Spotlight: Southern Reach Trilogy

 

These books are weird.  Like…really weird.

But it’s their weirdness that makes them so fascinating.

The Southern Reach trilogy is a series of books that revolve around a place known as Area X, a patch of now uninhabited wilderness that’s being slowly changed by an unseen force.  The official story to the outside world is that of an ecological disaster, but the reality is far more sinister and unknown.  “Southern Reach” refers to the organization tasked with investigating the mysterious phenomenon.

The first book is called “Annihilation”.  You might recognize the title, as the book was made into a movie that released back in March.  However, the movie diverges from the book quite a bit, so even if you’ve seen the movie you won’t know exactly what to expect.

“Annihilation” opens with four characters standing in front of a strange tower leading underground in Area X.  They are known only by their specialties.  There is the Biologist, the Surveyor, the Psychologist, and the Anthropologist.  Their task is to investigate Area X and see what they can find out about it.  Early on, it is revealed that the Biologist (played by Natalie Portman in the movie) had a husband who was on the expedition prior to hers and died from cancer after returning under mysterious circumstances.  “Annihilation” plays out like you would expect from a science-fiction story about people undertaking an expedition into an unknown area: bad stuff happens, people die, paranoia sets in, and so on.  Unlike the movie, “Annihilation” ends on an uncertain note, leaving things up in the air.

The second book, “Authority”, takes a deeper look at the Southern Reach organization itself.  Our main character is John Rodriguez, who takes to calling himself “Control”.  He is sent into the Southern Reach to become its new director, and he investigates the aftermath of the expedition from the first book as well as the organization itself.  This one reads more akin to a thriller or a spy novel, with subterfuge and secrets abound.  This book is actually a lot more about the character of Control/John rather than Area X itself, although Area X is never far from the forefront for too long.

“Acceptance” is the final book of the trilogy, and is rightfully the most complex one.  Unlike the previous two books, which had a fairly linear chronology (“Authority” does have some flashbacks, but through Control reflecting on past events), “Acceptance” has three major viewpoints taking place over a wide span of time, one of which actually takes place before Area X happens and details events leading up to its creation.  Long-lingering questions are answered and we get a deeper look into some characters that were only referenced from afar in the previous books.  I hesitate to say much more about it for fear of spoilers.

My favorite of the series definitely has to be “Acceptance”.  I’ve always enjoyed disjointed chronologies in stories, and “Acceptance” weaved a non-linear, complex narrative that was a joy to follow.  “Acceptance” also has the tightest pacing of the three books.  The series definitely is a slow burn (especially in “Authority”), which isn’t a bad thing.  But “Acceptance” definitely makes the best use of that burn, with scenes that can go from being perfectly normal to slightly unnerving to downright disturbing in an elegantly smooth fashion.  There’s a particular scene at a bar very late in the book that really sticks out in my mind as just getting progressively more unnerving before everything just goes to hell.

And that’s my favorite thing about this series: the unrelenting weirdness and tension that’s present throughout the books.  There’s a moment in the second book, “Authority”, where things just suddenly hit the fan in such a jarring, unexpected way that it’s actually brilliant.  It makes you question if it’s actually happening or not at first.  And I’ve always been a fan of horror and horror-tinged stories (something readers of this blog undoubtedly know at this point), so this trilogy was right up my alley.

If you like weird sci-fi, then I can’t recommend this series enough.  It’s just so bizarre and unique that I can’t say I’ve ever read anything quite like it.  Some stuff is left open to interpretation in the end, which might bother some people, but to me the ambiguity is what stays with us after the story is done.  It’s what keeps our minds churning over and over, trying to gleam the last elusive details that will give us the answers we want.

So yeah, give the books a shot.  Get weirded out.  It’s a fun time.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Spotlight: Incredibles 2

 

In what seems to be becoming more of a trend, movies are getting sequels long after the original’s release, sometimes over a decade after.  The sequel to “Finding Nemo”, “Finding Dory” came out about thirteen years later.  “Independence Day” got a sequel twenty years later.  Hell, “Blade Runner 2049” came out over thirty years after the original (and still somehow managed to be amazing).  And the result of this trend has been fairly hit or miss.  Some sequels managed to succeed despite the distance in time from their predecessors, while others flop for multiple reasons, be it little interest in a sequel this many years later or just a sense of re-treading the same ground without adding anything new.

So with that in mind, “Incredibles 2” is the latest in this trend, coming out fourteen years later.  How does it stack up?

I have only vague memories of seeing the original “Incredibles” in theaters with my dad way back in the day.   And while I don’t remember much about the plot (it was fourteen years ago after all and I only saw it once), I remember liking it.  I remember it being a fun movie.  So when I went to see the sequel all these years later, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.  Sure, the movie had been receiving pretty much universal acclaim, but I’d been let down by that before.

In the end, I would say that “Incredibles 2” is a decent to good movie.  Nothing amazing or spectacular, but very solid.

I don’t think my reaction to it has all that much to do with the movie itself.  Sure, the plot is very predictable, to the point where I would have figured out the movie’s main plot twist long before I did if I hadn’t turned my brain off.  Sure, it doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t seen before.  But it has a lot of charm, and it’s a movie that can appeal to kids and adults alike without feeling patronizing.

Rather, I think it has more to do with the time it came out in.

One of the movie’s central conceits is this almost meta examination of the role that superheroes play.  After the introductory action sequence, we see them being yelled at by police for causing so much collateral damage, to the point where they argue that it would have been better if the heroes had simply done nothing.  And throughout the movie it’s making an argument about how the world needs superheroes, something which feels strangely dated especially after a decade of Marvel dominating the box office with its superhero movies.  It makes me wonder if the script for the movie was written way back when, shortly after the first film’s release.

And for me personally, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m burned out on superhero movies.  There’s just so many of them and most of them feel identical to each other (this is particularly true for Marvel movies).  Part of the original “Incredibles” charm was that it came out at a time when superhero movies weren’t that big.  Sure there might be one every once in a while, but it’s still a far cry from today when it feels like there’s a superhero movie in theaters every other month.  I think if the sequel had come out just a couple of years or so after the first one, I might have been more receptive to it.

Again, it’s not a bad movie.  I just don’t think it’s that remarkable of one either.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Gaming Addiction

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) has moved to include gaming disorder as part of the 11th revision of their International Classification of Diseases.  According to their website, gaming disorder is defined as “a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”  It goes on to say that, to be classified as a disorder, the amount of gaming must be severe enough to impair a person’s functioning in daily life for a time period of at least twelve months.

My initial reaction to this, of course, was an instinctual dislike.  Video games are one of my primary hobbies, and have been since I was a kid.  So when I heard that gaming disorder was going to be an officially recognized thing, I immediately thought that it couldn’t be good.  And the interesting thing is that the pushback against the classification didn’t just come from people who play video games.  It also came from medical experts who believe that the WHO’s definition of gaming disorder is too vague and too broad.

However, at the same time, the classification does make sense.  There are people out there who definitely spend far too much time on video games, so much so that it starts to take precedence over everything else.  And we are long overdue for a conversation about mental health in this country.  Because while conservative politicians love to blame mental health issues for mass shooting events, they never seem to actually DO anything about it.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Gaming addiction is not a new issue, especially in places like South Korea where it has become such a problem that they even have gaming addiction rehabilitation clinics.  So it’s definitely something worth talking about.  But on the other hand, there’s the media, who have a long and storied history of being slanted against video games.  For instance, here’s this story from the BBC, which was originally titled “Computer game addiction: ‘I spend 20 plus hours a week gaming”.

Pffft…that’s weak.  Get real kids.  Twenty hours is nothing.  You hear me?  Nothing!

In all seriousness, if you actually watch the video, it at least explains that the kid who plays “20 plus hours” a week is part of a healthy crowd of friends.  But if all you see is the headline, your perception of that “20 plus hours” is going to be much different.

And if we’re really going to criticize video games in this way, I think it’s worth noting how we consume another medium: television.  According to this New York Times article from back in 2016, a Nielsen study found that, on average, American adults watch five hours of television a day.  So per week, that adds up to roughly thirty-five hours of television.  Yet we don’t see the WHO coming out with a classification on television watching disorder, or the BBC making a video about people addicted to television.  And the only major reason I can think of for this is that watching television is a normalized thing, whereas video games are still seen as a kind of weird new thing that people don’t understand.

This is to say nothing about the fact that binge-watching is not only a term, but a socially acceptable one.  When “Stranger Things” season 2 came out, over three hundred thousand people watched the entire season in one day.  But of course we’re not raising a stink about this.  We might scoff and say “get a life”, but our condemnation never goes much beyond that.

I should mention here that even the WHO recognizes that the number of those afflicted with this gaming disorder are a very small percentage of the people who play video games regularly.  And I’m willing to bet that, more often than not, the root cause of the addiction lies not with the games themselves, but with something in that person’s life that has forced them to retreat into their hobby.  Because video games are typically used as a way to cope with the stresses of life, something I can attest to personally.  While there are some games that are designed to entice players to keep playing regularly over months and even years, we need to understand that the extreme form of addiction the WHO is talking about is not the norm, especially in a country where the statistic of watching over thirty hours of television a week is accepted without so much as a second thought.

In the end, it’s possible to have an unhealthy addiction to pretty much anything.  And it’s time we accepted that instead of adhering to this stodgy old idea of “everything was better when I was growing up and anything new in these kid’s lives is clearly bad for them”.

Because the world is going to change, whether we like it or not.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful day.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Millennial Humor

Looks like those dang millennials are at it again!

So recently I stumbled across this opinion article from the Washington Post entitled “Why is millennial humor so weird?”  Let’s just start with the opening paragraph.

The article begins with a strange analysis of this particular meme:

 

 

The author writes that “the wiener is not a socialist icon; in fact, he is a breakdancing sausage from a Snapchat filter. His inclusion in a lineup of the U.S.S.R.’s patron saints doesn’t mean anything. Maybe nothing does.”

Then in the next paragraph she writes “in this weird world of the surreal and bizarre, horror mingles with humor, and young people have space to play with emotions that seem more and more to proceed from ordinary life — the creeping suspicion that the world just doesn’t make sense.”

So apparently us millennials are like the stereotypical goth kids, constantly rambling about how everything is dark and nothing has meaning.

To be fair, the author does acknowledge the reasons behind this perceived fascination with meaninglessness.  She briefly talks about how millennials, as they’re growing up, are constantly told that they should go to college, that they need to go to college.  And then when they do go to college and finish, they discover that they’ve basically been lied to.  They spent all this time getting a fancy degree, and often all that leaves them with is a mountain of debt and a part-time job at a company that couldn’t give less of a crap about them.

But at the same time, her tone occasionally feels a little too judgmental.  She references how “traditional sources of meaning, such as religion and family formation”, aren’t as relevant to millennials as they were to prior generations.  “The moral structure they produced has been vastly loosened,” she writes, “and replaced with a soft, untheorized tendency toward niceness — smarminess, really, as journalist Tom Scocca put it in 2013.”  Because if you aren’t worshipping God and making babies, then you clearly aren’t doing it right.

The article goes on to talk about how millennials put off things like buying houses and lists a whole bunch of surveys that are supposed to show how disenfranchised we are as a generation.  Now, putting aside the fact that the stuff about millennials not buying houses is simply not true, there’s one survey that popped out to me: one where fifty-seven percent of those that responded admitted to being lonely.

And where did this survey come from?  Match.com.

Oh, so you discovered that lonely people might decide to use a dating website?  GEE…NEVER WOULD HAVE FIGURED THAT ONE OUT!

 

 

What’s strangest to me about this whole rambling, presumptuous article is that it was written by a millennial.  Yep, you read that right…she states that fact multiple times in the article.  And yet, despite this display of supposed intellectualism (she even uses the phrase “de rigueur” at one point…because you can’t truly be pretentious unless you’re doing it in a different language), she appears to have only scratched the surface of how bizarre the internet can be.  A hotdog wearing green headphones?  Winnie the Pooh as a 9/11 truther in a fan-created comic?  Is that the best you’ve got?

The internet is a rabbit hole whose depths you have not even begun to fathom.

I think the biggest irony behind this whole examination of millennial humor and memes is that the article itself became a meme.  People were taking a snapshot of the article’s web page and replacing that first image with other surreal and bizarre memes.

It’s true what they say…there is no escape.

All joking and sarcasm aside, the article isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it does strike me as pointless.  It attempts to pry meaning out of a generation’s brand of humor before concluding that the meaning might be that there IS no meaning and that it’s playing with the general feelings of distress that plague the millennial generation.  But it also backs off on that point, saying that “the weird — even the exceedingly weird — doesn’t have to be purely distressing” before providing examples of more light-hearted memes.  If anything, the fact that it was written by a millennial only makes its existence more confusing.  If this was written by a forty or fifty-year old, I could at least file it under the long establish “old people don’t understand young people” genre.  But as it stands, this article just feels too full of itself to serve any real purpose.

Maybe the hotdog standing with the icons of Communism and Socialism is funny simply because of how ridiculous it is.  It doesn’t have to be some meta-commentary on the feelings of hopelessness that are common with millennials.  It doesn’t have to be part of some grander scheme or greater context.  Maybe it’s there because someone thought it would be funny.

Pro tip: if you have to spend so much time dissecting a certain brand of humor, the chances are you lost the point before you even started.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Thirty Flights of Loving

“Thirty Flights of Loving” begins as more games should: with some smooth jazz.  After walking downstairs and encountering these fine gentlemen…

 

Stop looking at meeeee!

 

…we make our way through a secret passageway into the basement where we run into our two comrades, Anita (at least I’m assuming that’s her real name) and…uh…Other Guy.

 

 

 

Clicking on either of them brings up a flashy series of images denoting their skills.  It’s clear that Anita is the muscle of the group, as her skills include demolitions and sharpshooting.  Other Guy has a more utility focus, as he is a forger and a safecracker.

 

Evidently he’s also good at weddings.

 

You make your way downstairs to an airplane and the three of you take off.  The scene quickly cuts and it’s obvious something went horribly wrong.  Anita has a gun pointed at you that’s clicking empty and Other Guy has a bullet wound in his chest.  You pick him up and begin making your way through the crowded airport.  But soon enough the scene shifts again.  This time it’s a flashback, as you and Anita are in an apartment, peeling and eating oranges.

 

Why oranges? Why NOT oranges?

 

As you walk toward the door time jumps forward and Anita is joined by Other Guy.  The three of you make your way up to the building’s rooftop and sit down at a reception.  People start dancing.  You and Anita start drinking…a lot.

 

I’m not sure if this makes me want to drink less…or more.

 

The two of you then make your way downstairs to the apartment, where Anita waits for you on the bed.  Before you get to her, the scene shifts back to the airport, where you use a luggage carrier to help move Other Guy.

 

Oh wait, his name is Winston? Ah screw it, I’m still calling him Other Guy.

 

Making your way into the main entrance for the airport, you suddenly find yourselves trapped and set upon by police cameras floating from balloons.  Other Guy pulls out two guns and begins shooting them down.  Eventually, you are allowed to make your way through the entrance where the cops are waiting.  The scene jumps forward and apparently the two of you were able to steal a cop car.

 

Oh no, they’re chasing us through the highway of love!

 

You have a sudden flashback to you and Anita riding together on a motorcycle.  She turns around to you, love clearly in her eyes.  But the scene is quickly interrupted by an on-rushing semi-truck, snapping you back to the present.  However, it’s too late, as you collide with it head on.

And then, in what is either a self-aware jab or a display of pretentiousness, you are catapulted into a museum scene where people are standing around drinking champagne and marveling at various exhibits related to the game.

 

Mmm yes quite…that is a lovely police vehicle…mmm yes….

 

All in all, the game takes about 10-15 minutes to beat.  It’s not very long, and there’s no dialogue at all.  In fact, whenever someone talks it reminds me of the adults from Charlie Brown.  But the big question is, did I like it?

Honestly…not really.  The game is too short and lacks the detail that would normally get me invested in a story.

Now, before someone says it, I understand that was the point.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” is an experiment in telling a short story with all the context ripped out of it.  So you either have to poke and prod to find the context or make your own.

I get what the game was going for.  It just didn’t resonate with me.

But apparently it did with video game journalists when it came out six years ago.  The site Rock Paper Shotgun praised the game in a recommendation back in 2015, saying that “it’s more thrilling, funny, romantic, and tragic than many games manage in fifteen hours.”  Now, I’m not sure if I missed something, but I didn’t feel that emotional at all when I finished the game my first time through a few years ago.

In fact, my reaction was more “wait…that’s it?

 

There’s also a weird section in the museum about Bernoulli’s principle…because reasons.

 

I understand that many video games can get bogged down by bloated storytelling.  You don’t have to look much further than “Modern Warfare 2” as a good example of this (I did a story analysis of the game way back when too).  In the game the main villain’s motivation is literally “I lost a whole bunch of soldiers when a nuke went off, so I started World War Three to drive up recruitment numbers”.  Because logic.

And yet, the context of a story is what makes it worth it for me.  I like learning a character’s backstory, their motivations, their hopes and dreams.  It’s part of what makes reading books so engaging.  You get to see how the character thinks and feels.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” doesn’t have that.  If anything, stripping out the context only made me understand why I like that context in the first place.  Hell, it’s a big part of the reason why I enjoyed “Cryostasis” the game I talked about last month.  And I couldn’t even explain half of what happened in the game.  To me, “Thirty Flights of Loving” feels more like a hollow shell of a story.  It’s got charm and style on the outside, but the inside is just air.

All of this is going to make my next statement seem very strange:

I’m glad this game exists.

I may not have liked the game, but I still think it’s good that the game is out there.  It’s good that independent game developers are able to experiment and get their creations noticed.  They may not appeal to everyone, but the nature of artistic expression cannot always be held down by what is profitable or what has wide market appeal.  Because sometimes, you don’t know what has wide market appeal.  Something new could come along and drastically reshape things.  It’s kind of like how superhero movies experienced a downturn for a while, then Marvel came along and started their cinematic universe.  Suddenly BAM…it feels like we can’t go more than two or three months without another superhero movie opening in theaters and making hundreds of millions in revenue.

I may not have cared for “Thirty Flights of Loving” in much the same way that I don’t really care for superhero movies anymore, but I can appreciate that it exists.  Experimentation should be encouraged, because even failed experiments can teach us valuable lessons.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Cryostasis

 

…I have no idea what this game is about.  At least not entirely.

On the surface, “Cryostasis” doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary.  It’s a survival-horror game where you as the player make your way through the frozen wreck of a ship, doing battle with mutated monsters and making the best of your limited resources.  But there are some unique elements.

For example, your health is determined by temperature.  The colder you get, the weaker you are and the easier it is to die.  This means that the only way to gain health back is to seek out heat sources.  You can regain health by warming up at a smoldering pile of wood…

 

 

…light bulbs…

 

 

…and other, less conventional heating sources.

 

 

This interplay of heat vs. cold also plays into one of the major thematic motifs of the story, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

As you progress through the ruins of the ship, you’ll do battle with the mutated denizens with a variety of melee weapons as well as some guns you’ll find later on.  Combat is slow and clunky, but purposefully so.  Being in such a cold environment and clad in heavy winter gear, you’re not going to be running around and jumping off of walls like an action hero.  No, the game forces you to play methodically.  Because if you don’t, you will die.

 

Hello sir! Do you mind if I…AXE you a question? Ha ha ha…follow my blog for more top tier jokes!

 

So now that the basics of the gameplay are down, let’s jump into the story.

Spoiler alert: it’s weird.

As the story begins, we’re treated to a very optimistic and upbeat quote…

 

I lied.

 

But before we even get control of our character, we’re introduced to this strange parallel plot of a group of villagers and their trek through a dark forest.  It almost feels like a fairy tale of sorts.

 

This plot runs parallel to the events of the game and helps provide some insight into the themes, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

 

After this brief introduction, the player is then given control of their character.  Through a series of flashbacks (triggered by interacting with a faceless figure in a coat), it is revealed that the player character (known as Alexander Nesterov) traveled to the wreck of the icebreaker via sled dogs, but was forced to continue on foot after the ice broke and wrecked the sled.  As Nesterov progresses through the ship, he experiences flashbacks to when the ship was operational, and it becomes clear that some type of disaster took place.

But just when you think you might have a handle on things…this happens:

 

 

The game prompts you to use your “mental echo” ability to travel into the man’s past and fix his mistake so that he survives (because, you know, that’s a thing…that…that normal people do).  These sections are often like puzzles where you have to figure out what to do.  Some are simple and logical, while others are more obtuse and frustrating.  For example, a later section sees the body of a man dead in his chair after a window exploded and pierced him with glass shrapnel.  The simple solution would be to just exit the room and shut the door behind you, right?  Wrong.  That doesn’t work.  Apparently the real solution is to hide behind the chair and let the chair take the hit.  Only then will you be able to progress.

Because logic is for suckers.

 

You get this message upon the completion of your first “mental echo” segment. I love how even the tutorials are cryptic.

 

As the story continues to progress, more flashback events give insight into the story of the ship and its crew.  And we start to get an idea of the major players in the story.  Most notable in these beginning sections are the ship’s captain and his first officer.  The first officer wants to use some sort of divining rod equipment to help steer the ship through the ice, but the captain decides to rely on sheer intuition alone.  This leads to a confrontation between the two men where they argue over the dangers of the course the ship is taking.

 

Famous last words…

 

The captain disregards the first officer’s advice and, predictably, the ship finds itself stuck.  The first officer decides to go behind the captain’s back and send a message back to the company that owns this ship.  He gets a message back and, despite being advised by the ship’s security officer not to share it with the captain, does so anyways.  The contents of the message are kept hidden for a while, but its effect on the captain is evident.  He gradually grows demoralized and finds that everyone he turns to seems to despise him.  When he goes to the chief engineer of the ship to share the message, the engineer rebukes him and tells him to just go away.

 

 

Eventually there is a flashback with the captain standing on the deck, looking forlorn as he holds the message in his hands.

 

 

After a moment, he releases the piece of paper and it floats away from him.  It is then that the contents of the message are finally revealed: the owners have decided that, following the ship’s completion of its current journey, it is to be decommissioned.

 

 

This feels like a good time to pull that parallel fairy tale story back into play.  In the fairy tale, the people are trying to escape a forest, but the forest seems alive and wants nothing more than to  prevent their escape.  It is in their darkest hour that a man among them named Danko takes charge and leads them onward.  At first, the people rejoice at Danko’s leadership, feeling hope swell within them.  However, as the journey continues and grows harder, resentment begins to take root.  They begin chattering among themselves, becoming doubtful of Danko’s ability to lead.  Eventually the people rebuke him entirely, to which Danko fires back, criticizing them for how easily they allowed themselves to be led.  The people then start surrounding him, clearly intending to kill him…

Numerous parallels to the game’s story can be found.  For example, the idea of man vs. nature becomes a very strong motif in the latter half of the game, with the shifting ice around the ship a parallel to the malevolent forest from the fairy tale.  There’s a “mental echo” segment where you play as someone in a slaughterhouse, and the solution is to open the gates and let the cows go free.

 

Damn liberals and their environmentalism…

 

Not to mention there’s a later, optional segment where you help a polar bear escape from the people hunting it.

But I digress.  As the story continues it becomes clear that something bad happened to the ship’s nuclear reactor considering…you know…there’s a giant hole where it used to be.

 

 

It’s also revealed that the crew began to suffer some kind of massive medical emergency, which appears to stem from some kind of radiation leak from the reactor.

 

 

On top of that, the ship’s layout starts to become more surreal.  Doors begin to disappear, entire areas shift around you as you interact with things, and there’s even one really bizarre scene where, after activating an old-fashioned film projector, you’re forced to battle enemies shooting at you on the screen before one of them walks through the damn thing into the room itself.  All of this seems to imply that the ship you travel through during the game might not entirely be real.  But it’s hard to say.  The game is metaphors layered on top of parallel allegories.  It confuses the hell out of me sometimes.

In any case, following his thrashing by the rest of the crew, the captain makes one last desperate move.  He orders the ship full speed ahead in an attempt to brute force their way out of the ice.  During the attempt, he is injured as the first officer and security officer break into the bridge.  They order the ship in reverse, which only makes things worse and ends up dooming the ship once and for all.  While the crew deals with fluctuating temperatures and radiation sickness, the main officers hatch a plan to take a helicopter and abandon the ship and its crew.

One popular theory is that the captain of the icebreaker is the parallel to Danko in the fairy tale, and I can see why.  They both lead their people.  And they’re both rebuked by their people when they fail to lead them to safety.  The parallels between the two of them are numerous, and it seems to be the most solid conclusion.  However, it is only but one interpretation, as I’ll explain shortly.

As the game nears its close, the two parallel tales come to a head.  In the fairy tale remember, the people are circling around Danko, ready to kill him.  But Danko finally sees that it is not hatred that drives them, but fear.  His resentment is then swept away by a wave of compassion, which causes his eyes to start glowing with light.  The people misunderstand what’s happening, fearing that the glowing is another symptom of Danko’s anger.  But then, Danko rips his still beating heart out of his chest, the sheer light of it obliterating the forest and giving way to a new land.

Danko looks upon this new world with a smile, then falls over dead.  Because happy endings are for losers.

On the icebreaker, the first officer and the security chief carry the captain to a helicopter piloted by the chief engineer.  The crew watches anxiously as the helicopter begins to take off, leaving them all behind.

But it’s not over yet…remember that whole flaming heart thing from the fairy tale?  Yeah…the ship’s nuclear reactor functions as that parallel as it decides to go all ker-plooey and explode.

 

Hooray! Everybody dies!

 

The helicopter is vaporized, and the following scene implies that the explosion transformed the crew into the monsters you fight throughout the game.

So yeah, that’s it.  That’s the story.  I mean, there’s no way things could get weirder or anythi-

 

 

 

 

Hold on a second…I have to go make sure nobody spiked my drink…

So the final boss of the game is Father Time.  No, I’m serious.  I’m dead serious.  The title of the level itself is “Chronos”, which is the ancient name for the personification of time.  So yeah, the giant blindfolded man with the hourglass is literally Father Time.

And you must do battle with him by shooting mystical orbs at the people who appear around him.

Yeah it’s definitely one of the most out of nowhere moments I’ve ever experienced in a game.  I mean, this game was bizarre to begin with, but when this happened I think my jaw literally dropped.

Anyways, after defeating Old Man Time (I can’t believe I actually typed that), he rewards you with an opportunity to go back and change one singular moment that alters the fate of the ship and its crew entirely.  There are multiple ways this can take shape, but for this playthrough it takes the form of the chief engineer.

 

 

There was that scene earlier in the game where he basically told the captain to piss off.  Well, you can change that by having him express sympathy for the captain, a small act of kindness that averts the tragic fate of the entire vessel.

 

 

The story then shifts back to the beginning scene, with Nesterov approaching the vessel by dog sled.  Only, this time people are waiting for him.

 

 

After the sled falls through the ice, the captain appears above and extends his hand, saving Nesterov from falling into the water.  He is joined by the chief engineer, the security officer, and another officer.  Together, the five of them head off toward the ship as the story reaches a close.

 

 

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with this craziness…

Like I said before, the fairy tale story is a clear parallel to the tragic tale of the icebreaker.  And like I said, a popular interpretation is that the captain is Danko’s parallel.  However, I’ve also heard it as the ship’s crew being Danko’s parallel, although I don’t particularly agree with that assessment.  It seems more fitting for the crew to be the parallels of the villagers in the story, as they gradually succumb to fear and begin fighting among each other.  Another interpretation could be that the ship itself is Danko, as the captain does personify the ship during an early scene in the game, saying that to be a true captain the ship must “respect you”.

There’s a lot more to unpack with this game, but I think I’m gonna leave it alone for now.  This post has gone on long enough.

I know I made light of the game’s weirdness at points, but in all honesty that’s part of what makes the game so fascinating to think about.  It’s so weird and so out there at times that it makes you want to understand, makes you need to understand.  And there are lots of things I didn’t even go over, like the theme of confinement or being trapped that’s a motif throughout the game (many of the enemies are horrifically constrained within their armor, with one tough enemy having only a keyhole on his helmet to see through).  There’s also references to other obscure Russian works of literature and art that I haven’t even begun to delve into myself (the game’s subtitle “sleep of reason” is one such reference).  But despite how cryptic and obtuse it is, the game has a charm to it that cannot be denied despite some of the technical shortcomings (i.e. the game chugs along at times, even on powerful hardware).  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t seem to be available on any digital storefronts.  In fact, the only way I can see buying it now is via a physical copy from Amazon.  So if you’re interested in trying it out, that might be the only way to do it aside from other…less reputable means…if you catch my drift.

In any case, thanks for reading my long ramblings about some obscure game barely anyone’s ever heard of.  Have a wonderful rest of April and check back on the third Wednesday of May for my next post.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Video Game Movies

With the release of “Tomb Raider” this past Friday, we find ourselves with another movie based on a video game.  Only, this time it seems like the movie has fared decently well.  It was still outperformed by “Black Panther” at the box office (or “buried”, as news outlets like to put it…you know, because puns), but people who liked the video game also seem to have liked the movie as well.  Now, I haven’t seen the movie myself, but from what I’ve heard it seems like there might be one big reason for that:

It mirrors the video game almost exactly.

 

 

Now, I can’t speak for everybody, but I think what most people want to see is an adaptation.  They want to watch a video game they love made into movie form.  They don’t want to see Hollywood get all cute and switch things around to try to make their own version of the story.

Which is exactly what happened with the 2016 “Assassin’s Creed” movie.

If you’ve never played any of the “Assassin’s Creed” games before, here’s the rundown: they center around a device known as the Animus, which allows a user to relive the memories of their genetic ancestors.  The first game has you playing as Desmond Miles as he wakes up in a mysterious location, kidnapped by an unknown organization with sinister motives.  The sections in the present day are very brief and low-key, building up an overarching mystery as to who these people are and what they want.  But the majority of the game takes place in the Animus.

Apparently the movie didn’t get the memo, because from what I understand the majority of the film takes place in the modern-day.

Seriously, how do you take a game that features super cool stuff like jumping off tall buildings and landing in a pile of hay, and make a movie where the main character only does that twice and the majority of the movie is people sitting around talking about shadowy conspiracies?  In the games, the modern-day segments are largely kept in the background, an overarching element to the franchise’s story.  But the main focus has always been the Animus segments, with whatever assassin character it happens to be for that game.

Now while I can’t speak for the quality of “Tomb Raider”, having not seen it myself, the simple fact that it has fared better than most other video game movies would seem to indicate that it at least did something right.  I honestly think people just want to see something that compliments what came before instead of trying too hard to be its own thing.

Another failed case study of that can be found in the 2008 “Max Payne” movie.

 

 

 

In what seems like another incident of Hollywood trying to play cute, “Max Payne” only shares surface level elements with the game.  The movie keeps the names of most of the characters and the drug known as Valkyr, which plays a crucial role in the story.  Other than that, the progression of things seems  entirely different.  In fact, the main villain of the game doesn’t even die in the film.  No…instead they keep her alive so they can force in a post-credits scene to hint at a sequel.  Of course, that never came to be because of how poorly the movie did.

Hey guys, I don’t know if anyone told you, but the game already has a sequel.  And it’s certainly far better than whatever you had planned.

The sad thing is the movie should have been good.  All of the elements were there for them to turn the game into a stylish, gritty revenge movie.  But instead, they tried to twist things around to give their own personal interpretation on it.  Maybe they thought they could do better than the game’s writers did?  I don’t know.  You’d think with the history of video game movies being so terrible they’d stop and think “maybe this is a bad idea”.

I think a large part of the problem is that the people who make these movies either have never played the games themselves or just don’t have respect for the source material.  Or possibly both.  It’s almost as if they just read a synopsis of the plot somewhere and wrote a script based on that.  You’d think that if you really wanted to adapt something and do it justice, you’d actually bother immersing yourself in it.

But I guess that’s just me.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post and have a wonderful month.

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