaman X4, Megaman X5, and Warcraft 3. I can tell you right off the bat, some of these games aged much better than  others. Megaman X4 and X5 are still masterpieces. Nothing can touch the mantle they hang on. 

This is because they are sidescrollers. Their graphics hold a more nostalgic vibe to them, than the outdated graphics of SA2 Battle, or other various 3D games released for the Playstation One or Gamecube. Megaman X7 or X8 would age worse than X4 or X5 because they are in 3D so controls for these games have changed drastically since their first releases and have improved in the past two decades.

Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the other hand has not aged well. I asked my brother why SA2 Battle didn’t age well, and he said, “Because the game was never actually good. It was just a really crappy platformer that we enjoyed because we knew the characters. If you want to play a game that aged well, play Super Mario Sunshine.” Well, alright, Danny. 

As for my opinion about why SA2 didn’t age well, there are a few reasons. In the game throughout the main story you play as Sonic, Knuckles, or Tails in levels on the good side. For the dark side, you play as Shadow, Rouge, or Dr. Eggman. For the most part, the Sonic, Shadow, Rouge and Knuckles levels are fun. But then there are the Tails and Dr. Eggman levels, which are about ⅓ of the game’s main story, and all you do in these levels is press B and walk around. They had very little interaction. 

In the racing levels for Tails and Dr. Eggman, the controls are wonky. The cars will barely turn when you want them to. Despite this, these levels still aren’t difficult to beat. 

Now, Resident Evil 2 is a game I never played when it originally came out. Therefore I will receive no nostalgia playing the remastered version. Instead, I hope to deepen my love for the RE series, and see Leon’s origin, and the origin of Racoon City’s downfall. 

I started playing the Resident Evil series with RE4, then I played 5, and that is it. RE4 was one of my favorite games, and the RE2 remake is rated very highly on many different websites. So, I decided to buy it, thinking it would be extremely similar to RE4. I realize now, in looking at the genres of these two games, RE2 is a survival horror, and RE4 is a survival horror, and an action-adventure shooter game. Those may sound very similar, but the difference is the conservation of resources necessary in RE2, and more realism in a zombie apocalypse, a trait some people value. I, on the other hand, prefer the unrealistic possibility of zombies dropping ammunition.

This is my main issue with RE2. To kill a zombie, on average it takes three headshots with the pistol. Then, in what appears to be random, some of the zombies you kill will crawl and attack you, requiring another shot, or they may just stand up again, requiring three more shots. Headshots feel unreliable, as I am unsure whether headshots kill zombie in fewer shots. If three headshots kill a zombie, how many non-headshots does it take? Often, I find myself running from one or two zombies simply because I don’t want to waste the ammo I may need for a future boss fight. That isn’t inherently bad since this is a survival-horror game, but it gets to a point where I have to run from every zombie, every licker, and Mr. X who doesn’t stop chasing you til you get out of the area. 

Obviously, I should have actually read a full review for the game, instead of scrolling down IGN’s review and basing my purchase off of the final score the game received. I’ve also looked into how the original RE2 plays, so I’m sure this version is a massive improvement from a slow black screen appearing whenever you open a door. 

Basically, I don’t understand how this game which is a remake continues winning game of the year awards in a year when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Disco Elysium, as well as Control were all released. I didn’t play the entire game, I would say I have about ten hours in it, but the only way I could see this game being rated so highly is if rather than comparing Resident Evil 2 Remastered to the other games that came out this year, is if the comparison drawn are instead between RE2 Remastered and the original RE2. 

Onto my actual review for it. One reviewer said the best part of the game is back-tracking, but that is my least favorite part. I hate going back to old areas where the loot is mostly already picked up, except for some safes or lockers which need a code to be opened. The puzzles feel half-baked. They remind me of the ‘puzzles’ in Skyrim where there will be four different animals on three stones, and you need to rotate all of them into the correct order, and two of them will be right in front of you, and to find the third you have to look across the room and it is laying on the floor somewhere. 

One of the puzzles in this, when you’re opening the lock to your desk, is to input the initials of all the other officers you work with. A few of the nametags are still on the desks, but then one or two are on the floor by their desks. Is that a puzzle, or just looking for the information, like I’m taking an open-note test and it’s just a matter of time until I find the page in my notes with the correct answer, rather than actually working out the answer to the problem by myself. On that front, the game fails. 

Backtracking, if rewarding, can feel good. In this game, at least for me, it does not. Between either finding a key to open a door in the room you are currently in, versus finding a key which opens a door to a room in another area/room, I prefer the latter, but I would prefer no keys at all if possible. Sure, safes could exist for secret items/weapons to later get in the game, but when four in the police precinct go unopened, I’m going to search each room extra hard, only to figure out the codes are found later in the game. Only a half hour and more ammo wasted.

I don’t see how some people may enjoy the conserving aspect of the game. I don’t remember playing RE4 over ten years ago, but there could be a sweet spot between that and this game, where zombies drop some ammo, but not enough where you can be Krombopulous Michael, muttering to yourself, “Here I go killing again” everytime you see a zombie, like I’m pretty sure I did in RE4. Maybe you conserve in case a boss fight is coming up. 

Mr. X, the man in a black overcoat and hat, I mistakenly thought was a boss, so I unloaded ammo into him until he fell to his knees, then continued shooting him, only for him to get back up. At that point I searched the internet to see if I could kill him, and found out I could not. Should I load my game to get back the ammo I used, and have to redo twenty minutes or more of gameplay, or should bosses have healthbars, and if Mr. X did not, then I would run and not waste my ammo? There are simply solutions to the frustrating parts of the game, but they are not implemented.

Dying after not saving for twenty plus minutes sucks because now you have to redo everything you just did. Running to get a key, running back to the door it unlocks. Avoiding the zombies along the way. It all feels like I am just a weakling in a zombie apocalypse, and it feels more like I’m playing Outlast than a Resident Evil game, but that is more so my fault since the first game I played is Resident Evil 4. This game simply isn’t for me. I’m sure others may enjoy it, and I am happy for you, but I am not happy.

I currently stopped playing the game in the sewers after playing as Ada for the first time and now playing as Leon again. There are these gigantic monsters which come out of the water and grab you, and if you don’t have a grenade they auto-kill you, or poison you for the first time in the game, making the blue herbs finally useful. Too bad I put all of mine in the chest by a savepoint because they’ve been useless for the first eight hours of the game, so now I need to go back there to get one. Then, I go back to the area, realize I have no grenades to escape the monster’s clutches, but I need to get by them, so I use all my ammo in my shotgun to kill two of them. Too bad there are another two after them I need to attempt to run past, and now I’m out of ammo.

In zombie apocalypse scenarios, whether it be The Walking Dead, or Resident Evil, I view every zombie death as if there were some grand clock-like contraption, with the number of zombies in the world displayed on it, and it goes down each time a zombie is killed. Best case scenario in a zombie apocalypse is developing a cure and mass producing it, then somehow getting it to all the zombies, perhaps by dropping it into the air. Worst case scenario: killing every zombie so humans can now walk around the world without fearing for their lives, and deaths, to be a mindless servant to the dead.

In RE2, I cannot kill zombies and make this counter go down. There most likely isn’t a cure, and Raccoon City ends up being bombed at the end to prevent the spread of the outbreak. I know how this game ends, but now how Leon or Claire factor into this. That is why I came to this game. For the story. But the gameplay has made me quit. 

That isn’t to say all is bad in RE2. The visuals are amazing. The graphics for the cutscenes and during gameplay are great. But that is just about all the good I have to say about it. If this is the direction survival horror is headed in, that will be a step up from past survival horror games, but a step down from RE4.

We each play old games for our own reasons. Maybe you play the remake because it has been fifteen years since you played the original, and it’s for nostalgia, but for me, it is my first experience with this game, which is supposedly improved, and I have to say, if this is improved, then maybe this game should never have been remastered at all. Save the remasters for the true gems from a decade or two ago, like The Legend of Dragoon.

Uncategorized

Berserker Unbound: Can Art Carry a Comic’s Story?

Berserker Unbound, written by Jeff Lemire with art done by Mike Deodato follows a barbarian character, think of Conan, who turns up in the present day. The cover of the first issue shows the Berserker in the middle of a street with cars swerving to avoid him, but the story is less about him trying to survive in the city, and more about him trying to get home while living in the woods. 

A homeless man, who will from here on out be referred to as the stranger, brings Berserker to his camp in the woods, and from there they become friends, despite not speaking the same language. Both of these men have lost their family; Berserker to the runemaster who destroyed his village, and the stranger to a car accident. 

The story ends with the Berserker taking a portal home, but as he enters, the stranger realizes that he has nothing left in this world, or at least, that’s how he perceives it at this time, when he says, “Let’s go, buddy. Before I realize what it is I’m doing here.”

The trope of man from another world in a big city has been done so many times. I immediately think of the first Thor movie, and him throwing down his mug and asking for another. It creates a cultural clash, and is humorous, but also way overdone at this point in entertainment. Thor, Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, and that’s all I can think of right now, but those are two movies set within the same larger universe, so it feels overdone recently.

Luckily, they don’t go down the classic route, and instead focus on creating a relationship between the two characters in this. 

Yes, the art by Deodato in this comic is absolutely breathtaking. While Jeff Lemire stands as my favorite comic writer, whenever he writes a story for a DC or Marvel owned character rather than an original character of his own, it seems like he struggles. No longer can he weave familial bonds between characters, and tell stories solely with the way he draws their eyes.

He attempts to craft his infamous bond in Berserker Unbound, in the form of a friendship between the Berserker and a man on Earth, leaving the family part quite literally in the ashes.

While Lemire’s works by the big two (Justice League Dark, Green Arrow, some of Old Man Logan, Moon Knight) I have generally enjoyed, they do not hold a special place in my heart like Essex County will, or Descender, or Gideon Falls. This comic is published by Dark Horse, so while not quite the big two, it makes its way into a scale I have created solely for Lemire. This scale has Teen Titans Earth One at the bottom as worst, and Essex County, Roughneck, Gideon Falls, and Royal City at the top. I would put Berserker Unbound, which seemed to lag in issues two and three with very little happening, but wrapping up with a beautiful end, above the big two works, but behind his more original writings. 

I know that’s how this post should end, but there is so much to say about the content within the four issues, mainly due to the stellar art, and I haven’t even arrived at the central question. Can art carry a comic’s story? 

I would argue yes, it can. In Tom King’s Batman run, he often relies on the artist to draw entire pages with no text. Nearly every artist that has come onto his Batman run is world-class. Clay Mann, Jason Fabok, Mitch Gerads. He gives them the freedom to tell a story in a single page, and he melds it into his larger story. The same case applies here to Lemire and Deodato’s partnership. While I enjoyed the art in the first three issues, in the fourth Deodato really gets his chance to shine, and somehow the pages of a sun setting over the Berserker and the stranger enhance the feelings of loss and friendship. Walking into an unknown world and finding one’s way. 

There are cases of “silent” issues in comics, where the issue contains no text at all. Tom King did one of these, and there are other famous ones as well, such as Amazing Spider-Man v2 #36. Berserker Unbound is far from a silent comic, but the art does wonders in telling a story which doesn’t appear in words.

Now, if the writing in a comic were terrible enough, then no level of art could save it. That’s a given. Lemire’s writing isn’t bad here, but it does feel lacking in substance, with not a lot occurring in the story. So yes, art can carry a comic’s story, up to a certain degree, and it does so here.

All that being said, for this comic, the story leaves me hoping Lemire and Deodato return to this universe, and continue writing an expertly welded friendship between two men in a dark place. Perhaps Berserker trains the stranger in the use of magic, or how to properly use a sword, and the stranger could teach Berserker about technology, or getting milk from cows, or something else that I’m not really sure because I don’t exactly know what does and does not exist in the Berserker’s world. Maybe this includes flashbacks into the Berserker’s days as a warrior in the past, and all the horrors he witnessed on the fields of battle. If there’s anyone who can pull off a story about loss and death, it’s Jeff Lemire.