Here's the Thing

The Significance of Context

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #114. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.

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I think about context a lot these days – mostly because of my YouTube channel where I talk about Transformers toys without much, if any, knowledge of the fiction. I’ve often said that I don’t believe knowing who a given character is matters when it comes to looking at their tiny plastic effigy purely as a toy, but here’s the thing: While the importance of context depends upon, well, the context, I do think that context quite often permanently changes the way we view things. So while importance is debatable, significance is not.

To run with the toy example a little further, I’ve found that context has indeed affected my views on a handful of them. Finishing the Transformers Prime cartoon has made me into a pretty big Arcee fan; finally sitting down to watch The Last Knight film has made me hate Cogman so goddamn much that I legitimately can’t bring myself to add his Studio Series figure to my collection despite having a prior interest in it; knowing that my DX9 Terror was produced in limited quantities makes it feel more special; and so on.

Casting the net a bit wider, let’s talk about art for a moment. Most people are probably familiar with Jackson Pollock, even if they don’t know it. He’s the guy who made the big drip paintings that a lot of people tend to like to point to and say “this is why art is dumb” or “I could do this in my garage for $5, what a scam.” It’s an understandable viewpoint to take when one isn’t aware that he began experimenting with these paintings in the early 1940s (over 70 years ago), and his experimentation made him a significant figure in the abstract expressionist movement. Or to put it another way: nobody else had really tried it before, so he sort of blew the lid off things and inspired a lot of artists to push boundaries.

Or to put it another way: nobody else had really tried it before, so he sort of blew the lid off things and inspired a lot of artists to push boundaries.

Context can also be a burden when it comes to problems behind the scenes. I used to adore the Neverhood games until I learned about how the guy who conceptualized the world and the characters was super duper homophobic. After that, I just couldn’t find joy in them anymore. Except the music, composed by Terry S. Taylor – that still brings me joy. Or far more recently there’s Sekiro, a game that I want to play so bad but I just can’t bring myself to purchase it in the wake of Activision’s mass layoffs after reporting record profits in 2018.

As I said at the beginning, context can quite often permanently change the way we view things. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much. Whether or not this is important isn’t up for me to decide, but it is significant. Much like finding out a poorly lit photo of a fur-covered pillow divot depicts the last place our cat, Ash, slept before one final trip to the vet after a very long battle with kidney disease.

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Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved video games since the ’80s, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them. The same goes for other nerdy stuff from Anime to Godzilla, and from Power Rangers toys to Transformers. He gave up on Twitter, because Twitter is garbage, but you can still find him on Instagram and Mastodon.

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