The MonArchs

Introducing: The Monarchs

Most astute readers: It is our privilege to present a new series entitled “The MonArchs” where we analyze architecture in the modern age. Bricks, crown moulding, we take it from every angle (as an architect would do). As I’m sure many of you are aware and muttering to yourself as you read this, there are numerous architectural blogs, digests, and various other readings out there. Why would we need another? I can certainly sympathize with your skepticism. I frequently exceed my limit of 7 architectural periodicals a day and would be hard pressed to fit in another. My hope is that this series will pull you out of the ether full of ceramic tile samples and window treatments that have left you dreary and reestablish the fundamental connection between you and the built world.

– How many doors do we need? –

I don’t know about you, but when I was a young lad ready to go out for an afternoon tromp around the neighborhood, I never had to choose which door to go out of. In fact, nobody really had that choice, and nobody needed that choice. If you wanted to go out for a jaunt, you used the front door. That was all you needed. Sure, the house might have had a couple of others for special use; a back door for easy access to the weber charcoal grill and a side door that only dad used to get to his workshop which seemed to absorb his entire existence outside apart from his regular job and the 10 minutes he would spend in the house after coming home from work to eat some of his wife’s casserole right out of the pan and then go change into an old O’Haligans t-shirt and jeans. Even as a child, this spurious side door seemed a bit much. Why couldn’t he just use the front or rear door, neither of which were more than 5 paces away? It was beyond my pre-adolescent mind to understand. Nevertheless, this was a period in time where you could count on seeing a MAXIMUM of 2 or maybe 3 exterior doors per house. It seems however, that, as Americans often do, we’re trending in a bit of a obtuse and indulgent direction. By that I mean… Doors. Doors upon doors. More than anyone would ever need, and I would argue, more than anyone would be able to make practical use of.
Take a look at this traditional style mcmansion I came across while heading to my cousin’s neighborhood yard tennis tournament:

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Yes, you’re seeing this correctly. This house has SIX doors. And that’s just the front face. I kept my curiosity restrained and avoided gallivanting around to the back side to see the extent of this extremism. Honestly, a confrontation with a man who chooses to live in a house with 6 front doors was more than I wanted to get into on an otherwise leisurely Saturday afternoon. We can safely assume though, that this house has more than 10 doors on its exterior. If someone can explain to me why this person needs 3 doors (two of them being double doors) to his front porch, each being less than an arm-span away from each other, I’m all ears. If you ask me, the frontage would be much better used by a few rocking chairs lined up next to each other (You’ve seen cracker barrel; that’s a porch I can appreciate.) Your options don’t end there when you limit yourself to a more humane number of entryways. Potted plants, statues, lattices: You just don’t have these options with so many doors.
It may seem to be just a fluke. How many of these monstrosities could possibly be out there? Well, let me assure you, once you key in on this trait, you just can’t stop seeing it.
Here’s another extremist design featuring two double doors and one single door (that we’re aware of) leading to the front porch:

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Since this is a much smaller house however, we actually have a much higher door/frontage ratio. It just gets to be too much.

 

Let me tell you, this ridiculous trend is not even limited to front porches. Have a look at this fellow’s garage:

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By the style of the doors we can tell that this scallywag was going for some kind of late 18th century carriage-house feel. Tell me though, when has there ever been an authentic carriage house with more than 1 door? 1 is simply all you need. One door takes you in and out. Apparently, this “coachman” feels the need for 3 standard garage doors, along with a monstrous and domineering 14’ entryway on the far side. He just HAD to be able to park his dodge sprinter van in there that he uses to shuttle around his 8 children from various marriages. As for what use he makes of the 3 other doors, your guess is as good as mine. His life is pretty much over anyway.
What makes this excessive doorage all the more perplexing is that many such homes are not the product of some average Joe trying his hand at design using google sketchup where the copy/paste functionality is all too easy to use and just tends to get out of hand. No, this trend is actively being promoted and pursued by trained professionals.  A colleague of mine recently produced this mockup for one of his clients:
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I tell you, it’s hard for me to fathom how one comes to this design. His clients were not impressed and he just didn’t understand it.  When he came to me for my opinion, I simply asked him: “Which door am I supposed to use?”. He couldn’t answer. My point was made.

Friends, I tell you, this is only a taste of what’s out there. I encourage everyone who is planning on building or buying a home to give some serious consideration to the number of doors you really need. Don’t let yourself be upsold. It doesn’t impress anyone to go overboard like this. It only makes you look foolish. One door was good enough for me growing up and I’d wager that it’s enough for any sane person. Please, end the madness. In conclusion, I’d like to leave you all with a video you may find helpful if you already find yourself with more access to your home than you need or want. This friendly Canadian fellow will show you just how easy it is to remove and fill in and exterior door opening:

 

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Honey, there’s a giant snow leopard outside and he need’s to use our bathroom.

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Honey, before you say anything, I know your thing about Saturdays “Not on Saturdays”, you yelled from the shower this morning. And I, as your wife, totally respect your totally capricious reasons for not wanting things to happen on Saturdays. And believe me, I didn’t want this to happen on Saturday either. Or any day, really. But, when I decided to marry you, after the time when you got me pregnant and I didn’t want that, well… I made a vow, to be totally open with you about what is happening in my life and right now what is happening in my life is that there is a giant snow leopard on our front stoop that really needs to use our bathroom.

No! Please, just listen. First, all I said was: “Let me ask, George.” What? What do you mean, “Now he knows my name.” I think he’s just some snow leopard off the street and he’s probably been holding it in for a while. I don’t think he would bother us on a Saturday if he didn’t really need it. Well, no. He didn’t say which one it was. Honey, do I really need to ask him? It will be really quick. I’ll just walk him in and you can just continue to use the message chair for another five hours uninterrupted while you watch your Dan Marino VHS rerun things.

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No, we’re not a charity and all I’m asking is the respect of having the snow leopard use our bathroom and maybe I make him lunch. Whatever he’s hungry for, George! I don’t know! He’ll probably be hungry and I would really just appreciate a little sympathy from you, just once. You’ve been playing that card for years! Your father died twenty years ago! You have to stop using him to get out of things that make you uncomfortable. Such as? How about every family reunion! How about your children’s high school and college graduations! How about the birth of your youngest! How about your father’s funeral! All you seem to do anymore is sit there on your message chair with it on “Hey! Cheif-mode, No Hold Barred” setting and you just read your Nascar books.

You believe me! I will absolutely take the blame if something goes wrong! Absolutely! It will be my pleasure! I always take the blame anyway. I always do. Even, if it’s “OOOPS, I ACCIDENTLY COOKED AND MADE OUR DOG FOR DINNER AND I TOOK A BEEF ROAST FOR A WALK! OOOOOOOOPPPSS! MY BAD!” This is always what you’re doing, you sit there passive and wait for me to screw up and then when I TAKE THE DOG TO SOCCER PRACTICE AND TAKE OUR KID TO GET NEUTERED THEN, OOOOOOHHHHH, IT’S ALL MY FAULT, ISN’T IT GEORGE? Tell me… tell me… was it my fault when you sat there while I PINNED THE DOG UP ON A CLOTHES LINE AND LET HIM OUT TO DRY WHILE I BROUGHT THE LAUNDRY TO THE DOG PARK TO PLAY WITH OTHER LAUNDRIES!!! TELL ME!!!

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I get it. I over did it… Fine. I’ll tell the giant snow leopard he can’t use our bathroom. And I’m gonna put a huge smile on my face and be happy when I tell him that because that’s what YOU want. That’s what YOU want. What! Oh, now YOU’RE telling the snow leopard he can’t use our bathroom. NOW YOU WANT THIS TO BE YOUR SATURDAY. FINE!!! GO AHEAD BECAUSE APPARENTLY I CAN’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT!!!

(George answered the door and was immediately cat-murdered. It was all a ploy by Mrs. George to trick her husband into being eaten by a giant snow leopard. George may have readily acquiesced because he was confusing the snow leopard with a dog he knew. Police authorities have called it the most inevitable and probably the most deserved murder of all time.)

 

 

Paid Advertisement: Farmers Everywhere Want Silos Full of Hermit Crabs!

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Hi, my name is Kirk Dickton, and I’m here to tell you about the trend that is sweeping the mid-western part of this great nation of ours: silos full of hermit crabs.

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You’re probably about to say “But Dickton, what could I possibly want to do with a silo full of hermit crabs? That sounds completely ignorant. Get off of the hood of my car.” Well, before come out and fight me on the hood like that Quantum Leap fanfic I wrote, listen to the benefits of having a giant container full of small crustaceans on your property.

1) You’ll never have to buy hermit crabs on vacation again. We all know how annoying this can get. What color cage do I get? Should I get the crab with a misshapen Batman logo painted on it, or the one with what you can only assume is a bloated Matt Lauer’s face? Did I get the sponge thing so the kid holds off a little while on the inevitable tragedy of finding a dried crab corpse outside of his Matt Lauer home in a last ditch effort to find hydration? Not anymore. Just have the kids bring over a bucket and you can dump pounds of pissed-off crabs on them, furious and ready to eat the flesh of their captors. That increases the fun factor by an easy 5!

2) Say goodbye to expensive crab dinners! Never buy king or snow crabs again. Simply pull your Crab lever, catch them in your boiling troth, and suck em right out of the shell, exoskeleton and all. Its not that unpleasant, especially if you pair them with IGA brand Saltines and a good bottled cocktail sauce. Someone get Bobby Flay on the phone and tell him to suck a J, cause you just hacked this dinner.

3) Great gambling opportunities! Tired of hosting an underground Tilapia soccer ring? Of course you are! Bring in the crabs! Have your depraved associates guess how many living crabs are in your silo! Create a Crab-Tucky Derby complete with Man O’ Crab, Crabiteriate, and American Crab! Challenge yourselves by seeing how many crabs you can cram inside another crabs shell while he’s in it! The gambling possibilities are endless!

But hey, don’t just take it from me. Listen to these fine testimonials of satisfied crab silo customers!

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Frank: When my wife left me and took the kids, it seemed that my life had no meaning anymore. I would often take my son’s bike and ride it down the middle of State Route 7 at night, waiting for Gerald Gunthrie’s Chevy to relieve me of this miserable existence. But then I found salvation in crab siloing. The rustling sounds of their legs and shells rubbing against one another as they struggle for dominance in their tall metal container prison echoing through the humid night air helps me pull my head out of that gas oven and get a good night’s rest.

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Gert: Our land had been farmed to death. We tried corn, soy beans, tobacco, everything, but it seemed that the land was done with us. But then I got myself a crab silo, and let me tell you, those crabs that we planted are turning into fine corn on the crab and crabbacco.

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Hilly: As a convicted sexual predator, I’m always looking for the next thrill, and that’s getting harder and harder to do. Little did I know that crab silos held the key to my next step in depravity. Flinging my naked body into a 4-story heap of hermit crabs like a sexual Scrooge McDuck has helped me to push past my limits and embrace the next step of my evolution towards becoming the Ultimate Being and Vessel for Gorg. Praise Gorg.

So, hey, what are you doing? Come on! Get some hermit crabs! It’s not that hard! Pick up the phone, dial 834-222-CRAB right now! There’s no question this is the next step in your life that will make you a better husband, lover and friend to those around you!

-Dickton Crabs

Man Completely Cures His Herpes Through The Miracle of Scientology

We all know that Scientology is getting a bad rap in the press these days. We all know that. The incumbent exposé “Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief” may have uncovered some startling truths; not all was well in paradise, unlike any other religious organization that I can think of. It seems that some things within the foundations of this body of thought were, let’s say… hastily constructed. And perhaps, some of the people involved in it’s inception were, let’s say… unsound mentally. However, I seem to recall another crazy guy who liked to travel across the seas that said: “Wisdom is proved righteous by it’s fruits.” And some fruit might be cleaner that what you think.

Let me introduce Mark Levvy, a train engineer of 40 years in age who has traveled far and wide across this incredible country of states. He is man of cool confidence and many dogs. “Seventeen and counting,” he reports to me over a scone at the Panera Bread on Ford Ave and Hereld Blvd. “They just keep coming” he laughs, “They’re like potato chips, they get all over the place.” In fact, most of our interview was spent by Mark, relating tales of rescuing and releasing intrepid dogs back into the wild.

“My kids don’t always have to be around them,” he says, “because I’m twelve years divorced and they don’t come over very much.” Mark holds a happy demeanor, even when confronted by overwhelming obstacles and decisions. Three years ago he had an abrupt change in his employment. “I’ve been conducting commercial trains almost all of my life, as a part of the family business. But recently I decided to take a look at the books and it wasn’t good.” Mark realized that his small, family-owned freight business was in trouble, financial trouble. Eventually, he left the business.

“I was out on my own for a while. No income. No other experience. No education aside from a Bachelor’s Degree in English. I didn’t know what to do.” Although he eventually found work at Amazon.com, that period didn’t leave him without some wounds. “And that’s how I got full-blown herpes.” he says, wolfing down his scone, “That was scary.”

When reality set it, he began to look for help. “Although I was embarrassed, I decided to post on a lot of different forums and often on Reddit. But I couldn’t make sense of the different advise I was getting.” Some would tell him Walgreens, others CVS, and still others told him to see a doctor. But, he eventually found something that made sense.

“I went to my first auditing session and it was extraordinary. I regained clarity and focus for the first time since I started saving dogs.” he says, “I even learned that I was a reggae dude in a past life!” Upon returning several times, he built a close relationship with his Auditor, a level 12 Thetan by the name of Terrance Leopold. “He was a great listener. I mean, he was able to hone in on my affectations like that.”

After only sixteen sessions, Mark reports that he felt a change. “I could pee again.” he grins. Apparently, he held in his urine for record time period. “Five weeks.” he said, “I was barely hanging in there health-wise.” Mark perhaps came very close to losing his life, only to be saved through the powers of Scientology.

I asked him if he believed in Scientology now. He smiled, “Hail Xenu!” and chuckled while doing that Star Trek thing with your hands.

So, I guess it all goes to show you that you can’t believe everything you see in the media.

(Next week: “Can Gluten Give You ESP?”)

Canalisation in Modern Video Games & Kentucky Route Zero

Many kids grew up playing video-games alongside other kids. Everyone you knew loved them. For everyone, they enraptured and expanded the imagination and allowed a foothold for the playful. If you grew up playing Mario, Sonic or The Legend of Zelda, you can appreciate how acutely games were fixed into the social lives young people. If you happened to pick up the newest issue of Nintendo Power, while your mom waited in line for the register, and you read the rumor that Sonic Adventure will be ported to the Nintendo 64, you knew instantly that you possessed the full command of your friend’s attention and affections. It mattered like sports mattered. It mattered like movies mattered. It mattered like music mattered.

As you and your friends grow however, it’s funny how the currencies shift. Although sports, movies and music still hold great import in the lives of some of your friends, video games do so no longer. They may think back on those years fondly, yet it no longer commands their attentions.

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All I cared about was video-games, games of every stripe, games I didn’t even play or even care to. Becoming knowledgeable in this respect was perhaps one of the few scholarly activities I engaged in at that age. Yet, as I grew older I reexamined why and how I played games. My conclusion was that, although other artistic mediums tended to invite enrichment, games didn’t seem to offer anything more than an escape or a flight into the fancy. A flight that upon returning you have nothing more than a collection of lovely artifacts which gain no appeal in the real world. Or at least, that’s how I tended to see it.

I hold dear affection for the video games of my youth, Sonic The Hedgehog 3, Paper Mario, Kirby Super Star, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: (Any of them.), Final Fantasy VI, Kingdom Hearts (even Sega’s Billy Hatcher, an awful game that I played almost solely because Sonic was a summoned AI character), and many more. For some reason though, I can’t totally loose myself in other modern video games like I lost myself in those games as a kid. They now seem to be more like beautiful portraits, rather than beautiful rooms that I can walk into. The reason for my disenchantment, I believe, has been embedded into the way games have been created and then perceived since their inception.

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From its earliest of forms, the video game was exactly that, a game, a violent one. In 1947, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann filed for a patent for their invention, “The Cathode Ray Amusement Devise”. A Cathode Ray Tube was a basically a bunch of electron guns, faceted together, which could be fired at a screen placed before them. These inventions allowed the user to project and manipulate glowing, geometric shapes. Goldsmith and Mann took this invention and designed a game onto it, which resembled a World War II radar display, but with airplanes or some other targets painted onto a transparent overlay. The player controlled glowing dot, a “missile”. Your objective was to collide with the painted, stagnant targets, thus self-destructing.

Why would the first game take on this form specifically? A simple mechanism which crudely simulated sophisticated, modern warfare?

From the Cathode Ray Tube, a small number of similar systems begin to see their realization. OXO was a Tic-Tac-Toe game is essentially the first recognizable game to receive a digital treatment, Tennis for Two perhaps being the second. In the early 60’s, a team of MIT students began their work on the first widely adapted and distributed game, Spacewar!, a two-player dog-fight to the death. Various other efforts eventually culminated in what many see as the first true video game, (probably due to its commercial availability) Pong.

Thus, the video-game industry reached germination. The mania began.

Alexander Payne once said in an interview with Terry Gross that he believed that the earliest films are the industries’ greatest achievements because mankind had been waiting for so long for the perfect story-telling medium. Once it was invented, the best of what mankind had to offer was immediately brought into fruition. Of course, some films had to wait until the technology could catch up with the vision, but nonetheless the point remains. When looking back at the earliest days of video games, we do see well-crafted, elegance in the way these creatures were contrived. Once, the medium came into existence it did attract genius. Many artists found their calling, as should seem clear when playing classics such as Donkey Kong or Pac-Man. Some of most identifiable symbols and icons in our culture were constituted in these efforts. One of the most profitable new industries was carried on the shoulders of the artists who invented it.

And yet, when we think about our favorite video-games of all time, we do not tend to refer to the earlier days, the Cathode Ray Tube to the arcade machine to the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Entertainment System, say. Why not? Really, it’s because very little of what is compelling about video-games existed back then. The technology was incredibly sophisticated and still it could only render the most elementary of shapes and sounds. Those computers, by today’s capabilities, seem incredibly primitive and almost useless. It took real visionaries to see the potential the computing had for its entertainment value. But, even though they wanted to use computers to hearken in a new age of amusement, they could only demonstrate this by simulating only the most rudimentary interaction, ideas or fantasies. They could do no more.

When the commercial potential was seen by investors, business men, programmers and artists, they had only a few raw ingredients with which to work. Every quick asked and answered the same question, whether designing games for profit or for experimentation. What on earth could be entertaining about moving a bunch of glowing shapes around a nearly lifeless world? The only thing that could make it compelling would be to add some competitive element. What else are you going to do? When the profiteers came along they all saw the same thing. Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari, worked in amusement parks before working on Computer Space and knew well that this would be his route to success. Men and women casually standing up to some innocuous challenge and then slowly growing more and more invested and thus offering more and more money to participate in said challenge, was already embodied in a profitable business. These games were in amusement halls and carnivals. They included pinball machines, slot machines or dunk tanks. The arcade machine was the perfect simulacrum of what had already been established successfully. The game seems cheep, you pay a little to impress your friends or to amuse yourself on your lonely walk, and before you know it your out of coins.

It was a simple enterprise. It had to be simple both because the games needed to be quickly accessible by the public if anyone was going to try it out and because the technology couldn’t offer anything more engaging than that. Or at least, that may be how they saw it.

Another important reckoning was imparted onto the world of video-games, the idea that games are for kids. Of course they would be. Usually, only the young truly appreciate cultural revolutions. But, everyone from the artists to the programmers must have realized that with the set of tools they were dealing with, they could only successfully market to children and teenagers. In this conjecture, there were, no doubt, a lot of seemingly obvious factors at play. Certainly one being that playing an arcade game is a frivolous expense, one that will not find the easement of an adult spender. Also, it didn’t seem likely that video-games could find themselves useful in exclusively adult venues, such as bars and casinos. But kids, kids needed their own venue. In the 50’s and 60’s, kids rode around on their bikes and visited stores and amusement parks. Nolan Bushnell perceived a vacancy and proceeded to occupy it in the 70’s and 80’s. Lastly, and again we see it, the technology held a limited graphical capacity. The sounds and shapes they could produce, would only be made appealing by drawing them through the lens of child-like whimsy. It was settled before they could even get to it. Video-games were for kids. Although the lines have changed, their path remains significant.

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The arcade had massive effects on how people thought about nearly everything electronic. Pioneering engineers and geniuses, such as Doug Engelbart, never gained intellectual providence in the realm of professional computing. There was money to be made. People now saw electronics through the prism of their past experiences with them and that was a system of controls that was readily understood and digested, simplistic and amusing. Even when home computing entered the market, it was primarily thought of as an elaborate toy. It’s telling that when Dan Bricklin invented the electronic spreadsheet for the Apple 2, the only apparatus that he had at his disposal to select the cells on screen was a set of paddles that were used to play Pong.

We could only make sense of a home computer by seeing it as an extension of the video arcade.

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With the advent of the home console, developers had to offer something greater than what had preceded. An arcade game worked only as something you did in public, with your friends, as a hang-out spot. The arcade was somewhere to go, somewhere to be. Now with that element removed, the game itself had to be somewhere to go and be. Many players, mostly boys from the ages of 7 – 15, would sit stolidly, staring at their televisions for hours on end. Game companies weren’t necessarily interested in justifying this expense of time to parents, but they were in need of experiences that would capture the devoted attention and allegiances of young people. They needed an experience that was commensurate to the human minds craving for personal narrative. Simultaneously, they couldn’t forget what had gotten them this far, competition, simplicity and the addictive sensation of willful impact on a fantastical universe.

Computational power was soon much more availing. Now home computers had the generative abilities of expensive arcade machines. Video-games no longer needed to be fashioned as a singular entity in room of other physical options. Rather, they could become nearly anything the consumer was willing to procure.

Now we can ask ourselves a totally new question, computational capabilities aside. What does the consumer want? The answer: the same thing. After all, that’s all they’ve known, right? What does the developer want to bring to the audience? Something they’ll enjoy, incorporating some new ideas, but still recognizable and easily playable. What does the corporation want from the business? Predictability. The same business strategy is now employed in the popular, CGI-infested cinema. Easy returns come when you employ easy returns.

What followed was not uninspired, impotent or trite by any measure. Video-games are one of the greatest canvases mankind has ever known and therefore it was easy to fill empty space. Games that we now see as being innovative and foundational were, in many senses, obvious steps toward capitol progress. Placing Mario in three-dimensional world is an obvious step, developing first-person shooters is an unavoidable evil, building deep and interesting worlds with fascinating puzzles and characters is a humongous, yet certain task of modern gaming. We needed these spaces to exist and for the objects that inhabit them to be interesting. Once again, business and art needed to correspond. Luckily, there has been massive amount of talent available to make the various franchises of Nintendo and other companies creatively buoyant. I point out Nintendo, because only Nintendo has successfully undertaken so many iterations of their franchises, while never sacrificing their own creative freedom. Many Mario games could serve a prime example of both form and function.

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Nonetheless, canalisation, as I see it, is expressed in the legacy of video games as an art form, a primary example being Sonic. The series began lurid reaction to Nintendo’s success with Mario. Sega needed a platformer and eventually settled with Yuji Naka’s character and game design. It was a runaway hit. It practically saved Sega’s threshold in the home console market.

The game is composed of simple mechanics, running and jumping. Moving faster than any other video-game mascot before him, he pounced on his enemies only to scale a loop-de-loop moments later. It is a formula that worked for all of Sonic’s 2D incarnations and it still holds up today.

When the Sega Dreamcast came along in 1999, they now had new set of obligatory obstacles to meet. Sonic had to transform from a simple 2D-dwelling animal into a dynamic 3D-loving beast. The problem is that audiences, now primed for an accessible platforming experience, now needed to use a simple set of controls to maneuver the fastest creature that anyone can possibly imagine in an environment that represents something similar to the real world. Would Sega simply supplant their valuable and recognizable mascot with another one that could more easily and practically scale the three-dimensional world? Business before pleasure, my friends. Sonic Adventure was born and so was a decade of misery for me. My beloved childhood friend started to change and behave in ways I had never seen before. It wasn’t long before I could hardly recognize him.

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The point is this. It’s that video games were, from the beginning, a part of a business that disseminated simple, carnival-like challenges to consumers. They sold to children a scale of points and explosions that would immediately register with the feeling of accomplishment. When Goldsmith and Mann designed their Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Thingy, they needed the object to have some purpose. What would be the point of moving a stupid light around? What if you had to movie it into something? Whammo! Now that’s what I call entertainment! It offered an objective in a skill based challenge, just like a carnival game, or pinball, or a dunk tank. Games have not evolved far past this arena. When video games can be anything and everything else, they are still Spacewar! and Pong. Visuals are beside the point, so long as they are sufficiently more glossy and photo-realistic. The idea is that even when you are playing Assassin’s Creed, a historical drama, you still need something to do besides being in history. You need to be a blinking missile, launching toward prefabricated and overlaid targets. Why is that? It’s because games have always been exactly that. That is what we perceive them to be. They have often failed to evolve into anything more than that, even when they could be more, even when the technology suggests it.

Sonic the Hedgehog should have never entered the 3D world. He is not built for the job. Yet, Sega still needed him to be there because they think that the audience needs to have him there, when really the audience could totally do without him. Sonic is just ad hoc and superfluous in a computer generated 3D world. The idea that we constantly need to be accruing points, destroying enemies and taking lives, gaining experience points, collecting items and clearing levels is just ad hoc and superfluous in the real world. It doesn’t give me anything other than an excuse to live in the video-game.

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As a kid, you don’t need complex meaning like you do as an adult. (By “meaning”, I mean the use of symbols or images to provide a way of expressing or grasping something in the real world, may it be people or ideas.) You only need the visceral sense of excitement and adventure. Video-games tend to imitate a sort of idealist way you see many things as kid. You see life as a series of objectives and destinations with no other intention other than to inspire awe and wow you with spectacle. That is what video-games do to you as a kid, that is what the world does to you as a kid. “Wow! Look at the Lion! It’s so big and ferocious!” you might hear a child exclaim at the zoo.

As adults we tend grow fond and then familiar with our surroundings. What we crave is beyond aesthetic. We crave meaning behind the aesthetic or meaning woven into it. Oxford professor of chemistry and super-atheist Peter Atkins once said about our universe: “I regard the existence of this extraordinary universe as having a wonderful, awesome grandeur. It hangs there in all its glory, wholly and completely useless.” Atkins finds the universe useless, by my way of thinking, largely because he doesn’t think there is a person behind it. Here I share a companionship with Mr. Atkins I wouldn’t dream of sharing otherwise. I find many modern video game universes wholly and completely useless because I don’t seem to perceive any real human feeling and character, in other words a person, behind what I am seeing played out on screen. Perhaps, design choices that provide an excuse for jest, but no sincere expression worth noting.

Perhaps, this is why many abandon video-games when they become adults. They listen to music, watch movies and sports because they see real human drama behind it all. That is why they watch, almost entirely. It’s not for the spectacle. Otherwise, we would all be fine watching A.I. Madden NFL teams duke it out as opposed to watching a real football game. If video games are to appeal to audiences, they cannot merely provide spectacle or excuses for spectacle, they must appeal to meaningful statements about human feelings and tendencies in the same way that literature appeals to such statements.

Many video-games, the most successful ones really, use these tools to imbue purpose and meaning into their worlds. Naughty Dog, for example, has done this with The Last of Us. Nintendo still delivers sweetness, charm, mischief and personality into their worlds. These games still rely, however, on the principals of arcade-gaming in order to appease our need to have some sort of objective. You are still in the business of clearing levels and completing challenges. How would you tour the world otherwise? Could you create a game that was built solely to impart meaning? How would you go about doing that?

Kentucky Route Zero is a step in that direction. It is a game that could have existed a long time ago. Its graphics are minimalist, yet well-crafted. But, what is ground breaking about KRZ is that it has no objective other than to offer meaning and allusion. The only thing that you control is what kind of meaning you impart onto the narrative and what kind of meaning you take from the narrative. It is simple and incredibly engaging, not due to the map design or objectives. It is beautiful because it instills empathy in its players. It illustrates real problems that plague the people and communities in Kentucky and almost everywhere else in the world. It uses a Stephen King-esque magical realism style to add color to the real social, economic and psychological frailties that plague so many in American and beyond. It teaches us about the game’s world and the people who inhabit it, without needing to use those elements as a tool for the player to progress through a “lock and key” puzzle or action system. It is a whimsical world of allegory, metaphor and allusion and unlike many of the mysteries in the ABC show Lost, everything in the world holds some purpose or intent. The pieces don’t need to exist for any other reason. No lame excuses.

As a kid, the worlds of Mario and Sonic offered escape and solace because they were so darn simple and easy to interact with; the real world isn’t. Even when I had to perform some undesirable chore around the house, video games informed my imagination and thereby made the real world seem majestic, even when the real world wasn’t going my way or I didn’t want to be engaged with it. Why did I want escape? The real world is complicated. Any element of the real world is extremely difficult to understand and master. You aren’t automatically ready for it as a kid. What can you master easily? I can control a blinking missile colliding with an aircraft. It’s all the fun of mastering something, but without the strenuous or hurtful parts. Thus, the game let’s you see the world as both extraordinary and simple. As children this is incredibly delightful. These sort of games delight us as adults too. They offer the same playful joys and thrills we received as kids. This is a reason to cherish them.

As we grow up however, we also need games that help us to understand or engage with what may seem to be overwhelming and complicated, offering us lenses through which we can perceive and thus interact with parts of our reality. Sports does this, as well as film and music and even television. These mediums have the ability to teach us things about human nature. It can help us understand why someone would behave in certain fashion or reason a certain way. Thus, it may help us understand why some small part of the world might be as it is. Kentucky Route Zero is a game that does just that. You explore the sublime and unreal and then return with something that you can use in the real world, empathy.

The Cumberland Chap: An Enduring Mystery – Part 1

In 1983, the self-made nature writer Andrew Spriggs trudged along the Sheltowee Trace, slowly progressing along a segment of this massive trail that moves through the southern most region of Kentucky. He’s hiked for over 76 miles, camping off-trail through the tendrils of the Appalachian’s daunting gaze. Now passing by Hemlock Grove, he is settled to finish his journey in Laurel Lake, realizing now that can’t make it all the way though the London District, He only has the resources to continue safely for another couple of days.

Modest in his approach, he is nonetheless eager to fully absorb himself in his surroundings. Assimilating every sight, every sound from the expansive variety which the plateau seems to offer him. He is a student at heart and enjoys both the knowledge and raw sense that is imparted though careful observation.

He decided to write an article concerning the recently opened Sheltowee Trail, using it’s opening as a medium to discuss the rewards and drawbacks to developing extensive trails such as these. But, as his path began to part ways with Rock Creek, his plans changed considerably.

“I don’t know exactly where I was.” He recollects, “I tried returning to where it happened but nothing matched what I remembered about the place.” Andrew recalls that he was hiking as the creek became a large inlet with large rock formations and caves surrounding it.

“The rock formations were nothing like I’ve seen. Stalagmites growing out of the earth, below nothing but shrubbery or a clear blue sky. Some thin arms of the land reached out above my head, like a cave had once been formed here but carved out above the ground somehow. It was like passing through a whale skeleton.”

As he flashed several pictures of his surrounding and made careful measurements of these obtuse formations, he noticed something moving in and out of his periphery. Something human.

“I turned my head to catch what I saw and this figure scuttled out of my eye shot.” Andrew wrote.

Calling out “Hello”, he was met with no answer. Being shaken by this, he began to maneuver his way out of this tumbleweed of stone and earth. This is when he looks up atop a towering stalagmite and catches sight with one of the most disturbing and haunting enigmas of our time; The Cumberland Chap.

“He was wearing late 19th century formal wear, a waistcoat, a four-in-hand neck tie, a turned up collar on his linen shirt, long black trousers, a top hat and some sort of blazer.” He writes. “I shouted in alarm, stammering. As I tried to compose myself I noticed that he was doing a little jig. Like some weird fancy man dance. Like an Irish step dance or something. On tip of a stalagmite!”

Flummoxed beyond his wits, Andrew started to retreat, climbing up hill away from the inlet. He reports feeling like his legs, his calf muscles, were seizing up and refusing to extend properly.

“I thought I was dreaming. It didn’t feel completely real.” says Andrew.

Then he reports something even more unlikely. As he stumbles through the woods in an effort to move his legs, he begins calling out, wildly: “Hello!” and “Who are you?” Eventually he says he hears a voice from the heavens. A loud and high pitch voice, something reminiscent of Mickey Mouse. The voice says: “I am The Cumberland Chap! There is nothing to be ashamed of!”

Andrew was speechless. After a few moments he collects his strength and books it out of the inlet. He runs for about twenty minutes before slowing down to catch his breath. He scans his surroundings. Everything is quiet and peaceful again. Nothing out of the ordinary. He checks his watch. It is getting close to evening. He needs to keep marching but feels exhausted from his encounter. Nothing feels stable, like his equilibrium has been set off kilter. He tries to convince himself that it was all a mirage. Maybe he was dehydrated.

/ / /

Since the incident, Andrew learned that he was not the only one to have this experience when hiking along the trails of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Other hikers, campers, trail riders, survivalists have reported a similar encounter. Although, not all report it happening in the same place. Some report seeing this ornately dressed figure in Goose Rock, others by Gladie Creek, some near Koger Arch. Yet, all of these people report similar details about the location; the pool of water, the stalagmites, the jagged skeleton of an above ground cave which seems to be missing most of it’s structure. These people remember seeing the darkly duded man, trouncing around, doing an odd dance. Some recall him singing to himself. All of these people remember too the celestial announcement: “I am The Cumberland Chap! There is nothing to be ashamed of!”

Some of the varied individuals who reported these sightings have been chatting over the internet for some time, trying to piece together just what might be going on here. Some others have evaded contact and aren’t comfortable with speaking about their experiences. Most in the public are totally unaware of these happenings. The ones that are aware, immediately reject it as a hoax or identify this as something in the vein of cryptozoology or UFO sightings.

Yet, there is significant evidence mounting for the existence of The Cumberland Chap. It has grown considerably through the past few years. These pieces of evidence have allowed those who believe a way to answer questions about this surreal creature. Who is The Cumberland Chap? Where did he come from? Where does he live? Why does he talk in a high pitched register? Does he mean to harm us? If not, why is he appearing to these travelers at random?

In the next couple of weeks, I will answers these questions in our blog, putting all of the scattered pieces of evidence together. And as it turns out, this isn’t a story about a menacing, violent figure like the Chupacabra. It’s a story that has more in common with Big Foot. It’s the story of a lonely survivalist who just wants to be our friend.

Return of the Bat

We are more than 18 years away from Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” and nearly 2 decades from Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever”, yet it feels like just yesterday when we were all riding with our Mom to Steinmart to get some new khakis, nodding our heads along with Mark’s fat beat while drinking from our collectable glass Batman Forever mugs from McDonald’s. And, even though Batman Forever’s editors Mark Stevens and Dennis Virkler edited the movie more than a year before the Mack hit the world’s collective ear drum, they must have been in tune with some shift in the collective consciousness of American culture at the time, as the sweet synth drum kit of early-to-mid ninety’s R&B stars reverberated forwards and backwards in time. As a result of this, Batman Forever gifs have an amazing way of syncing up with Return of the Mack almost perfectly. Please play the video below and let jittery images of low-def Valerie Kilmer and James Carrey’s blockbuster wash over you.







Standards of Practice & Our Codes for Ethical Journalism

The parameters of ethical behavior in journalism have become increasingly tenuous in recent years. With the rise of platforms such as; Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit, the line which divides professional journalism from the voice of citizens is an ever-ill defined border, thus inciting a low ethical threshold with which to bargain. With the recent conception of our blogging powerhouse “The Superb”, we feel the need to hold some accountability to our audience and divulge our own set of ethical standards. Although we do not always don the garb of professional journalists, (i.e. homburgs, trench coats, large cameras) it does seem appropriate to place our respective cards on the table to begin with.

Code of Ethics

Reporters with The Superb should:

– Realize that they are servants of the public. Not that they can boss us around or anything or tell us what to do. We just want them to feel like we’ve got their backs.

– Take responsibility for the accuracy of their stories. For example, if an official makes a offhanded but politically harmful remark, do not fail to report it. But when the figure receives backlash for his statement, make sure you cover for him and say it was probably YOU who said that.

– Remember that speed does not excuses inaccuracy. Unless your notes are illegible because you were traveling in a subway.

– Identify source clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible. So use both first AND last names and the gender of the individual. For example.”…Wendy Parker, a woman, stated…”

– Consider subjects motives for requesting anonymity. Reserve anonymity for those who may face danger or harm from their statements, even if they’re REALLY racist.

– Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable to the public. And by “public” I mean successful businessmen and/or soft drink purveyors.

– Avoid stereotypes unless you can PROVE that they come from somewhere.

– Never plagiarize. Also, speak truth to power.

– Avoid conflicts of interests, real or perceived. For example, gifts like back-rubs or CD players.

– Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news.

– Do everything within your power to uncover the truth. Even if you have to pay money for it.

– Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness. But makes sure you do so in a way that makes your readers feel stupid for asking.

– Abide by the same standards you expect of others. So, y’know, lower your expectations.

This may be sampling of our thoughts on ethical journalism but do remember that we are still in our infancy and we will continue to relate a more exhaustive code of conduct. We hope that you will come to rely on our thorough reporting for the most accurate information on the most controversial of subjects.

(NEXT WEEK: Read some super-consistent information about gluten!)