I have a problem whenever I review things. There is an inner monologue that I seem to maintain that repeats the phrase “Who am I to say this?” over and over again driving me into a guilt spiral if I’ve been asked to review something that I deem to be not-very-good.
As far as I am concerned, the best critics have a deeper understanding of whatever it is they are critiquing. As my field at the moment is predominantly games, I have a wide range of peers to look to for inspiration or despair. As an example of a good critic, Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation is someone I appreciate not because of his oft hilarious turn of phrase but because I always feel he has a grounding of knowing what he’s talking about. He can be pedantically critical, but that’s the best way to help a medium improve and it is always very clear just how much he loves the games he reviews. Most importantly for me, his understanding has come from his contribution to the Indie games field and he has self published several titles and following his blog will reveal that he often works on several more that never see the light of day due to a mix of inertia, lack of time, or a realisation that the idea was better on paper.
Other reviewers also tend to read better in my opinion when they have game design experience. The Rock Paper Shotgun reviews are always solid because they are also written by people who not only have a passion for games, but also have some experience with designing games or mods. Likewise the Bit-Tech reviews (and yes I am a little biased here) are generally good because the guys that write them have dabbled in game design as well. In this day and age, if you are interested enough in games to write about them, it would be crazy if you hadn’t dabbled in a little hobby-coding at some point, even if it’s playing around with a level editor or something.
Nothing gets me more depressed than watching an excessive amount of television. There is something undeniably soporific about the process but it can easily lead to you watching things that you’ve seen before or things you have absolutely no interest in just for the sake of slumping in front of it for a little longer.
I very rarely come away from a television show, no matter how good it is, with a fired up sense of enthusiasm. Even a short five minute webisode can instead just leave me wanting to watch more moving images, but no matter how much I get dragged down by television that is actually of a high quality, it’s nothing compared with the way I get dragged down by something that’s trashier and as I often think, if this is happening to me, it must be happening to other people as well.
I can’t help but feel we are being fed poor ideals by the box of flashing lights that sits in our living room. Cheap to make easy to digest competition shows, such as the box opening non-game No Deal or No Deal, the Weakest Link or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire have all set the tone for what should be desired and sought after and that is money. I remember watching game shows when I was little where the prizes were somewhat a bonus as opposed to the goal, with any monetary incentives being incredibly small and the prizes taking the form of washing machines and fridges presented on slowly rotating platforms. It was the actual taking part, being on television and playing a game that was what was important. I suppose when Countdown starts offering money to its winners, then we know we’re doomed.
The other form of cheaply made easily digested yet simultaneously nauseating show is the reality contest. Thankfully survival shows like Big Brother seem to be on their way out and really in later years I got the sense that Big Brother was abusing the mentally ill rather than providing solid entertainment, but they have been replaced with the trend for talent shows. There’s the excruciatingly drawn out X Factor, or Britain’s Got Talent (And Must Be Stopped) or the inexplicably popular Strictly Come Dancing, the show with a title which has never quite made much sense to me.
It is common knowledge that we as a whole take technology for granted. At this very minute you are reading my words projected onto your screen through an immensely complicated mathematical processes involving 1s and 0s that have been transmitted from some undisclosed location to your machine after being sent to the undisclosed location by myself from a similar machine via a mix of telephone wires and other cables. I’m hazy on the specifics and am fairly certain that the internet runs on magic.
We take the internet for granted and we take many of the things we have come to rely on for granted too. I still remember a time when mobile phones were small if you could squeeze one inside a briefcase and when “wireless” meant “not plugged in which is why it’s not working” (I’m not quite old enough to associate wireless with a radio). Now we not only take mind blowing technology for granted, if it stops working for a second we become Bruce Banner on a bad day.
The one that always trips me up that I take for granted is online video on demand and broadcast technology. In other words, sites like YouTube, Blip TV, Justin TV, Vimeo and several others sat across the internet are an absolute wonder when you stop and think about it.
If you had come up to me when I was 11 and told me that within about ten years, anyone could make their own TV show and put it somewhere where the world can see it, I would have laughed. After all, not even the BBC has that sort of potential audience.
This is something that a friend of mine has got us doing which is, in my humble opinion, great.
The rules are simple and the game is played over a long period of time via email. The first player writes two minutes (which is approximately two pages) of script involving two characters. The second player then starts something new with two new characters and writes two minutes of script but has to include the first two characters at some point in the background doing something in character. The third player then does the same but with the second player’s characters. This is repeated until you have run out of players.
We have just started our game, and it’s highly manageable. Two pages isn’t that much but it is enough time to get an idea across, establish two characters, and get something to happen. More than anything else however, it is fantastic script writing practice.
I’ve had my turn, so maybe I’ll post the results if I get permission.
In fact, if you’re on task, you can establish whole films and multi-season TV shows in two minutes. Next time you watch something good on TV or see a decent film, pay careful attention to the first couple of minutes and see just how much they cross off in a short space of time. An example from the top of my head would be Serenity, which as soon as you get to the opening credits with director / producer names materializing on the screen and it starts moving through the ship, they manage to establish the seven major characters, the relationships between them and the situation they’re involved with in well under two minutes. Plus, it’s actually quite funny.
Step 1) Get a significant hair cut in your lunch hour that takes at least six inches off the length of your hair.
Step 2) Go back to work and forget about the hair cut.
Step 3) In the evening, watch an episode of Quantum Leap for the first time.
Step 4) Go to the bathroom after watching the episode and catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror.
Step 5) Heart Attack.