It’s one of gaming culture’s odd habits that developers will typically discover a successful game design without really understanding what they’ve got their hands on. You can test something out with audiences and see if people like it, but there is often little time left for the why of the whole process. One of the most prevalent places this exists is in matching games like Bejeweled and the casual knock-offs that expand on the concept. Jason Kapalka comments on an interview at Casualgames.biz that these games are almost primal in their simplicity: connect 3 blocks of a matching color in a randomly generated screen. Most Bejeweled 2 knock-offs just provide the player additional combos for the player so that it is just expanding on the original theme without changing the basic process. You are channeling the innate desire to find order in chaotic systems while balancing the need for finding that order to be easy to manage.
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I love Michael Jackson. I would like to say that I appreciate his artistry, his mad song writing skills or his fantastic musical arrangements, all of which is certainly true. I would rather just say that I respect the sacrifices he and his family made for fame or fulfillingness’ first finale. For whatever reasons Joe and Katharine—sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson—did it, they discovered magic and/or cultivated it (most likely the latter with Tito!). If you have ever been to Gary, Indiana you can imagine that it takes a surreal level of blood, sweat and tears for anyone, let alone a black family, to rise up out of that place. Mind you, I have never visited Gary, yet have passed by that old industrial city several times. My folks would regularly drive that route up I-65 between Louisville and Kenosha, Wisconsin to visit family. On the bypass around Gary, all my aunt would ever say is “Oh, that’s not on our way”, in response to my pleas to at least drive by the Jackson’s home, or at least see how the city has acknowledged its undoubtedly most famous offspring—or at least the ones most relevant to me.
It was only years later that I understood that my folks just got in the habit of not stopping in any odd town along American highways, as a result of conditioning from segregation in the Jim and Jane Crow South—like so many of us, my folks hail from ‘Bama, hence real-life experiences with that chapter in American history are plentiful. It was forbidden and dangerous when they were younger to stop in unknown places. By my early teens, however, they had replaced aluminum-foil-wrapped fried chicken—no, not from that fast food chain, we fried our own and Colonel Sanders’, too—with a pit stop at Cracker Barrel. From the highway, Gary, Indiana looked mighty industrial, grey, dismal and virtually deserted. To me, Gary looked like one of those places that black people should avoid; it was clear that the Jackson family had more than a side order of We gotta get up out this place, behind some of those high “hee, hees”, snaps and slides across the floor.
Over the past few days, several sources have linked to this site, Awkward Family Photos. I couldn’t resist looking through them, but I wondered at the weird enjoyment the site offered. I felt sort of ashamed looking at them, creepily voyeuristic. It’s not clear that the people in the photos were the ones submitting them to the site (though that is probably the case with most of them) and this ambiguity makes me feel mean to be snickering. The site seems to want to capitalize on the premise that we all feel somewhat uncomfortable with our families, in the midst of them, being forced to surrender our nonfamily identity to merge with them. After all, aren’t all staged family photos awkward? How could they possibly not be? What is comfortable and natural about family life is fluid, inherently casual, intimate, hard to define and convey. With formal photos, someone is always imposing their ideal or the image they wish to project to the outside world onto the rest of the family, who must subordinate their individuality. Worse, some of the other family members might rebel against the conceit of the photo and make embarrassing gestures at rebellion within the camera frame when the only successful rebellion would be to refuse to participate at all. So family photos inevitably become a record of these failed attempts to truly break away, or to truly accept one’s family for what it is. It’s very unlikely that there will be an occasion at which everyone who is obliged to pose is at peace with the circumstances and with their role in the family. Perhaps familial love is all about that tension—between wanting to escape and wanting to be perfectly accepted.
So I guess the familiarity of that awkward feeling of not fitting in but also not opting out anchors our reactions to Awkward Family Photos, which then either provide comforting confirmation that everyone else’s families are odd and awkward also, or give us a chance to gloat over the people who seem to have it even worse than we do. But generally, it is best not to judge what is going on within the obscure internal logic of other people’s families. A lot of what seems perfectly natural to us in our own families will look to others like what’s happening in the photos on the site.
Think about it for a moment. You love a certain franchise (say the Star Wars series) in a way that is indicative of your overall geek mantle. You hear a rumor that Fox, fed up with the failing returns on its limited creative investment, has decided to “reboot” the material, to give it a fresh life with a different director (one mostly known for his TV hits), updated special effects (good!) and most concerning, a substantially younger, CW-oriented cast. The reasons for apprehension start creeping in immediately, especially when you learn that only one of the original actors will return for what is best described as an “extended cameo.” Such was the situation when Paramount, displeased with the way Star Trek was being remembered by a slowly dissolving demographic, asked Lost legend J. J. Abrams to give the adventures of the Starship Enterprise a 22nd Century sheen. And now, $78 million later, it seems both the studio and the salvage effort were wildly successful.
While it’s not Dark Knight money (though many print reports love to tout some obscure Batman record this Trek beat), it’s definitely Christopher Nolan level acclaim. With only 11 Rotten Tomatoes critics playing contrarian, the film stands as one of 2009’s best reviewed. And with audiences both pro and con taking to the movies many delights, there appears to be enough legs to expand on the update’s future potential. Still, as with any major triumph, victory stands to benefit more than one group in the creative process. Sure, there will be sequels, big paydays coming down the line for everyone involved. And when heads have cleared and production models clarified, a new TV outing is definitely in the cards. Of course, all of this could change the minute the movie stiffs, or falls short of its coffer clogging potential.
Green Day’s new album releases this Friday and WE7 is offering a streaming widget to check out the new tunes now.
// Short Ends and Leader
"Whether we've seen or read the story before, we ache for these sympathetic, floundering people presented to us gravely and without cynicism, even when cynical themselves.READ the article