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Jake

Idle Thumbs 313: Takeless Jake

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Idle Thumbs 313:

Idle Thumbs 313


Takeless Jake
This episode is an artifact of a simpler time. Buried in the ground for mere days, when you excavate it now, you barely understand what is discussed. "Why aren't they talking about the new Mario game for half this episode?" you wonder, your brain unable to see what is right before you. Eventually, you settle in and enjoy what you have and are a better person for it, but only because you listen to the episode while playing Mario.

Discussed: the past, Cuphead, Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, video game curricula, [Half-Life 2:] Epistle 3, Marc Laidlaw, Mike Laidlaw, Laidlaw & Laidlaw, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

 

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Battlestar Galactica Deadlock sounds like a cool Flotilla-ish thing, but what I imagined when Nick said "exactly what you'd expect a Battlestar Galactica game to be" was some kind of Crusader Kings-ish civilization management thing where you have to deal with the realities of managing a society of space refugees, and the killer robot spaceships are just one problem of many.

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I kept thinking back to the Flotilla discussion as well.

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The whole "what game would you show to someone to introduce them to games" is kind of a pointless question because I'd show different games to different people. It's like asking what book you'd recommend to someone. It depends on the person! I think Crystal Warrior Ke$ha, for instance, is a great first game for people who would like the tone and the subject, but definitely not for other people who wouldn't be feeling it at all. Proteus is great for people who can get the hang of M+KB first person controls and who have fun wandering around, but for someone who is not able to pick that up quickly or who wants something focused to do, it's a crummy choice. Tetris is a big crowd pleaser but not for people who don't like time pressure. 

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I would like to note that in Cuphead, the charge shot significantly reduces the finger strain mentioned in the episode. Switching to it made my experience a lot less physically painful (though I love the game in general.) I put a ton of time into it for the full clear, which was really, really satisfying. Would recommend it to everyone pretty much.

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3 hours ago, Kyir said:

I would like to note that in Cuphead, the charge shot significantly reduces the finger strain mentioned in the episode. Switching to it made my experience a lot less physically painful (though I love the game in general.) I put a ton of time into it for the full clear, which was really, really satisfying. Would recommend it to everyone pretty much.

FWIW in my case at least it wasn’t physical strain, I just think anything  in a game that is so frequent it’s essentially constant, but still requires ongoing player input, is basically redundant and maybe should be rethought.

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On 11/4/2017 at 4:57 AM, plasticflesh said:

Perhaps these games both share a heritage with "The Ancient Art of War at Sea"

 

You & I need to pester 3MA to cover this series

 

I never played the last one, The Ancient Art of War In The Skies. Such a phenomenally contradictory title.

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33 minutes ago, TychoCelchuuu said:

I really enjoyed this article about Cuphead.

 

That's really great. I wish though that the article were somewhat more specific about the preferable ugly reality he would rather the game (or other similar modern works) exhibit. I'm not saying this because I think it's his responsibility to have to figure that out, only because he says a few times in the article that it would be better to admit the flawed past than to sanitize it. I assume that doesn't mean he would rather Cuphead traffick in historically accurate racial stereotypes, but it's not entirely clear to me what the specific alternative he's calling for is.

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5 minutes ago, Chris said:

 

That's really great. I wish though that the article were somewhat more specific about the preferable ugly reality he would rather the game (or other similar modern works) exhibit. I'm not saying this because I think it's his responsibility to have to figure that out, only because he says a few times in the article that it would be better to admit the flawed past than to sanitize it. I assume that doesn't mean he would rather Cuphead traffick in historically accurate racial stereotypes, but it's not entirely clear to me what the specific alternative he's calling for is.

 

I thought the author was pretty direct about what is preferable -
1. allowing Black animators to drive contending with these ugly realities of our history, where they can use these stereotypes to encourage and force white audiences to contend with this past, which is why he brings up the Jay-Z music video & the artist Kara Walker use of black caricatures in her work
 2. depicting Black People in a non-stereotypical way. For example this portion about Cab Calloway - "That Cuphead follows the path of the Fleischers and hides what could have been his likeness behind an anthropomorphic talking dice is historically in line with black representation in animation. Once it became faux-pas to depict black characters as minstrels and racist caricatures, then the solution appears to be not depicting them at all."

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1 minute ago, jennegatron said:

 

I thought the author was pretty direct about what is preferable -
1. allowing Black animators to drive contending with these ugly realities of our history, where they can use these stereotypes to encourage and force white audiences to contend with this past, which is why he brings up the Jay-Z music video & the artist Kara Walker use of black caricatures in her work

 

Yeah that tracks, but exists outside of the context of Cuphead specifically.

 

1 minute ago, jennegatron said:


 2. depicting Black People in a non-stereotypical way. For example this portion about Cab Calloway - "That Cuphead follows the path of the Fleischers and hides what could have been his likeness behind an anthropomorphic talking dice is historically in line with black representation in animation. Once it became faux-pas to depict black characters as minstrels and racist caricatures, then the solution appears to be not depicting them at all."

1
1

 

That's totally fair!

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On 11/10/2017 at 4:40 PM, jennegatron said:

 2. depicting Black People in a non-stereotypical way. For example this portion about Cab Calloway - "That Cuphead follows the path of the Fleischers and hides what could have been his likeness behind an anthropomorphic talking dice is historically in line with black representation in animation. Once it became faux-pas to depict black characters as minstrels and racist caricatures, then the solution appears to be not depicting them at all."

 

On 11/10/2017 at 4:42 PM, Chris said:

That's totally fair!

 

Strongly agree that it's a great article from an edifying perspective. I can see how the folks at Studio MDHR thought they were doing the right thing by removing and/or papering over the worst of the racial depictions from Fleischer and other cartoons from the first half of the 20th century, but also how the result of doing so could not sit well with folks.

 

Also agree with @jennegatron about the two solutions the author presents to the problem within the piece. I think solution #1, of having black animators be the ones to create the caricatured depictions in an attempt to make audiences think about/contend with the terrible past, only works when the work is made by an all or majority black team. I don't know much about Studio MDHR--the credits for "Cuphead" list 14 people responsible for various aspects of the visuals in the game. They may very well have non-white people on their team, but the two white brothers are the only ones that have been visible in press events etc. to my knowledge. Even if they have one or more black people working on the art for the game, and even if the idea to include awful depictions in an attempt to face and deal with the past originated from them, I still think that is a bad idea/would not go over well, especially when two white guys are the public face of the game. "Cuphead" would have to of been made by an all or majority black art team in order for that to be remotely acceptable. 

 

Solution #2 is clearly the better and preferable choice, not only to #1 but also to what they went with in the game itself. Removing and/or papering over it is obviously easier to do (considering how much they are riffing off of/paying homage to characters and imagery from cartoons of the first half of the 20th century they sadly would have needed to come up with much more original designs than anything else that's in the game if they were to depict black characters in a positive way), and I assume when they made that choice they probably thought it was the best thing to do, as well. This article and the discussion around it clearly shows that isn't the case, but I don't fault Studio MDHR for the decisions they made.

 

A third solution would be to have chosen an art style that doesn't have as terrible of a past when it comes to depictions of various people. Sadly for animation that wouldn't be possible for the first half of the 20th century--while there are certainly individual animated shorts from that era that are devoid of any terrible depictions, I don't think there's any one studio that didn't have at least a few shorts that did. The first black animators to work at a major animation studio are Floyd Norman for Disney in 1956, and Frank Braxton for Warner Brothers sometime in the late 50s. Not only is that past the era and art styles Studio MDHR was most interested in emulating, but obviously they still worked for companies that were majority white employees and had problematic pasts in terms of depictions of black characters and other people.

 

Comics were very slightly better in this regard (emphasis on "very slightly"). George Herriman--the creator of one of the greatest comic strips ever made, "Krazy Kat"--was black, though apparently most people that came into contact with him did not know this was the case due to him having a lighter skin tone. There was also Jackie Ormes, who had various comic strips between 1937-1954, all of which portrayed black women in positive ways. They were both incredible artists and a movie or game emulating their art styles could look incredible, as well.

 

That brings me to my ultimate point/takeaway from this article, though, which is that even solutions #2 and #3 still aren't great. Solution #2, of positively depicting black characters using an art style from the first half of the 20th century, still papers over the racist history of animation in the first half of the 20th century. And my third solution of avoiding the problem by emulating the art styles of black creators of the era seems great, but there would still be the part where it's being carried out by a team of presumably all or mostly white people.

 

Like the article itself says, the animation, comics, and video game industries (and nearly all other industries) still have an issue with diversity wherein a lot of the work is being done by white people. This isn't to say white creators shouldn't tell stories that feature non-white characters in a positive way--that is obviously preferable to us just perpetually making stories about ourselves. We should be constantly striving to learn more about, empathize, and positively depict people of all types and from all backgrounds. But I can't help but wonder if many studios, companies, and individuals are missing the forest for the trees when it comes to this.

 

"Do the Right Thing," "Hoop Dreams," and "In the Heat of the Night" are three of the greatest movies ever made, all dealing with race relations in America. They're all of comparable quality, but I would always cite "Do the Right Thing" as being the most important of the three since it was directed by a black person, features a majority black cast, and had black people heading up most of the major departments in the movie crew. That isn't to diminish the quality of "Hoop Dreams" and "In the Heat of the Night"--they're both incredible and were made by great people with the best of intentions. But nothing is better or more authentic than when creative works focusing on non-white people are made by creative teams that consist of mostly non-white people. Or where at least the heads of the major departments/the folks making the biggest decisions are non-white.

 

Too often I think studios and companies looking to make works that are more diverse do so without making the team that creates it as diverse as those depicted in the work itself. A lot of these studios/companies end up doing extensive research to try and get all the details right. Doing research/due diligence is always important, but when you see behind-the-scenes featurettes of mostly white people traveling to places and consulting non-white people to get the details right, I can't help but think "why didn't you hire more skilled non-white people to help make it instead or as well as doing that, people for whom getting the details right would have come more naturally and authentically?" (To be clear this is an issue that seems to plague American media studios/companies much more than works made elsewhere.)

 

That doesn't really apply to Studio MDHR--they clearly just wanted to make a standard run and gun game with the best elements of old cartoon aesthetics, while sidestepping this issue altogether. (Though I think it's more than fair to call out the terrible past of the art style they're using for folks that aren't aware about it and to be upset about the ways in which they papered over those negative depictions.) But in trying to think of ways to solve the issue of how to best portray non-white characters or use an art style that has a positive past in terms of representation/depiction or reclaim one that didn't, I think the best solution is to hire skilled non-white workers to make those depictions. White people can and should be working alongside them and helping realize the creation as well, but if the goal is for the work to be diverse and empathetic and focus on non-white people then studios/companies should do the right thing and put non-white people in charge of those projects.

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