Friday, 2 September 2016

Alex's Adventures in Internetland: June/July/August

Hey there, stranger!

The blog's a bit quiet these days, simply because I've been doing a lot of work for other sites. Work which includes some of the articles I'm most proud of, like, ever.

For example, this feature on in-game photography, for tech website Alphr.com.
"A carelessly-tossed Molotov has set Kyrat's foliage ablaze. Mixed in amongst the crackle of flames are gun shots, getting louder and more frequent, but I'm paying them no attention. Two elephants have just sauntered out of the trees ahead. So, naturally, I'm crouched looking down the lens of Far Cry 4's in-game camera, waiting for the perfect moment to squeeze the screenshot button.
As the light hits the exquisite rough texture of the elephants' hides, a tiger emerges from the treeline and, like a game of golf ruining a good walk, proceeds to tear me to shreds. But it doesn't matter. I got the shot."
It's probably the single prettiest thing I've ever had published online, thanks to their lovely clean layout and especially to the pics from interviewees Gary Dooton and Dead End Thrills.


It's not perfect, but this Rock Paper Shotgun article about Hitman's Elusive Target mode was a fun challenge, pitching and writing something and having it published within 36 hours of me having the initial controller-in-hands experience. (I wrote about Hitman on the blog already. In any other year, it would probably be my hands-down Game of 2016, but we've been blessed with an anomalously good crop of the ol' electronic entertainments this year.)

If you're talking about games in 2016, though, there's a single title that is so hard to ignore that frankly even I'm surprised we've gotten this far without mentioning it. Summer 2016 will forever be remembered as 'the Pokémon Go era', especially when it comes to stuff I wrote.

There was a solid month where every third story on Mobile Marketing had a Pikachu pun in it, the best of which was probably this look at how pubs and shops were piggybacking onto the game's enormous success. I've got a couple of other Poké-themed articles coming out soon, which sadly just narrowly missed the August window, but the best thing I'll probably ever write on the topic is already out there.


That's this Kotaku article, where I talk about how inaccessible and tricksy and weird the game is, for such a big successful mobile title.
"It's aggressively light on tutorial, leaving you to work everything out for yourself. What does the colour of this circle mean, and why is it growing and shrinking like that? Do the rustling leaves mean a Pokémon will spawn in that spot? What the hell do I do with this egg? Confused, alone, you’re in the same state that you were when you took those first steps out of Pallet Town and into the long grass of Route 1.
By the conventional rules of apps – in terms of onboarding and UX and all the other jargony things that developers concern themselves with – this is disastrous. But it can actually be made to work in an app's favour. People have drawn the comparison with Snapchat, which was apparently designed specifically to be confusing in a way that repels old people like me."
If I wanted to get wanky about it – and when have I ever missed and opportunity for that – it's secretly an article about not being sure if I'm old or still a child, and the transience of any new experience, and trying to reconcile all that through a constant that has been in my life for nearly 20 years. Y'know, like Songs of Innocence & Experience, but with more Snorlax.

My column over at ComicsAlliance, The Issue, is currently going strong. I've been playing around with the form as seems appropriate, doing a review of Locke & Key's month-spanning "February" in 29 installments and even a choose-your-own article which can be read a dozen different ways to match an Adventure Time issue with the same gimmick.


Probably the best example, though, is considerably less flashy. In June ComicsAlliance ran a Pride Week, with an incredible breadth of articles and viewpoints. I was fortunate enough to get to contribute a piece on Generation Hope's "Better", which uses mutants to talk about some pretty harrowing real-world events:
"In late 2010, four young gay men in the US committed suicide within a single month. The most widely reported was the story of Tyler Clementi, an 18 year-old student in New Jersey who killed himself a few days after being secretly recorded kissing another man. “Better” puts those events through the filter of the X-Men, but it doesn’t work hard to disguise them. The story focuses on a student, Zeeshan, whose mutant powers manifest in front of two friends who choose to record the transformation and post it online.
It’s an imperfect analogue, as mutants always are. Using a group who are defined by their frequently world-threatening powers as a stand-in for an oppressed minority or community is troubling because it casts them as a threat. There certainly are people who see the LGBTQ community that way, but it’s not a worldview you want to ally yourself with. And, as recent events have brutally reminded us, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of how it actually works in the real world."
No gimmick, no experimentation, just me just writing my little heart out. It was uncomfortable and difficult to write, and I just hope that translates into something positive when you read it.

Also during Pride Week, I reviewed Si Spurrier and Jeff Stokely's The Spire, and tried to pick apart how the comic deals with queer issues. I'm not sure I did the whole thing justice, but it's one of my favourite comics of the year.

One final bit of ComicsAlliance stuff. I generally shy away from interviews, and Q&As especially, but that's exactly what I did after Comixology launched their Netflix-y 'Unlimited' service. I spoke to CEO David Steinberger about creator remuneration, ownership and what 'unlimited' really means. I was really happy with the result, and it laid the groundwork for another bigger piece I have coming out in the next week or so.


Finally, Tim + Alex Get TWATD – a side project that started out life on this very blog – has improbably reached its second anniversary. Now on Tumblr, TWATD is a way of forcing myself (and Tim, unfortunately for him) to find as many ways as possible to write about a single comic, namely The Wicked + The Divine.

The instalment I'd point you towards is "Don't", which is basically a close reading of every action scene (or at least, every major act of violence) in the series so far. Fair warning, it's full of spoilers, but I think this excerpt is okay:
"I watched Die Hard for the thousandth time last weekend, and it got me thinking about the rules of action movies. In order to make the guy with the gun their hero, these films have to draw a line between ‘killing’ and ‘murder’. When John McClane empties a machine gun into Marco’s groin, he kills him. When Hans Gruber shoots Ellis in the head, he murders him.
‘Rising Action’ basically conforms to those rules. The Pantheon don’t actually kill one other, but when they crack each other’s skulls, that’s action. It’s all cool entrances and backflips and laser katanas. Despite them arguably playing the ‘bad guys’ this arc, that’s equally true of Ananke’s faction."
Unless you've never seen Die Hard, I guess. Sorry about that.

If you're looking for something a bit lighter, we're currently doing a 30 Day Challenge, where Tim and I both answer a set question about the series (favourite issue, least favourite character, some more esoteric fan stuff). That's still rolling, you can check it out here.

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.