the end of society

POKEMON GO

* Not at all what the game looks like

* Not at all what the game looks like

Sometimes I feel completely disconnected from the modern world and all of its horrific accouterments. This can be awkward; earlier today someone told me that Taylor Swift was dating Loki, and I thought she was still with that mongoloid werewolf kid. The vast majority of times, though, I’m grateful to not be so plugged in.

Case in point: when I saw a guy wandering around the lake by my office building, phone in hand, swiveling this way and that and snarling, “Where is it? Where is it?” The guy was wearing transition lenses, too, which told me that whatever he was doing, it wasn’t cool.

He was playing Pokemon Go, of course. I realized this when a girl about my age came bursting outside, saw the guy, and exclaimed, “Where’s the Pikachu?!? Did you find him?”

Yes, it’s the game that brings everyone together by forcing them to walk around, stare at their phones, and try to imprison imaginary cartoon animals! Six days ago, I’d never heard of this thing. Now, I can’t go to the bathroom at work without running into someone on a quest for a rare Kookaburra (or whatever).

The Pokemon cartoon came out in America in 1998. I was 15 and a devoted fan of Batman: The Animated Series; I just wasn’t interested in a comparatively slipshod “Japanimation” show. However, the franchise appears to have the longevity of Power Rangers – we see a new iteration every few years, and the original, catch-em-all-able stock of little monsters has ballooned over time.

Enter some magnificent corporate bastard, who realized that the kids who spent their hard-earned allowance back in 1998 will be willing and able to dump a lot of their much larger adult income into basically the same thing. Ergo Pokemon Go, which encapsulates everything wrong with modern games and the modern world.

Starting The Game

Your first option is to log into the game using your Google account. Yes, it’s Google, the company that cheats on its taxes, suppresses dissenting viewpoints, and happily aids oppressive Communist dictators in censorship programs that Hitler could only have dreamed of. For all its “genius,” it also has the most unintuitive email service in the world. I used one of my many phony accounts to move along.

Then you have to select a username, even the most obscure of which (including “SeagalFan1” and “PrendergastOil”) seem to be taken already. Next, you design your game avatar. Very limited choices here – you can’t change the face at all, and there are only three different shirts. An essential – essential – element of modern games is the ability to custom-design your character down to pubic hair style, so expect the brains at Pokemon Go to expand these selections. Also, expect them not to be free.

Crazed Pokemon fans will gladly provide truckloads of cash in order to purchase a “unique” hat or funny boots. This is basically how Team Fortress 2 has stayed alive so long – once the actual game objectives have been completed, players will endlessly obsess over cosmetics.

Finally, I was ready to start the actual “game.” If modern games have told us anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as a well-designed, intuitive experience that you naturally pick up as you play. Oh no! We need an endless tutorial section where some guy explains what the hell you’re doing. Don’t take “what the hell you’re doing” to mean “the game’s plot,” however; this game has no plot. There are no levels, no bosses to defeat, no princess to rescue. “Story” and “characters” are for lame people.

Before beginning, I was treated to this important safety warning:

Pokemon Go warning

Yeah, STAY AWARE when you’re walking across a fairy tale bridge that has tripwires instead of a safety rail, or you might miss the huge exclamation point and the giant monster. This looks like four random pieces of clip art slapped together. Who designed this?

Playing The Game

Simply standing at my desk at work (FACT: 90% of Pokemon Go activity is done in the workplace*), I immediately caught three creatures and leveled up. WOW! Quite an adventure. And it only cost me 10% of my battery life.

* May not be an actual fact

The thing takes forever to load. I managed to open it once and it froze; I opened it again, and it froze again. Just trying (and failing) to re-enter the game cost me another 3% of my battery life. That’s a huge drain for less than 5 minutes of actual playing time. At this rate, you’d be able to play for maybe a half hour before your phone is completely dead.

IT'S SO FUN HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Get ready for server failure ACTION!

After finally managing to re-enter the game, it froze and crashed in the middle of catching some kind of plant monster. Then it wouldn’t load back in. When it finally worked, I discovered I had reached Level 3 and I was down to 70% battery life. Still standing at my desk, I captured three new Pokemon, bringing my level up to 4 and my battery down to 60%. In total, I caught 12 Pokemon without taking a single step. What a great game.

Now, what’s the point of all this, you ask? Basically, if you “collect” enough Pokemon of the same type, you can evolve them into more powerful forms. For instance, your Kookaburra may evolve into a Kumbabumbra! Why? So that you can go to a “gym” – which, keep in mind, is in a real-world location – and fight other Pokemon. Ask why you’d ever want to do this and we’re into real existential territory.

The game’s interface is basically a Google map on which your avatar and various Pokemon will appear. When you attempt to capture one, the game uses your camera to show the creature hopping/flying/crawling right in front of you! WOW! It’s just like real life!!! You then swipe your finger on the screen until you catch it. That’s it.

Work can wait, I've got a thing to throw balls at!

Work can wait, I’ve got a thing to throw balls at!

Hey, but here’s some fun: the game tracks exactly where you catch each and every one of your Pokemon. That’s right, parents: some heartless corporate entity can now see every move your Pokemon Go-playing children make – where they live, where they go to school, where their friends live… Sweet dreams!

Allowing The Game To Consume Your Very Soul

To catch Pokemon, you need Pokeballs. These eventually run out, which brings us to an important decision: do we physically go to a “Pokestop” to get additional supplies for free… OR, do we simply BUY more stuff with an in-app purchase?

Yep. That’s how they get you, folks. Why take the time to actually play the game when you can simply buy your way to success? Making it free, but structuring it so that there is a direct correlation between money spent on the game and in-game success, is the equivalent of a heroin dealer telling a junkie that the first fix is free. People can and do get addicted to these things; I’ve rarely seen such a blatant, cynical money-making scheme.

In the game “Store,” all your purchases are made with Pokecoins. You can buy 100 Pokecoins with a mere $0.99. That’s an entire song on iTunes – a tangible thing you could listen to and enjoy for eternity. Or, you know, you could buy a make-believe egg that hatches after you walk two kilometers. Yeah, not miles, KILOMETERS. What is this, socialist Europe???

Even worse, a lot of these Pokestops are located at churches. Don’t worry, kids: you don’t actually have to go into the church, so God won’t be quite as depressed while you’re wasting the beautiful, miraculous life He provided you with. I was also told about a stop located on a country club golf course – where only the children of THE RICH can get to it.

We’re being told that this game will get kids out of the house. With the game being out less than a week, they’re assuring us that it’ll create this wonderful sense of community (with zero evidence to support that claim). Meanwhile, there are actual verifiable stories about criminals using this game to mug people, players breaking into buildings, people falling off cliffs, etc. Shockingly, the evidence here seems to point more toward “people aren’t good.”

It's a FUN game!

How shocking.

What will actually happen – when the inevitable in-game chat features are enabled – is that kids will be sitting inside as they always are, staring at their phones as they always do, and spending money that isn’t theirs on a shitty game that has no objective beyond “acquire more imaginary stuff.”

Is there any more eloquent summation – and condemnation – of 2016?

Advertisements

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: The Force Awakens

2016: [See the plot of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope]

Setting: JJ Abrams’ throne room. Nubile young women carry sparkling wines, gourmet cheeses, and exotic fruits on golden trays. One man, Writer 1, kneels reverently at Abrams’ sandal-clad feet. Another man, Writer 2, stands further back and seems perplexed by the entire scene. 

Writer 1: Oh great JJ Abrams, creator of Alias and LOST, we come before you to hear what new creations you prepare to reveal!

Writer 2: …Yeah, hi JJ. You did say to be here at 1:30, right?

Abrams: Arise, my servants. Just as Felicity unleashed my greatness upon the Universe, so shall I now unleash a new cinematic vision upon the unsuspecting populace!

Writer 1: Glory be!

Writer 2: …We’re here for the specs on the new Star Wars movie. You know, fans have waited a long time for a good Star Wars – since 1983, in fact. We’re hoping you can deliver.

Abrams: Can I deliver! You’re speaking to the mastermind of Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness! Does that answer your question?

Writer 2: It actually raises more questions, for me.

Writer 1: Don’t pay him any attention, JJ. Just blast a hot load of Star Wars plot on us and we can die happy men.

Abrams: And so it shall be, my friends, and so it shall be. Envision, if you will, a strange alien galaxy full of adventure and magic, full of heroism and villainy, full of wonder and whimsy and romance and daring-do!

Writer 1: My God! It’s beautiful!

Abrams: But all is not well with this galaxy.

Writer 1: (gasps)

Abrams: Yes. The Empire has fallen, but a virtually identical force has replaced it, and the only things standing in its way are the New Republic and the Resistance!

Writer 2: Wait, hold on… the New Republic and the Resistance? What’s the difference between these two groups? What happened to the Rebellion?

Abrams: SILENCE! You’ll miss the best part… the Resistance obtains valuable plans that will help defeat the forces of evil. These plans are concealed in an adorable, spunky little droid, who ends up on a desert planet in the hands of a most unlikely hero.

Writer 1: It’s a triumph of the imagination!

Writer 2: I’m sorry… are we discussing the new movie? Because this sounds an awful lot like –

Abrams: SILENCE I SAY! Clench your buttocks, because you might lose control of your bowels when you hear this next innovative twist! Our heroes will be stalked by a black-clad masked menace who is skilled in the Force!

Writer 2: So, like, a Darth Vader-type character?

Abrams: Oh, God, no. Who wants to see that? This character will be a wispy young thing portrayed by some big-nosed long-haired emo-looking douche, and instead of choking people he’ll get all pissy and smash stuff when he gets upset.

Writer 1: My spine is tingling with fear!

Writer 2: I have to say, this villain doesn’t seem like he’s in the same class as Vader or even Darth Maul… will we have some really strong heroes to oppose him?

Abrams: Your hopes have been realized, for I have devised heroes destined to be just as legendary as Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Writer 1: Oh my…

Abrams: BEHOLD! I give you… a girl and a black guy! KAZAAAAAAAM!

Writer 1: Holy SHIT.

Writer 2: This sounds kinda pandering, to me. I mean, what next, this random girl will turn out to be so incredibly bad-ass that Han Solo will say something like, “Kid, you’re a damn fine pilot, why don’t you join me on my ship even though it’s always just been me and Chewy…”

Abrams: Excuse me, “this random girl”? I put a scene in there where she fixes something on the ship! It’s like, “Oh, I re-routed the capacity through the auxiliary drive matrix” or some shit. Boom, instant street cred.

Writer 1: Oh, you’re the king, JJ, you’re the best there is, best there was, best there ever will be!

Writer 2: (Sighs) Alright, so the unlikely heroes are on the desert planet with the robot, what next?

Abrams: Well, you’ll never see this coming, but it turns out the evil militaristic space organization –

Writer 2: – like the Empire –

Abrams: – NOT AT ALL like the Empire – is commanded by a sinister, robe-wearing figure whose mind is as twisted and corrupt as his body!

Writer 2: …like the Emperor.

Abrams: NOT AT ALL like the Emperor! In fact, this evil mastermind’s name… IS

Writer 1: Here it comes.

Abrams: Supreme Leader SNOKE.

Writer 2: You’re kidding.

Abrams: SNOKE. Doesn’t that name just inspire fear and awe? Say it with me. Say, “SNOKE.”

Writer 1: I can’t! I’m that afraid of this guy!

Writer 2: It sounds like a sock puppet from a kids’ TV show.

Abrams: Perhaps your impudent tongue will be silenced when I tell you that Snoke will be an entirely CGI character! Oooh, aaah, the magic of film-making!

Writer 2: Who’s going to play him?

Abrams: Well, he’s an all CGI character created after 2003, so…

Writer 1: Andy Serkis?

Abrams: Bingo.

Writer 2: Oh, come on. You know, JJ, the Star Wars franchise used to be a bastion of unrestrained imagination and creativity. This sounds like a tired old re-hash of every trope that we’ve seen a thousand times before. I’ve read Star Wars fan-fic more creative than this.

Abrams: Oh ye of little faith! Was it not I who rescued the Star Trek franchise via the never-before-explored avenue of TIME TRAVEL? Wait until you hear my finest plot innovation yet!

Writer 1: I don’t know if I’m worthy to hear this.

Abrams: It turns out that the non-Empire has… a gigantic space station capable of destroying entire planets!

Writer 2: …So, the Death Star.

Abrams: No, bigger than the Death Star. Like, colossally bigger. And, therefore, different and better.

Writer 1: That’s a fact.

Abrams: In a thrilling race against time, our heroes will have to infiltrate this massive space station, disable its shield, and attack its weak point for massive damage!

Writer 2: Wait, wait, wait… wait. This is literally the plot of both Episode IV AND Episode VI. You can’t be serious.

Abrams: Oh, can’t I?

Writer 1: JJ, I’m not blowing smoke up your ass when I say this… but you are literally the Jesus of franchise resurrection.

Abrams: And the best part is, all of this is set 30 years in the future, so we get to see the stars of these magical films of our childhood as haggard, wrinkled old sacks who can barely run for two seconds on screen! Remember hot Princess Leia in the slave costume? Well now you get to see her visage wracked by age, and hear her old lady denture voice!

Writer 1: It’s like all my dreams have come true at once!

Writer 2: In what world would anyone want to see the exact same story played out with vastly inferior new characters and old, sad versions of the original characters?

Abrams: You’re so short-sighted. You’re forgetting how legendary these original characters will be. They’re like mythical heroes now. Some people don’t even believe they exist. They’ll be like living legends, something out of a fairy tale.

Writer 2: 30 years in the future people don’t even believe they’re real? 1986 was 30 years ago. That’s like saying people today think Jack Nicholson and Ronald Reagan are just legends or fairy tales. How short are people’s memories in this universe?

Writer 1: Man, don’t you have anything positive to say?

Writer 2: Well… maybe it’s just growing pains. I’m sure the second installment will be better.

Abrams: I’ve already got an idea! It begins in this frozen wasteland…

Writer 2: I quit.

DON JON – 5/19/14

2013. Disgusting.

This movie is gross. The theme is gross. The accents are annoying and gross. Tony Danza in a wife-beater is really, really gross. I was repulsed in a very visceral way during almost every minute of this film. I’m glad I decided to watch it.

The titular Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – more like Joseph Gordon LEAVE-it! As in LEAVE this movie! RIMSHOT! Some Mad Magazine-style hilarity there) is a Pauly D-type guy with a reputation as a Casanova. You can picture this character without even seeing the movie – he drives a muscle car, he has big pecs, his hair is always slicked back, etc etc. Unsurprisingly, the movie is set in New Jersey.

Can I ask – when did the state of New Jersey become cool? Is it because the obese governor goes on late-night talk shows? Is it because there’s a (noisy, crowded, expensive, storm-ravaged) beach there? New Jersey is to the rest of America what MLS is to sports – nobody likes it, nobody really sees it, but there seems to be a concerted effort to ram it down our throats. While we’re at it, when did Tony Danza become cool? How does he keep getting work?

Sorry. Anyway, Jon has sex with numerous women (which he “humorously” confesses to his priest throughout the movie), but what he really loves is pornography. When he meets Barbara (Scarrllett Johhannssonn), however, he falls head-over-heels for her. He gives up his womanizing and, because she really hates it, he tries to give up watching porn. Knowing that, you know what the big complication is – she finds out he still watches it by looking at his browser history, which he apparently had no idea about.

This twist is not only predictable but dumb, too. Why? Because there was a lengthy exchange earlier in the movie where Jon chides his dad (Tony Danza) for not knowing what TiVo is. So he’s aware of TiVo, but not that there’s a browser history? He owns a Mac! How does he not know about browser history?!?

While things are going south with Barbara, Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore). Her character seems to have no purpose at first, but since she’s on the movie poster, it’s pretty obvious what happens. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll basically give everything away: Jon ends up with Esther in the end, because they “really connect” over the fact that her husband and son died in a car crash the previous year. Romance! Joseph Gordon-Levitt is 33. Julianne Moore is 54. The intense sex scene between the two of them nearly gave me the dry heaves.

What inspired Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make a movie where the main issues are pornography and masturbation?* Why do we have to suffer through the horrendous Jersey accents? Has society degenerated so far that the exciting revelation for our hero is “meaningless sex isn’t good?” Even as he burns in Hell, I’m pretty sure Osama Bin Laden sees this movie as proof that he really was right about American culture.

The producer is named Ram Bergman, which is one of the coolest names I’ve ever seen.

People in this movie use the term “smash” as slang for having sex. That’s awkward, because I use “smash” as slang for taking a dump.

*I know, you could argue that the movie is about how porn sets up unrealistic expectations for guys just like romantic movies set them up for girls, etc… but the number of scenes devoted to JGL posted up at his laptop surely dwarf any that might have been spent developing a “deeper” theme.

THE AVENGERS – 4/14/14

2012

Alright, so… where do we go from here?

This movie is 143 minutes long (counting the 6-minute end credits). That’s almost as long as There Will Be Blood. Does the story of The Avengers really need that long to be told? Exactly four things happen in this movie: the bad guy shows up and steals a doomsday device, the good guys assemble their team, they capture the bad guy but he escapes, he turns on the device and the aliens from Halo attack New York City.

Mixed in there we’ve got an aircraft carrier that both flies and turns invisible, we’ve got Iron Man fighting Thor, we’ve got Thor fighting the Incredible Hulk, we’ve got giant flying alien monsters, and we’ve got long, LONG talking scenes that “develop” characters who have all already had at least one movie completely to themselves.

My eyes hurt and my brain feels like it’s ready to ooze down into my jaw. These superhero movies have become so big, so bloated, so overblown in scope and self-reverence, that they literally numb the senses. By the end, the sight of a gigantic space monster’s fin gouging a big hole in a building was actually dull. That sight – a wonder, a marvel produced by movie-making technology it took over half a century to develop – was boring. Seeing said monster crash into Grand Central Station and die was routine. I kept checking the time – “Still 45 minutes left?” – and wondering why I had to see yet another scene where a guy punches another guy through a wall.

The plot sloughs from one city-crushing CGI battle to another with tedious inevitability. Will Tony Stark get hit in the balls and utter a wry quip that belies his physical pain? Will the Hulk do something incongruously zany to lighten the mood? Will we get slow-motion shots of stuff exploding and people running away? We sure will! And I hope you liked them, because you’ll be seeing them again. And again.

There is no unifying style, no “look.” Everything is slick and shiny and cold. Colors that should be bright – Captain America’s shield, Iron Man’s armor, Hulk’s skin – are dulled and grimy-looking. When you turn on one of the Tim Burton Batman movies, you know it’s a Batman movie. You see the urban decay, the almost liquid shadows, the flashy, twisted outfits of the villains. Watching these modern superhero movies, they could be anything. Loki and Thor might have wandered out of Lord of the Rings; Black Widow looks like a Bourne escapee.

When Superman came out in 1978, its tag line was “You’ll believe a man can fly.”  There was a genuine wide-eyed sense of awe at seeing a comic book superhero brought to life on the big screen. Now we can see a man not only fly, but intercept a nuclear missile in mid-flight, take it through a space portal, use it to blow up an alien mother ship, and fall back to Earth without batting an eye.

What happened to us?

8 Movie Cliches I’m Really Tired Of That Appeared In The Avengers

  1. Samuel L. Jackson. Can he not be in every movie playing the cool, intense guy who shouts a lot? Thanks.
  2. People saying “With me,” and having other people fall into line behind them as they stride purposefully down a hallway.
  3. People saying “Talk to me,” when they need information in a tense moment. What next, will someone say, “In English, please,” when they don’t “get” technical jargon? (Someone does)
  4. Asian scientists. Come on.
  5. English-sounding bad guy. Loki is a Norse god. Why does he speak with an English accent?
  6. Bad guy intentionally letting himself get captured as part of a ludicrously complex scheme. Unfortunately it seems like every bad guy is going to do this after The Dark Knight. See also: Skyfall.
  7. Bad guy in a cell playing mind games with the people who come to visit him. Haven’t we seen enough of this one? I kept expecting Loki to ask the Black Widow about the lambs she had as a child.
  8. The speech at the end where people talk about how the heroes will always be there for them.