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by Nick Dinicola

22 May 2009

Dom’s wife, Maria, represents a unique kind of storytelling for games. She represents a story in which we don’t play as the main character, in which we’re just an observer even though we still get to participate in all the major events of the story.

But let me back up a bit.

A player’s relationship with his avatar presents us with an interesting paradox. When I play Gears of War 2, I’m Marcus Fenix and yet I’m not Marcus Fenix. I’m also myself playing as Marcus Fenix. Unlike an actor in a movie, a player doesn’t become the character when starting a game but rather the character becomes an extension of the player. We’re both at the same time; it feels just as natural to say “I fought the Locust” as it is to say “Marcus fought the Locust.” This ever-present dichotomy is a major obstacle for any game that wants to connect with the player on an emotional level.

There will always be a disconnect between us and the characters, making certain kinds of emotional involvement difficult. We have an instant affection with our avatar because this character is us; we care about ourselves, so we care about him or her as well. But this favoritism doesn’t necessarily translate into an emotional connection. Since we’re essentially the same person we should have the same reaction to events in the game, but this rarely happens. How many times in how many games has some dramatic twist left the main character devastated and you shrugging your shoulders? The event doesn’t hold the same emotional impact for players because they don’t always see it as happening to them directly. It’s happening to the character not to me, and I know we’re not the same person…even though we are.

Gear of War 2 took a unique approach to this dilemma by not making the main character the emotional center of the game. Marcus is a stereotypical buff, gruff, badass. He’s a cliché, but he’s the very cliché that we want to play. He’s the perfect avatar, but as a character he’s very bland and uninteresting. If we didn’t play as him chances are we wouldn’t care about him. That’s fine though, because we’re not meant to care about Marcus, we’re meant to care about Dom.

Dom is by far the more interesting character of the two because he’s personally involved in the conflict. His wife is missing, and as we travel deeper into Locust territory, he hopes to find her and rescue her. Unlike Marcus, this character is not a shell that we can easily project ourselves into, from the outset he’s motivated by emotions the player could never be expected to share. Gears of War 2 realizes this, so when playing a single-player game we don\‘t play as Dom. Instead we watch him though the eyes of another, and watching his increasingly desperate attempts to find his wife is like watching a character in a movie. Since we’re not being asked to feel the same emotions, it’s easier to empathize with him, or not care at all, without breaking the fourth wall of the game.

Unfortunately, Gears of War 2 completely backtracks on this idea by making Dom a playable character in co-op. When the second player is suddenly asked to care about some woman not even mentioned in the first game, we’re immediately distanced from the character and any emotional resonance he might bring to the story. When Dom finally does find Maria, it is a powerful scene, but more so because of its shock value than as the emotional climax of the story. Gears of War 2 had a good idea, but ultimately failed to follow though on it.

If the story of Gears of War 2 was told in any other medium, Dom would be the main character because he’s the only one with an emotional arc, and arc driven by his lost wife. We only think of Marcus as the main character because he’s our avatar, but he’s a static character with no development over the course of the game. By putting us in the shoes of a supporting character, Gears of War 2 gives us a unique perspective on the story: We’re able to watch a Dom go though a dramatic arc, thereby experiencing that drama vicariously through him instead of our own avatar. I realize that this is not exactly the best use of the medium since it relies on us watching a character instead of being a character, turning the game into a literal interactive movie, but it’s still a unique idea and one I think is worth attempting again. Preferably without the co-op.

by Justin M. Norton

21 May 2009

A Preferred Blurby Henry Rollins2.13.61August 2009, 304 pages, $17.00

A Preferred Blur
by Henry Rollins
2.13.61
August 2009, 304 pages, $17.00

Recently, I received an early copy of Henry Rollins’ latest self-published book, A Preferred Blur. I have been a dedicated Rollins reader since he began publishing in earnest in the early 1990s, and I genuinely enjoy his works, particularly those focusing on his travels. The prose is efficient if slightly wooden, but what the man may lack in literary efficiency, he makes up for in just about everything else. Celebrated punk rebel Rollins spends the better part of each year on the road and often visits various global hellholes—if anyone, his reactions to such things are going to be worth the read.

Outside his work as a punk-rock frontman, Rollins is known for his poetry and free-form prose. Early works, such as Polio Flesh, were filled with the disjointed and angry ramblings of an angst-ridden young punker. Poetry collections, Eye Scream for one, occasionally had a Hubert Selby vibe but haven’t aged well. And See a Grown Man Cry, Now Watch Him Die is just plain harrowing as it details the murder of Rollins’ close friend, former Black Flag roadie Joe Cole.

Rollins-the-poet pops out with less frequency these days. Instead, the writer sticks to his strength—detailing his interesting life. Travel writing has always been Rollins’ forte. In Smile, You’re Traveling he outlines his first jaunt to Africa. The follow-up Broken Summers recounts the period Rollins spent working on behalf of the Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, collectively known as the West Memphis Three, accused of a triple homicide in West Memphis, Arkansas. A Dull Roar includes trips to visit soldiers with the USO and travels with the reunited Rollins Band. And the best of the lot, Get In The Van, is all about Rollins’ experiences as the vocalist for Black Flag in the 1980s, and the blossoming American hardcore scene. The common thread in all is a documentarian’s zeal for life. 

In some ways Rollins reminds me of famed English diarist and anthology perennial Samuel Pepys. True, there are major dissimilarities between the two—Rollins prefers a monastic lifestyle and once penned an essay about the joys of weight training, while Pepys wrote of carnal delights:

The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and, out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it.



Both, men, however, relentlessly catalog the world and mix the public and the personal. Pepys riffed on the black plague and was fixated on breasts; Rollins riffs on the war on terror and hotel coffee. Both men were also primarily known for pursuits outside of writing. Rollins sings and performs spoken word shows; Pepys was a Naval administrator and a politician.

I’m not suggesting Rollins will be anthologized in the future or that his prose rises to the level of an acknowledged master. However, in the days when everyone seems to “tweet” about each inane event in their day it is reassuring that some in the public eye still write compelling narratives about their lives with motives other than self-aggrandizement.

by PopMatters Staff

21 May 2009

Guy Ritchie is helming the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, releasing Christmas Day in the U.S. The first trailer is here, as well as bunch of stills…

by PopMatters Staff

21 May 2009

Golden Silvers is a new synth poppy group from South London with a debut album, True Romance out on XL in the UK. We’ll have a review soon. In the meantime, enjoy these videos perfect for the start of warm weather.

The group also recently stopped by Later Live… with Jools Holland to play “True No.9 Blues (True Romance)”.

by Bill Gibron

21 May 2009

Money is much more than the root of all evil. It’s the great social destabilizer, a stigma that makes the haves seem better and the have-nots hang their heads in shame. It causes people to do things, reprehensible things, just to keep from drowning in debt, and it offers the slightest glimmer of hope for those who really haven’t a chance in Hell of ever seeing a substantial payday. The crass class distinctions created, the undeniable stress of being without and the immoral drive of having too much, sets the stage for some of our most complex and compelling stories. Giuseppe Andrews clearly agrees. His amazing masterpiece, Air Conditioning, takes a neo-realistic look at how far certain citizens will go to enjoy the simple comforts of civilization - said acts including, lying, cheating, and most horrifically, murder.

Latuga is a desperate woman living a desperate life. Divorced from fancy suit store owner Classe, she is forced to live in a small studio apartment and care for the couple’s ex-heroin addict son Puzo. The boy, obsessed with a toy barbeque pit, is always on the verge of some horrific act. In order to earn money, Latuga services her ex-husband’s needs. Most of the time, that means picking up a rifle and killing the homeless bums that hang out in front of his shop. At other instances, it’s something far more perverted. Meanwhile, Frisco and his deformed brother Defetto avoid Latuga’s gunfire while coming up with a plan to get off the street. The solution? Marry someone of means and get a free pass to a place with the ultimate in live-in luxury…air conditioning. Naturally, Frisco winds up wooing Latuga, and they are quickly wed. When Classe finds out about the situation, he’s livid. Such anger sparks Puzo into an act of violence. Fate, however, has a different plan for all of them.

Proving that he can work within a conventional storyline and with a normal, albeit slightly askew set of characters, Air Conditioning instantly becomes Giuseppe Andrews’ mainstream masterwork, and creative calling card for the future. It’s the kind of whacked out wonder that the Coen Brothers on peyote might dream up - that is, if they weren’t so busy reinventing old school Hollywood to find their own unique voice. It’s quirk without the self-conscious nod to same, idiosyncrasy with its abnormality cemented solidly within the confines of a recognizable world. Granted, Andrews is obviously channeling the Italian filmmakers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, his constant flights of Mediterranean tinged magic (language, names) proving that he knows from whence his artform muse derived, but he’s also avoiding most of said source’s trappings. Instead of playing it straight, he deviates from the norm to give us a unique and thoughtful perspective.

Again, this is a film firmly founded in character. Latuga and Puzo wouldn’t be out of place in Pasolini’s Momma Roma, their poverty row passions easily seen as both everyday and wholly individual. The links this woman will go to care for her son resonates with any familiar family dramatization. Similarly, the villainous Classe (a brilliant Walt Dongo) is like every silent screen bad guy ever conceived. All he needs is a waxed moustache, a mortgage, and the threat of foreclosure to seal the clichéd deal. But Andrews understands our knowledge of cinema’s past, and plays with the archetype to the point where this version of personified greed actually comes across as more pathetic than vile. In fact, the worst character here may be Frisco. Keeping his genetically mutated brother in a garbage can is one thing. Using the excuse of love as a means of moving up in the financial food chain is horrifying in its self-serving cruelty.

It’s eye-opening to watch Andrews work without his standard scatology safety net. Characters don’t break out into rude rhymes or rummage through their own feces. Romance is substituted for sex, and even when Classe humiliates Latuga with her own urine, it’s part of an interpersonal struggle that we can clearly understand. Indeed, if you took out all the inferred weirdness, if you removed the recognizable bows to planned peculiarity, Air Conditioning would be a downbeat, depressing experience. We would see how Latuga cares for her sons, strains for her living, and sacrifices for her small comforts, and wonder how anyone could survive. With a setting far removed from his typical trailer park mystique, the results are revelatory.

The acting here is once again of the highest level. Andrews is not an inventive director. He is a visionary, but not necessarily when it comes to set-ups, framing, and compositions. Instead, he relies on the expressive faces of his cast to carry the day, close-ups revealing personal experiences washed across every wrinkle, every bit of beard stubble, every spot of adolescent acne. Dongo is delightful, as is straight standby Miles Dougal. As Latuga, Andrews introduces us to a wonderful young woman who uses her comforting size and shape as a means of making the maternal vividly real. She carries the film through many of its narrative hurdles, and finds a way of delivering even the most outrageous dialogue in a down to earth and homespun manner. As with all in Andrews’ outsider theatrical troupe, she adds the perfectly complement to the auteur’s own skewed perspective.

And yet some will look at Air Conditioning and wonder where all the crudeness went. There are those who revel in the kind of adolescent pants-wetting that made Andrews the savior of cinema since the Trailer Town days. Those who favor his more foul-mouthed methodology will definitely find the lack of lewdness disconcerting. But if you recognize that Andrews’ main modus is to take the underserved, the fringe fighting along the edges of the standard social norm, and place them in a position of prominence and personal dignity, the missing miscreance is understandable. Not every story has to be about stool samples. There are things more disgusting than old people running around naked. Money is such a foul, filthy thing that when you have such a soiled sentiment at the center of your storyline, there’s no need for more nastiness. Air Conditioning may be a way to beat the heat, but in the hands of a pure maestro like Giuseppe Andrews, it’s also a salve for, and the scourge of, the human soul.

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