World War Z’s Book & Movie: A Tale of Two Zombies

This post is somewhat of a departure from the norm, but it still involves a game, so enjoy anyway!

I’m going to be frank with you: I often contemplate what I would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I try to map out the steps I would take from time of discovery to setting up a permanent outpost that is both defendable and sustainable. The Netherlands doesn’t have many high-ground spots but it does have rural areas that are sparsely populated and land that is ready for farming, since this country loves its agriculture. Add to that the plentiful livestock and well, you can set yourself up pretty well in this country. I know who the members of my Zombie Survival Group (ZSG) are and their respective skill-sets. This is all done in semi-jest, of course. I say semi because the world is crazy and weirder things have happened than the dead walking the Earth. As an avid reader, I consumed Max Brooks’ works of art (The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z) in record time because they, especially WWZ, offered a view on the zombie apocalypse that the movies did not. The regression of humanity in the face on unspeakable challenges and immeasurable horror often ranks lowest on the totem pole for Hollywood as they prefer to focus on the blood and gore with gleeful abandon. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is a forgivable oversight because a movie is but two hours long and thus does not allow for extended storytelling….or does it??

I know what you’re thinking: “But MelChan, you said that games offered the perfect medium to tell the stories that movies can’t! What gives?”

I still stand by that original statement, because it is true; a game allows for hours of interactive entertainment. A movie grants you your two hours of engagement (three if we’re talking LOTR stats here), and then you’re left to your own devices. But what about the concept of a movie expanding the reach of a book that expands on a genre that was near-perfectly covered in one of the biggest games (in terms of impact) of 2012?

When I first learned that World War Z was being made into a film, I experienced a range of emotions in about 30 seconds: excitement, apprehension, realization and then dread. Why dread, you ask? Because I felt that they would butcher what is the most detailed, thought-provoking account of a fictional apocalypse ever. It answered all of the questions that films like Dawn of the Dead leave open, questions that are only partially answered by the comic/TV/game of The Walking Dead. It explored the response to such an atrocity on a global scale, highlighting existing political and cultural tensions that could go either way in an apocalyptic scenario. The section discussing how the virus found its way to countries outside of China via the organ transplant black market was brilliant, and honestly, I hadn’t even thought of it as a potential infection point because my mind was too concentrated on the tried and true method of biting. The book’s structure gave Hollywood the opportunity to produce an engaging and maybe even worrying documentary-style film that would be told using the interviews with flashbacks of what the interviewee remembers. Moral regression, political machinations, country secrecy, the failure of military might and the greatest monster of all: our own human nature. When the announcement trailer began making the rounds online, it was clear to anyone watching that they took Dawn of the Dead and combined it with the rage virus from 28 Days Later to create what looks like a CGI fest of sprinting, leaping and bounding zombies.

Zombie Jenga Tower.

Zombie Jenga Tower.

The fact that they’ve decided to replicate the same tired formula as all other beat-the-clock apocalyptic movies is so utterly disappointing, it reminds me of Bioware not just going with the flow in light of the Shepard Indoctrination theory. I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE for the taking…just take it! The terror factor behind the zombie has always been that despite being slow-moving, they are also a flesh-eating and non-feeling entity that will react to sound for as long as it takes it to find and consume the originator of said sound. Multiply their numbers and you have a wave of constantly gnawing and gnashing teeth that is hard to overcome, and that’s not even considering the fact that a head-shot is not an easy thing to  make, let alone consecutive head-shots. I don’t know when we started moving towards this zombie-sprinter singularity, but it detracts from the terror factor.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if they’d opted for the storytelling scenario rather than what promises to be the blood and gore selection on the buffet line of Possibilities?  It would have been the perfect fleshing out of a genre that has suffered from a severe lack of imagination and exploration, because any fool knows that the war is not just with the zombies but with everyone, alive or (un)dead. I read World War Z around the same time that I started playing The Walking Dead, and I came to treat the book as something of a supplement to the game, which was already engrossing in its own right. You see, books were my first love. Before I had my first gaming experience, books were what I used to feed and bolster my imagination, and I still try to read at least two books a month. So when I got World War Z and The Walking Dead at relatively the same time, I considered it divine intervention and used the book to expand, in my mind, on the themes and concepts raised in the game. It helps to be able to question what your own humanity would allow you to do in a situation like that of the Canadian survivors who end up trading their radio for a pot of soup with some questionable meat (read: human)?

I don’t doubt that World War Z will perform well at the box office, and I will probably still head out to see it (but only because with my Pathe card, I don’t have to pay for it). This doesn’t ease the disappointment of the opportunity the directors and Max Brooks himself had to really wow the world with a story that explores not just the constant appetite of the zombies, but the barbarism that the living are willing to embrace to ensure survival at any cost. It almost makes me hope that in the future, there’ll just be a YouTube series that portrays the stories in the book as the majority of its fans envisioned it, a la Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

Until next time.

I will hopefully get my hands on Bioshock: Infinite so I can give my take on that long-awaited title. It will be my first full Bioshock experience; truth be told, my heart couldn’t handle the first one. Happy Easter to everyone, enjoy the holidays!

Advertisements

The New Lara: Tomb Raider 2013

So I finished the new Tomb Raider in two and a half days. The only reason it took me that long is because my girlfriend insisted I try these things called eating and sleeping. Yes, I found the game just that entertaining, and it’s been a while since something other than Mass Effect caused me to miss Lasagna Night! I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum but just in case:

!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

As a little background, I enjoyed the first Tomb Raider, despite some obvious drawbacks within the gameplay and the graphics, to name just two. Does anybody else remember that alleged waterfall shimmy “glitch” that fueled the concerns of women everywhere?

Sharks weren't even a problem at that point.

Sharks weren’t even a problem at that point.

Future iterations of the game didn’t really grab my attention, and the movies did nothing to help with that. Lara became pretty wooden to me, as did the games; all jump here, go there, yadda. Still though, I was properly excited when Square Enix announced an all-new Tomb Raider for 2013. I pre-ordered it, something I almost never do, and sat down over a weekend for a play-through. Since I like having an idea of what I’m getting into, I checked out a few reviews that contained minimal spoilers. Throughout most of them, the common thread was that this game just had too much violence and not enough tombs, to which I say, really? Was I the only one who assumed from the trailers that there would be less tombs, more action? Or did we all get different trailers?

The game itself opens with a bang, wherein the freighter ship carrying Croft & Co is coming apart at the seams. She is rescued at the last possible second by Roth, and let me tell you, these split-second moments are abundant throughout this game, making me devolve into a button-smashing noob for as long as it takes to shimmy across a crumbling bridge. Anyone heading into this game assuming that they’d be sidestepping spikes and army crawling under a ceiling of snakes while ninja kicking tigers should check that assumption at the door by the time Lara gets to shore, as it gets crazy from then on. I had no delusions that this was going to be the usual Tomb Raider game, with lots of, you know, tomb raiding. I guess because I just took it as Square Enix marketed it to me: an origins story about Lara Croft, before she became the short-shorts wearing, cliff-shimmying diva we know and love. What I was more concerned about were the game mechanics, Lara’s movement and overall gameplay, and on this note I was not disappointed. Player engagement levels rank at an all-time high for me with this game, particular in those moments that required climbing with the pick. Imagery also featured high on my list of Things I Love About The New TR, as this Lara is much more believable both as a woman and as an archaeologist (but I betcha Anita Sarkeesian’s mad that Lara’s still wearing a tank top and has a nice figure…because clearly you don’t have to be fit to raid tombs). Camilla Luddington does a great job as the voice of our zip-lining heroine, and Robin Downes is much more engaging here than he was in Assassin’s Creed III. If I had to pick a gripe (and I’m really reaching to find one here), it would be that in situations where I personally would keep my mouth shut and just think instead of speak my words, Croft & Co seem to have no issue practically yelling their revelations in dark tunnels or creepy burial chambers. Maybe this was done on purpose, because I quite recall yelling “Stuff a scone in it, you muppet!” at my TV on several occasions.

Seriously. Shhh!

Seriously. Shhh!

As for the violence…it wasn’t on the excessive side and I found it perfectly acceptable, as it was meted out in doses I considered believable for a group of people shipwrecked on an island populated with certifiably insane religious zealots. It’s an island, and though the in-game map and concept art may give the impression that it is a vast and easy to get lost in, take it from someone born and raised on an island: it’s not. Add to the fact that it was properly established through in-game collectible journals that Mathias has been collecting minions for his brotherhood for quite some time, and you’ve got a recipe for gun-slinging disaster. One reviewer mentioned that it seemed like the franchise’s DNA was spliced with Call of Duty; I have to vehemently disagree here. Honestly, I find that irresponsible games journalism. At no point in time did I feel as though I was playing something that was laced with traces of Call of Duty. That pop-rocks-on-soda-and-acid feeling wasn’t there, and the game offers enough stealth-based combat that I only found myself running out of ammo in the last 15 minutes. It doesn’t take NASA to figure out that every gamer plays a title differently; Dishonored was a perfect example of that differentiation between the ninjas and the John McClanes of this world. More than once, Tomb Raider put the option in front of you to either go in guns (or arrows, depending on your style) blazing, or you take care of an enemy quietly. The only difference here is, unlike her Square Enix colleague Agent 47, Lara’s not dragging bodies out of sight.

Hit Raider...or Raider Man...whatever.

Hit Raider…or Raider Man…whatever.

Overall, I think the game does Croft right and does her justice. Think about how many origins stories have been bungled or plain-out disastrous, reducing beloved characters to something akin to wallpaper and discrediting years of fan adoration. Rhianna Pratchett took a tough task and followed through with it, showing us a Lara Croft that was believably innocent yet necessarily ruthless. The lack of actual tomb raiding was necessary for this, I believe, because really (and duh) she wasn’t an actual tomb raider as yet. Maybe they should have just called the game ‘Lara Croft: Origins’ to save themselves some of the headache? Be reasonable, people. Bellyaching about how there weren’t actual tombs to raid is nitpicking at best, and at worst it frames you as a fanatic who is against change. Visually and emotionally, the game accomplished what it set out to do and that is to tell a story about how Lara Croft became LARA CROFT, with the mistakes and tough choices people sometimes have to make blocking her every path. At the end, you’re left feeling the same way she is; exhausted (and in my case, hungry), but excited for what’s to come.

Also, for that one guy…don’t worry…in the future, there will be tombs.

Reflections: On Anita Sarkeesian’s gaming-centric “Tropes vs. Women”

If you’re a gamer, chances are you’ve heard of Anita Sarkeesian, particularly since about May 2012. That’s around the time when Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign for her on-going video project launched, entitled ‘Tropes vs. Women, this time with a focus on the gaming industry. The goal behind this project is to highlight the rampant misogyny that is prevalent in many of the today’s popular titles (she seems to have a particular grudge against Dead or Alive). Almost instantly, Sarkeesian was treated to the kind of backlash that could only be made possible by the comforting anonymity that the Internet provides. She faced verbal and visual abuse at the hands of angry male gamers, including an image of her being sexually violated by Super Mario and a web-based game where you could beat up her likeness. Mature, right?

Sarkeesian has her fans and her detractors. There are some who say she is too radical and that her publications lack serious insight and rely on simply stating the obvious: that yes, there are many instances of where women are objectified in popular media, sometimes being reduced to nothing more than the whimpering damsel in distress. To be honest, she didn’t really register on my radar (or anyone else’s, it seems) until she took on an industry that is historically male-dominated and can often be the home of countless ignorant and raging imbeciles who have nothing better to do than tell you just how many ways they had your mother over the weekend…despite the fact that they live on the other side of the world. But anyway, as a gamer and a woman, I decided to run through and devour all that I could tolerate about Sarkeesian and her vision. And really…I’ve never seen someone who for all intents and purposes despises mainstream media and still feels totally comfortable letting said mainstream media wrap her up and snuggle her like that bear from the detergent commercial (sidenote: I hated that damn bear).

Jerk.

Jerk.

Let me preempt the backlash:

1. Despite not identifying as a feminist, I am a woman. This means that I can recognize when women are getting the short end of the stick.

2. I do recognize that mainstream media (from movies, books, TV and games) has a long and often painful history of portraying women as a variety of characters that still all manage to be the same.

3. I can recognize when someone is just generalizing and has no interest in a constructive debate about their views and the views of others…much like the other women who do not appreciate Sarkeesian’s postings. Unfortunately for Sarkeesian, this dilutes her message and ends up slowing down the actual change she aims to bring about to the gaming industry and the rest of the entertainment industry. There are a few trends that Sarkeesian has fallen victim to that, to me at least, seem to be the basis for the backlash against her. I’d like to say that I in no way, shape or form condone the personal attacks made against her, because personal attacks in any discussion just show that you have no properly structured argument on hand and so must resort to banality. And now, trends:

The Cinderella Complex

One of my pet peeves are when people complain about the unfairness of a system and still seek solace within said system when things don’t quite work out. You cannot be both victim and vigilante here, not when you’re making such broad-stroke judgments against an entire industry and, to be quite frank, every man in the world. Sarkeesian climbs on top of her soapbox and proclaims to be doing what she does for the sake of protecting women everywhere…but really…how anti-woman is that mentality? On the one hand, she hates that we’re cast as damsel-in-distress in most mainstream movies (that may or may not feature Baybooms). On the other, she willingly blankets herself in that damsel-in-distress cloak when someone challenges her “findings,” regardless of whether it comes from a male or female commentator. She denounces them with one of two statements, dependent on gender:

1. You are a man, thus by default a sexist pig and so I refuse to acknowledge your differing opinon.

2. You are a woman who has been brainwashed by the mainstream media’s depiction of you and thus, I will ignore your challenging opinion because you are sad and must be saved.

For me, this was the my biggest issue with regards to Sarkeesian and her message, which is basically this: that it’s awesome to be a strong and opinionated woman who accepts her own conclusions, until of course someone approaches with a different conclusion, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to hide behind your gender and say that they all hate you because you’re a girl (never mind that some of those differing opinions come from other women). She does not account for the fact that many women are able to be confident, strong, successful AND sexual, and this is where the disconnect seems to occur with much of her message.

Cry Wolf

You know how sometimes, there’s just that one person who no matter what can find something bad in any and everything in this world. That’s how I felt reading many of her interviews and watching her YouTube videos. Chris Carter over at Destructoid gave what was one of the best counter-arguments to Sarkeesian’s interview with the same website, where he deconstructs several of her comments made about specific games during the interview. I honestly cracked up at reading how utterly distressed she was while playing Rayman Origins and having to save the ‘busty’ Nymphs. Someone clearly hasn’t read up on their mythology. He points out that, more often than we would like, she grasps at straws when it comes to highlighting sexist portrayals of women in games. She  has even blatantly ignored the redemptive qualities and characteristics a female character may possess within a game, instead choosing to make the argument all about the appearances, the box art, the romance possibilities and butt-shots of Miranda Lawson.

That last bit works on my last nerve, because again, it highlights the complete lack of organized resistance within the ‘feminist movement’ or whatever you wish to call it. Are there gratuitous shots of Miranda Lawson’s butt in Mass Effect 2 and 3? Yes. Does this define Miranda as a character? No. Miranda Lawson represents, in my opinion anyway, the kind of character that Sarkeesian appears to want, but still manages to hate. On first glance, Lawson looks like the stereotypical sex-pot goddess:

Indeed.

Indeed.

Oh but wait! Am I being sexist by saying that? Am I wrong for, as a gay woman, saying that I quite appreciated Miranda Lawson’s physical attributes, as well as her intellectual capabilities? Dammit. Anyway. Lawson proves to be more than just luxurious dark hair and one heck of a body. She’s a brilliant mind, having led the Lazarus Project to rebuild Shepard, and a powerful ally on the battlefield. She kind of represents the phrase of “having it all”: beauty, brains and a bit of brawn (in terms of her biotics). So why does Anita Sarkeesian (and a fair share of her supporters) judge her existence in the Mass Effect universe based solely on her appearances and her clothing? Isn’t that what being a feminist is actually supposed to be about? Creating a world where women can be themselves and do as they want and not have to apologize for being intelligent and sexually attractive all at the same time?

I guess not.

The Face of a Generation

This links back to what I said about Sarkeesian not acknowledging or flat-out rejecting criticisms brought against her by other women (and self-proclaimed feminists). She’s basically appointed herself as the face of this campaign, to persuade  the gaming industry (and to some extent, gamers) that they are wrong for indulging in a fantasy world (heh) and to pressure them to change, in no particular order: the way female gamers are treated in online forums and matches, the way female characters are drawn in video games, and the way they market their games on a whole. The problem is that she’s not the face I want representing what she perceives as my plight in life as a female gamer. This is mainly because I hate that term; I am a gamer, my gender has nothing to do with that. But mostly, it’s because when one individual self-appoints as the face of a cause, it doesn’t always mean green pastures ahead, particularly if they are guilty of the above.

I haven’t even touched Sarkeesian’s rants about TV, movie and book tropes against women, but that’s because this is a gaming blog and I believe in focus. But even there, she maintains the notion that women need to be saved. From bad marketing, their sexuality, Michael Bay…everywhere you look, there’s something a female character being negatively portrayed. The problem with that is that it’s a sexist idea, that women need saving, whether they need to be saved by a man or by a crusading feminist who seems to have an issue with female characters displaying any sense of sexual awareness and sometimes comes across as just wanting female characters to be non-sexual period.

To me, that is somewhat worse than the Miranda Lawson butt-shots.