The guy who created the game (If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
It’s November 18, 1992, the day after “Heart of Steel: Part 2.” This has been a big year for video games, a major topic of today’s episode. At least three major genres and one subgenre have their origins this year: the real-time strategy game (Dune II), the first-person shooter (Wolfenstein 3D), survival horror (Alone in the Dark), and the mascot racer (Super Mario Kart). Other firsts include the first appearances of Kirby (Kirby’s Dream Land), Wario (Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins), and Tails (Sonic the Hedgehog 2). And more: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis brings the SCUMM adventure game engine to new heights, paving the way for future classics like Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max, and Full Throttle; Mortal Kombat, Art of Fighting, and Virtua Racing receive their first entries; and, obscurely but most importantly, the single greatest video game that ever was or shall ever be, Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters, was bestowed upon an undeserving world.
In Gotham, the hottest game ever is a dungeon-crawler reminiscent of Adventure! for the Atari 2600, with a little bit of the original Legend of Zelda and a strange gimmick of asking the player to solve riddles and answer trivia questions. The most modern (in 1992 terms) thing about it is its sound effects, which are clearly borrowed from Super Mario Bros 3, already three years and an entire console generation old.
But that’s typical of the show’s anachronism. More interesting, perhaps, is the story around that game, Maze of the Minotaur, which seems fairly likely to have been inspired by the case of Alexei Pajitnov, who in 1984 created one of the best-selling and most popular games ever, Tetris. But because he was working for the Soviet government when he created it, he received no royalties as Western corporations fought over the rights (most notably in a 1989 lawsuit between Nintendo and Tengen, resulting in Nintendo having exclusive console rights to the game outside of Japan). Indeed, other than his initial pay, Pajitnov did not receive a dime for any Tetris game made prior to 1996, when he cofounded The Tetris Company.
Pajitnov, by all accounts, is not particularly bitter about the riches others made off his game. Edward Nygma, his Batman the Animated Series parallel, rather is, to the point of becoming the Riddler. Sadly, he pales in comparison to Frank Gorshin’s glorious portrayal of the character in all but one of his appearances in the 1960s Batman TV series, a giggling force of anarchy second only to the Joker, whose absurd riddles were at once childish and grotesque. (“What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?” “A sparrow with a machine gun!”)
But BTAS is clearly uncomfortable with the character in this outing. It takes a perfunctory stab at portraying his backstory, but with nothing like either the sympathy shown Mister Freeze or the brutally honest scorn it directs at the Mad Hatter; it’s simply sketched in a couple of scenes suggesting that he went largely unnoticed and was denied royalties, then skip to the present and supervillainy. His riddles lack the absurdity and panache of the Gorshin version. (“What has yellow skin and writes?” “A ballpoint banana!” Robin answers, pencil in hand.) His scheme–the giant maze full of traps, with a brief time limit to rescue his former employer Mockridge from the titular Minotaur–is convoluted and lacks menace, and in the end he escapes, becoming a figure of terror for Mockridge, but Mockridge still makes millions selling his company to Wayne Enterprises.
But of course BTAS is uncomfortable with this character. Much like the worker/robots in R.U.R. and “Heart of Steel,” he is resisting his place in the order Batman defends. He signed a contract for his labor to be exploited by Mockridge, and so under the rules of capitalism (written, of course, by and for people like Mockridge and, well, Bruce Wayne) deserves nothing further for it. His circumstance is not too dissimilar (especially with the reference to “work for hire” contracts) to the all-too-common case of classic comic book creators who received next to nothing for creating massively popular characters–figures like Siegel and Shuster (Superman), Steve Gerber (Howard the Duck), Alan Moore (Watchmen), and Jack Kirby (Captain America, Fantastic Four, the New Gods, and countless others) were famously denied creative control or royalties by major comic book companies. This very situation led to the departure from Marvel of a group of artists who founded Image Comics, which released its first books in the months prior to this episode–too late to be a direct influence, but the BTAS staff were almost certainly plugged in enough to the goings-on of the comics industry to be aware of the discontent leading up to it.
So on the one hand, there is the natural allegiance to one’s fellow creatives, the sense that what happened to Pajitnov with Tetris or Siegel and Shuster with Superman could just as easily happen to, say, Dini with Harley Quinn. On the other, there is the natural allegiance of Batman to law, order, and the power of wealth: Nygma signed a work-for-hire contract, and has no legal right to royalties or a share of merchandising in his game. He is seeking revenge not for criminal acts by his corrupt employer like Mister Freeze, but because he feels cheated on moral, but not legal or business, grounds.
He is, of course, right. Assuming that it is true that he’s the sole or primary creator of Maze of the Minotaur, a claim which both Nygma and Mockridge seem to accept, there is no good reason, once one sets aside the destructive and corrupt traditions of capitalism, for Mockridge to receive more of the money from the game than Nygma does.  But Batman, at least in this stage of his development, cannot separate the moral and the legal. He cannot allow Nygma to destroy Mockridge anymore than he can stop Roland Dagget.
He is bound by too many rules to do what’s right. There will be no help from Batman in resolving the endless dispute between the creators of art and the financial backers. Maybe heroes bound by no rules at all will do better.
(Spoiler: No they won’t.)


Current status of the Patreon:

  • Latest Near-Apocalypse article ($2+/mo patrons can view): Cleaning up the mess (Off Balance)
  • Latest video ($5+/mo patrons can view): All remaining vlogs for Gravity Falls Season 1!
  • Latest Milestone: $70/mo: Ongoing monthly re:play series!
  • Next Milestone: $100/mo: Monthly bonus vlog video. ($28 away)
  • Voting for my next series to vlog has begun! Options are Over the Garden Wall, Star vs. the Forces of Evil S1, Adventure Time S5, and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends S1. Backers at any level can vote! Details are here.

MLPFIM S5E23 and 24 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching two episodes of MLP there starting at 1:00 p.m. EST. That is one hour earlier than normal!

I will not be attending the chat because I will be traveling, so if one of the participants could keep a chatlog and post it in the comments, I’ll be much obliged. Some time next week, after my return, I’ll watch the episodes and update this post with a log of my reactions.
ETA: My comments on Ep 23 below the cut! Ep 24 coming later.
ETA 2: And now it’s later!
Continue reading

Judging a movie by its trailer

Okay, so just in general, this is a bad idea. Trailers are not designed to provide useful information about movies; they are designed to provoke interest in seeing the movie, not remotely the same thing.
That said… okay, let’s talk about Captain America: Civil War based solely on the trailer that just dropped.
First off, it’s kind of neat how the positionalities of Stark and Rogers have swapped over the course of the MCU films. Initially Stark was the rebellious “bad boy” and Rogers the good soldier, but their experiences have changed them. Now, as the moral center of the MCU, Rogers naturally opposes a policy almost certainly rooted in fear of the Other and the desire to control and weaponize the abilities of “the gifted” (to steal a term from Jessica Jones) while Stark has positioned himself as a protector, so of course to him the fear of the Other is only natural.
And therein lies the dilemma with this film, because… look, any genre, by its nature, has assumptions built into it, and those tend to lead towards particular philosophical, political, and aesthetic positions. That isn’t to say that any work in the genre necessarily endorses or expresses those positions, and still less that those are positions held by the writers or even the characters, but rather that the genre has a sort of gravitational pull that must be actively resisted if you want your work not to fall into those positions. So, for example, a story of aliens infiltrating our society with malicious intent is naturally going to pull toward xenophobia and hostility toward immigrants, and requires active effort to construct a story that resists that reading. High fantasy tends toward nostalgia for an idealized pre-modern Europe, which pulls toward very regressive politics. Anything which is about fear of the radically Other is going to pull toward racism.
And superheroes… well, they’re stories about how society is under constant menace from powerful, unsavory individuals and organizations that threaten it, against which we are helpless. All we can do is cower and hope to be rescued by specific individuals endowed with superior moral fiber and physical abilities. That’s some pretty ugly politics, right there.
So it makes sense to have superhero stories that interrogate their behavior as vigilantes. Who can be trusted with this kind of power, and how do we make that decision?
These are good questions… but they run afoul of the serialized nature of superhero narratives, and that includes the MCU (which, so far as I know, has no more plans to ever actually end than Marvel Comics does). Quite simply, the final conclusion must be that having vigilante superheroes is the correct answer, because otherwise we don’t get superhero stories anymore. (Of course some heroes can work for the government, for a time, but their essential nature as vigilantes means that they will inevitably either eventually go rogue, or else be given so much freedom to step outside the normal rule-of-law limitations that (supposedly) restrain government agents that they might as well be vigilantes.)
Which means that of course the MCU’s moral center is on the side of rampant unrestrained vigilanteism, because the MCU necessarily must be on the side of rampant unrestrained vigilanteism, because that’s what we’re all buying movie tickets to see. Which, in turn, makes it that much harder to resist the strongman politics inherent to the genre. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I fully expect Civil War to be at best incoherent, and at worst actively regressive.

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 50

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Vigilante Justice: Morwen must chase down her former friend and chief engineer Diny to prevent her from carrying out a terror attack that could plunge the galaxy into chaos. (Original)
  • The Newcomers: To help decide where to place some newly arrived captains and their ships in her fleet, Morwen leads them on an expedition to investigate an ancient mystery with a new twist. (Original)
  • Old Friends: Piedrecita returns to take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam, leading Morwen to reflect on her own exam and first days at the Academy. (Original)

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
I am still trying to get an RP-focused fleet together! Contact me in-game at Morwen@froborr if you’re interested.

Jessica Jones is very, very good

I mean, this might be the recency effect talking to an extent, but I think it’s the best thing the MCU has produced to date. (Which makes sense–Netflix and services like it are the obviously correct home for traditional superhero narratives for much the same reason webcomics are, the ease of archive binging.)
Krysten Ritter absolutely nails her performance as the titular modern-day noir detective with super strength (and she is a noir detective, complete with untrustworthy clients, alcoholism, PTSD, and bitter internal monologue), and David Tennant is terrifyingly plausible as Kilgrave, the mind controlling supervillain who isn’t out for world domination or revenge, he just doesn’t see why he shouldn’t have whatever he wants regardless of anyone else’s feelings on the matter.
The show pulls no punches; it is straightforwardly about a victim of rape and abuse slowly learning to reconnect with others as she teams up with other victims to take down her rapist. Rape is never depicted, only discussed, but that discussion is blunt and devoid of any kind of hedging. It is only ever the villain who objects to calling mind-controlled sex rape; there’s even a scene where he tries to say that it’s hard for him to tell the difference between consent and nonconsent–a common false claim by rape apologists–because of his powers, a claim which is rightly treated with absolutely no sympathy whatsoever. There’s also some very clever work done mirroring Kilgrave with other, more mundane abusers throughout the show, just to nail the point in that much more. 
Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that this is a very good show that deals intelligently and sensitively with some rather fraught topics. It is most definitely not for everyone–I highly recommend caution if you are triggered by rape, abuse, gore, violence, or substance abuse–but if you can watch it, I highly recommend you do. 

Him, you don't ask for time off (Heart of Steel)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
It’s November 16 and 17, 1992. In the news, on the 15th the Lithuanian elections returned the communist Democratic Labor Party of Lithuania to power; on the 18th the Russian government will release the “black box” from Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which the Soviets shot down nine years prior; and on the 20th a fire will break out in Windsor Palace, causing £50 million in damage.
That last is surprisingly relevant, in a roundabout way, to “Heart of Steel,” the latest two-part episode of Batman the Animated Series. Because a £50 million fire happening to one of the world’s richest families is news, but a £1,000 fire happening to a family that can’t afford a tenth that much isn’t, even though the latter is likely to destroy lives in at least the metaphorical sense, while the former almost certainly won’t.

8652764708255207593

Buglary is, of course, the crime of waking up the neighborhood by playing your bugle at 5 a.m.

Or, as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it newspaper headline in the first part puts it, “Theft of the Rich Is News.” It’s probably a typo for “Theft from the Rich,” given that the other headline on the page misspells “burglarize,” but it’s compelling that “theft of the rich” could equally well mean “theft by the rich,” given the number of references to Karel Capek in this episode.
Capek is generally known, insofar as he is known, as the Czech science fiction author who coined the term “robot” for what was previously known as an “automaton” or “mechanical man.” His work is sadly underrated in English-language circles, despite containing several excellent early examples of science fiction satire, particularly his play R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920) and novel War with the Newts (1936).
Both deal heavily with themes of class conflict and the alienation of the working class, as both depict the creation, mistreatment, and eventual revolt of non-human workers, though the latter is as much or more about colonialism and racism as it is about class. R.U.R. is solidly about class issues, however; the word “robot,” which it introduced, even comes from the Czech (and Old Slavonic) root robota, “servitude, forced labor”; the roboti of the play are literally “workers.”
References to R.U.R. abound in the episode—it’s Randa Duane’s license plate, the creator of HARDAC is named Rossum, and the general plot of a robot uprising to replace humans vaguely resembles the play—along with references to other classics of science fiction involving robots, such as Duane having half her flesh torn off to reveal the robot beneath, then getting crushed in a hydraulic press (Terminator), or Rossum being played by William Sanderson (who played a similar role in Blade Runner). But the bitter awareness of class issues inherent in “Theft of the Rich Is News” fits more with Capek than James Cameron’s technophobic humanism or even Ridley Scott’s translation into proto-cyberpunk of Philip K. Dick’s fragmented identities and fluid realities.
More in line with Capek’s preferred issues, perhaps, is the source for HARDAC and Randa Duane themselves, the former resembling the German expressionist set design and the latter the robotic female lead of Fritz Lang’s famous silent movie Metropolis, which is both about a robotic replacement of a real person wreaking havoc and a worker uprising. However, Gotham is not Metropolis, despite some visual similarities; that film ends with the emergence of a mediator between rich and poor. In Batman, as in R.U.R., one side must be destroyed to make room for the other.
And we know which side it will be; after all, Batman, for all that he positions himself heroically, is wedded too firmly to the status quo to side with revolution. The robots and HARDAC are never depicted remotely sympathetically, despite an episode title that clearly evokes the most iconic of BTAS’ “sympathetic villains” stories, “Heart of Ice.” Instead, the only robots with any trace of a personality are Duane, who is yet another of this show’s femme fatales, with no existence outside of stealing from Wayne or seducing Wayne to steal from him some more (even her name is not so much an identifier as a statement of purpose: Randa “Do-Wayne”), and HARDAC itself, which is a fairly straightforward evil AI of the HAL-9000 mold.
How fortunate, then, that we have another hero for this episode, Barbara Gordon, who in the tradition of Renee Montoya decides to take it upon herself to be Batman-lite for an episode. Indeed, with her red hair and use of tools like a makeup compact and a hand mirror to first break into, and then out of, Cybertron, she resembles no one so much as Batwoman—not the modern Kathryn Kane, but her Golden Age counterpart, who similarly used “feminine” objects and strategies in her fight against crime. Of course, Batman fans know that Gordon is destined to become Batgirl, and her successes throughout the episode, and comment at the end that she enjoyed the adventure, are foreshadowing for her eventually donning the cowl.
But here in “Heart of Steel,” her position is more ambiguous; much like Harley Quinn in her first appearance, she is not yet a recurring character, but rather a one-shot with promise, and a welcome change from how the show often portrays its women. Indeed, much as Quinn repeatedly out-Jokers the Joker, here Gordon out-Batmans Batman: she defeats the Bullock robot and thus reveals the truth about the duplicates, tracks the robots to Cybertron, and (after, admittedly, being captured and rescued by Batman) she runs into a burning building to rescue him. Long before dressing up in the suit, she’s already demonstrated that she is no sidekick, but a full Batman-style heroine in her own right.
But in her story as well as Batman’s, the robots are entirely villainous. They are not a downtrodden underclass rising against their oblivious oppressors, as in Capek’s play, but rather seeking to destroy humanity as “imperfect.” Unlike Capek’s originals, these robots represent, not the transformation of the working class into a grotesquely inhuman Other so that none will object to their mistreatment, but rather mechanization itself, the fear of becoming “obsolete,” as Alfred puts it. In the Computer Age, as more and more work is done by automata, what role is there for the worker? If the value of a person is equated, as it necessarily is under capitalism, to their labor, what becomes of us when machines can do our jobs better than we can?
It isn’t a question Batman has to worry about. He is not a worker, but an owner; his worth to society measured not in the labor he performs but rather the capital he possesses. Theft from him is news, because he is losing wealth; workers, if they want to get in the news, have to lose labor—by, for example, going on strike, though even that is treated more often than not as theft from the owners. But Batman will never be replaced by a machine; he has the resources to fight back.
Lucky for us that, in this instance, he chooses to do so. But of course he does; it is a disruption to the status quo, and he needs the status quo. Far more telling is that Batgirl-to-be Barbara Gordon chooses to save him. She is not one of the rich, and so for her and her father the threat of mechanization is real; if they can be replaced by robots, the machinery of capitalism insists that they will be, and their livelihoods thus lost. But she is at the same time a beneficiary of the status quo: the comfortable domestic scenes with her father and the references to her achievements at college both make clear that she owes a great deal to her family’s alliance with the powers that be, its position atop that pyramid of defenders of the status quo, the police.
But she herself is neither cop nor superhero, at least not yet. She has the freedom to choose: will she become a protector like her father, Batman, and Renee Montoya? A reformer like Poison Ivy or Catwoman? Or an anarchic disruption like Harley Quinn?
She chooses to save Batman, to defend the status quo. Her path in this moment is set: the second superhero in the universe will work to keep things as they are. She is choosing to be powerless against the rot within the system, the Roland Daggets of the world, and to fight only those dangers which, like the robots or the Joker, come from without.
A recurring character isn’t a recurring character until their second appearance. So it is with the figure of the superhero: Batman’s particular quirks of role and identity are his alone so long as he remains the only superhero. But if he is one of two? Then what they share becomes the universal for all superheroes.
Which, in a nutshell, is why we’ll never see the DCAU Superman fighting the KKK or coming after Lex Luthor for hiring scabs.


Current status of the Patreon:

  • Latest Near-Apocalypse article ($2+/mo patrons can view): Cleaning up the mess (Off Balance)
  • Latest video ($5+/mo patrons can view): All remaining vlogs for Gravity Falls Season 1!
  • Latest Milestone: $70/mo: Ongoing monthly re:play series!
  • Next Milestone: $100/mo: Monthly bonus vlog video. ($28 away)
  • Now taking suggestions for the next series to vlog! Backers at the $5 level and above can submit suggestions. See here for details.

Yurikuma Arashi 9 and MLPFIM S5E22 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching Yurikuma and commenting there starting at 1:00 p.m. EST. We will then be watching MLP at 1:30. Those are one hour earlier than normal!

I will update with the chatlog after the chat.
ETA: Chatlog below the cut!
Continue reading

re:play Episode 4: Final Fantasy VI Part 4: Mourning Is a Liminal State

Made possible by the generous contributions to my Patreon! We’re monthly now!
As before, this is closed captioned. However, while all the text is correct, the timings are off. I’m working on fixing it, but it might take a day or two.

As always, these videos don’t always display correctly on Tumblr, so those of you seeing this there please click through to jedablue.com to watch.

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 49

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Taking It Back: 90 starships. 3 million Borg. The battle to retake Vega has begun. (Original)
  • The Abyss: An experiment to improve the warp drive takes Morwen to some very strange places indeed. (Original)
  • Vigilante Justice: Morwen must chase down her former friend and chief engineer Diny to prevent her from carrying out a terror attack that could plunge the galaxy into chaos. (Original)

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
I am still trying to get an RP-focused fleet together! Contact me in-game at Morwen@froborr if you’re interested.