It's a bird, it's a plane, it's . . . a Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)*. "Let me tell you I've been on my feet since seven while you were snoring," says Amy Preston, the eponymous woman, to her teenage son as he and her husband eat breakfast.
"I never said you didn't work, Mum," her son replies, "Nothing's organised. You work like a horse but you never seem to get anywhere." Indeed, the family flat is crowded with dirty laundry and dishes and other unfinished chores as all the while Mrs. Preston bustles about, ever busy. It's for this reason her husband, Jim (Anthony Quayle), feels justified in his affair with his secretary, Georgie (Sylvia Sims). The movie is a well made, rather dated, and sort of incidentally charming film that daringly, for its time, discussed infidelity and divorce.
Quayle and Syms give fine performances but their characters aren't particularly interesting. The movie attempts to be even-handed by showing Jim tormented about the impending break with his wife. Georgie talks about how a woman should try harder after marriage, not just make all the effort to be pleasing to a man beforehand. Georgie is such a dull, perfect little 1950s wife that it's difficult to find much sympathy for Jim, who really seems to be leaving Amy and his son entirely for his libido.
Yvonne Mitchell plays Amy and while the dialogue about how her looks and figure have gone isn't exactly supported visually one can't help loving the absurdly, repeated thwarted woman. She's irretrievably disorganised, continually burning meals and forgetting tea kettles, but always giving one hundred twenty percent effort.
When she invites Georgie and Jim to talk over their situation, she decides to spend the day beforehand getting ready in order to compete. So she pawns her engagement ring and gets her hair done and buys some whisky so they can have a nice civilised discussion. Of course, it rains and her hair is wrecked and when she gets home she absently gulps down straight whisky while commiserating with her neighbour.
Some of this stuff is pure, tragic slapstick. She decides to add a tablecloth to the table after she's already poured the drinks and after some careful manoeuvring she succeeds only for the table to break and the glasses to tumble to the floor. She cries and collapses in bed which is where Jim finds her when he brings Georgie home.
Although the movie takes some pains to show how Jim would reasonably want to leave Amy it's hard to see him as anything but a limp douchebag for even thinking about it.
But the movie's nicely, expressionistically shot and it's easy to enjoy Amy for her own sake.
*I was going to see Man of Steel yesterday but couldn't work up the enthusiasm.
- Current Location:A messy kitchen
- Current Mood: busy
- Current Music:"Lovely Rita" - The Beatles
It is our usual mid-week question time:
- What games are you playing this week?
- Would you recommend those games to other Border House readers?
- What games have you ranting?
- Are any of those games listed ones that you want to see covered on the site?
In a complete repeat of last week, I have been busy at a new job so the main game I have had time to play is Animal Crossing: New Leaf . It is my preferred distraction on the bus ride to work.
So, what have you all been playing?
flickr set of portraits. To some degree I just went through my flickr and added things and I have been scouring my hard drive to add more. Of course, Russell will have lots of pictures on his hard drive. But at least it is a start.
- Current Location:the waterbed
- Current Mood: accomplished
It’s no secret there’s a not-so-subtle undertone of colonialism in a lot of games, particularly in strategy games. Eador: Masters of the Broken World has the player reorganize the universe into its “proper” state by conquering every available territory in the game (Filipowich, Mark. “Eador: Masters of the Broken World review.” PopMatters. May 15 2013); Civilization privileges western history, where “the United States is made the ultimate inheritor of all…human advancement and elevated to the position of the most perfect and most ‘civilized’ state of all.” (Poblocki, Kacper. “Becoming-State: The bio-cultural imperialism of Sid Meier’s Civilization.” Focaal – European Journal of Anthropology. 39. 2002: 163-177.); Age of Empires celebrates the age of—er, well—empire building. These games are founded on the assumption that history is composed of distinct, easily distinguishable peoples that emerge at the same time and under the same circumstances. The objective is to represent a group in its ascension of Eurocentric progress.
What follows is a player’s attempt to enact the imperial mythology: map every acre, subjugate every rival by the most convenient means available and acquire every resource in the name of progress. Most games, however, do this beneath a layer of fantasy, or at least with the innocent veneer of a history lesson. Expeditions Conquistador on the other hand, is not accidentally colonialist; it is a colonialist fantasy. It is a game that puts the player, with their modern, post-colonial attitudes and understandings, in the role of the first military foray into Mexico. The game argues that there is no form of colonisation that does not cause harm. All the post-colonial wisdom the player may have cannot prevent the damage of imperial expansion: it preys on the player arrogant enough to think they can “fix” history.
The cover art for Expeditions Conquistador portraying a Spanish man with a black beard and curled moustache gazing at something out of frame. Beneath, the game’s title sandwiches a simple longsword
The game begins with the promise that you, the player, can rewrite the colonisation of South America. As the opening text explains, “The year is 1518—a year before Hernán Cortés would be elected captain of the third expedition to the South American mainland, where he would overthrow the Aztec empire.” Cortés, however, never makes it to South America in this alternate history because the player-character is sent instead. The central question the game asks is what you would do, knowing what you do, if you were in Cortés’ place?
The game’s expedition takes place in a fantasy version of history. In this world women are equals in military and diplomatic roles, the purpose of the expedition is not outright conquest, just exploration and scholarly investigation of a newly discovered land. Expeditions Conquistador does not pretend it exists in a world where South America’s indigenous people were not massacred. The point of it, as a thought experiment, is to see how the player will halt Spain’s advance into Mesoamerica. The player, sitting at their computer five centuries into the colonisation of the Americas, ought to have all the knowledge they need to prevent the violence associated with Spain’s occupation of Mexico and the Caribbean. But nearly every decision in the game tempts a colonial impulse; it invites and appeals to the same imperial, “I know better than they do” arrogance that led to such violence in the first place.
For one, the option of just not colonising is unavailable. The hornet’s nest has already been kicked by the time the player arrives in Santo Domingo; the game begins after Hispaniola has been settled and after the first Spanish towns and fortresses have been built in what would come to be called the Dominican Republic. A generation of European settlers have already fought, diseased and enslaved local populations for decades. The player has no option but to reverse an established momentum. Moreover, the game seems to especially want the player to put themselves in the role.
Granted, many unnamed protagonists seem to expect the player’s name to fill the blank, but Expeditions Conquistador is particularly interested in the player’s personal investment. The main character’s profile picture is affectively neutral, betraying only their sex as chosen by the player. Next, the player composes their party based on the brief but interesting backstories and personalities of their house soldiery and staff. Each expedition member’s morale will rise or fall based on the player’s interactions in the game, the goal being to avoid a mutiny by keeping the team content and loyal. The point is to build a team of like-minded individuals to accomplish whatever the player expects to be able accomplish: either the subjugation or the salvation of the native South Americans.
Portraits of the various Spaniards available to begin the game with. 8 are women, 7 are men.
While maintaining team morale is an effective and a more nuanced twist on the “morality meter” mechanic, it’s not very difficult to compose a team whose members are of a similar enough disposition that they will stay in line. The point is that the player becomes invested in their squad: they’re trying create the perfect dream team that will fix history. After the expedition begins, though, every decision the player makes is undercut by the fact that they are colonial forces and that they will cause harm. There are decisions that cause less harm than others, but the game inevitably reduces the player’s intervention as an irresponsible, military endeavour.
The first decision the player must make is whether or not to own slaves or enlist paid servants. The player may choose not to endorse slavery and condemn the people that do, but their employment and survival still depends on slave-owners. Furthermore, the first chapter of the game positions the player opposite two factions of Spanish rebels, both abolitionists. The player can—and undoubtedly does—know that slavery and colonial occupation are wrong, but their first major rivals are people that claim to oppose European oppression. The player is never given the chance to side with either faction of the rebellion. In fact, ultimately neither faction is interested in relieving any oppressed people, one is motivated by self-interest the other by short-sighted, uninhibited rage. No matter what the player’s personal view of Spanish occupation, they must violently uphold the status quo. Moreover, the only people that are fighting against the status quo are self-interested or even more irresponsible than the current regime. This foreshadows that the player will—regardless of their intent—become a force of colonialism.
The player must uphold European occupation by virtue of their participation in it. The game tells them to fix history while acting it out. When the player reaches the mainland, they are free to explore the land and interact with the natives. For a long while the game permits (even encourages) nonviolent interactions with various tribes. But eventually, the player learns that the Totonac are conspiring with the Tlaxcaltec to overthrow the Aztec. The player can meet and speak with each side of the conflict as well as with any groups around it. But it becomes increasingly evident that both the Totonac and the Aztec want to secure the player’s loyalty against the other. The quests that each assign the player begin as harmless (track down these bandits, recover this lost artifact, safely escort this noble to that location). But the player gradually gets folded into the war, until they must choose between poisoning a Totonac city’s water supply or razing Aztec farmland. In either case, the player must make a decisive, deceitful strike against one side or the other, targeted at the labouring class with no stake in the war.
A battle from Expeditions Conquistador. Player controlled units on blue hexes line up against AI controlled enemies on red hexes.
Granted, the player may choose not to join either, the player’s ship is ready to sail back to Spain at any time in the game. However, Spain’s King Carlos will only deem the expedition a success if the player has made some great accomplishment or if they’ve acquired a great deal of wealth. Hernán Cortés waits in line just behind the player: if the player doesn’t find some resolution to the Totonac rebellion and if they don’t steal enough valuables to placate their king’s greed, than they are dooming the Totonac, the Aztecs and the other disparate tribes to the history the game tasks the player to fix. The player may support the Aztecs, they may support the Totonac or they may play the two off one another and conquer both (as Cortés had in history). They may not, however, make peace between them because they aren’t peacemakers: they’re warriors in a war. They can only destroy.
The player is placed in a politically tense situation with only a few scraps of information about which side is more justified. The Totonac call the Aztec oppressors and the Aztecs call the Totonac violent insurrectionists. The player is never qualified to make the value judgement of who is right but they’re still roped in to participating in the war. Violence is the player’s only means of action, if they choose not to act, the game picks away at their resources until they starve to death. This is where the game’s difficulty becomes especially meaningful.
Expeditions Conquistador is—at its higher difficulty settings—a remarkably challenging game. It should be. The whole purpose of the game is to force the player to intervene where they have no business. Surviving the higher difficulty settings not only puts the player at greater risk, it makes the option to raid nearby villages or unearth native religious sites for much needed supplies more tempting; thereby putting the indigenous people the player is trying to learn about at greater risk. A miscalculation or a misinterpreted sign results in disaster. Starvation and injury are only a mistake away and mistakes are inevitable. The constant threat of failure—even failure as a result of uncontrollable factors—makes it tempting to attack defenceless villagers for their food or to withhold medical supplies from a plague-stricken town to supply the expedition for another day. The game offers its player substantial, uncomfortable power with only their personal ethics to keep it reined in. But the game does more than make colonialist behaviour justifiable, at times it makes it downright fun.
The player controlled avatar on horseback stands at the base of a ruined Aztec pyramid. Thick greenery hides the structure from the main road.
It isn’t much of a revelation to say that it feels to collect powerups in Super Mario Bros. or rings in Sonic the Hedgehog? There’s not much feedback to either of these tiny events, just a sparkle and high pitched jingle, but there’s a primal reward response activated every time Mario gathers up a green mushroom or Sonic bounces off a spring to full speed. It just feels good. The steady chiming that comes with collecting points, the sharp scratch that comes with taking damage, the chirping of a cursor down a menu are all just little bits of feedback that emphasize a player’s agency in a game. People have an intuitive reaction to the stimuli that games present them. It just feels good to fill a map by exploring every corner or to see an experience points bar max out. It may be reptilian to find such small things so pleasing, but it’s effective. Expeditions Conquistador exploits these “gamey” reinforcements to make colonialism fun.
Filling blanks in Mexico’s map, luring an enemy into a bear trap, scoring a critical hit all feel good because the game emphasizes the flashes and chirps that come with succeeding an objective. Acquiring valuables earns the player a big green plus sign with a number next to it, a high pitched guitar strum punctuates every successfully completed quest, every combat victory is marked by a whooping cheer from the player’s soldiers. Each success is reinforced by the same signifiers. It doesn’t matter if the player was forced into combat because they failed a negotiation or if their success comes at monumental cost; it doesn’t even matter if the player’s own expedition members suffer a loss of morale, the game will treat the player like a winner for meeting the win condition. It takes cognitive effort for one to remember that they are simulating a colonial excursion. The game makes every victory initially feel good regardless of the context: the player as conquistador is constantly positively reinforced for conquest.
The game opens with the promise that the player can undo South America’s colonial history even as it places them in the role of conqueror. The player is a conquistador and conquistadors arrived in South America with the purpose of robbing and subjugating the aboriginals living there. With skill, luck and tact the player can avoid the absolute destruction of Mexico’s indigenous cultures; they can even create a situation that is inarguably better than Cortés’ legacy, but nonetheless the player must cause harm simply by being present where they don’t belong. The player must be an intervening force in a war they have no business in, they will be tempted to exploit natives to survive and there is a sense of accomplishment in colonial victories. Expeditions Conquistador posits that there is no action free from colonial influence: the oppressors may not “fix history.” They can only oppress to a lesser or a greater degree.
Finally, while Expeditions Conquistador does do some interesting things, it is still a narrative of aboriginal South Americans delivered by a small team based in Denmark. Furthermore, the as-yet-unreleased Mexican campaign played from the perspective of an Aztec eagle warrior could be an opportunity for a more nuanced look at colonialism and/or further appropriation of an oppressed culture’s story.
Expeditions Conquistador focuses centrally on the colonialism most similar strategic games bury in their subtext. It may not always approach its themes gracefully or respectfully—perhaps not even intentionally—but it does create an interesting space to approach colonial themes that many games aim to avoid. At about $20 on most digital distribution services it’s a tad pricier than most similarly sized independent games, but for its (perhaps reckless) courage for its themes it’s worth at least looking at.
Before going to bed I watched a little bit of the 1985 Alice in Wonderland TV movie. I wasn't quite prepared for how bad it is. Pour Shelley Winters in feathers, squawking and rolling on the ground. Sherman Hemsley's execrable musical number in a mouse suit. The almost twenty minutes spent on Alice getting through the little door at the beginning with hardly any dialogue from the book. It's all only slightly better than the Star Wars Holiday Special and less morbidly compelling.
The only moment I liked at all so far is Sammy Davis Jr. Singing "You are Old, Father William," using Carroll's actual poem for lyrics instead of the brain dead Steve Allen stuff sufficing for the other musical numbers. If someone could isolate Sammy Davis Jr.'s vocal track and give it some decent musical accompaniment, it might actually be kind of a cool song.
Oh, wow. The top YouTube comment on this video . . . the stupidity is of such breathtaking proportions;
why is the catapillar black?
why is he wrapping?
why is she dressed like a german?
Why's he look like a colonial?
Because "catapillars" are clearly Caucasian.
Wrapping . . . ? German . . . ? Colonial . . . ? This person's four for four. There's something stupid in each point. I can only hope the 16 "likes" and no "dislikes" on this comment are ironic. Oh . . . but I know they're not.
- Current Location:Astroturf
- Current Mood: sleepy
- Current Music:"Planet Telex" - Radiohead
I'm continually amazed by the tendency humans have to blame their own rotten moods on other people. I think this is ultimately the point of John Hughes' 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. As a comedy, the film is somewhat weakly written though its stars, Steve Martin and John Candy--Candy in particular--make some of it work anyway. But it's the insight into human behaviour that really makes this film worth watching.
Martin plays Neal Page, a successful man in marketing who's commuting from a big building in New York to a big home in Chicago where his family, comprised of three perfect little kids and picturesque pensively beautiful wife, anticipates his return home for Thanksgiving. The gods decide to inflict all manner of hellish delays and detours upon Mr. Page, including cancelled flights, dodgy cab drivers, missing rental cars, and broken trains.
Candy plays Del Griffith, the man the gods have assigned to accompany Page on his journey. Griffith is a travelling shower curtain ring salesman, a gregarious, impoverished, low class fellow standing in contrast to the wealthy and fastidious Page.
I'm very sorry to say it seems that The Canadian Mounted is not a real book. But John Candy enjoying the book in an airport lounge is such a wonderful image.
Griffith had inadvertently stolen Page's cab earlier and so when their flight's cancelled and every nearby hotel is fully booked Griffith offers to get Page a room at a hotel where he knows the manager. Of course they end up sleeping together.
Well, in the same bed. This is the first of several instances where the two of them are thrown together as they try and make their way from Wichita to Chicago. The comedy in the film is generally forced--it doesn't make sense that Page doesn't see before he gets in the shower that all the towels are wet and scattered around the room, nor does it make sense that he fails to see Griffith's socks in the sink before he uses it. It doesn't make sense that the fastidious Page, tramping the long distance back to the car-rental place after he found his rented car missing from his space, would expect to be able to get a car after he's thrown away his receipt.
Neither Page nor Griffith is a really extreme personality, neither of them is a caricature. They both exhibit genuine concern for each other and aren't oblivious when they push each other's buttons. Page's main character problem is simply his inability to get home and in one scene where he snaps and yells at Griffith about how Griffith tells boring stories and is generally obnoxious, Griffith's reply, his "I'm an easy target" speech, isn't so much about Griffith's worthiness as a human being as it is about how distant he is from the real cause of Page's woes. The movie ultimately is about not allowing one's own unrelated needs to harm the people around us.
Twitter Sonnet #518
Aqueduct Hawaiian shirts can shift leis.
Cherry juice can gyp the congested vamp.
Thirty babies abandoned Helen Hayes.
And so that's why an infant is a tramp.
Delirious dachshunds decide the route.
Ambiguous ambergris melts by flame.
Clarity clouds the ruddy clownish lout.
Numbered spades enervate a can-do dame.
Pringle fingernails tessellate too bad.
Repetition breaks the bed for Elsa.
Galvanised knots tremble on the dead lad.
Risk owes mystery to a shaded Tesla.
Cheaper storms roil in unpainted egg.
Sweetened terrain's tramped by the rubber leg.
- Current Location:An automobile
- Current Mood: busy
- Current Music:"La Fille À la Moto" - April March
We are looking at a design from Milliken called Delicate Maze - Border B for a border. Because of the wackiness of flash websites, I cannot link you to see this design for yourself. Over the last few months I have been amazed at how bad mill and carpet websites are. Almost uniformly unusable. However, if you go to the site and put "delicate maze" in the pattern you will get a family of carpets. Mouse over and one will say "Border B". We are hoping for a plain burgundy ground with this as a border. We shall see.
Saturday and Sunday Ralph, Kurt & I headed off to the Northern California Pirate Fest in Vallejo. We decided not to try to get there at 10am and arrived at about lunchtime. We got a great parking space in the new Vallejo covered parking garage and went to the Front Room for lunch before wandering the Fest. Renn Faire attendees would recognize some of the vendors and attendees. Other folks from the steampunk, pirate and general crazy costume communities were out in force. My pictures are mostly boring pix of me and friends but for a flavour of the craziness check out this set on Flickr from my friend Greg. Dogwatch had two Saturday shows but we missed them both. The first was too early and the second not until 5pm. But they were jamming in their tent and we listened for awhile and collected hugs from Claire, so duty was served.
I had waited too late to get a hotel room in Vallejo or American Canyon so we were all the way down at the Berkeley Marina Doubletree. It was a perfectly nice hotel and it placed us for Sunday brunch at Spengers before heading back to Vallejo. Also there was a lovely bay view from the hotel restaurant.
Sunday, needless to say, we had brunch at Spengers where the Hangtown Fry still gets my vote for the most amazing breakfast omelette ever. Then back to Vallejo (yay, free covered parking) and the festival. The Sunday band that we really liked was the Mad Maggies. In fact, all the bands we heard both days were great. We were a bit old for Jack Spare Ribs' brand of humour but the kids got a kick out of him if the laughter during his set was any indication. (We were sitting next door to the stage in the Very Important Pirate area thanks to my plank ownership... a great investment I must say.) Getting three or later five seats together that near the stage would have been very hard. After the red-sailed Aldebaran sailed by on Sunday we dragged Chris and Tracey away from the fest long enough to eat some real food at the Front Room. Then the three of us headed back South and left C&T to enjoy the rest of the fair. It was fun and I plan to invest in a plank next year too.
- Current Location:the waterbed
- Current Mood: sleepy
I've been reading Caitlin's The Red Tree lately, switching between it and The Arabian Nights. I've been so busy lately I haven't had much time for reading but I have enjoyed the 85 pages of The Red Tree I've read so far. I remember thinking how with some writers the prose is sort of haunted by the author. As in, the author is the spirit whose moods affect everything and in the sort of primal, uncompromising way one attributes to the personality of a possessing spirit. All of her characters seem a little angrier than one might expect in reality, much as Lovecraft's characters tend to seem more anxious. It's an anger that seems tied to an awareness of life having cheated the person horribly along with the awareness that other people, however attractive they may be, can never satisfy that void.
I'm at a scene where the protagonist, Sarah Crowe, is exploring the cellar of an old house and it's a scene that reminds me of the best bits in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
I'm not very far into Arabian Nights either, though part of the problem is I also keep finding myself going back and reading bits of Paradise Lost and The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon lately. There are just too many great things in this world to read for a slow, busy reader like me.
- Current Location:A cool subterranean place
- Current Mood: busy
- Current Music:"Accident . . . Accident . . ." Crash (1996) OST - Howard Shore
I may have to see Man of Steel. I do want it to fail because I don't want there to be any more Zack Snyder movies. Hearing him talk at Comic-Con was enough to convince me he's as much of an unimaginative, lazily overconfident, misogynist douchebag as his movies make him seem. But I'm far in the minority as there's a sometimes amusing chorus of people who clearly want Man of Steel succeed, perhaps the most embarrassing being Garth Franklin at Dark Horizons. On June 11th, he wrote;
With 32 reviews counted, Rotten Tomatoes has scored the film 72% and a 7.5/10 average rating. That average rating is actually one of the best of the year so far, and on par with "Star Trek Into Darkness" which scored a higher tomato-meter rating.
Over on Metacritic, it's on 63/100 which is on par with films like "Spring Breakers" and "Les Miserables," and just above recent Summer blockbusters like "Iron Man 3" at 62/100 and "Fast and Furious 6" at 61/100.
That's some rose coloured glasses. One of the best ratings of the year so far? When This is the End scored over 80 before its release? Right.
Of course, Man of Steel has fallen to 57% at Rotten Tomatoes, most of the reviews confirming my impression from the trailer that the film would be self-serious and dumb, a particularly lame combination. Though I'm noticing comments on articles about the movie are generally positive. As a reaction just against my own schadenfreude, I'm compelled to see it to give it a fair shake.
Though the positive comments about the movie have generally focused on how much it kicked ass. This one from someone named Josh on the Dark Horizons review gave me the sense the movie may have gotten Superman wrong in a way very typical of 21st century western culture;
Superman is not a protector in this movie. He's a weapon of mass destruction with good intentions. He doesn't exhibit the slightest concern for anyone but those closest to him, and makes no effort to avoid or minimize collateral damage. I could excuse the murder, if they'd made me believe for a second that this guy gave a shit about the sanctity of life. Instead it's just a button at the end of an action sequence with five seconds of denouement, and then its quips and cutesiness.
- Current Location:A cg slab of concrete
- Current Mood: busy
- Current Music:"Taste of Blood" - Mazzy Star