“The Last of Us” Franchise: Can Video Games Be Cinema? A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#64)

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Brian Hirt, and Erica Spyres all played both The Last of Us, and more recently immersed themselves in the lengthier The Last of Us 2, which has been generating a lot of acclaim but also controversy. Actually, Erica just watches her husband Drew Jackson play these things, but he showed up to this discussion too. Yes, these creations of Neil Druckmann with the Naughty Dog team are groundbreaking, and riveting, but by design not necessarily “fun,” or thereby involving much “playing.”

The franchise is ostensibly about a zombie apocalypse and an immune girl that might be its cure, but it’s really a drawn-out drama about loss, family, and the cycle of revenge… You know, in between running around looking for scraps to craft weapon upgrades and skulking around driving shivs through the necks of numerous monsters and people.

We compare The Last of Us to other zombie media like Walking Dead, address the shifting points of view in the game (playable flashbacks!), representation, fan and critical reaction, the effectiveness of the game’s message, and more.

This conversation should work both for listeners who’ve actually played the games and those who are just curious about what the fuss is about. There are some plot spoilers about the end of the first game and events near the beginning of the second game necessary to discuss the narrative.

Listen to the official Last of Us podcast. For another player perspective, check out the Besties podcast.

Other resources:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

You Can Play the New Samurai Video Game Ghost of Tsushima in “Kurosawa Mode:” An Homage to the Japanese Master

Video games are starting to look and feel like movies: even those of us who haven’t gamed seriously in decades have taken notice. Nor has the convergence between the art forms — if, unlike the late Roger Ebert, you consider video games an art form in the first place — been lost on game developers themselves. While the most ambitious creators in the industry looked for inspiration from cinema even when they were working with relatively primitive digital tools, they can now pay practically direct homage to their aesthetic sources. Take Sucker Punch Productions’ Ghost of Tsushima, released this week for the Playstation 4, which features a selectable audiovisual mode “inspired by the movies of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.”

An ambitious production set on the titular Japanese island during a 13th-century Mongol invasion, Ghost of Tsushima casts the player in the role of a young samurai named Jin Sakai. “All the aesthetic and thematic conventions of samurai films are present and correct,” writes The Guardian‘s Keza MacDonald, including “a story centered on honor and self-mastery; dramatic weather that sweeps across Japan’s spellbinding landscapes; standoffs against backdrops of falling leaves and deserted towns; screen wipe and axial cuts; quick, lethal katana combat that ends with enemies staggering and spurting blood before toppling like felled trees.” Kurosawa Mode presents the game’s hypnotically lavish visuals in a “grainy black-and-white,” and its dialogue in English-subtitled Japanese — just how many of us remember pictures like Seven SamuraiThrone of Blood, and Yojimbo.




Of course, some of us had no choice but to first encounter the work of Kurosawa and other 20th-century Japanese auteurs in versions dubbed into English. In an uncanny reversal of that awkwardness, the American-made Ghost of Tsushima‘s Japanese-language dialogue comes out of mouths clearly synchronized to an English-language script. Western critics have taken the developers to task for that shortcoming, but Japanese critics have proven comparatively unrestrained in expressing their admiration. According to Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft, not only did popular gaming site Dengeki Online “praise the game for its understanding of the period (as well as historical Japanese movies), it also lauded the game for how it brought the landscape and scenery to life.”

While MacDonald calls protagonist Jin Sakai “stiff even by stoical samurai standards,” Ashcraft points to a review in Japanese pop-culture site Akiba Souken which calls him not “the typical samurai of foreign creation, but rather, a real Japanese 侍 (samurai),” using “both the English ‘samurai’ and the word’s kanji to highlight this distinction.” Any Kurosawa fan will have a sense of the difference, and of the importance of one thing the game doesn’t get right. In a review headlined “There Is No Sense Of Discomfort In This Foreign-Made Japanese World,” gaming magazine Weekly Famitsu does note the game’s lack of “pauses in conversation that are typical of period pieces. That pause and that silence are key; in Japan, what isn’t said is just as important as what is.” Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima team must already know they should retain Kurosawa Mode for the inevitable sequel; all they need to work on is the unspoken.

Related Content:

How Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai Perfected the Cinematic Action Scene: A New Video Essay

How Did Akira Kurosawa Make Such Powerful & Enduring Films? A Wealth of Video Essays Break Down His Cinematic Genius

Akira Kurosawa Painted the Storyboards For Scenes in His Epic Films: Compare Canvas to Celluloid

The Golden Age of Ancient Greece Gets Faithfully Recreated in the New Video Game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Masterpiece Stalker Gets Adapted into a Video Game

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

What Is a “Casual Game?” Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #46 Talks to Nick Fortugno, Creator of “Diner Dash”

Famed game designer Nick joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to consider fundamental questions about the activity of gaming (Nick calls games “arbitrary limits on meaningless goals”) and what constitutes a casual game: Is it one that’s easy (maybe not easy to win, but at least you don’t die), one meant to be played in short bursts, or maybe one with a certain kind of art style, or just about any game that runs on a phone? Nick’s most famous creation is the casual Diner Dash, which can be very stressful. Vastly different games from very hard but very short action games and very involved but soothing strategy games get lumped under this one label.

Our conversation touches on everything from crosswords to Super Meat Boy, plus the relation between psychology and game design, whether casual games really play less than hardcore gamers, the stigma of an activity that was for marketing reasons at one point branded as being just for adolescent boys, and even heuristics for beating slot machines.

Some sources we looked at include:

Just so you don’t have to write them down, our recommendations at the end were:

You can follow Nick @nickfortugno.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Are Video Games an Effective Vehicle for Storytelling? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #35 Featuring Don Marshall

Do you play video games for the plot? Given that most people don’t actually finish most games, it would be unexpected if storytelling were the most important element. On this episode of Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast, your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by former video game professional (and current TV development executive) Donald E. Marshall to talk through types of plots (linear, “string-of-pearls,” and branching), ways of weaving story into a game, balancing gameplay and narrative, and more.

We touch on Death Stranding, Overwatch, The Last of Us, Skyrim, Fallout, Life Is Strange, Until Dawn, Erica, Bioshock, Telltale Games, Journey, Bandersnatch, Days Gone, Portal, and more. (That casual game Mark jokes about is Simon’s Cat Pop Time.)

Some articles and other sources:

You can also read some lists of games that supposedly have the best plots at GamesRadar, Ranker, and The Gamer.

Don is also a podcaster, having previously been a host of GeeksOn and now on The Big Fat Gay Podcast. Here’s info about the Wheel of Time TV show. One relevant GeeksOn episode is #102.  Here’s info about the Wheel of Time TV show.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

 

36,000 Flash Games Have Been Archived and Saved Before Flash Goes Extinct: Play Them Offline

Adobe has announced that the Flash Player will come to the official end of its life on the last day of this year, December 31, 2020. News of the demise of an obsolete internet multimedia platform presumably bothers few of today’s web-surfers, but those of us belonging to a certain generation feel in it the end of an era. First introduced by Macromedia in 1996, Flash made possible the kind of animation and sound we’d seldom seen and heard — assuming we could manage to load it through our sluggish connections at all — on the internet before. By the early 2000s, Flash seemed to power most everything fun on the internet, especially everything fun to the kids then in middle and high school who’d grown up alongside the World Wide Web.

Though now deep into adulthood, we all remember the hours of the early 21st century we happily whiled away on Flash games, racing cars, solving puzzles, shooting zombies, dodging comets, firing cannons, and piloting helicopters on classroom computers. We could, in theory, find many of these games and play them still today, but that may become impossible next year when all major web browsers will discontinue their support for Flash.




“That’s where Flashpoint comes in to save a huge chunk of gaming history,” writes Kotaku’s Zack Zwiezen. “Flashpoint uses open-source tech to allow folks to download and play a large list of games and animations. The full list contains just over 36,000 games and you can suggest new games to be added if something you love isn’t on here.”

On Flashpoint’s download page you’ll find its full 290-gigabyte collection of Flash games, as well as a smaller version that only downloads games as you play them. “While Flash games might not be as impressive today, they are still an important part of gaming history,” writes Zwiezen. “These small web games can be directly linked to the later rise of mobile and indie games and helped many creators get their feet wet with building and creating video games.” In other words, the simple Flash amusements of our schooldays gave rise to the graphically and sonically intense games that we play so compulsively today. Now we have kids who play those sorts of games too, but who among us will initiate the next generation into the ways of Crush the Castle, Age of War, and Bubble Trouble?

You can find more information on the flash video game archive on this FAQ page.

via Kotaku

Related Content:

The Internet Archive Makes 2,500 More Classic MS-DOS Video Games Free to Play Online: Alone in the Dark, Doom, Microsoft Adventure, and Others

Run Vintage Video Games (From Pac-Man to E.T.) and Software in Your Web Browser, Thanks to Archive.org

1,100 Classic Arcade Machines Added to the Internet Arcade: Play Them Free Online

Play a Collection of Classic Handheld Video Games at the Internet Archive: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tron and MC Hammer

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #21 Considers Role-Playing Video Games

What constitutes a video RPG? Is there any actual role-playing involved?

Our audio editor Tyler Hislop rejoins hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss those video games that are supposed to make you feel like you’re contributing to the story, that your choices matter, in which you can maybe, you know, choose to wear a funny hat or just craft potions all day instead of advancing the plot. We compare solo vs. social games, compare video to table-top role playing, think about how we relate to the character we’re playing, and more.

We touch on Ultima, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, Horizon Zero Dawn, Skyrim, Fallout, Outward, Death Stranding, Erica, Hellblade: Sakura’s Sacrifice, The Witcher, and more. Also from TV: Bandersnatch, The Guild, and that D&D Key & Peele sketch.

Some sources we looked at included:

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #6: Why Adults Might Play Video Games

Erica Spyres, Brian Hirt, and Mark Linsenmayer are joined by Ian Maio (who worked for marketing for IGN and Turner in e-sports) for our first discussion about gaming. Do adults have any business playing video games? Should you feel guilty about your video game habits?

Ian gives us the lay of the land about e-sports, comparing it to physical sports, and we discuss the changing social functions of gaming, alleged and actual gaming disorders, different types of gamers, inclusivity, and more. Whether you game a lot or not at all, you should still find something interesting here.

We touch on the King of Kong documentaryGrand Theft AutoOverwatchThe Last of UsBorderlandsSuper MarioCuphead, NY Times Electronic Crossword Puzzle, and more. Be sure to watch the Black Mirror episode, “Striking Vipers.”

Sources for this episode:

This episode includes bonus content that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Please go check out Modern Day Philosophers at moderndayphilosophers.net and See You on the Other Side at othersidepodcast.com.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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