The Themes of Avengers: Infinity War (and why anyone cares)

Spoilers are going to follow. By now most people interested in seeing Infinity War have seen it at least once, so maybe that isn’t as big of an issue? 

I know many of you looked at the title of this article and sighed or rolled your eyes. Your minds went back to high- and middle-school English classes, where you tried to find justification for some theme that your teacher or some old book says an even older book was about. I understand; I was there! The English curriculum I’m familiar with was terrible at explaining why I should have cared about anything they taught. But then, in college and beyond, I came across a variety of online creators<sup>1</sup> who helped me understand what they were trying to teach. 

To summarize the lessons I have gleaned from these sources as best as I can: Fiction is communication, and themes are what it communicates. Whenever an author tells a story, they end up sharing more than an account of what happened in the story. They also share a worldview associated with that story, and lessons derived from it. If the world is one where the proper authorities are bought off by the bad guys, violence is the only solution, and a happy ending comes to those who take the initiative (and the SMG), this story tells a message about how violence is an effective solution to problems the authorities won’t solve, whether or not that was intentional.<sup>2</sup> This is a theme. 

So with that out of the way, let us examine a major theme in Infinity War. 
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Black Panther and the Meaning of Fight Scenes

I saw Black Panther recently, and (without getting into the details1) enjoyed most of it but was bothered by some aspects. The former have been discussed to death, which is better than the alternative but leaves me little to talk about. But there is one bothersome aspect which I think is worth talking about. It’s nitpicky, but some nits are worth picking, if only so you can spot when that nit hatches into a louse…erm, a giant louse…or maybe a louse infestation…? 

Let’s just drop the metaphor and get on with it. (Oh, and minor spoilers, but they don’t go far beyond “the hero beats the villain”.) 

  Continue reading “Black Panther and the Meaning of Fight Scenes”

Sid Meier, D&D, and Why TRPGs Are All About Fighting Monsters

Ever since video games got really big, turning into a media industry comparable to literature or theater and rivaling even cinema in its pop culture clout[1], game design has been a popular topic on the Internet. The most notable content creators in the discourse are probably Extra Credits, but there are dozens of other video game fans discussing game design, as well as some industry insiders weighing in (ranging from the GDC vault to Ask A Game Dev on Tumblr). And yet, I’ve never found anyone applying game design to traditional or tabletop role-playing games (TRPGs), such as Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, or Shadowrun. So I decided that I’d fill the void[2] myself.

To begin with, let’s start by explaining what a game is—or, at least, what makes a game engaging as a game rather than an experience[3]. I’ve always been fond of Sid Meier’s definition of a game as a series of interesting decisions. Those choices might be carefully-calculated maneuvers as in Sid Meier’s games, choices based on emotion and gut instinct as in Telltale’s games, semi-reflexive interactions as in rhythm games, or a mixture of two or more as seen in the likes of Dark Souls and Fire Emblem[4]. How well do TRPGs fit this definition?

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On the Popularity of the Superhero Genre

Superheroes are pretty popular right now. Many of the biggest movies of the past decade and the most popular current television series are adaptations of Marvel and DC comics, for instance, and various original superhero universes can be found in everything from semi-obscure web novels[1] to one of the most-anticipated animated films of the upcoming year, Incredibles 2. The popularity of the superhero has even bled over into media in other countries, notably in the popular shonen series One Punch Man and My Hero Acadamia (as well as less-well-known ones).

And yet, not long before that, superheroes would have been considered a niche genre at best. That shouldn’t be surprising. Around the time that Hello Dolly’s failure killed off the (non-Disney) movie musical, cinema and media in general have been trending more and more cynical, gritty, and “real”. Superheroes are one of the least cynical and gritty concepts; they’re larger-than-life people who can make things right by beating up some bad guys, while wearing underwear on the outside of their most garish leotards (or, for the women, while wearing gaudy swimsuits). Why have superheroes become so common? I don’t know, but I’m going to take a swing at it. Continue reading “On the Popularity of the Superhero Genre”

Thriving After the End in Wildbow’s Multiverse

After a couple of essays about one of the largest franchises in the modern world, I’m going to write about an author most people have never even heard of. It’s a bit of a shift, but I’ve finally finished Twig and started Ward, and the worldbuilding in the latter work inspired this. And since I’ve so far just been writing about whatever comes to mind, I’m writing about this. Be warned, however, that this essay will contain unavoidable spoilers for all of Wildbow’s completed web serials (Worm, Pact, and Twig), particularly Worm and Twig.

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Poe Dameron and the Lovable Rogue Archetype

The Poe/Holdo subplot of The Last Jedi is one of the most controversial parts of The Last Jedi. Most people I’ve talked to, listened to, or read about disliked the way Luke’s death was handled, liked Rose’s emotional counterweight to Finn, and didn’t know what to think about that scene where Rey was watching a bunch of reflections of herself. (Maybe I need to watch more reviews to get it.) But the Poe/Holdo subplot? A lot of people loved it, a lot of people hated it. It’s not hard to see why; it’s a vicious deconstruction of one of the tropes which our culture holds dearest.

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My Thoughts on The Last Jedi

I think it’s fair to say that The Last Jedi is…divisive. I’ve tried to avoid reviews so far (I wanted to keep my palette clean until I’d written these thoughts, and I knew I’d want to write them), but the article and video titles I’ve seen make that much clear on their own. So do the TV Tropes entries, which I’ve skimmed in the process of jogging my memory. I’m inclined to agree; there’s a lot I liked about The Last Jedi and a lot I didn’t like. As mentioned, I knew I’d want to write about it by the time I finished watching the movie, so…here we are. I’m writing this, and to my surprise, you’re reading it.

The Force Awakens tries to do a lot of stuff I like, and succeeds at much of it. But it also fails at other parts, and does things that I don’t like, and some things which hardly anyone likes. It’s a film with many fans and many detractors, because it does many good things and many bad things. So I’m going to write down my thoughts on the movie and throw them into the uncaring void of the Internet.

Continue reading “My Thoughts on The Last Jedi”