Akira, a Coens’ gem, and what we’re recommending this week

We live in a world where Jurassic Park, The Goonies, and Back to the Future are the top theatrical releases of the week — and drive-in theaters are the most frequented venues to see them. It’s a weird moment!

But picking up on the nostalgic moment has us catching up with backlogs of recent hits and certifiable classics. Below, we’ve collected our other favorites from the weekend, in hopes of offering a suggestion or two of what you should watch this week. Be sure to let us know in the comments what you enjoyed over the weekend, too.


Akira

Akira: tetsuo transforms into a blob Image: Funimation

Akira is the gold standard of anime feature films, having paved the way for mature storytelling both in Japan and around the world. There’s no Matrix, Metal Gear Solid, Shin Godzilla or post-’80s post-apocalyptic fiction without Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal cyberpunk saga. Thanks to a driven director and skyrocketed budget, the film is meticulous and hyper-detailed. Animated films literally can’t afford to be as intricate as Akira.

But after being cannibalized by admirers and exalted by critics for 30 years, does it stand as more than a spectacle? Frankly, this might be the most urgent moment to watch Akira since it’s original release. Exploring oppressive governments, violent police, a rebellious-but-lost generation, and a society driven to create a perfect weapon to defend the last failed weapon, Katsuhiro Otomo says the awful part of our current circumstance out loud. Things can get worse, can get more violent, can end it absolute catastrophe. As young motorcycle gangster Kaneda races through the streets of Neo-Tokyo to save his pal Tetsuo, warped by destructive psychic powers, he beholds every kind of human failure, from slobbering misogyny to systematic fascism. Katsuhiro Otomo renders his story in a city’s glow and nightmarish surrealism. I’ve seen the movie four times, and this go-around my jaw was lower on the floor than ever before, somehow. —Matt Patches

Akira is available to stream with subs or English dub on Hulu.


Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2019)

Are You Afraid of the Dark 2019: the new midnight society sits around the campfire Photo: Nickelodeon

I didn’t watch much Power Rangers growing up (I thought it was for boys!) so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the 2017 Power Rangers film. Though the tone doesn’t always feel balanced, I liked that it took time to establish the charismatic teen leads’ personalities and relationships before the mighty morphin’ started.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is another ’90s kids show that I missed (I was a scaredy cat!) but sometimes my husband will throw on an episode of the Nickelodeon horror anthology while we’re eating our Saturday morning cereal and watching TV from our childhoods. This weekend we decided to check out the 2019 reboot, shot by Power Rangers director Dean Israelite, and, holy crap, is it a delight.

Rather than an anthology, the three-episode reboot focuses on one girl’s introduction to The Midnight Society storytelling group that served as the framing device in the original series. But the scary story she tells on her initiation night — a tale about a creepy carnival that abducts children — starts coming true, and she’s the only one who can stop it.

I loved it for many of the same reasons I liked Power Rangers: I’m a sucker for charming kids who are put into extraordinary situations and work together to defeat evil. The miniseries format is a little more forgiving to Israelite’s inclination to focus on personalities and relationships before it gets to the action. Nickelodeon greenlit a season 2 of the reboot, which I will happily consume over a bowl of cereal when it airs. —Emily Heller

Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2019) is available to purchase on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital services.


Douglas

Hannah Gadsby crouches down to touch the floor with a mic in her hand in Douglas Photo: Ali Goldstein/Netflix

Hannah Gadsby’s second comedy special for Netflix, which she describes as a “difficult second album,” follows the smash success of her revealing and introspective Netflix comedy special debut, Nanette. Nanette was a criticism of comedy itself, as well as Gadsby’s own work; she looked back on past jokes she told about coming out and her struggle with queer identity, then interrogated those jokes in tangents that were often uncomfortably joke-free. The special resonated with many queer people (including yours truly) because of its daring to discomfort its audience, its refusal to fall into the easy and safe mode of deploying a joke to diffuse the tension of Gadsby’s raw retelling of, for example, the time she was on the other end of a hate crime.

Douglas goes ahead and acknowledges the specter of Nanette’s success and the way it changed Gadsby’s life. The result is a very different show and a much more traditional comedy show, which comes as some surprise given that it’s the follow-up to a show in which Gadsby repeatedly said she was going to quit comedy (and yet also, as she acknowledged in Nanette, she’s hardly suited for anything else, with an art history degree and no job experience outside of comedy). One of the running themes in Douglas involves Gadsby claiming to have no idea that her personal traumas (as shared in Nanette) would be so popular. I don’t buy that bit, though. I think she knows that people eat this sort of thing up, which is probably why Douglas is also about her autism diagnosis, positioned here as yet another hurdle between Gadsby and the “normals”.

After finishing Douglas, I went back and revisited Nanette, which I hadn’t seen since 2018. It made me cry the second time around, just like the first. That doesn’t mean it’s a better special. Douglas shows how Gadsby’s life has changed, as it incorporates several jokes about the difficulty of existing in the public eye and withstanding intense scrutiny from critics after Nanette. While Nanette was about Gadsby’s anger at herself (as well as her quest to move past that in her own work), Douglas is about the anger that others feel towards her — and Gadsby’s embrace of it. She describes eating up haters’ words like a tasty meal, one that nourishes a psyche that — we’re led to believe, at least — can withstand it all with ease.

I’m not sure whether the real-life Gadsby likes the scrutiny so much. I know I wouldn’t. But by making a special about it, it may be easier for her to move past the scrutiny on Nanette and on herself, and for her next comedy special – because, at this point, she’ll surely get a third – will be about something else entirely new. I’m looking forward to it. —Maddy Myers

Douglas and Nanette are available to stream on Netflix.


First Cow

A man stands amidst ferns in a forest. Photo: Allyson Riggs/A24

I’ve never been that much of a fan of Kelly Reichardt’s films. They’re beautifully shot and designed and acted, but I’ve always found them a little remote and opaque, prone to asking questions Reichardt doesn’t intend to answer. I enjoy some films with unresolved endings, but Reichardt seems to have built a career on seducing viewers into a story and a set of worldviews, then leaving that audience adrift with a message about how the world is messy and we don’t always get resolution, catharsis, or answers.

First Cow was the first film of hers that didn’t leave me a bit cold or frustrated. The story of two gentle souls trying to get by in Oregon in the 1820s, among cruder, more violent types, it’s strangely sweet, but also gripping and even nerve-racking in places. This time, Reichardt guarantees we won’t be frustrated with the ending by starting the story with the ending, guaranteeing that the whole film will be both a tense question of “How do we arrive here?” and “Is this a bad thing?” The film is, per usual for Reichardt, rich in detail, from the ragged hand-me-down clothing to the mud that gets everywhere and on everyone. But it also finds a warm balance between tension and the pleasure of just watching two kindred types find each other and make a life for themselves in a difficult place. —Tasha Robinson

First Cow is available to rent on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital services.


Miller’s Crossing

Miller’s Crossing: gangster stands in the forest with a gun Photo: 20th Century Studios

I participate in a movie club with a few friends where we all agree to watch a movie none of us have seen. This week’s pick was 1990’s Miller’s Crossing, the third movie by the Coen brothers. It’s a super-dense, complex film in terms of plotting, but it’s also amazing to see the Coens’ sense of artistry and humor haven’t changed all that much over the last 30 years. The movie is also stacked with acting talent putting in incredible work, including the lesser-known Jon Polito, a “that guy” actor (I knew him as the detective from The Big Lebowski“I’m a brother seamus!”) who delivers an electrifying unhinged-mob-boss performance. If you’re looking for a movie that rewards intense focus, this one fits the bill. Also there’s a great scene with a chair I won’t spoil. —Russ Frushtick

Miller’s Crossing is available for rent on Amazon and other digital services.


Ponyo

ponyo runs over waves formed by fish Image: Studio Ghibli

I didn’t buy an extravagantly large television to watch a Hayao Miyazaki movie on my laptop screen, so for weeks I’ve been patiently waiting for Roku and Warner Bros. to work out whatever it is they need to work out in order to get an HBO Max Roku app. Then I found out there’s an HBO Max app for the Playstation.

So anyway, I watched Ponyo for the first time this weekend, and I have one thing to report: Ponyo love Sasuke. Thank you for reading.

Susana Polo

Ponyo is available to stream with subs or dubs on HBO Max.


Sunset Boulevard

Norma Desmond is ready for her close-up, Mr. Demille Image: Paramount Pictures

On a wall in the office of my childhood home, there was a poster of 101 Greatest Movie Quotes, which my sister and I would read aloud in different, dramatic voices. At that point in time, we hadn’t seen many of the movies on that list, so we always got a special thrill when one of the lines popped up in a movie (it turns out we were pronouncing the “Louis” in “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” wrong for years).

The most I knew of Sunset Boulevard were the two quotes on this poster (No. 7: “All right, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my closeup” and no. 24: “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!”) I had no idea how tragic those lines were in the greater scheme of the movie, particularly the close-up one. The story of fallen silent film star Norma Desmond and her desperate clinging to her glory days is still sticking with me days later.

Also, at one point my fiancé turned to me and said, “I’m fully expecting you to start talking in a Mid-Atlantic accent and pretending the apartment is a decrepit 1920s Hollywood mansion” and, frankly, I felt seen. — Petrana Radulovic

Sunset Boulevard is available to stream on Amazon Prime.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

bogar in treasure of the sierra madre Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Over the past couple of months, it’s felt like the universe was nudging me to revisit this John Huston classic, in which a trio of vagabonds prospect the Sierra Madre mountains for gold. Everywhere I looked, there it was. I watched Spike Lee’’s excellent pseudo-heist film Da 5 Bloods, which gleefully takes inspiration from the classic. Then the YouTube channel Nerdwriter praised Humphrey Bogart’s performance as the villainous vagabond Dobbs. And when the film appeared on HBO Max, my Twitter timeline filled with GIFs of one of the movie’s most iconic lines. I woke up early Saturday morning and figured, hey, why resist kismet?

Turns out the universe was doing me a solid. What an incredible film. The script is filled with so many great lines, the plotting is lean and tense, and Bogart’s performance is amazing, reminding me of Toshiro Mifune in Rashomon and Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, the latter of whom almost certainly took inspiration from the film. Now I get why the movie kept popping up: tons of modern movies crib from it as if The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an ur-text from which countless thrillers and heist movies sprout. —Chris Plante

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on Amazon.

Source: Polygon.com

Razer controllers for Xbox One, PS4, and Android are discounted at Amazon

Razer is mostly known as a PC retailer, but Amazon’s latest sale on Razer devices is geared toward console and mobile gamers. A new Amazon deal that dropped on Monday is discounting Razer controllers for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Android.

The highlight of this sale is definitely the Razer Wolverine Ultimate, a customizable controller for Xbox One and PC. The Wolverine Ultimate is the first controller with Razer’s Chroma program, which allows you to customize your gamepad’s lighting or sync it with compatible games for a fully immersive experience. Usually $159.99, the Razer Wolverine Ultimate is currently discounted to $129.99.

Razer’s Xbox One-compatible Atrox Tournament Arcade Stick is also discounted in Monday’s deal, down from $199.99 to $169.99. The fully moddable fight stick also includes an internal storage compartment with slots for its extra buttons, screwdriver, and cable. PlayStation 4 fighting game players, on the other hand, can save $20 off Razer’s PS4 fightpad, the Razer Raion, down to $79.99.

Finally, for the mobile gamers, Razer and Amazon are discounting the Razer Junglecat, a dual-sided controller that fits on either side of an Android phone. It’s on sale for $89.99, which is $10 off MSRP.

Source: Polygon.com

Call of Duty: Warzone season 5 blows open the stadium, adds a train

On Monday, Infinity Ward and Activision revealed the new trailer for Call of Duty: Warzone and Modern Warfare season 5, which reveals some major changes coming to the Verdansk map.

In Warzone, players can adventure through the newly opened stadium — the roof of which gets blown off in the season 5 trailer. The new season also brings a train to Verdansk, which players can seemingly loot, land on, and get crushed by. These two additions are some of the most significant changes to Verdansk since Warzone’s arrival earlier this year.

But season 5 also brings some changes for Modern Warfare players. Multiplayer fans will get some new maps to play on: Suldal Harbor and Petrov Oil Rig for 6v6, Verdansk Intl. Airport for Ground War, and Livestock for Gunfight.

Like previous Call of Duty seasons, the new content in season 5 will be free. As always, players can opt in to purchase the game’s $9.99 Battle Pass for additional rewards. Infinity Ward and Activision will launch season 5 for Call of Duty: Warzone and Modern Warfare on Aug. 5.

Source: Polygon.com

Blizzard shows off new Diablo Immortal gameplay

At ChinaJoy, China’s biggest video game convention, Blizzard and NetEase released a new trailer for Diablo Immortal, the mobile Diablo game. After its controversial announcement in 2018, the mobile game didn’t have much of a presence at BlizzCon 2019.

Blizzard showed a nearly three-minute trailer (shown above), including new models, UI, abilities, and a special appearance from Baal, the main villain of Diablo 2. We also get a quick introduction to six of the character classes from Diablo 3: Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk, Necromancer, and Wizard. Blizzard hasn’t announced The Witch Doctor for Diablo Immortal, and it’s unclear if the class will ever appear in the mobile game.

Check out BlizzPlanet’s post for a full breakdown of the trailer’s UI changes, and translation of all the Chinese text.

During some hands-on time with Diablo Immortal in 2018, the game felt like Diablo — albeit without the series’ heart. We liked the game more at BlizzCon 2019.

In Activision Blizzard’s Q4 earnings call, Blizzard announced plans to test Diablo Immortal in the middle of 2020. However, the studio has yet to reveal any concrete plans for a Diablo Immortal beta.

It’s currently unclear when Blizzard and NetEase will launch the game for mobile devices.

Source: Polygon.com

Congratulations, Captain Marvel, you’ve got a secret, super-buff alien sister

It’s been a busy few years for Captain Marvel, and I’m not talking about her movie. A little while ago she found out that her mother was secretly a Kree defector, rewriting the origin of her superpowers from a chance encounter with an alien warrior to her earned birthright.

But being publicly outed as half alien hasn’t always been easy for Carol Danvers. The US military certainly wasn’t pleased at the revelation that their former officer was a descendant of a war-mongering space empire. And now she’ll probably be in trouble with another jingoistic empire: The combined Kree-Skrull armada.

But what’s a person to do when the accused war criminal you’ve been sent to execute turns out to be your half-sister?

What else is happening in the pages of our favorite comics? We’ll tell you. Welcome to Polygon’s weekly list of the books that our comics editor enjoyed this past week. It’s part society pages of superhero lives, part reading recommendations, part “look at this cool art.” There may be some spoilers. There may not be enough context. If you missed the last one, read this.


Captain Marvel #18

“Where do we go now?” asks Captain Marvel’s blue-skinned Kree sister, Lauri-Ell. “I have no idea,” she answers, in Captain Marvel #18, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Kelly Thompson, Cory Smith/Marvel Comics

See, Carol also just took over Ronan the Accuser’s job (and his hammer), as the Judge Dredd of the Kree empire. And she’s definitely shirking that duty by hiding her sister, Lauri-Ell. (Look, all Kree names are just like that.) Lauri-Ell has been accused of destroying an entire city of innocent civilians, but she maintains her innocence. Seems like a real conundrum for our dear Captain.

Mikel Janín: Great at drawing cute buns, and great at drawing cute buns. Everybody forgets that Wonder Woman can talk to animals, but not Mariko Tamaki. The new Wonder Woman creative team is off to a great start.

“Is there anybody else you can think of who’d be useful to an investigation?” Northstar’s narration asks. “Nah, Polaris responds, I think we’re good.” In panel, Eye-boy painstakingly puts googly eyes all over his pair of white crocs, in X-Factor #1, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Leah Williams, David Baldeon/Marvel Comics

Thank you, X-Factor #1 for the gift of Eye-Boy putting googly eyes all over his crocs.

A strange human figure zips through space, following an orange rocketship, on a 5x7 grid of panels in Hedra, Image Comics (2020). Image: Jesse Lonergan/Image Comics

The nine-panel grid is famous in Western comics, but Jesse Lonergan set himself an even more ambitious goal with Hedra: A 35-panel grid. The result is a visually fascinating one-issue sci-fi parable. Check out our preview of it here, and then go get the comic.

Cable #2

Cyclops licks his lips happily as he unwraps and raises a Philly cheesesteak to his mouth in Cable #2, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Gerry Duggan, Phil Noto/Marvel Comics

Bless Phil Noto and Gerry Duggan for this panel of a Cyclops who can’t wait to tuck into a delicious Philly cheesesteak on the moon.

Suicide Squad #7

Deadshot’s daughter Zoe shows off her home-made superhero costume as Liveshot, in Suicide Squad #7, DC Comics (2020). Image: Tom Taylor, Daniel Sampere/DC Comics

Suicide Squad has not missed a beat since it launched late last year, and now Tom Taylor is reintroducing Deadshot’s daughter as an aspiring archer superhero with a homemade costume. I love her.

Source: Polygon.com

Halo: The Master Chief Collection will get Xbox-PC cross-play in 2020

As 343 Industries approaches its release date for Halo Infinite, its still committed to updating Halo: The Master Chief Collection, its compilation of Halo games on Windows PC and Xbox One.

In particular, the developer said in an update on the Halo website that it’s looking to bringing cross-play, keyboard and mouse support on Xbox, and input-based matchmaking to The Master Chief Collection by the end of 2020. Cross-play, input-based matchmaking, and server region selection are expected to launch together, with a custom game browser and mouse and keyboard support for Xbox launching as a package.

Cross-play means that players across Xbox consoles and Windows PC will be able to play together. Input-based matchmaking and keyboard and mouse support enhance that. Input-based matchmaking means you’ll likely be matched with players using the same input device (like a controller or keyboard and mouse) as you. Keyboard and mouse support, of course, gives console players the option to use the peripherals.

Mouse and keyboard support was added to Xbox One in 2018, but it remains available on a game-by-game basis. If developers want to add it to their games, they can — but they don’t have to.

Microsoft and 343 Industries released The Master Chief Collection on PC in 2019, first with Halo: Reach. Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, and Halo 3 have since been added to the collection. Next up is Halo 3: ODST, which is expected to come to PC soon — a testing period is planned for this month, according to the blog post. Halo Infinite, the next-gen Halo game for Xbox Series X, is slated for its release on Xbox Series X and Windows PC this holiday season.

Source: Polygon.com

Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers will be exclusive to PlayStation

Spider-Man will come to Marvel’s Avengers, exclusively for PlayStation console owners, in 2021.

In a PlayStation Blog post on Monday, Crystal Dynamics associate art director Jeff Adams revealed that Spider-Man will come to Marvel’s Avengers sometime next year. However, Spider-Man will only come to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, meaning Windows PC and Xbox players won’t have access to the new hero.

Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics did not specify if Spider-Man’s appearance in Marvel’s Avengers would be a permanent or timed exclusive. We’ve reached out to the publisher for more details. Considering that Marvel’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales are exclusively PlayStation titles, it’s possible that Spider-Man may not come to Marvel’s Avengers on other platforms.

For PlayStation users, Crystal Dynamics said it wanted to make sure Spider-Man plays the way fans expect, switching seamlessly between movement and combat. Spider-Man will also have several skill trees at his disposal — like all heroes — so players can customize their Spider-Man to play differently than other PlayStation players.

In terms of fashion, Crystal Dynamics said it drew inspiration from early iterations of Spider-Man, citing artists Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr. Fans should expect the classic red and blue Spidey, complete with his webbed underarms. But Spider-Man fans should have plenty of other consumes to choose from in the full game.

Crystal Dynamics will launch a special, in-game event around Spider-Man’s debut, issuing a set of challenges for players to complete.

Marvel’s Avengers is only a month away, with the beta weekends starting for players as early as Aug. 7. On the June 29 War Table stream, Crystal Dynamics revealed Hawkeye as the game’s first post-launch hero. The bow and arrow user comes as part of the Avenger’s Initiative, which takes place after Marvel’s Avengers’ main campaign. It’s unclear if Spider-Man will also have a new campaign. Both heroes are free for owners of Marvel’s Avengers.

Crystal Dynamics will launch Marvel’s Avengers on Sept. 4 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The game will come to next-generation consoles later this holiday.

Source: Polygon.com

Games need to return to black-and-white morality

From young adult writer Ava Jae to author K.M. Weiland, the axiom that morally gray characters are more compelling than traditional heroes is advice many writers dole out these days.

Bemoaning the lack of tension in stories around black-and-white morality, many writers believe readers prefer the unpredictability of gray morality, which is in stark contrast to the clear, objective morality in black-and-white tales.

Then there’s the gray morality of “prestige games” like The Last Of Us Part 2 and BioShock Infinite, featuring characters that are a menagerie of trauma and barely disguised flaws, never able to rise above their own worst impulses. Their personalities blend together like sloppy gray sludge: the good guys are bad, the bad guys may be good, or at least well-intentioned, and it’s all, well, gray.

Gray morality presents a worldview that states these two poles aren’t that different: a perspective that actually widens the disparity in our fractured world. Our lives are already gray, and these shades seem to keep getting muddier.

The distrust of black-and-white tales may stem from their prominence in many child-friendly franchises: Mario saves the princess, while Bowser kidnaps her. Guybrush Threepwood of Monkey Island fame rescues his lover as the earnest, wannabe outlaw, the antithesis to LeChuck’s scheming, undead pirate captain. Samus Aran blasts aliens to smithereens, versus the ghastly Mother Brain, who’s the … brains behind the machinations of Metroid, I guess.

Tales of black-and-white morality feature enemies that have always been bad, and will always be bad. While the heroes are good, and always find a way to succeed despite the odds, even if they have to strain against their own moral codes.

Even though games featuring such morality have fallen out of fashion, we still need more of such tales of absolute morality in games — back to the days of where goodness and evil are staunchly and dynamically opposed in their stories.

Stories are inherently moral

Many AAA games lend credence to the argument that moral ambiguities inherently make for richer, better narratives. The Last of Us Part 2 was certainly a success and the Far Cry series shows no sign of slowing down. One author takes this a step further by eschewing the concept of good and evil altogether in fiction.

Despite the recent preference for gray stories, however, black-and-white morality has always been hardwired into our consciousness. Stories are inherently moral. That can be seen in how we are instinctively drawn to those we admire and define as heroes, even in morally gray games.

No matter how much developers prefer heroes and villains that are sympathetic, games already implicitly frame characters as heroic or villainous, even if they go out of their way to get us to sympathize with the villain or question the hero’s motives.

Far Cry 5 - Daniel Seed holding gun
“We’re not so different, you and I,” seems to be the primary position of many gaming villains these days
Image: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

In these titles, the good guys, it should be noted, almost always win, even if their actions may not necessarily be moral. Joel from The Last of Us still garners plenty of sympathy, despite his excessive rampage and outbursts throughout the series. The tension of the game’s brutal final act comes from the contrast between how we have been led to perceive him, and his actions in the most important scene in the game.

But that decision loses its impact unless we already mark him as the hero. The twist is emotionally resonant only as much as it contrasts with our expectations of Joel as the hero we are rooting for. Even in stories with no clearly defined heroes and antagonists, the audience still seeks the black-and-white among these shades of gray. This is all the more evident in the latest The Last of Us Part 2, where Joel’s decisions and ultimate fate have still largely been met with sympathy.

The twists and turns of black-and-white tales

The objective morality of black-and-white stories does deliver the dramatic tension that many seek in morally gray stories, the latter typically taking place in a desolate universe where anyone can be muddied by the corruptible stench of depravity, or even just the need to survive.

So much gray pop culture exists in worlds where terrible acts beget terrible consequences, the cycles of violence wrought by morally ambiguous characters persisting endlessly — the most famous example being the depressingly gray universe of Game of Thrones, where endless bloodshed wrought by its characters against each other has always been par for the course.

game of thrones ep41
There was plenty of violence on both sides, after all
Photo: HBO

Or the grimdark world of The Witcher, with Geralt of Rivia earning his reputation as the Butcher of Blaviken for killing a much maligned monster, who had been a victim herself. It’s harder to make characters feel trapped in their circumstances when they can always compromise on their subjective sense of moral code and do something underhanded — an action that may feel uncharacteristic of them — just to keep the story moving.

Instead, the steadfast nature of black-and-white stories forces their characters to walk a moral tightrope, which is far more than just a pedestrian or idealistic view of morality. These tales exemplify triumphing over personal struggles — a popular theme in stories — allowing heroes the opportunity to explore the depths of their convictions.

This has been explored before by Polygon’s opinions editor Ben Kuchera, in which he argues that Captain America’s tale of staying true to his convictions in a morally gray universe makes for a more compelling tale than that of Superman’s. Putting uncompromising characters in a complicated world is a recipe ripe for dramatic tension, rather than a way to avoid complexity and more adult themes.

Undertale is one example, even as it lets you discover the limits of your morality. Here you can choose to be good or evil: either wholeheartedly embrace goodness through the pacifist route by sparing any monsters you run into, or lean into wickedness by slaughtering everything you meet.

This game doesn’t believe in ambiguities; there’s no conclusion to be had when you embark on a morally gray route of killing some monsters but freeing others. And if you decide to commit wanton genocide, it presents your decision as motivated by a force of incomprehensible darkness. There’s no heartbreaking backstory that gives you any room to shrug and explain away your choice. The result is a deeply emotive narrative — with many players feeling a palpable sense of discomfort even as they commit to a dark path.

It’s this sense of uneasiness that reminds players of their own moral leanings. This dynamic can only emerge from the absolute contrast between good and evil, as plain as black and white on the diametrically opposed poles of morality. A Plague Tale: Innocence showcases instances of this polarity — seen in the dastardly deeds of the Catholic church and the deathly plague of rats, which contrast with the innocence of the de Rune siblings as they try to survive during the Hundred Years’ War.

Unlike most video game protagonists, 15-year-old Amicia de Rune doesn’t kill for sport, often finding herself in a moralistic bind of having to kill despite not wanting to. Her combat prowess also is limited to the durability of her slingshot, and being spotted by any enemy soldiers means putting herself and her younger brother in active danger.

What is crucial is the depiction of the almost cartoonishly evil Catholic priest, the sort of thing that is frequently deemed a cardinal sin in fiction.

Yet in this story, it’s not the notoriety of the church that demands nuance. What A Plague Tale: Innocence seeks to impress upon you is the heroes’ endless struggle to remain alive without losing their humanity, even in the face of abject wretchedness.

Even the plague of rats, symbolic of Europe’s Black Death in the mid-1300s, devours their victims indiscriminately, be it villager or soldier. It’s an inexplicable force of nature that simply has no real allegiance to any moral code, landing outside the axis of good and evil.

The world may be morally gray, but the characters fall simply into the archetypes of “good” or “bad,” which does little to minimize the story.

Black-and-white morality in real-life

But the concept of black-and-white morality doesn’t just remain within the fictional realm. It has the capacity to influence how we frame and perceive real-life events.

Unlike fiction, allowing a sense of moral dilemma over both sides, particularly in the current era of burgeoning social change, reinforces the kinds of false equivalencies that might slow down social change.

Consider the media’s fixation on telling inspiring rags-to-riches tales of billionaires and triple-A studios, even in the face of discomforting details about profiting from underpaid and oppressive labor practices.

Or the sightings of police officers kneeling alongside protesters, a scene reminiscent of redemption arcs of anti-heroes, except in this case it’s often alleged to be a publicity stunt before the police brutality begins again. Defense of the police and their violence appeals to our familiarity with the paradigms of gray in many stories about moral ambiguity, as well. It’s akin to a shield of incorruptibility: Good people can do bad things sometimes, without being immoral themselves.

What’s also perfidious is the implication in gray stories that “goodness” is just a hair’s difference away from “badness,” when it’s a perspective steeped in privilege: The oppressor is as multifaceted as the oppressed, and the hero as capable of evil-doings as the villain.

BioShock Infinite
Fighting racism is as bad as being racist, when you really think about it and want to sell video games
Image: Irrational Games/2K Games

This perspective allows even the most racist or authoritarian among us to argue that their beliefs are just that — beliefs they are free to pursue, and should be free to do so, instead of the reality of plain ol’ boring and evil white supremacy or fascism. Video games love to blend the good and the bad themselves until they become a gray goo, eventually and sometimes relentlessly symbolically arguing that all lives matter.

The most telling example of how gray morality undercuts storytelling is the infamous betrayal by Daisy Fitzroy, a black revolutionary from BioShock Infinite. She’s revealed to be just as corruptible by the allure of power as her racist enemies, even as she was fighting for her people’s emancipation from slavery.

The white protagonist, Booker DeWitt, even spells it out. “The only difference between Comstock [the game’s Big Bad] and Fitzroy is how you spell the name,” he says. It’s a damning conclusion that the rebel faction is just as unethical as the nation’s leaders, while plainly ignoring that its depiction of Jim Crow-era racism contained real-life parallels to the events that birthed the American Civil War.

What feels infuriating about this perspective is this: If you don’t fight for your rights in the correct way — the polite, civil way that fits snugly within the frameworks of society — you will be tarred with the same brush as those who are actively bolstering the forces behind inequality.

We see this in modern politics all the time. Politicians who take away healthcare are just doing their jobs, while those protesting against them for making medication unaffordable are framed as uncivil and dangerous. It’s disingenuous to claim that both sides are equally at fault; one group is championing civil rights or access to healthcare while the other is looking out for their own interests.

I’m not saying that gray stories are never compelling, or that goodness cannot exist in gray universes. But setting ethical considerations aside to craft such fiction in games however, or other mediums, can be actively disempowering. We don’t currently need more redemption stories about villains or tales about the corruptibility of heroes. The number of games that tell us heroes and villains aren’t that different has become numbing and demoralizing.

What I crave, and what I think we deserve, are black-and-white games centered around the concept of absolute, objective morality. Being committed to righteousness can be conflicting, but that’s the strength of truly “good” characters, versus the abject danger of truly bad ones.

Watching our heroes stick to their convictions, even against insurmountable odds, ratchets up drama, rather than destroying it. The concept that good can ultimately triumph over evil is a timeless one, and stories that rally around this trope — around unadulterated hope — can help guide us through the year’s ceaseless onslaught of calamities.

Source: Polygon.com

Modern Warfare & Warzone Season 5: Stadium Opens, New MP Content

Activision and Infinity Ward have released a new trailer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone Season 5.

Season 5 begins on August 5 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC with new content across the game.

Now, we get our first look at Season 5 with the new trailer that shows a map change for Warzone. This is the first map change since the game’s launch.

New places to explore are coming to Verdansk, including the opening of the Stadium, a new loot train to go around the map, and more.

Here’s the new Content shown in trailer:

  • 2 New MP Maps
  • 1 new Gunfight Map
  • 1 new Ground War map
  • Stadium Opens in Verdansk
  • New Train in Warzone

Here’s a look at the new MP content.

Verdansk will never be the same. The stadium opens. The train arrives.

TRAILER:

Stay tuned for the latest news on Season 5 for Modern Warfare and Warzone.

The post Modern Warfare & Warzone Season 5: Stadium Opens, New MP Content appeared first on Charlie INTEL.

Source: CharlieIntel.com

A short list of dumb, dangerous stuff I did in Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator is magical, an engine capable of creating escapism on a global scale. But it’s also a simulation game of the highest order. With all the difficulty settings cranked up, it really does require that you know how to fly an airplane to have any fun. That means it’s incredibly easy to kill your virtual self by accident … and on purpose. So, here’s a short list of all the dumb, dangerous stuff that I did during the week I spent in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

First, a quick note on the history of doing dumb stuff in Microsoft Flight Simulator. The first version of the game that I ever played came out way back in 1988. I remember taking off from the default airport in Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 — Chicago’s Meigs Field — for the first time. The little airstrip was spread out over a bunch of landfill in Lake Michigan that was originally built in the 1930s for the Century of Progress World’s Fair. Heading north, players could fly out over the big blue expanse of the lake — which was super boring — or they could weave in and out of Chicago’s iconic skyline. Pretty much everyone did that instead.

A cracked windscreen in Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0
Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 circa 1988
Image: subLOGIC/Microsoft Corporation

That means that virtually anyone who played the game immediately broke the law, veering into restricted airspace at dangerously low altitudes. Unskilled pilots eventually crashed, either by coming in too fast on their return trip to Meigs or by slapping into a skyscraper. In 2003, Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley ordered city crews to bulldoze the real-world Meigs Field. The site has since been turned back into a park.

What’s interesting though is that in vintage versions of Flight Simulator, players could actually see their plane crash. It wasn’t terribly dramatic — just an image of a broken windscreen. But it got the point across.

In the new version of Flight Simulator there is no crash animation to speak of. The screen simply fades to black, giving you a quick one-line message on what caused your plane to break up. Additionally, you can damage the plane and that damage will affect its flight characteristics, but you won’t actually see that damage in-game. That makes belly landings somewhat anti-climactic, but it’s something that developer Asobo Studio is working on.

This is all just to say that there’s not a big payoff when you do something foolish in Flight Simulator. But it doesn’t make it any less fun to do. Here’s a few of the ways I died:

A single-engine plane landed without landing gear. Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios
  • Canyon racing: One of my favorite things to do in previous versions of Flight Simulator — once I had the appropriate third-party terrain packs, of course — was fly through the Grand Canyon. I’m happy to report that the Colorado River is much more interesting to look at this time around. Clipping a wing in a tight turn will end your flight real quick, however.
  • Flying under bridges: One of my favorite planes in the new version of Flight Simulator is the Pitts-branded aerobatic plane. Not only is the little red-and-white thing quick and maneuverable, it also has less tendency to break apart mid-flight when you push the nose down. I’m happy to report that you can fly under both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. However, depending on the weather, the waves do present a bit of a problem at lower altitudes.
  • Landing on bridges: In addition to flying under bridges, know that you can also fly through them. I did touch-and-go landings on the Golden Gate Bridge for an entire afternoon. Thankfully, vehicles are not collision objects in Flight Simulator. Bridge supports, on the other hand, definitely are.
  • Flying into a tropical storm: In addition to getting access to Flight Simulator in July, I played the closed alpha for a few months earlier this year and tested out its weather simulation, which runs on real-world data. That meant flying directly into tropical storms Bertha and Cristobal. The experience was terrifying. With zero visibility, I watched in horror while my instrumentation did terrible things. Best I can figure, my little single-engine plane got tossed around like a paper cup and torn to shreds. Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to modders who are interested in modeling the United States Air Force’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters.
  • Landing on the pond out back of my house: Microsoft Flight Simulator models everything that Bing can see from space, so that means your home is probably in the game. My house has a pond behind it. It’s only about 75 yards long, and if I flare at just the right spot a block over, I can drop a water plane right in there. I’m still working on stopping before I hit the neighbor’s house. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Finally, there’s one stupid thing that I haven’t yet done in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and that’s mess around in airspace that is strictly off limits. That means I have yet to fly over Area 51, Afghanistan, or the contested Crimean peninsula. Those places are all there, because they’re all visible from space. There’s nothing stopping you from checking them out in-game. In fact, North Korea looks pretty chill.

Microsoft Flight Simulator arrives for PC on Aug. 18, and will eventually come to Xbox consoles. It’s being sold in three editions, ranging from $59.99 to $119.99. It will also be part of the Xbox Game Pass program.


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Source: Polygon.com