The New YouTube Game Criticism: An Interview with "moviebob"

Image courtesy of moviebob's blog.

"Working on the web is a great motivator...if you screw up and forget that Stanley the Bug Man was the hero in Donkey Kong 3 instead of Mario there's going to be twelve guys all lined up to correct you."

Over that past year, a new trend in videogame writing has been gathering steam and pushing itself into the forefront: what if we tried to talk about games in a more sophisticated manner? Rather than brag about our high scores or graphics, what if we went a bit deeper? Numerous bloggers and journalists have started writing seriously and asking tougher questions about their games. What does it mean to keep trying to save a princess who's never in the castle we're looking in? Why do I have to kill so many people to save the planet? It stems from a desire many people who have gotten older but still like playing video games have expressed: they don't want to be treated like a kid anymore. What's interesting about this intellectual movement is that it's manifesting itself all over the internet. Besides just writing about it, even critics on Youtube have begun converting the message and handling the "games as art" movement.

Moviebob is the internet name for an ex-local T.V. host who majored in Interactive Multimedia with a minor in film studies. Originally posting videos that were film reviews, moviebob jumped onto the video game wagon the same way a lot of people do. "I'm not gonna lie: I saw Yahtzee and James Rolfe -- "The Angry Nintendo Nerd" -- blowing up and it kinda planted a seed of 'hey, you've got a big mouth and lots of free time...could YOU do something sort of on those lines?' Anyone who started doing this AFTER those guys who tries to tell you they weren't a big influence is probably lying." Indeed, the world of video game criticism can sometimes seem to be almost exclusively sarcastic commentary. It's not a terrible formula, but when a writer is counting clicks and relying on advertising dollars it often leads to the writing being more entertaining than interesting or informative. There's nothing wrong with cracking a few jokes, but it does lose sight of why people are watching your video in the first place. They want to hear about video games.

In fact, that's the observation moviebob made right after his first Game OverThinker video went up. He explains in an e-mail, "Initially, I concieved of 'Game OverThinker' as being a character thing that was more of a meta-parody...the idea of going off on comically over-analytical tangents about gaming minutia and sneaking my actual point in around the edges of the 'he can't be serious' stuff. Like...the idea of looking at Mario Galaxy in terms of neo-pagan Gaia imagery is (mostly) the exaggeration, but I was quite serious about wanting to challenge the idea of the Princess Peach archetype as being inherently anti-feminist. Thing is, when I looked at the feedback people were responding to the serious-discussion aspect MUCH more enthusiastically than I'd expected, and I gradually got the idea that maybe that -- examining broader, bigger issues in and around the medium -- was a niche I could be filling." It's something of a transformation that you can see going on with a lot of different critics. There's a huge audience of people who want to discuss the games that occupied their childhood and the ones that are still entertaining them today.

But where do you start with having an intellectual discussion about video games? Particularly in a YouTube format, which comes with a very different set of expectations than the ones involving a blog or journal piece. Moviebob's Game OverThinker videos run like a weird mixture of collage, narration, and PowerPoint presentation. Pictures will sync up with what's being said or combine in anecdotal ways with the theme of the video. "I use whatever I think will best and/or most humorously convey what I'm talking about visually. I'm working at keeping certain visuals as recurring elements because it helps cement an identity...but right now it's all really pretty slapdash. A lot of it is just trying not to bite off anyone else's style, and so far having no real style to speak of is a pretty good safeguard. I'm working toward doing some "live-on-camera" stuff that'll make it's debut in an upcoming episode, it's something I've been working toward for awhile." It's an effective method, particularly with a video that's ten minutes long and exclusively about video games. Constant shifting of visual information combined with sharp insights that take the audience as seriously as it does the subject matter make up the foundation of the Game OverThinker series. He says, "My goal is to facilitate my fellow gamers to engage both the gaming culture and the mainstream culture in more productive, intellectual ways."

Game OverThinker: "Patriot Games"

This is easier said than done. Moviebob is perfectly willing to criticize gamers and all their quirks. The ongoing problem of older people with no video game experience blaming society's problems on the hobby still haunts the industry today. Yet whenever FOX news has a story about sex in games or someone blames youth violence on games, it is not as if a rational and sophisticated response comes from the game community. "We're justifiably upset when we're portrayed in the media as psychotic shut-ins or blamed for school-shootings, but when the culture actually DOES try to engage us on a meaningful level we tend to slam the door and grumble "It's a gamer thing, you wouldn't understand" followed by "and unless your opinion of us or the medium is 100% positive and uncritical, you have no right to it because you never played through Duke Nukem on Hard," he notes. Part of this bizarre behavior simply comes from the mixed relationship people have with the hobby. "Telling a gamer that video games are toys is somehow the WORST thing you can say. There's an insecurity that hamstrings some of us, I think, that we feel like we should be ashamed of still gaming at our age but somehow having the game be brown and excessively scatological makes it okay."

Another problem a game critic has to deal with is that it can be a bit of a strain to find new games that are worth discussing. For every Braid, there are a dozen games that are strapped together with the sole purpose of making money. There is also the issue of hype, which can make any coherent discussion about a newly-released game something of a headache. There are always plenty of fantastic gems on the indie scene, but you risk becoming irrelevant when you totally tune out the mainstream. Moviebob's frustration with this scene often comes from how creative and bizarre people were back in video game's infancy. "Now...development is so expensive and the audience is often so resistant to going really, really far outside the box. I mean...can you imagine trying to make the kind of jump that Super Mario Bros. made from the original Mario Bros. with a modern franchise? Say, if you were in charge of Saints Row 2 and you went into the production office and said 'okay, so...this one will take place in another dimension, and with a totally different gameplay style.' You'd be out on your ass, and not without reason. But it's a shame, from where I sit."

moviebob cites Yahtzee of The Escapist's Zero Punctuation
series as a major influence.

Unlike reading a book or watching a movie, the player input means that a video game can offer a highly different experience depending on the person. So there's an equally large array of theories and approaches floating the web. Whether it's Iroquis Pliskin's theory on the pleasure of mastering rule structures, Mitch Krpata's Taxonomy of Gamer Needs, or Michael Abbott's classroom-like discussions, there is a lot of debate on just how to even intellectually discuss a video game. Moviebob comments, "This is a young medium, and we're still figuring out how to approach it on a level deeper than "this sucks/this rocks." Video games are a different animal than almost any prior form of entertainment in that it's interactive and frequently has a sort of narrative or at least a purely visual aspect to it's appeal. That means a game critic has to be both a product tester looking at the nuts and bolts of the game and an art-analyst looking at the experience, the story, etc. And since those don't always go together you might tend to get "average" scores for stuff that you feel should rate higher. But if you just go by that it's like you're back to "it sucks/it rocks" again. It's not like a movie where one great performance can cancel out a bunch of so-so ones -- if you're reviewing a game that has damn near the best story you've ever heard and you think every gamer needs to experience it...but the controls are wretched, what do you do? This is hard to navigate, and there's no real map to give us an idea where to go."

Which is what makes moviebob such a refreshing member of the YouTube culture. There are plenty of people writing intelligent blogs about video games, but how many are doing insightful videos that are about more than just getting a laugh? The fact that he approaches it with a sense of professionalism and duty makes his work all the more refreshing. He advises, "If I could offer one suggestion to anyone else doing video-commentary: EDIT AND REHEARSE. Unless you're a one-take dynamo, it's usually not a great idea to just boot up the webcam and tape yourself freestyle-yakking." Fact checking and engaging with the audience in the discussion boards are also qualities that moviebob relies on to keep his audience involved. It is YouTube we're talking about and it takes another kind of beast to survive in that climate. "Working on the web is a great motivator -- you can do the best damn video-commentary piece ever (or, if you're less ambitious, you can do the kind of schlock I do) but if you screw up and forget that Stanley the Bug Man was the hero in Donkey Kong 3 instead of Mario there's going to be twelve guys all lined up to correct you."

Having so many ideas and methods for approaching video games is nothing new. That's not what drives people like moviebob or the critics cited, nor is it what demonstrates that video games are growing into a healthy new medium. It's that a variety of people are approaching the issue from a variety of different angles. Having moviebob display the same critical views and questions as "games as art" movement but portrayed in a humorous yet interesting YouTube video is a testament to that diversity.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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