Empathy, empathy, why do you make me cry!

It looks like a movie review at first, but the real subject actually starts at the second paragraph.

If anyone had told me that I would have like The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I probably would have thrown a sarcastic comment and laughed. But I did like it. It’s not an awesome movie, and it is boring at times (especially the action scenes), but it is far better than the Vol. 1 in my opinion. Well, not every one thinks the same way of course, and every one looks for something different when watching a film, but while the first film was desperately trying to convince me that those pathetic losers could eventually get along and save the galaxy, the second one had a real topic and a real reason to make them fight together (and save the galaxy again). I liked that they tell us that the real family is the people who raised you and put up with your bullshit all along, not the stupid genetic relationship that doesn’t mean crap when you get abandoned. It’s a good conclusion and that convinced me that it was trying to tell something.

Aaaanyway, that was a small review, but now I wanna go into the real topic of the day: empathy. And you ask me, “what does it have to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”? Well, because of this character:

mantis

Empathy is the capacity to recognise and feel emotions in other people. And that’s what Mantis does. When she touches someone, she instantly feels what the subject is feeling, whether she wants it or not. It’s important to note, because in my opinion, that’s the detail that made this character so great. She is the empathy that exists between the crew members, but that they don’t want to accept.

I felt it was so well thought and put onto images in such a beautiful way, that I could relate so much to that feeling. Empathy is something that is crippling if you lack it or have too much of it. If you lack empathy, you end up having a behaviour that is not adapted to living in a society, because, either you don’t recognise what people feel, or it doesn’t affect you. If you have too much empathy, you just end up living on a roller coaster of emotion. Usually, people don’t have the same level of empathy with every one. Some will feel strongly for their family or friend, and not care at all for strangers. But some just don’t have any boundary: everything comes in, whether you want it or not, and most often, you’d rather not.

You would think that you can never have too much empathy, but it becomes a problem when you feel bad even when people are wrong. For example, if someone is sad, even if you don’t have anything to do with it, you get sad too. I want to point out this fact because I feel it’s freaking important: you don’t just recognise the sadness, you actually feel sad. It’s depressive, really. Worse, if they’re angry at you, and you didn’t do anything wrong, you feel bad about it. And if someone is happy about something you did, but you didn’t do it (and you know it), you feel guilty. You feel like lying. There is no way to win. I never lie because of that. I can be a very convincing liar if I want to, but it’s just not emotionally worth it.

So what does one do to protect themselves against this phenomenon? Simply, they shield themselves. They try to avoid other people’s emotion by convincing themselves that they don’t feel them. I won’t go into it because I already explained it in this post.

I hate it when someone is angry at me even thought I haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes, they’ve done me wrong, and I still feel bad about them being angry at me. Sometimes, I just want to apologise for nothing just to let steam go and get back to an almost normal state of living. But it’s not fair. Why would someone who’s being a dick and angry at me get away with me actually apologising for it? I used to respond by being aggressive, but we all know it doesn’t work. It’s just making things worse. To be honest, so far, I haven’t found a better solution to the problem than avoiding the distressing people/stimuli altogether. If someone is pissing me off for no reason, I’ll just ignore them and try to focus on something else, because I don’t see why I should get all the trouble when I didn’t do anything wrong.

Now the movie doesn’t give any answer to that question, because it’s not the point of the film. It’s just trying to tell that they should stick together, and Mantis’ role in all this is to make them recognise that they have feelings for each other and that they’re not just a bunch of low-life criminals randomly put together anymore. But what it does is really well done, and I felt like it was worth mentioning because when I see reviews of this film, I only see people praising the entertainment and the action (seriously, action scenes in this film are pointless and boring, come on), and completely ignore the topic of the film and that kind of details. And that makes me somehow sad.

 

Good entertainment has something to say

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillian are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. […]

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. The story is basic, but I think it’s a good thing in this case. Not overdoing it in the plot makes room for all the great thing they wanted to put in, and it’s packed of awesome ideas, that I will break down in this order:

Respect for the original material

I saw Jumanji, with Robin Williams, back when it was released in theatre in 1996. I was 13 and I had a blast. I then watched the VHS at home many times because it was so much fun. The story is simple and follows the rules of a board game, a hobby that was trending in the 60s, when Alan Parrish finds it. Above all the adventure and fun of the movie, it tells you that in the 90s, board games are quite a deprecated activity, and are seen more as a curiosity, even though they are so much fun to play together.

And that’s how Welcome To The Jungle starts. Now that board games are back in people’s home, the movie tells the story of another kind of game: video games and role-playing games. From video games, it makes fun of the clichés, and it denounces some tropes. From role-playing, it brings the whole concept of identity. We’ll come to that later. The thing is, in the 90s, role-playing was getting a lot of attention, especially since it was absurdly considered deviant by many people who saw role-players as cultists and mass murderers. Now tabletop role-playing has lost most of its appeal to actual RPG video games (1). And again, it’s about remembering how fun it was to get together and play a game that would take us to a different place, using the rules of RPG and video games.

Depiction of video games

And the movie is honest in that regard. Even if it drops a various genres (RPG, adventure, action) into the mix, it’s still trying to make it right: quests, NPCs, levels, bosses, abilities and even dice roles are used correctly and consistently throughout the movie. It’s also nice to see the clichés made fun of and the tropes being denounced. The writers obviously knew what they were talking about and it’s refreshing not to have to deal with stupid preconceptions.

Apparently there was an outcry when the first teasers were released, because Karen Gillan was only slightly covered when every other characters had jungle equipment. But it was actually the point to make people discuss it. It’s an obvious reference to the first Tomb Raider games (released in the 90s), in which Lara Croft is not ideally equipped for her combat archaeology, which was already criticised back then, but has been repeated so many times since then. It’s literally one of the first things Karen Gillian’s character complains about in the beginning. And you know what else is refreshing? Nobody makes dirty or borderline joke about it. And the only pee pee joke of the film is actually funny and not gross. So, it’s possible.

Strong case for self-identification

In my tweet, I talk about a woman trapped in a man’s body, but it’s not only that. Every character’s choice of in-game character has something to say about what they want (or don’t want) to be.

They all follow the same pattern. They are good at something, but lack the confidence in something else that they wish they had. For Spencer and Martha, they’re both very intelligent, but they want to be strong and social, so they choose bad-ass characters (Spencer’s character has literally no flaw). For Bethany and Fridge, they’re popular, but they want to succeed because of their skills, so they choose scientists. Bethany gets to be a man by mistake (2), but every other character calls her “she” despite what she looks like, even the 5th player who never met her in real life (3).

In the end, they realise that the image that we project to other people is only a shadow of who we really are, and that we can be whatever we want. It’s not telling a tale of over-achievement. All the goals set by the characters are in reach, whether it’s being satisfied of who she is for Bethany, or being able to live in his passion without feeling ridiculous for Spencer. I like how simple these goals are, and yet we have such a hard time to reach them, because we’re stuck in a very rigid society.

This is a family movie, but I feel that it would strongly appeal to a young audience who struggle to find themselves, and tell them that it’s alright to be who they are. We don’t have to follow a path set by obsolete societal rules.

(1) I feel like I need to point out that there are not many video games that allow several players to come play a story together. Most game are either solo or mass-multiplayer. The movie uses core role-playing concepts in a video game setting, so it’s a good mix of both.

(2) The game uses a confusion in the first name to make her a man, but when you play a RPG, since you don’t have to be physically the person you’re going to play, people often swap genders. The movie just wants to make it simple. We could say that she was assigned the wrong gender.

(3) Although he is confused at first, but that’s actually a good depiction of how people react when you tell them you’re transgender, and they didn’t make it as a joke. I appreciated it.

Note: I don’t why the tweet shows the previous tweet in conversation. I specify in the code that I only want one tweet and not the conversation. If someone knows the reason it happens and how to change it, I’d love to be made aware.

Oxenfree and the power of sound design

I play a lot of video games, and I wish I had the time and energy to review every one of them. But it’s not my job, and honestly, I don’t really want to talk about games that I didn’t like. And most often, I lack the skill to talk effectively about games I like. So what I will try to do, is pick a game that I loved from a previous year and do my best to give it justice, and hopefully, someone will discover something and will want to play it too.

[…]

I play a lot of video games, and I wish I had the time and energy to review every one of them. But it’s not my job, and honestly, I don’t really want to talk about games that I didn’t like. And most often, I lack the skill to talk effectively about games I like. So what I will try to do, is pick a game that I loved from a previous year and do my best to give it justice, and hopefully, someone will discover something and will want to play it too.

So today, I want to talk about Oxenfree (Night School Studio, 2016). And since it’s just out on the Switch, it’s a pretty good timing.

People who know me, know that what I like in a game (or a book/movie), is a good story and interesting characters. And also a good sound design (not in books obviously). Because you can have an compelling story and deep character arcs, if your sound sucks, it takes you out of a story. Personally, I don’t think the story of Oxenfree is that great. It’s good, and it’s consistent with the atmosphere it’s trying to convey. But it’s mainly a character-driven game. To me at least.

It’s a coming-of-age story about a group of friends who go to an island for the weekend. There is only one boat trip to go, and the next trip back is the following day, so they have to spend the night on the island. And of course, there is no cellular network. As you might expect, things start to happen, involving radio interference, friends disappearing out of the blue, and a WWII submarine stranded in time (that escalated quickly). And between all that, the characters spend their time talking about their life and Alex’s (you) brother (who died).

As you might expect from this brief synopsis, there is a lot of time-related issues, of the kind that will mess with your head. I am not sure that everything actually works, but who cares, because that’s not what’s important. It’s a game that focuses on grief and gives you the role of the younger sister who has to deal with it, and also with a bunch of friends who all have a different way to dealing with grief, and some will take it on you. And of course, you choose how to handle it.

To do that, it uses a very common system of branching dialogues. You hear someone talking to you and you’re given the choice in your response. It sounds like a pretty boring, overused system. But it’s done the perfect way. First, every dialogue prompt is timed. Not to pressure you (although some are really fast), but because you never have to actually choose anything. You can even play the whole game as a mute if you want, the other players will react in consequence. Also, the game makes trying to optimize your choice of dialogue pointless. Choices that seem good, may have bad consequences. And antagonizing some character may have good effects in the end (for some characters, at least). If I have one advice in playing this game, it’s this one:

PLAY OXENFREE WITH YOUR GUTS!

oxenfree_screen_2

Play the first time like you would be this character, with your own feelings, because that’s how you’re going to have the best experience and immersion. Don’t hesitate the second or third time around (1) to settle for a type of character and play it until the end, to see how it may turn the story, but again, don’t optimize. It kills the experience and there is no right answer anyway.

Now, about what makes this experience possible: sound design.

You’ve all played to games that use choices in dialogues; there is this awkward pause before you choose, and there are always weird transitions between each piece of dialogue, with the wrong tone, or other discrepancy that doesn’t feel right. In Oxenfree, there is nothing of that. Everything plays seemlessly. It’s perfect, and I don’t just say that because I love the game. It’s actually an amazing feature of this game, and that’s what makes it stand out. Every dialogue feels like a real dialogue, that plays along whatever you choose. The character will cut the other character or wait until they finishes, depending on your choice, or the character will talking continue even if you didn’t choose anything. The voice acting is always right, the sound editing is perfect, with no level difference or glitches, and it integrates amazingly with the soundtrack for the best experience possible.

For me it’s way more important to have a good sound experience than amazing graphics. Here, the graphics are good. They’re not extraordinary, but the artistic choice is interesting and it works well with the story, but the focus on sound is really a top-of-the-shelf performance. Something that has to be commended and rewarded. So I hope this review gives it credit, and I wish more people would play it, so Night School Studio, the developer/editor, would make more of that kind of game.

(1) The game is actually different the second time you play, thanks to a feature added later on (for free, which is amazing in the era of game-as-a-service) that uses the choices you make in your first run to change the story on the following runs, which makes for a good re-playability.

Game available on PC (Steam, GOG, Humble Bundle), PS4, Xbox One, Switch.

Editor’s website: http://nightschoolstudio.com/oxenfree/ (where the image is from)

Case Study on stereotypes and how to deal with them: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Yesterday was Halloween, and since I had nothing planned, I decided to go watch a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

[…]

Yesterday was Halloween, and since I had nothing planned, I decided to go watch a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

So I asked a friend if she wanted to join, and she told me she didn’t like it and that it perpetuated harmful stereotypes about transgender and gender variant people. I had never seen the film before (yes, totally saw the film with a V stamped on my forehead), but looking at trailers and various images, I could see what she meant.

Why I decided to go anyway

First, I had already bought a ticket. Second, I like to get my own opinion of something before judging. And after some research online, it was pretty clear that nobody was taking this film seriously, so I was really curious, and went anyway.

So, how are the stereotypes?

Bad. They’re very, very bad. And it’s not just transgender, it’s everything. Every character is a bad stereotype who acts in a very stupid way. (1)

But?

But I don’t think it’s harmful.

See, there are a lot of movies throughout history where you can actually debate whether it’s alright to watch them. There are great films that show very harmful stereotypes, and you can definitely wonder if you could put them in context to decide if it’s still worth seeing, or if you consider that art and historical context doesn’t justify going through such things. I really think this matter needs to be taken into consideration case by case, and depends on your own feelings and the reasons why you want to watch these films. If you need an example, let’s say that in Blade Runner, Deckard sexually assaults another character. How do you think about that?

But RHPS is not such film. It’s a stupid 1975′ horror-SF-comedy musical that tried to capitalize on stereotypes, bad acting and terrible art choices (again, see note 1). 40 years later, it’s a curiosity that people love to make fun of. They even came up along the years with a very codified way to enjoy it, mixed with live performance and improvised audience participation. In the end, it’s not a screening, it’s a humiliation/execution for the enjoyment of the crowd (if you think about it, that’s even more disturbing). As I told my friend, in my opinion, it’s like the school bully who ends up being mocked by everyone. All its power has vanished by being ridiculed by the crowd. And in the end, that makes for a very enjoyable show. And it correlates with what I saw online before watching the film.

But you’re saying people who thinks it’s offensive are wrong.

Of course not. I just want to point out that the audience coming to see the show are not stupid enough to fall for these stereotypes. They don’t mention them? Well, it’s probably because they’ve seen it 20 times over, and they don’t feel like the need to go over this every single time. Quite frankly, I’m talking about that because it’s my first time watching it, but after a few time, I’ll be like “what, are we still on that?”

For me, it’s like Cards Against Humanity. If you know what kind of content may come out and if you feel like you may be offended, it’s probably safe not to watch it. But if you want to have some fun at the expense of a terrible film with a cheerful crowd, then don’t hesitate to give it a try. Just don’t watch it alone in your living room. That would totally suck.

And on a final note…

LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!

 

(1) There are people who honestly think there is a real plot with social themes and that the movie is made stupid on purpose to be critical of other musicals. To me, it looks like people are trying too hard to justify why they enjoy it, but I guess it’s debatable. I’m just not really interested in that debate.