The holiday season is a time for family. No matter what holiday you do or don’t celebrate, we gather around with those near and dear to our hearts, whether they’re related to us by blood or companionship.
And after a year like 2016, we need family more than ever. Many of us are worried about losing civil rights during the upcoming year, and others are still recovering from the tumultuous events of the past 12 months. Many of us just had a year that straight up sucked, regardless of the political and social climate. And many of us hit the misfortune lotto, experiencing all three. We gravitate towards those we care for and trust like shelter in a storm, bracing ourselves for what life will throw us next.
Surrounded by those we love, we can push forward into the darkness.
In the December issue of Unwinnable Monthly, we explore the concept of family in pop culture and real life. How have our families influenced the way we look at media? Does the current media landscape reflect the reality of family life? A glimpse into our answers to these questions is featured below.
If you would like to read the entire issue, you can purchase it here. Happy holidays, everyone.
Bestiary | Melissa Graf and Stu Horvath
Something thrashes in the brush, a flash of white with a sparkling horn at its brow. It is like a horse, but also somehow like a goat, frenzied, foam flecked, crashing about without any sense of control. Some might call that a perfect kind of freedom.
Yet, when the creature spies the maiden, calm washes over it. It approaches, hesitant and gentle. Its wildness is still there, beneath the surface, but, for perhaps the first time, it is restrained.
The creature sits, resting its head on the maiden’s lap, and closes its eyes. The glade grows silent.
That is when the hunters attack.
Rookie of the Year | Matt Marrone
I don’t know the first person who tweeted it, but I’ve seen this sentiment all over Twitter since Election Day:
There’s going to be a lot of great art.
I’ve seen arguments written for and against this idea. One side says great art comes from dark times; the other says dark times don’t guarantee a thing. So we’ll have to wait and see. But that long November 8 night has already had a notable aesthetic effect: the way we hear the music of 2016 has changed, perhaps forever.
Backlog | Gavin Craig
When I launched this column last January, I declared that a backlog should not be viewed as a thing to be completed. Now, just shy of a year later, that statement offers only a hint of consolation as I start to take stock of the games I have played and not played in the past year – which games are new entries on my impossibly long to-play list and which names remain, like accusations, from the list I compiled last year.
My backlog is one of several lists I maintain, in part because it gives me a certain geeky pleasure and in part because I’ve reached a point in life where lists are not just occasional references but essential tools for me to make sense of my work and to avoid forgetful repetition. A year ago, my quickly compiled backlog list was 54 games long. I’ve written about nine of those games in these pages.
HUD | Andrea Ayres
The truth and internet. The sexy words on everyone’s dry, chapped post-election lips. Many have suggested that all is not lost, the truth can be saved from going over the cliff it so precipitously dangles over. Those in the media have spent the last five weeks, to varying extents, blaming one another, but we only have ourselves to blame.
Truth, trust, civic engagement, media and government institutions, none of these issues exist in a vacuum. You’ll find it difficult to believe a source you don’t trust. Likewise, you are far less likely to vote for or support an institution you don’t believe in; conversely, those who do vote are more likely to be trusting. There have been a lot of calls to fix the problem and fix it now, but it’s somewhat murky as to what exactly that problem is and what measures should be taken to remedy it.
Battle Jacket | Casey Lynch
The follow up to last year’s crushing double-album Juggernaut: Alpha/Omega, P3: Select Difficulty is Periphery’s fifth full length release, and finds the band stepping up its ever-increasing writing, performance, and production chops. There’s brain-scrambling riffs (see “Prayer Position”), huge glacial grooves (see “Remain Indoors”) and even reflective emoters (see “Lune”, my personal fave), all of which combines with pleasantly surprising orchestral and choir arrangements to mark yet another high point in the band’s ever-increasing reign of riffery.
Here’s the Thing | Rob Rich
Oh, you want to play this brand new game you just brought home from the store? Well too bad, because you have to wait for it to install. Nope, can’t play yet because you also have to wait for it to download and install a day-one patch. Oh, you were also hoping to play online? Good luck with that. You see, nobody expected such a high level of user traffic and the servers just can’t handle the load. Don’t worry though, you might be able to play for a fraction of a game or two before you get booted – assuming what you can play is even actually playable through all the lag.
Don’t care about the multiplayer? That’s cool. The single player is messed up, too. We might fix the utterly broken hit detection and monstrously distorted character models in cutscenes eventually. Maybe. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.
Checkpoint | Corey Milne
The gas masks did it. Your trusty tank Big Bess gives it her last and shudders to a halt. Her innards swarm with a violent mass of German troops. Their faces are clad in featureless masks designed to protect wearers from choking clouds of chlorine gas, a poisonous smog that was absent from the scene, yet they came forward shadowed under a grim facade. The bulging mouthpiece and dark wide lens in place of eyes serving as grotesque extensions of the classic stahlhelm’d devils. With Battlefield 1 DICE may have changed the scenery, but we’re still treading the same old mud.
The McMaster Files | Jason McMaster
I have the enemy tribesman bound in my prison. I know it will only be a matter of time until he gets angry and wants to escape. I have the doctor go in and knock him unconscious, then our work begins. First, we remove his left leg, replacing it momentarily with a peg. Then we remove the peg. Then the other leg and peg. He’s now completely immobile.
This guy, like a few other of his friends, didn’t expect what happened. It was a raid like any other – coming in from the side of the map to harass and rob us. On the way to my settlement, this crew took notice of my pet cat. Instead of just ignoring it, they made sure to kill my cat. My cat tried to run and hide, but they just tracked him down and killed him. I suppose they couldn’t have known how I’d react, but here we are now.
Artist Spotlight | Dre Grigoropol
What do you hope folks take away from your art? What are you looking to accomplish?
My art is meant to be cartoonish and comical. When someone sees my art and it actually stirs up an emotion like laughter, I feel as if all the time I put into the work manifested into something memorable and meaningful.
Passing Down | Erik Weinbrecht
Think for a moment about one of your favorite things; in particular, think about something that you know, regardless of the time, the mood you’re in or your state of health, is a bullet-proof way to find enjoyment. Got it? Now try to imagine, if you could, what it would be like to experience that thing for the first time again. Watching the opening crawl of Star Wars, tasting your first bite of pizza or hearing the beginning of Master of Puppets with no predisposition or context are just some of the things, so far, that I have been able to all relive; thanks, in part, to my daughter.
The Coolest Job in the World | Megan Condis
Looking back on it now, I think the thing that made me love the game so much was how its constantly ticking clock reflected so aptly how I felt about time spent with my father. [Gauntlet] game gives players a set amount of health points like any typical RPG. However, in addition to the wounds inflicted by monstrous foes, the passage of time also drained life. The game ensured that the player was achingly aware of every second that passed. The experience was a joy, but one was never allowed to forget that it was finite. The time my father and I spent together often felt like stolen time, and as a young child I sometimes had to fight to stay awake, using the food from the restaurant to refuel my energy just like the characters on the screen. We filled that time with as much as we possibly could, and when it finally ticked down to zero we always felt that we had used it well.
The Trials and Tribulations of Cooldude | Matthew Byrd
That’s what happened to us. The game’s theme echoed through the small bedroom in the back of the house and took the form of a silly grin shared by a six-year-old, a 10-year old and a 42-year- old. We needed no words to capture the moment, but my brother had somehow managed to find them anyway:
“Dude! That’s cool.”
His proclamation became prophecy as we officially dubbed our hero Cooldude on the very next screen. Beyond that, we all found an adventure unlike any we had ever experienced. This wasn’t a side-scrolling action game that required lightning fast reflexes; it was a patient exploration of a world that required you to think.
The nature of the gameplay didn’t necessitate cooperation, but it did inspire it. The time the game allowed you before every puzzle and action became a forum for healthy debate regarding what came next. This created an intoxicating mixture of events both pre-orchestrated and wonderfully unplanned. Not wanting to miss either, we soon agreed that in the instance of this particular game, nobody played unless we did it together.
@ gmail dot com | Sara Clemens
Then I got the first email from Joan*. Joan ran a combination knitting circle and book club, and she wanted to know what the other ladies and I thought about having a little potluck for the next get together. And did we hear about Sally’s sister’s divorce? Don’t forget to vote for our next read! I replied to Joan immediately, letting her know she had the wrong Sara. I was careful not to reply all, sparing Joan any embarrassment and the rest of the group any annoyance.
“Look at me sending my letters to this poor girl in New York City, ladies!” she replied, looping the others back in.
Hannibal Family Dynamics | Carli Velocci
Lecter and Graham connect gradually across the episodes. They work together, bringing them insight into each other’s lives on a surface level. Then Hannibal becomes his therapist, which allows him to manipulate Will to see his point of view. By season three, they’ve become distant, forbidden lovers who connect with each other because nobody else will. Hannibal has found somebody who understands him after a life of separation, and Will has accepted Hannibal as kin. It’s something beyond sexuality, but the romance makes them inseparable. It makes them family.
Is Family a Sinking Battleship? | Harry Mackin
Through narration we’re made to understand the importance of the Tenenbaum story – of the idea of the Tenenbaums. Watching these characters grow up juxtaposed to the narration of their lives, we’re given the distinct impression that the “story of their lives” is a living presence, a will exerted over the children and their parents. To be a Tenenbaum is an enormous pressure to perform. A Kennedy (or maybe Kardashian)-style celebrity family, each of the family members is expected to play a role. They are expected – or forced – to live up to the legacy of a “Family of Geniuses.”
But who could?
The Nuclear Family Isn’t Everything | Melissa King
Unfortunately, while Fallout 3 and 4’s main characters emotionally invest themselves in events surrounding them and their family members, I can’t say that I felt the same way. Quite frankly, I was relieved to be free of both game’s tutorials so I didn’t have to listen to characters try to convince me how much I cared about James or Shaun. Because, even after the hundreds of hours I’ve invested in the Fallout series, I can’t bring myself to care about either one of them.
You know a Fallout character I do care about, though? There’s this NPC on my Fallout 4 Survival Mode save file – let’s call him Greg. He’s one of the generic settler NPCs that lives in your settlements. These characters probably have about five lines of dialogue among them because they’re only there to populate your settlements and do chores for you, so Greg doesn’t say much of anything interesting. I don’t know where he grew up. I don’t know if he has any family. Hell, I don’t even know his actual name. Yet, I care more about the hat off of this guy’s head than I do Shaun and James combined.
The Nintendo Bread Line | Michael Edwards
I asked my dad one sunny and hot Saturday in the summer of 1992 if we could bring most of my NES games over [to Funcoland] to sell. Saturday was typically the day we’d take a ride over to Route 17 and hit up the pre-Home Depot hardware mega store Channel, Crazy Eddie’s (later The Wiz) and get lunch at a fast food chain or enjoy the slightly fancier fast food at The Fireplace. It wasn’t too out of the way to include Funcoland into those errands and it would only be a quick stop, right?
As we pulled up and saw the massive line stretching out from the parking lot almost into the highway I can still remember my dad cursing and saying “Jesus Christ, do we really need to do this?”
Problems of Madness and Mechanics | Katriel Paige
Not being able to fully trust one’s own mind is a time-honored trope in horror – from trepanning to the Victorian asylum to the more modern psychiatric institution looming dark and perhaps abandoned (or – more concerning – not abandoned after all), to more abstract things like the prospect of hallucinations. Even “more relatable,” specific conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder can strike fear into someone who has never experienced what it is like to not trust how one experiences and makes sense of the world.
Why Developers Shouldn’t Listen to their Audience | Thomas Welsh
We don’t know why we like things. Horror movies. Sad songs. Bitter food. We love them all, despite the apparent biological imperative that makes us averse to fear, unhappiness and broccoli.
Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale University, says the reason that people enjoy things like music, art, sex and food are more perverse than we may think. The professor’s book, How Pleasure Works explores the complexity of why we like what we like, and in the case of games it couldn’t be more relevant.
The professor’s work is nuanced, but if there’s one thing we’re sure of it’s this: the audience for a thing seldom ever knows why they like it. We like to eat chilli peppers even though the experience they give us is not objectively pleasurable. And throughout history audiences have demanded the removal of the unpalatable bits of great art to make it less challenging and easier to categorize, experience and process. Often in direct opposition to the artist, the mass audience will often think they want the rough edges sanded off, when in fact the most challenging aspects of the art are exactly what attracts them in the first place.
Revving the Engine: Ashen | Stu Horvath
Stu Horvath talks to Aurora44 about their upcoming open world, passive multiplayer game Ashen. Sponsored by Unreal Engine 4.
There’s a sense of isolation, mystery and melancholy inherent in ruins that, judging from the trailer, you captured in Ashen. How do you go about infusing the environment with those characteristics?
Derek Bradley: There is something inherently New Zealand about Ashen. It might be that we are a group of creatives influenced by this dark, mysterious part of the world.
Thinking a bit more deeply about the island our studio is situated on, it is a place surrounded by a jagged coastline and deep, cold waters. It is a land of active volcanoes and earthquakes, truly isolated from the rest of the world. I think there is some of this perspective buried in Ashen that allows players to venture out into something unique and yet wistful.
New Zealand is also a land of explorers and dreamers, with a rich history of heroes like Sir Edmund Hillary who, along with Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, became the first climber confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. While somewhere like Everest could be considered cold and dangerous, there is room for the human spirit to triumph, even there.
In a similar fashion, Ashen makes way for the adventurer in those who venture out into the dark.