Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Malachi Rector lacks the charm that makes the audience forgive him for his antisocial and sometimes sociopathic behavior.

A man arrives back at a New York antique shop from a trip to Spain after spending a week in the hospital. While there was quite a bit of bruising as a result of the trauma that hospitalized him, there is no permanent damage. As the shop attendant points out,  “A man that evaluates antiques for a living shouldn’t have to worry about being beaten by thugs.” That is of course, unless that man is Malachi Rector. Malachi Rector, is the main protagonist of Moebius: Empire Rising, a point-and-click adventure game produced and written by Jane Jensen, well known for her work on the Gabriel Knight series and the standalone title Grey Matter.

Malachi is a renowned antiques dealer that excels at pushing people’s buttons and getting into trouble. When commissioned to work for a mysterious government agency, FITA, Malachi finds himself caught up in a web of conspiracy all bound to uncovering the secrets of the Moebius theory. The Moebius theory states that time and space are connected and historical figures are destined to reappear throughout history. It’s an interesting premise, but a dubious protagonist, foolproof puzzle-solving, and an underwhelming answer to the nature of the Moebius theory itself, leaves much to be desired.

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Friday, May 16, 2014
In just 11 years and 11 games Call of Duty has a history that rivals gaming mainstays like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, and Tomb Raider.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was announced some week ago, and it conjured up some odd feelings in me: interest, curiosity, anticipation, but most of all excitement. According to the Internet, both the critical corner of it and the “hardcore” corner of it, I shouldn’t be excited for Call of Duty. I should be dismissive of it because it represents everything that’s wrong with blockbuster gaming: a cash-grab of a franchise that kowtows to the lowest common denominator of gamer while never doing anything interesting or unique. Right?

I disagree with that for multiple reasons that I’ve written about before, but also I think it’s a fascinating franchise to study critically, specifically because it has had a new entry every year for the past 11 years. Call of Duty has in fact evolved since its inception, and it has evolved fast. In just 11 years and 11 games, it has a history that rivals gaming mainstays like Resident Evil (9 “main” games in 18 years), Final Fantasy (17 “numbered” games in 27 years), or Tomb Raider (10 games in 18 years). For as much as people harp on the series for being the same game over and over again, each entry changes a little bit, and those little differences stack up over time until the franchise becomes unrecognizable. Sometimes this is a good thing for a franchise (see: Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes) and sometimes it’s a bad thing (see: Resident Evil 6), but it is always—at the very least—interesting.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014
Miasmata offers what has become a rare experience in both video games and the real world: the feeling of being utterly lost.

It might not be very idealistic or heroic sounding, but one of the things I like about video games is the comfortable boundaries they offer.  Whether it’s a function of technology or creativity, you know your place in a virtual world, usually in a very precise way.  Eventually you’ll run into an invisible wall that prevents you from wandering off the level or you’ll hit a door that isn’t actually a passageway into a building but rather a decorative ornament on a solid wall.  If you have a map, it functions by some glorious system of auto-cartography, filling itself in as you wander new areas.  As you travel, a dot marking your position charts your path and shows your exact location.

In this respect, the rise of smart phones has made life a lot more video game-like.  If you’re wandering around the overworld (i.e., not in a building and within your carrier service area), you’ll have a map that will fill itself in with your surroundings.  On that map is a dot that shows your exact location as well as the location of various landmarks.  Because of this dynamic, I’m more likely to treat going to a new place in the real world the same way that I’d treat it in a video game; I’ll just head over and try to figure it out.  Getting lost is a momentary setback remedied by a quick glance at a magic map.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014
We don't want utopia. We already have that. We need dystopia, something less familiar, something challenging, something painful.

I’ve never really been into zombie movies. I mean 28 Days Later is pretty good, Shaun of the Dead makes me laugh, and I can see the importance of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. But, yeah, they’re fine, nothing I am salivating to see over and over again on a big screen or even a small one.

It’s the monster. Sure, the zombie produces tension with its slow approach, the terror of being overwhelmed by numbers, acting as some kind of representative of being assimilated into the herd.  But I just don’t get the last decade’s fascination with them in film and books and comics and video games.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Games are driven by a curiosity over what’s in the next level, what’s in the next chest, or who the next boss will be.

One of the strengths of “low-art” popular fiction like the comic book, the summer blockbuster, and the video game is how openly they explore themes on a surface level. Mike Joffe discusses this in a recent series on comic book characters:

I find super hero stories interesting because, at their core, they are about exploring real emotions and personalities through completely fantastical, often nonsensical, experiences and events… These concepts are all explored through metaphors that, when looked at in isolation, are some of the most ridiculous ideas imaginable (a boy tries to establish himself as a man by hiding his face behind a wrestling costume and fighting science goblins), and yet somehow that very ridiculousness allows the character and psychological studies to become heightened. (“Comic Characters – Cyclops”, Video Games of the Oppressed, 3 May 2014)

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