Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NintenD'OH! Paper Mario and Business Practices in the Gaming Industry

Let’s talk ethics.

It should be no surprise to people who’ve known me for a long time that I like Nintendo. They’ve been making affordable consoles for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been an admirer of their games for so long that I requested a Gamecube as a Bar Mitzvah gift in 2003 from my parents, which was then followed up with a Wii in 2007. Keep in mind that gifts of that calibre were a rarity growing up, so for me to request a Nintendo console meant that I clearly respected their work. This was around the time that the competition was trying to be “edgy”, so a bright spot of colour and fun was a breath of fresh air. And even after my hobby of choice transitioned to movies/anime, that feeling never left.

All the more reason why Nintendo’s recent controversy is such a disappointment. The whole ordeal stems back to something that started in 2014 called GamerGate. I won’t elaborate too much on what GamerGate is, you can read up on it if you’re so inclined, but the ordeal has lost me a lot of friends online. The movement’s goal is to promote “ethics in gaming journalism”, but words and actions are totally different. Either way, it’s not something that I enjoy seeing brought up in mainstream entertainment when not necessary, whether as a celebration or a mocking of it. It’s like I said on Infinite Rainy Day when a company called FUNimation Entertainment decided to mock it for no reason in their dub of an anime called Prison School:
“Unless the material calls for it, you don’t mess with something for the sake of airing your own dirty laundry. Especially when the original writers are trusting you with a decent translation of their work…[y]ou don’t parody your material and insult your audience, because some of them actually care and will be pulled out of it with such blatant disrespect.”

I wish Nintendo had heeded that advice. Instead, they decided to prod the serpent too, except with the exact opposite approach: mock the victims, not the oppressors. In the recent translation pics of Paper Mario: Color Splash, they decided to make a direct reference to the Five Guys controversy that ruined game developer Zoe Quinn’s career…as a joke. To quote someone I worked with at day camp, “Oh dear!”

As expected, it blew up on the internet. Some were defending the translation, calling it a “harmless reference to Five Guys Burgers and Fries” and stating that people shouldn’t get worked up. Others, however, flipped out and claimed Nintendo was demonic, stating that they’re “no better than those GamerGate monsters that keep pestering the gaming community”. Either way, it was obvious that Nintendo’s PR department would have their hands full trying to deflate the situation. Personally, I’m a little torn, but not in the way you’d think.

On one hand, I recognize this is an issue. Nintendo of America’s localization team boobed pretty badly, and the person who thought this was a good idea should either be reprimanded or fired. Because it’s Nintendo; if they’re so concerned about keeping a family-friendly image, then they shouldn’t be condoning baseless hatred of women. If they’re so concerned about editing the cover of the most-recent Fire Emblem game so that a scantly-clad woman isn’t in plain view, then they shouldn’t be condoning baseless hatred of women. If they’re so insistent on firing their former PR person, Alison Rapp, over moonlighting sex-work because it “portrays a negative image of their company”, then they shouldn’t be condoning baseless hatred of women. Basically, if Nintendo is so insistent on remaining “innocent”, then they shouldn’t be condoning baseless hatred of women. Because this does exactly that.

It’s especially troubling because the gaming industry has come under fire in recent years for its horrible treatment of women. Developers like Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn have frequently been harassed for speaking up against their treatment in the workplace, while Anita Sarkeesian, host of the controversial “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games”, has been attacked for her feminist analysis of video games to the point of caricatures ala Jewish-blackface. So for Nintendo, the beacon of family-friendly entertainment in gaming world, to suddenly include this joke, especially considering the Alison Rapp controversy I mentioned in the previous paragraph, is really not helping the situation.

On the other hand, I think the backlash against Nintendo is a little extreme. For one, it’s a localization joke that can be removed. It sucks that it snuck in there at all, but it’s not permanent. The game comes out in almost an entire year, that’s plenty of time to change the line. And if Nintendo’s smart, which I’m sure they are, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

Two…it’s a localization joke. That means there’s always the option of region importing the original game should the line still bother you. I know that newer Nintendo consoles have the option to change the country of origin in their settings, so if you really want to, as tedious as it may be, you can.

And three, the boycotting of Nintendo as a whole is ridiculous. Not only did said boycotters forget to boycott when Rapp was fired because Miitomo was launched the next day, I’m sure they’ll forget to do so again. Also, what good will it do, other than potentially harm innocent workers? Because trust me, when it comes to boycotts of big corporations, the average Joe is usually the first to go. I know because that’s what happened with Ma’ale Adumim’s Sodastream plant when the Boycott and Divestment Sanctions group, or BDS for short, began protesting Israeli products over their perceived treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and The West Bank.

I think we forget that sometimes, especially in the modern-Capitalist world. Like it or not, boycotts of corporations often do more harm than good. You might think you’re sending a message to the higher-ups, and it might work in the short-term, but in the long-term it hurts the grunt workers and employees trying to make an honest living. That doesn’t mean that those who are upset shouldn’t express concern, but not like this.

Rather, it should be directed in a more helpful manner, i.e. a petition, letter or email requesting to revoke the joke. Alternatively, writing a piece about it, like I am right now, or expressing concerns via Twitter, Facebook or Nintendo’s website are options. Because while Nintendo might be a business, they’re run by people! If enough people speak up, then they might be obligated to fix the problem if it means keeping an audience. It’s worked on a variety of other controversies, so why not here?

Nevertheless, to the person who thought this line was a good idea: you’re a jerk. I’m still planning on buying a WiiU at some point, but it won’t be because of you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why I LOVE Finding Dory

Finding Dory is a film that had all of the cards stacked against it. Not only was it the “unnecessary” sequel to Finding Nemo, but it was of a line of sequel mandates from Disney that included Cars 2, Monsters, University, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles II and Cars 3. Additionally, given the track-record of every Pixar movie in the last 6 years that wasn’t Inside Out, there was concern that this’d be another disappointment. Fortunately, it isn’t. Is it the original? No, but that doesn’t mean it can’t stand on its own.

Remember that throwaway line about Dory’s family from Finding Nemo? This movie does, and after another throwaway line about the importance of family, Dory’s subconscious is sparked and she remembers her parents. She goes on a search that leads her to an aquarium in California, with Marlin and Nemo trailing closely behind, but it comes with a catch: Dory’s memory is hazy, so not all the clues and pieces of information are reliable. In that sense, the movie plays like a wacky scavenger hunt, with Dory sometimes remembering details and other times forgetting everything. It’s this confusion that leads to the real fun, as you’re often left in the dark.

I’d normally go on to discuss the film in a review-like format, but that’d do my thoughts a disservice. Instead, I’d like to zone in on something many reviews haven’t been talking about, yet I still feel is equally relevant. It’s a pressing theme throughout the 100-minute runtime, and glancing over it is disrespectful to why this movie works: let’s talk disabilities.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I have several disabilities. When I was 7 years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD (or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). This began a trip down the rabbit hole that later included Asperger’s Syndrome, Social Anxiety and Tourette’s Syndrome. All throughout my childhood, I felt I didn’t belong. I was shunned by my peers, ignored by my teachers and at constant ends with those who wanted to help, yet didn’t know how. In short, I was miserable growing up.

Which is all the more reason why, even before she had her own movie, Dory spoke to me. Finding Nemo came out around the time I’d hit teenage-hood, and here was this fish, a fictional character, who was quirky enough to be funny, yet grounded enough to be relatable. She was constantly the butt of jokes, but she compensated with her spontaneity and hopeful optimism. She wasn’t the focus, Marlin’s relationship with his son was, but she definitely stole the show. In short, she was every kid with a disability who hadn’t given up hope, making her an exemplary role model.

On the flip side, Finding Dory takes full advantage of Dory as a character. At first, this sounds like a potential disaster; disabilities, after all, are often misunderstood and misrepresented in mainstream culture and society, so there’s a chance this could backfire. But the movie never strays from what it’s trying to do: shed light on Dory without demeaning her. There are plenty of jokes at her expense, don’t get me wrong, but more often than not the movie recognizes the severity of Dory’s short-term memory loss and plays it sincerely. Humorously, maybe, but never ironically.

I love that. Far too often, society hears “disability” and thinks “distraction”. It views it as a negative, something that needs to be rectified. Alternatively, when it’s acknowledged, it’s over-glamourized. Both approaches are grained in some form of truth, but Finding Dory takes the middle ground. It recognizes that Dory’s presence can be uncomfortable in excess, yet it also respects her as an individual. It even frames her disability as something positive, something to learn from and work with as a strength. After all, Dory’s best quality has always been her spontaneity, so why not cater to that?

But it gets better! One of Finding Nemo’s sub-themes was overcoming adversity. Nemo had a damaged fin, yet the movie had him learn that that didn’t have to stop him from achieving greatness. Finding Dory expands on that adversity theme and makes it the primary focus. Ignoring Dory’s memory, the movie introduces an octopus with a missing tentacle, a whale shark with bad eyesight, a beluga whale with a head injury, a bird with delayed cognition and two seals with missing fins, to name a few. All of them get their chance to shine, which I love. In a world that struggles with disability representation, this film excels at it, leaving Marlin, the only “normal” character, at, ironically, a huge disadvantage.

Of course, the film is wickedly funny too. If Finding Nemo was a "buddy-road trip" movie, Finding Dory is more of a screwball comedy. It has its heart and brain, no doubt, but its mostly wacky and unpredictable hijinks help disguise the bitter undertones. This is what Pixar used to excel at: masking depressing subtexts with barrels of laughs and colourful characters. I wouldn’t consider it one of their best, perhaps second-tier over first-tier, but Finding Dory is still a prime example of Pixar’s beating heart.

So yeah, go see it. And bring your kids, especially if they have a disability, as they might appreciate it more than you!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I saw X-Men: Apocalypse recently. It was a mess. An honest and entertaining mess, it’s clear director Bryan Singer cared, but a mess nonetheless. And it appears that reactions have been all-over, with some liking it, others hating it and a few caught in-between. But the fact that it’s reignited the dronings of “critics are biased” and “give _ back to Marvel” is really annoying, so I figured I’d talk about that.

First, some context: back in the 80’s, Marvel, the giant powerhouse we know today, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In order to save its reputation, the company decided to make movies. However, since Marvel didn’t have its own studio, like it does today, it auctioned off its characters to various studios. The contracts stipulated that if a film wasn’t in production every 7-8 years, the ownership would revert back to Marvel. This is why we ended up seeing names like Spider-Man and X-Men, both Marvel properties, under the Sony and 20th Century Fox logos.

As you’d expect, the big boom of superhero properties began as the 21st Century rolled on. Sadly, while some of these Marvel characters, namely Spider-Man and X-Men, managed to make for successful films, many, like The Punisher, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and Ghost Rider, failed to be successful critically or financially and others, like Namor and Man-Thing, never got off the ground. I know it’s more of a concern now with the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but by the time Iron Man hit theatres in 2008 most of the Marvel properties that’d been outsourced had already reverted back to Marvel. To-date, Marvel owns or co-owns all of its properties save Fantastic Four and X-Men, both still owned by 20th Century Fox and don’t look to be given back in the foreseeable future. In short, it’s complicated.

This is where the fans come in. You see, it’s not enough that X-Men: Apocalypse was critically panned. Plenty of movies, particularly comic book adaptations, have been panned, so this is nothing new. The problem is that, even if the movie had been praised, it’s a property created by Marvel that isn't owned by them. Given how Marvel’s current goal is a world-building film continuity called “The Marvel Cinematic Universe”, that mutants aren’t present makes Marvel nerds unhappy; in fact, since two of these mutants, the Maximoff twins, are both mutants and general Marvel heroes, Marvel and Fox had to compromise and only focus on one each. Essentially, 20th Century Fox focuses on Quicksilver and his relationship with Magneto, aka his estranged father, while Marvel focuses on Scarlet Witch without mentioning her as a mutant at all.

And it drives Marvel fans insane, such that many are openly boycotting the X-Men continuity in hopes that it tanks and Marvel gets the property back. This includes looking for reasons to nitpick the films too: Wolverine is criticized for overshadowing the rest of the cast, the suits are criticized for not looking like the comics, the mutants are criticized for not being identical to their comic book counterparts, the list goes on. It’d be one issue if the movies were objectively awful, as in they didn’t do anything right, but given how four of them have been critically praised, while one of the remaining films was decently-received, it’s not that simple. X-Men, like Spider-Man in the early-2000’s, has translated quite well to film, so it’s easy to forgive the darker, grittier nature of the on-screen continuity because Bryan Singer-and, to a lesser extent, Matthew Vaughn-and company know what they’re doing.

Which leads to the first of my big questions: why are fans behaving like this? Is it a shame that X-Men isn’t back at Marvel? Yes. Would I like it to be? Again, yes. But whining that this “isn’t the X-Men I grew up with”, when it’s flexible enough to be open for interpretation, and demanding that it revert back to Marvel for a “true adaptation” is exactly why the general populace has a hard time taking nerds seriously.

Perhaps the biggest, and most-unfortunate, example comes from YouTube personality Bob Chipman’s review of X-Men: Apocalypse:

*Sigh* (Courtesy of moviebob.)

For clarity, I respect Bob Chipman immensely. I like a lot of his work, and I don’t usually mind when he rants about films he doesn’t like. I also realize that art is subjective, that it’s okay to disagree, and that the X-Men films have always been divisive. But claiming that the franchise doesn’t hold up is one problem, stating that people have an ironic attachment to something they haven’t seen in years is another, and the latter doesn’t sit well with me. I hear it frequently about non-Marvel movies, that people “only love them because of when they came out”, and that arrogant notion is one of my big no-nos in film criticism.

“But wait,” you’re thinking, “I’ve read your Tweets! Haven’t you done the same with other films that people like before too?” Firstly, guilty. Secondly, I’ve tried my hardest not to, usually apologizing when I have. And thirdly, I’ve never screamed “nostalgic/ironic love” for these movies when challenged by fans. I don’t do it for either of the Tim Burton Batman films, which I can’t stand, either of The Amazing Spider-Man films, which I can’t stand either, or anything else I don’t think is any good/holds up. Because that’s cocky and condescending, and Lord knows how much I hate that!

It doesn’t help that Bob’s tagline implies that we should “let it go already”. Why? Bob not liking the X-Men franchise, save one entry, doesn’t mean that my enjoyment of these films is a lie. And what if I don’t want to let go of X-Men? What if I think Fox has done a (mostly) great job? Am I harbouring an “ironic love” for this series too?

Thus is the slippery-slope of such a claim, as it presumes too much and understands too little. I haven’t seen the first two X-Men films in years, but I doubt they’d have fans if there was nothing to connect to. X-Men: Days of Future Past, on the other hand, I’ve re-watched recently, and it’s one of my favourite superhero films of all-time. And while X-Men: Apocalypse is plagued with pacing issues, character inconsistencies, occasionally weird structure choices and tonally-jarring detours and fan-service, it’s still enjoyable and has plenty of heartfelt and well-executed moments. Ironically, it’s the entry that Bob actually likes, X-Men: First Class, that I’m not terribly impressed by. But even then I enjoy it for what it is.

It’s doubly-frustrating because Bob’s love, and the superhero franchise most detractors seem to gravitate to, is the MCU. I like the MCU, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not flawless. It’s made slip-ups here and there in the areas Bob’s criticized the X-Men films for, yet it’s given a pass because the characters and character writing is consistently strong. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t think the franchise hasn’t already peaked qualitatively with Iron Man and creatively with The Avengers, or even that Thor: The Dark World isn’t a colossal waste of my time. The pool of criticism runs both ways.

Which isn’t to say the other side isn’t shameless either, leading to my next question of why people assume reviewers are biased toward the MCU. Are they really? Because as far as I know, most reviewers don’t know the nuances of Marvel licensing. They see a movie, give their thoughts and share said thoughts with the rest of the world. This shouldn’t be so hard to understand, right?

Enter Exhibit B:
"Disney has been continually paying critics to attack Non MCU movies. MCU movies are safe. They're not challenging at all. Just like a comic book movie is "supposed to be". They're not divisive or thought provoking. First they bashed Batman V Superman.They cleared BvS out of the way, gave Civil War (which wasn't a perfect film) an Oscar, now they're going to work on moving Apocalypse out the way...then they get offended when they're accused of accepting gifts. Deadpool would have also suffered the same fate however it was released in February and was not an immediate threat.”

There’s a lot I could pick apart, but I’ll simply ask why someone decided this was petition-worthy. Why do you need critical approval to enjoy something? When has a score stopped a movie from resonating with someone personally? And why can’t we accept that maybe it’s okay to like trash? I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse, but I admit that it’s not great. Why I’d shout “conspiracy” is beyond me, especially since, unlike Fantastic Four, the X-Men franchise has actually had good movies over its lifetime.

Perhaps I’m overreacting. After all, X-Men is a property that’s often gotten too dark for its own good, including a moment where Kitty Pryde ripped Emma Frost’s heart from her chest (look that up, it actually happened) and another where Wolverine’s spine was ripped from his body (that actually happened too), and sometimes that grimness makes the franchise polarizing. And yeah, I do think people can overlook the flaws of the MCU, even the more-glaring ones (like how Guardians of the Galaxy has sexist undertones.) But both groups are being ridiculous, and that has to stop. Because it’s not healthy for the image we want to project.

And by the way, this idea that X-Men is boring because it ham-fists its message of prejudice? It was created by a socially-conscious Jew, so it’ll always be as political as Captain America. Then again, the real complainers probably won’t listen…