Archive for the ‘Texts’ Category

From "Shadow of the Colossus"

This week, we tackle video games.  You’ll spend three days setting up the online adversarial and two days wrapping it up back in the classroom.  What you produce in the comments section of this post will become, for many of you, the final grade of this course; for the rest, it will be the grade that sets up your final project and exam.  Keeping the conversation online also forces you, or so the logic goes, to consider your contributions carefully.  Your effort, investment, insight and collaboration will be on display.

  • Day 1: Read the articles in the list below. Comments will be unlocked at the start of Day 2.
  • Day 2: Begin to enter the adversarial discussion in the comments section of this post. Answer the questions, ask questions of your own, and offer insight.
  • Day 3: Return to this post to reply to your peers’ comments. Follow the usual adversarial guidelines to develop the conversation.
  • Day 4: Balance your time in the classroom between further adversarial discussion and face-to-face clarification.
  • Day 5: Tie off any online discussion during the period. Comments will be locked at 2:20 pm.

If you feel that a particularly compelling discussion should continue past that time, request an extension in an email, and the thread will be kept unlocked over the weekend.

The crux of it
These two questions are your central concerns.

1: Are video games art?  It has to be more than a semantic debate, too; we can redefine the term art until it necessarily includes video games, but that is less helpful than a look at the factors outside of strict etymology and common usage.  Note, for instance, that the roots of art involve skill and craftsmanship, and no one can deny that creating a game takes skill.  This is about high art—about respectability and acceptance at multiple levels of society.

#2: When is mature content in a video game gratuitous?  There are likely better adjectives than mature, and certainly better adverbs than when, but that will serve for now; we are looking at graphic violence, sexual content, profanity, and anything else that earns a game a little controversy.  Consider these elements under the aegis of video-games-as-art, and remember that gaming is a unique medium, because it is by definition an interactive one.  What is the impact of these elements on the player?

Core texts
Read these first. Note that the Daniel Floyd lectures are on YouTube; you will need to watch them at home.

  1. Roger Ebert, “Video Games Can Never Be Art”
  2. Roger Ebert, “Okay, Kids, Play on My Lawn”
  3. Simon Parkin, “I Kill Children”
  4. Daniel Floyd, Video Games and Choice 
  5. Daniel Floyd, Video Games and Moral Choices

Secondary texts
Read these, too, as you become interested in the concepts raised above.

  1. More with Ebert: a discussion with Clive Barker; an early response from Joystiq.com; a response that folds in Brian Moriarity’s “sublime art”
  2. More of Daniel Floyd’s lectures on YouTube: Video Games and StorytellingVideo Games and the Uncanny Valley
  3. @PBS.org: The Video Game Revolution
  4. And from the Smithsonian: a list of games selected for the 2012 exhibit on video games as art

Your discussion can wander down any number of paths here, and it might be good to get a little lost; speak to your own experiences, ask questions of those who are more experienced, and see what rich veins you can find to mine.  You can’t lose sight of those core questions or texts, however, and this remains an adversarial.  If you need clarification, send me an email or speak to me in class.


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First, a quick aside: Your TV projects are still due on April 25, after your spring pseudo-break. You will be given two periods (on 4/18 and 4/19) to revisit this assignment; we will also determine the sequence and scope of each period from 4/25—4/28 at that time.  On the 25th, you must be prepared to submit or present your work.

Now, to film criticism: We are using movie reviews as a vehicle for insightful discussion and writing—to suss out the meaning of the world around us, more or less.  After you submit your TV-related work, we’ll spend a few hours one morning (hopefully on the 28th) watching Inception; then you will craft a review of the film that incorporates all that we’ve studied recently.  First, we’re going to practice with this:

The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello

Andrew Allen, writing for the website Short of the Week, gives this summary and response:


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The mind of Bay, according to Anders

Remember that the post dealing solely with Armond White’s review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will remain open a little while longer.  The rest of our focal reviews can be discussed here, including the David Edelstein piece we didn’t quite have time for.  In order of what we read together:

  1. Roger Ebert’s review
  2. Charlie Jane Anders, “Michael Bay Finally Made an Art Movie”

You can also load the entire criticism packet by clicking here.  As you continue the adversarial, feel free to get lost in the usual circuitous paths of debate; you should begin, however, to derive the general form and particular functions of film criticisms from the examples you’ve read.

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Omega Supreme

The first film we will consider through a critical lens is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  The goal, whether we look at Transformers or Citizen Kane, is simple enough: to derive the general form and particular functions of a film review by studying examples.  You’ll read a wide range of them, from The New Yorker to io9.com, and break each one down adversarially.

Let’s start with Armond White, since he sparked—well, he certainly sparked something.  Metacritic rates Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as 35/100, with 32 critics considered.  The movie’s Tomatometer rating at Rotten Tomatoes is a brisk 20%, with almost 200 negative reviews counted.  White disagrees with almost all of them:

Bay’s post-nuclear version of Hoffman’s The Nutcracker stirs emotion from our pop culture, industrial experience then connects to ancient spiritual myths (like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). It’s too much the production of industrialization to be considered magic, yet Bay’s sheer fascination with seeing is impressively communicated.

We laughed as we read this in class, asking repeatedly, “Is he kidding?”  But that is not a particularly useful reaction.  White is obviously intelligent and impassioned, and we need to consider the form and function of his reviews with the same deliberation we’ll reserve for Roger Ebert and Charlie Jane Anders.  In fact, we ought to pay more attention to White, even at the risk of feeding a troll; he believes in the social and moral responsibility of a film critic, so his reviews ought to answer the questions he himself asks of other critics: “Are they REALLY talking about what’s on the screen? Do they know the history of this form? Do they have any political awareness? Do they have any spiritual, or moral, or religious awareness even?”

This post is reserved for White’s review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  We’ll delve into other perspectives in a separate post tomorrow (you can load the packet by clicking here, if you like).

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We’ve now added Armond White to yesterday’s discussion of opinion and fact.  In this article from /Film, White is quoted in a defense of “real” criticism that also defines the role of the film critic:

[T]he reason why I do what I do is because I think there are things that need to be said about movies, about culture, about the world, that nobody’s saying. And that’s why I do what I do. I can only ask you to read around, read as widely as you can. Whoever you read, hold them to a standard, and don’t simply enjoy a critic because they say what you want to hear. But read as many people as you care to, but ask yourself: Are they REALLY talking about what’s on the screen? Do they know the history of this form? Do they have any political awareness? Do they have any spiritual, or moral, or religious awareness even?

Focus for a moment on the first sentence and the belief that “there are things that need to be said about movies, about culture, about the world, that nobody’s saying.”  That quick asyndetion gives all critics a directive: to use this particular medium, the film review, to talk about not just movies, but our culture and the world we inhabit.  That’s a lofty purpose, but it’s one White takes seriously.  It’s also a purpose we can consider outside of this absolute phrasing (the idea that nobody is doing real criticism).  In fact, Roger Ebert agrees with White, at least in part, and even mounts something like a defense of White’s beliefs in this article.

Armond White isn’t the point, of course.  He’s simply a great catalyst for a discussion of how we view criticism, how we use criticism, and the role of the critic.  Some people make fun of White (although Mancini does offer a break from the parody/mockery here); others offer more measured, thoughtful responses.

Let’s actually pull that last link out and create a list:

If you have time, read those articles.  This post will stay open a little longer to accommodate you (and, if I can hide a mea culpa parenthetically, because I clicked “save draft” instead of “publish” this afternoon).

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Brainiac's Super Revenge!

Whatever happened to lengthy exposition on covers?

For today’s continued discussion, focus on our partial reading of Roger Ebert’s “I’m a Proud Brainiac,” as well as the end of the Scott piece from yesterday.  In particular, you should develop a response to the following:

So let’s focus on those who seriously believe “Transformers” is one of the year’s best films. Are these people wrong? Yes. They are wrong. I am fond of the story I tell about Gene Siskel. When a so-called film critic defended a questionable review by saying, “after all, it’s opinion,” Gene told him: “There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact. When you say ‘The Valachi Papers’ is a better film than ‘The Godfather,’ you are wrong.” Quite true. We should respect differing opinions up to certain point, and then it’s time for the wise to blow the whistle. Sir, not only do I differ with what you say, but I would certainly not fight to the death for your right to say it. Not me. You have to pick your fights.

Was Siskel right that “personal opinion shades off into an error of fact” at certain points, and if so, what does that mean for critical discourse?  Consider the rest of Ebert’s argument (up to our stopping place, at least), viz. that contrary opinions are often attacked as “elitist” and nit-picky; that expertise does distinguish one opinion from another; that the job of a critic is “to describe [his] reaction to a film, to account for it, and evoke it for others”; that (in the paragraph where we left off), and that “[t]hose “who think Transformers is a great or even good film are… not sufficiently evolved.”

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Siskel and Ebert, as interpreted by the Fallout franchise.

Note: This is the first of a sequence of daily posts built on our discussions in class. You will have roughly 24 hours (48, if a particular discussion runs over) in which to augment your in-class adversarial scores with comments, with special exceptions made for lively or engaged debate.  We will start today with the necessary philosophical framework, i.e., the place of the film critic in contemporary society.

In reading A.O. Scott’s “A Critic’s Place, Thumb and All,” you raised two essential questions:

  1. How much more (or less) valuable are the opinions of expert critics than the opinions of the average moviegoer?
  2. What is the job of a film critic, and how do we separate effective criticism from ineffective criticism?

Continue your discussion below, focusing on Scott’s language as necessary—his idea that “glib quantification” might “dumb down the critical enterprise,” for instance, and the implication that effective criticism contains “the impact of thoughtful analysis and good writing”; also, the idea that the Internet’s dilution of this critical enterprise might involve “self-credentialed commenters” who “snark and snipe” rather than writing well.

(Addendum: If you’d like to read about Kevin Smith’s use of Twitter to combat traditional critics, which Scott mentions without hyperlinking, click here.)

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