A Stereo for Every Type

(This ramble was written in response to a Medium post, “Have You Encountered the Softboy?“)

In social media and blogs online, there are stereotypes for virtually every type of person. Rather than individual characters in a story, they are instead caricatures that symbolically represent a type of gross logical reductionism. This phenomenon is particularly rampant in social media, where one bad opinion of a person can transform to represent everything about that person as a whole. It’s easy to forget whether there was ever anything good about a person at all.

There’s Bill the Brogrammer, who talks up his sex game as he hammers together a Ruby on Rails application. Perhaps he looks up women’s skirts at work and wears sweatpants all day long. There’s Philip the Fuckboy, who breaks your heart and never returns your calls. He’s out every night with a new woman, and plotting on hooking up with every girl in a circle of friends. There’s Stephen the Softboy, who leverages his sensitivity as a weapon to play with women’s emotions, and pretends to be an Ally. Because of course, how could he really ever be an Ally to any group or cause?

Of course they can’t. They’re all bros!

None of these people are real human beings. They are archetypes; abstractions that tie together human behaviors into allegories that all pretty much say the same thing: there are awful people in this world, they will use you, and you cannot trust them. Usually, they are men. Sometimes, they are women. If you’re reading a particularly conservative publication, they can even be queer or transgender.

The problem is simple: in the mind of the reader, these archetypes can override representations for real people while reducing them to the most black-and-white interpretation possible. No longer is a person just a person, no, every part of their presentation is part of a calculating sham to get the pants off of the opposite sex. Or the same sex, depending on narrative. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. With these characters, no element can be verified to be genuine. They have no real interests or passions other than breaking hearts, getting drunk, and using people.

Suddenly, an individual’s sociopolitical philosophy simply may not be what it is presented as. Maybe this person just goes to rallies to hook up with white skinny stoner girls that have dreadlocks. Forget what the sex-positivist side of Tumblr tells you, apparently having sexuality as a subset of one’s motivations for anything is wrong, wrong, wrong. Hell, maybe that’s a man’s only motivation to do anything in the first place.

“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” — Oscar Wilde

Maybe the art that they produce is little more than uncreative doodling posing as sophistication. Perhaps their music collection is little more than a series of popular selections specifically engineered to appeal to as many human beings as possible. Did this poseur even read Marx’s Das Kapital? Doeshe even read books at all? Every element is brought into question.

The irony here, of course, is that such a mindset devalues many aspects of an individual’s humanity. If we are to be truly progressive in breaking down barriers between people, then we have to admit that the human persona is more than two-dimensional. It is complex, and not always a manufactured package.

Yes, some people out there are terrible. But it’s much harder to derive enjoyment in human interaction if we are to assume that all people are completely self-centered sociopaths.

Fuck the Plastic Medicine Men

A couple of quantum woo sites like Collective Evolution and Spirit Science are now in the business of creating inspirational memes with their branding plastered on it. My unsuspecting friends are spreading their brand like a virus all over Facebook. Personally, I view this as a very bad thing. Conflating motivational ideas with brand identity through social media is kind of fucked up.

I already don’t like the practice of doing this because it gives the impression of sharing nuggets of feel-good wisdom when really it’s just about conversion rates and getting new visitors and followers. It frustrates me to no end.

I dislike sites like CE and SS because the content they produce is inherently ignorant. They will tell people any bullshit that they want to hear in the interest of creating clicks and likes. It’s like reading a scientific journal from a bizarro universe where making shit up is all any scientist needs to get published. Got a brain tumor that’s going to kill you in a few months? No worries, just ingest a ton of cannabis oil, that will totally work! Be sure to use Reiki to balance out your energy levels, and remember that disease and pain are only byproducts of the mind! Be sure to buy special supplements to open your third eye so that you can astral project. Vaccines are the devil, and mermaids are totally real.

These people are just an updated version of the Snake Oil Salesmen of the Old West. They prey on legitimate criticisms of modern living, pharmaceutical corporations, GMO testing, and conflate it with their own special brand of bullshit.

Swipe Left, Swipe Right

Stark naked with a reeling brain, I aimlessly peered into a glowing square in my hand. Two pictures of people lined up side-by-side. My heart was hurting, and I hated myself. I stared into a face, and looked at the sum of her parts. It’s easily the most popular game on any mobile device.

I swiped left, and a person tumbled away to die both in my hard drive and in my heart. Her nose was too small. Her eyes were too wide apart. I couldn’t commit.

Two new pieces of meat showed up for me to inspect. One was an effeminate man who I think might look good in drag, the other a lady with green hair and tattoos.

Deep down, I hoped with every fiber of my being that the rocker girl would swipe me the same way I swiped her. Maybe a deep romance would take hold and give my empty existence meaning. Or maybe we’d meet once to fulfill physical urges. It’s difficult to assume too much so early on.

Maybe she would never talk to me at all. I think so much about sex sometimes that it has somehow served as a crude replacement for actually having it. How are you supposed to be yourself around someone when being around them arouses you and brings out emotional thoughts and feelings?

I swiped right again. The ability to be yourself can become impaired. To succeed at this stage would only mean that I give myself freely to a series of awkward rituals where I’m not sure that I like a person, and I’m not so sure that they like me, either.

I’ve long considered myself to be bad at talking to people I’m attracted to. The idea of something bad happening feels worse than the actual event itself. Panic throws a wrench into everything, and renders a person incapable of doing anything, at least for a while.

This one has kids. Four of them. Swipe left. It’s as if the act of going through this cycle is sparking a small outlet in my pleasure center; the what-ifs tingle across my nervous system in anticipation.

I cry, and bury my head in my hands. It is likely that I will never have sex again. More importantly, it feels like I don’t deserve to be close to anyone at all. In my own mind, I’m the lowest form of trash and everything is charity born out of pity. I am the fattest, stupidest, poorest, most ugly version of myself in all possible worlds. But not really.

I check Tinder. No matches. I check OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, and MeetMe. No messages to speak of. I might get some replies if I sent any, but how do you introduce yourself to a complete stranger based on a few pictures and a tiny blurb? Hi, you’re cute? Anything in the wrong tone sounds creepy or overly generic, and I don’t have the patience to craft paragraphs for rejection slips unless they’re from publishing houses.

But the pond of the area around me has dried up for now. I turn off my phone, and go to bed in frustration. Tomorrow, another day will show itself, and the lure of opportunity will pull me back to the screen once more.

The Great Regurgitation

I used to be a fan of remakes. Thinking back now, perhaps it’s something of a guilty pleasure; in a way my younger self would have celebrated some of the recent events surrounding all of the movies and games that have been reinvented. Needless to say, my opinion has taken a turn for the worse. Before I can fully explain myself, let me back up for a moment to provide a clearer picture.

The year was 1992, and at the time, the PC gaming industry was booming. A few of the titans of the day were Sierra On-Line, LucasArts, and Interplay, and at the time, point-and-click adventure games were hot stuff. My mom used to work at a local Babbage’s back then, in an era where bulky game boxes were filled with floppy disks, manuals, and extras. Often, what shipped in game boxes back then would only be included in a so-called “Limited Collector’s Edition” now.

Babbage’s in the Early 90’s.

There was always something wonderful about having the newest Quest for Glory or King’s Quest brought home. For me, personally, Sierra’s adventure titles proved for some formative gaming memories, and largely have inspired how I’ve approached game and plot development myself. Something about these games resonated deep within me.

The Quest for Glory series in particular was incredible. At the time, it was also unique in the fact that you could export your stats and character sheet from one game to be imported into the next.

Part I: The Golden Age of Remakes and Fan Games

I wasn’t alone, either. Many other people were inspired by these games, and in the early 2000’s, many enterprising indie game developers came together in online communities to create fan remakes of properties that Sierra and LucasArts would likely never touch again. Off of the top of my head, in 2002 alone, there were more Sierra fan-games in development than anyone could possibly count.

The Quest for Glory 2 fan remake incorporates the updated graphics and gameplay of some of the later titles in the series. Interestingly enough, the character import/export functionality was carefully reverse-engineered by the remake’s developers. You can now play your hero through the entire series with this game.

What defines a fan game, exactly? They can be classified under two distinctive categories:

  1. A remake of an existing title, with the goal of providing updated gameplay, graphics, story, and animation. Many remakes tried to emulate later titles in a series by updating graphics to fit in with a particular graphical style.
  2. An original extension of a story universe. Characters from a popular series could be featured in a completely original story, with new puzzles, quests, plots, graphics, and animations.
Space Quest 0: Replicated is one such example of the latter category. It’s also unique in the fact that instead of updating graphics to look more modern, it actually purposely moved graphics in the opposite direction to give the impression that it was a vintage title.

Many people might wonder why anyone would want to make games based off of something a company had already made, but the answer is obvious. People loved these games for their imaginative story universes, which were rife with character. Many companies such as Sierra and LucasArts went on to abandon these titles and properties, moving on to instead capitalize on first-person shooters and action titles that were rising in popularity in the late 90’s. Loose ends in plots remained untangled, and many titles remained in the prehistoric era of EGA graphics and used an old school text parser for getting the player through the game.

Needless to say, many of the remakes and fan games that actually got finished were great. They were labors of love, and the idea that a group of volunteers could develop entire games together simply out of a passion for the originals was something special. These groups did it all for free, which is something that doesn’t really happen anymore.

Infamous Adventures did a 1:1 graphical remake of Space Quest II, featuring some small modifications to the plot, a different gameplay interface, and vastly improved graphics. The remake looks like it came out in the mid-90’s, rather than the original’s 1987 release.

Part II: Fan games are dead, long live fan games

In fact, the act of creating fan games has steeply declined over the last decade, and for very serious reasons. As Sierra and other game production powerhouses of the 90’s moved on to simply acting as publishing distributors, many of their old properties fell out of public focus. Many of Sierra’s unique properties were handed over to Vivendi Universal, who made a regular habit of harassing fangame projects with Cease and Desist letters.Needless to say, Vivendi never ended up doing anything useful or constructive with the properties, and eventually handed off some of them to Activision, known for their own uninspired regurgitations of big name franchise titles like Call of Duty.

Naturally, the threat of litigation became a large problem for anyone that wanted to develop a fan title as a hobby. Square Enix, in particular, is notorious for shutting down a fan sequel to Chrono Trigger. Anyone that’s ever played the original would know that it’s a hugely underrated game that ended up sitting in the shadows of the wildly overrated and now completely shitty Final Fantasy franchise. It didn’t matter that Square Enix never intended to make another Chrono Trigger game; the fact was that they viewed such fan service as disruptive to their intellectual property rights.

Chrono Trigger: Chrimson Echoes was the sequel that never was. It was hit with a Cease & Desist almost as soon as the game was finished and ready for release.

Many of these independent teams wised up. Development teams such as Anonymous Game Developers Interactive and Infamous Adventures would eventually re-brand as independent for-profit game studios with their own original titles and properties. Both studios raised a decent amount of money through Kickstarter campaigns, and for the first time, these teams of people that originally made games as a passionate hobby are now being compensated for their hard work.

These new titles are exciting in the fact that they’re different enough from their reference material to be fresh takes on the genre. This will be important to remember when we get to Part IV of this article.

Part III: Hollywood kills the remake by overdoing it

In recent years, the very definition of a remake has been dramatically shifted around. What was once a labor of love by people on the internet making something together for free is now largely Hollywood studios attempting to reboot every movie from 20 years ago or more.

Occasionally, a reboot can be accomplished to great success. The 2009 Star Trek reboot, in my opinion, was great. At that point in time, Star Trek had largely stagnated as a property after Enterprise had been pulled off of the air, so an attempt to keep the story going and get people interested in it again kind of makes sense.

The U.S.S Enterprise: Now vs Then

Studios took an old property from the 1960’s and updated it with better special effects, better acting, and a reasonably decent story that purposely illustrated it was set in an alternate universe. Comic book studios do this all the time.

Other times, that is to say, most of the time, a reboot is unnecessary. Occasionally, they’re downright awful.

Case in point. The original Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger was rebooted into an ultra-serious, gritty action film. It didn’t even need a remake.

Starting in 2010, there have been no less than 50 planned remakes in development for movies that didn’t even need a remake. Even titles such as Videodrome, The NeverEnding Story, and American Psycho are being “rebooted”, as Hollywood likes to refer to their brand of regurgitation. In all reality, all of these movies should be left alone, but the bean-counters in Hollywood are sure that by serving customers the same thing over and over again, they’re in to reap a king’s ransom. They just can’t let classics be classics.

Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake: a “reboot” of the classic South Korean film, starring mostly white people!

The worst part is, they’re right. Case in point: everybody’s losing their minds over the fact that Ben Affleck is going to play the new Batman after the advent of the Dark Knight trilogy, but you can bet that just about everybody you know is going to go see it, with the sheepish exclamation of “Hahaha, I’ve got to see how bad this is!”

Meanwhile, studio executives will laugh their way to the bank.

Part IV: Rise of the Carbon Copies

In recent years, a great amount of success has been found in funding the development of indie games through crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter. This has been some cause for celebration, as many of the people who developed my favorite games in the early 90’s are jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon to make games after years of being under the radar.

Anyone that’s ever played the Space Quest series can pick up right away that this is a thinly-veiled Roger Wilco, just with a different name and face. It’s so cookie-cutter that it hurts.

However, when you take a look at some of the games these Ex-Sierra developers are crowdfunding, an uncomfortable realization starts stirring in the back of the minds of anyone that’s played their original titles from over 20 years ago. The line between remakes and fan-games are blurred, and we’re left with the awkward realization that the people making these games are in fact regurgitating the same games they made while they were at Sierra.

Precint is a game in development by Jim Walls, the creator of the Police Quest series. Although it is clearly a different property with different characters and gameplay, the impression I get from it is that it’s practically just a Police Quest carbon copy. In other words, it’s more of the same from a guy who’s only ever made games about being a cop.

Although they may be developing these games with the best intentions, the fact still stands: tired old game developers are trying to ride the wave of their fans and bring everyone games they’ve practically already played. More and more, I’ve seen people jumping on this bandwagon, digging up childhood memories with the intention of repackaging and reselling them over and over again.

Al Lowe even tried to do a Leisure Suit Larry carbon copy, before jumping from the project, suing the developers and bringing the world Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded. In both cases, we’re just seeing more of the same thing over and over again.

In more ways than one, they are no better than the Hollywood studios that trick people into seeing the same movie repeatedly. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a value in remixing something; on the contrary, fan creations are a testament to that in which they take something old and infuse it with something new. Such a mindset is the very backbone of what makes the Creative Commons great. However, the acts of creating carbon copies and reboots aren’t about simply putting spin on something old. They’re desperate cries to remain relevant.

Hey, I get it. Making something new and original is hard. Not every game can be something like Tim Schaefer’s Psychonauts. The act of even making a game or film takes dedication and hard work, but in a world where everything increasingly feels like a copy of a copy of a copy, you’d think that the pursuit of making something new would really stand out, much in the way that wearing a hot pink shirt would stand out in a room full of people wearing business suits.