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by L.B. Jeffries

6 Mar 2009

This post acknowledges the existence of sex and various game related ways of engaging with the act. Be warned.

As the moral outrage at a Japanese sex game involving rape called Rapelay continues to spread, game critics are confronted with a fairly tricky problem. On the one hand, why is our artistic medium not allowed to discuss rape? It’s not as if books and film did not long ago breach the topic. Blue Velvet, Boys Don’t Cry, or Thelma & Louise all feature incredibly graphic rape scenes. Literature has obviously covered the topic extensively as well, from Wuthering Heights to The Kite Runner. People arguing that these books are superior in their content because they handle the topic maturely are on shaky ground because, frankly, who wants to detail how to tastefully portray rape? As soon you establish some kind of standard you’re just going to inspire something more revolting because the entire point of discussing a topic like rape is the awfulness of it. If Rapelay is the standard of what games should not do, someone will create something just to cross the line.

On the other hand, this is not really the game to stage a protest over. This is not the first filming of two men kissing on-screen in an elegant discourse on the plight of men dealing with H.I.V. in Philadelphia or something equally valid. It’s a bad Japanese dating sim targeting people with a disturbing fetish. Another problem is that considering this is a medium that is short on female protagonists and even shorter on portraying loving relationships, video games haven’t really earned the right to talk about rape. Both film and books long ago covered love and relationships in every way imaginable before discussing this sort of violation. Video games, drawing close to 40 years old, do not have much that demonstrates they can even handle the topic of sex in the first place. So, in the spirit of our last post on sex games, we’re going to discuss another video game that handles the topic of sex responsibly.

It’s debatable whether the creators of the rumble feature in game controllers knew what they were getting into, but the uses for such a device outside strict gaming have been discussed before. A vibrating controller is going to have its uses for anyone with a private moment and a locked door. What’s interesting is that up until now there was never a game that gave you direct control over the vibrations. The girl in the linked article describes a few games where you could get this state going indefinitely, but Rez’s attempt at coordinating vibrations with techno music was the first real breakthrough in consistency for her. The Xbox Community game Rumble Massage has changed all that. For a measly 200 points you can download the game and adjust the vibration rate of your controller and massage any part of your body that you choose. Another addition allows a partner to control this aspect for you over Xbox Live. In essence, one person is moving the joystick adjusting the vibration rate while the other holds the vibrating device. It all works a bit like the vibrating egg from Shortbus without the awkward remote or invasive egg. Fans of the game, it seems safe to say, should keep one controller locked away somewhere.

It all goes back to interaction when it comes to games. The reason people get so upset about sex in games is because the player is interacting with it. The reason people have so much fun with games is because they’re interacting with it. I don’t think any of the sex games we’ve discussed in this series could accurately be called a simulation, but they do represent a unique conceptualization of sex. I’ve not played the game, but Rapelay’s biggest problem might simply be the failure to represent interacting with sex in a way that isn’t one-sided. If Rumble Massage or The Dark Room Sex Game are any indication, sex games seem to always best maintain their dignity as co-op experiences. If YouTube videos like the tasteful Everybody Daylight are acceptable depictions of the act, I suppose video games can manage something eventually.

by Thomas Hauner

6 Mar 2009

The minimalist folk music of Ida was so ethereal, concentrated, and beautiful at times, it’s as if they had coaxed their sounds from the earth’s elements—air, for the bellows of various sound-boxes and the music’s lightness; fire, igniting and electrifying Dan Littleton’s guitar; earth, procuring their instruments’ bodies; and water, the common solvent, generating a lyrical flow. No other sources would be sufficiently raw or beautiful.

The intimate setting of Joe’s Pub was ideal to listen to Ida’s delicate harmonies and sentimental melodies. Though a time-constrained set, the group—consisting of Littleton, singers Elizabeth Mitchell and Karla Schickele, violinist Jean Cook, and percussionist Ruth Keating—relished the venue’s sensitive acoustics and the crowd’s attentiveness. 

Their first song didn’t start so much as emerge. Littleton and Mitchell played complimentary rolling patterns on mini hand-held xylophones, and as they ebbed and flowed together they slowly added harmonies, singing, “I have not been here before.”

The somber lucidity of Mitchell’s vocals were arresting and soothing at the same time.  And when paired with Littleton’s parallel intonations, or the entire band’s gentle backing vocals, their sound was sonorous and lush.

Ida sounded equally fragile and sparse too. The majority of their instrumentations and accompaniments began with faint strumming and would eventually swell into all-encompassing droning tones, with the help of Cook’s even-handed violin bowing or Mitchell’s harmonium. Their attention to sonic textures made for really interesting combinations of tones and layered together made Mitchell’s plain but increasingly gorgeous voice float above it all.

Their tactile focus made their song structure become increasingly repetitive, however, and one had to scrutinize the lyrics or melody to find distinctions between numbers.

Littleton added density with electric-guitar cadences on “Late Blues”, creating monstrous distortion and feedback during the chorus and bridge. It was a jarring contrast to the verse’s introspective shell.

The best song of the night used to be about America, we were told, but instead had simply become another Dolly Parton cover, “The Pain of Loving You.” The treat was that they ditched their mics and exploited the small room’s acoustics singing a cappella.

Ida’s last song was the closest they’ll “ever come to ‘We Will Rock You’”. They got everyone tapping the song’s simple beat in unison on tables/people, revealing further their elemental nature.


by Jason Gross

6 Mar 2009

As part of her dissertation, Sorcha Lewis at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth interviewed me about “How important is Visual Image to consumption of music.”  Lewis seems like a nice person but the end result is usually that I never hear anything about the paper afterward or if anything I said was used there.  So, just in case I had some interesting to say and that my answers don’t get lost in the virtual ether, here’s what I had to say.

1. What are your views on the level of consumption of music in our modern day society?

There’s plenty of consumption going on.  The problem for artists and labels is that the consumer market is shrinking so that more and more people are accessing music for free.

2. In your experience, do you feel that the use of visual images in the music industry has little or a large effect on the consumption?

If you mean album covers, since the CD market is shrinking, it has less impact now.  In terms of videos, there’s definitely less influence since MTV’s heyday but it’s still there and will always be to some extent.

3. In terms of the purpose of music films when they first developed in the early 1960’s, do you feel that music video’s as they are now known; have less or more significance to the song that accompanies them?
Music films actually pre-date the early 1960’s.  Duke Ellington and Fats Waller used the form decades before that as did a number of other artists.  Again, because MTV is on the wane (and isn’t known for showing videos) and record labels have less budgets for videos, their influences has definitely declined in the last decade.

4. Do you think that the contemporary pop culture and modern day music industry use sex to sell music?

Yes, but this is a phenomenon that’s been part of the entertainment industry since the 19th century, before the recorded age when bawdy burlesque revues were in vogue (actually, it predates that too but that’s a longer discussion).  And this is something that’s going to be true for generation after generation, in new and different ways as social mores evolve.

5. Do you feel that over the past 40 years, that the different generations value music differently, being that it is less or more important?

Every generation values music in some way as they use it as a touchstone to identify who they are.  The main difference now is that there’s much more available and it’s more easily accessible.  But how are you going to say that teenagers today value music more than their parents or grandparents?  They all do to some degree unless you’re talking about financially, in which case, younger generations now think that ‘free’ is the right ‘price’ for music (which doesn’t mean that they still can’t value music in the aesthetic sense).

6. Lastly, do you feel that we are living in an age of vanity and image is everything? (In relation to the production of music and the images that are use to go with them).

Again, this isn’t a new concept.  You could make a case that the age of the image and obsession with it began when printing presses began and that it’s only proliferated more and more since then as the technology has flourished.

by Sarah Zupko

6 Mar 2009

Eight years ago this week UK acoustic band Turin Brakes released their debut The Optimist LP. We loved the record back then and it still sounds fresh and timely. Devon Powers raved: “Turin Brakes have created a testament to singing and songwriting, and it’s impossible not to believe. The Optimist LP is a treasure chest of sparkly baubles and rare gems, and from top to bottom it is precious and priceless.” The record spawned a rash of videos highlighted below, plus, a live treat at the end of the batch.

Turin Brakes - Underdog (Save Me)

Turin Brakes - Emergency 72

Turin Brakes - Mind Over Money

Turin Brakes - The Door

Turin Brakes - Over & Over and Feeling Oblivion

by Sean Murphy

6 Mar 2009

Ming Xia.

Never heard of her?

You’ve probably had the pleasure of hearing her, via “Things I’ve Seen”, the hit from her band Spooks’ deubt album. But that was almost a decade ago. The follow-up Faster Than You Know didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

Unless she is operating under a different name or I am woefully out of touch (very possible), Ming Xia has been silent. This is unacceptable. The beef some had with her band was that her angelic voice was being wasted alongside second-rate rappers and uninspired music. Not sure I concur, particularly on their first album. But there is no question that within a band or solo, we need more from her.

Danger Mouse: please help her. Help us.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article