Sunday, September 25, 2016

Come Off It Jason Pettigrew

The web never sleeps, which means the news/content cycle never does. "Jack White Has Dinner, Uses Napkin" isn't what a seasoned reporter would call a get.  -Alternative Press Editor In Chief Jason Pettigrew

I'm not enamored of Jason Pettigrew's half of the feature with Scott Heisel about web music journalism. I think he's disingenuous in the spots where it's not overly bitter. In his defense, there are legitimate things to be bitter about. Posting a tracklist and an album art counts as news, for someone, and "link-whoring duty" is an actual phrase used by Gawker. Reblogs of wacky internet videos poison the well, but keep a certain, ever declining number of readers engaged. Pitchfork reviews of punk and hardcore records leave me foaming at the mouth. Careless reviews of pop superstars make me question my sanity.

Pettigrew longs for the days of the noble gatekeeper, when a person had to be vetted by an authority before they could write about music for a magazine. And now, he says? Everyone's got an opinion. Well, sure. They always did. Now they can express it publicly and people might actually look at it. He aches for the days when access was limited (and this part is worth repeating) and he had it. But now, it's not and Good Lord, one does not have to first be approved of by Creem Magazine before writing or hearing the music. The horror.

"the days when gatekeepers (read: music press) were given the responsibility for having well-informed, articulate opinions regarding the material they were to wax wise about...All it takes is one sticky-fingered, disgruntled intern or one unscrupulous person to receive the wrong package...and the introduction of a band's new work belongs to the masses."

Mercy, sir, a person could be introduced to the record by listening to it themselves without the precious context of whatever the writer decides to copypasta from the press release, a quick Google search and a list of cliches too long to name? I am mortified. (For best results, read this paragraph again in Foghorn Leghorn's voice.)

Admittedly, that's a disingenuous summation of his argument. Those days of gatekeepers being paid a maybe decent amount of money to have opinions is gone, and we lose that, while we gain, and this is crucial, immediate access to the work itself, rather than sitting around for the intermediary of the music critic's judgment. I'd love to be a professional music critic, admittedly. But, everyone listening to it alongside each other means more people get the experience sooner. And our judgments were always a half measure towards other people giving an album their attention.

At bottom: I think this development sounds fantastic.  I don't think improving a person's filter on what they read is a bad thing. Shit, I think you should be doing it anyway in every aspect of your life. Democracy means there are more critics, yes. But those experts still exist. They haven't gone anywhere. You can still find them. And some of the critics today will be the experts of tomorrow, as they'll keep writing, going to concerts and turning over songs in their heads. Democracy also means you have to do the legwork to decide what opinions and beliefs are most valuable and useful to you. You can still get those opinions from somewhere else, if you as a consumer don't want to do the work.

Two other points: 1) Pettigrew's not required to read the ramblings of the imaginary, but almost certainly existent college freshman who is obsessed with Nirvana. 2) That imaginary college freshman Nirvana obsessive? That was us, once upon a time. Nirvana might not have been my or your focus, but those ramblings could easily be his, mine or ours.

There's a lot of resonant scenes in Almost Famous, but the one where Lester Bangs offers William Miller $35 for 1,000 words about Black Sabbath is instructive. Here's the catch, Pettigrew aches for the time when he could be Lester Bangs, dispensing sage advice and long assignments to reporters or freelancers. Those days of access and using that access as a megaphone to which the kids will flock are done. They're not finished, certainly. The Rihanna airplane debacle proved that. But, like a knife to the armpit, you're going to bleed out and die and Pettigrew sees that coming.

Here's to whatever comes next.

This is years and years old, but I kept coming back to it privately. I didn't post it because of cowardice, but now that time's passed, it can finally exist outside my own head. As for this choice of song, well, "fuck the glory days" feels pretty appropriate.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Four Years Too Late: Some Thoughts On Mass Effect 3

Hannah and I completed a run of Mass Effect 3. It’ll be on a podcast in the future, but I want to get my thoughts down before yelling into the microphone. We haven’t played 1 yet. I confess the vehicle sections of Mass Effect 1 frighten me off of the game. We'll probably do a full playthrough at some point in the future, but, due to the ending, not any time soon.

I originally put this on Facebook earlier this morning. I'm refining it here and adding a couple photos.

Major spoilers, obviously, but my guess is if you’re interested in my take on this, you’ve already played the series.

BioWare/EA was too aggressive with the release date of Mass Effect 3. Hell, the game got another six months, it appears, and it still came out this way. Mass Effect 3 is an example of what happens when you’ve got resources but not time. There’s about five different BioWare offices credited at the end of it.  Art is never finished, only abandoned.

According to Geoff Keighley’s book, the main exposition character Javik got cut because BioWare ran out of time, and so the plot had to be reworked around that absence. The Citadel invasion was supposed to happen after Thessia. On The Illusive Man’s orders, Kai Leng would kidnap Javik, and the subsequent Cereberus invasion would make sense. Because Javik was moved to DLC because of time constraints, the story took on water.

And yet.

Despite a botched ending, DLC that was planned for the main story but got cut because the game needed to ship, and a missed shot on an open net with Omega, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 are still two of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. Maybe top five, even. If EA commissioned a game of the year edition, I suspect critical consensus would be kinder to Mass Effect 3. As it stands, though, I found Mass Effect 3 only a tremendous experience. Admittedly, BioWare and EA may not be interested in reopening that can of worms.

In any story of this scale, you have to accept plot holes. I can forgive quite a bit. I can forgive the extended ending. I can forgive that because the story set up the Reapers as an actually apocalyptic level threat beating them back will require sacrifices on a frightening scale. But the instant the Star Child shows up, the game falls apart.

In short: It’s a brutal invocation of deus ex machina alongside contradictory cues about what effects your choice will have in universe. It’s a drastic shift in mechanics and tone at the worst possible time. It’s remarkable in that Star Child spends all of my goodwill built up over two games inside ten minutes.

(The post-credits scene was unforgivably corny. I was bewildered, confused and disappointed by the ending, but only the post-credits scene made me fucking livid. Buzz Aldrin was allegedly the main narrator, and given that context, I'm shocked they couldn't find something better for him to do than reheat sf/f cliches from 60 years ago.)

Maybe Mass Effect 3 was always going to crumble. Massive stories written by many people usually do. What’s energizing is that BioWare held off crumbling right until the end. Recalling only the anger  obscures that for 30 hours of my life, I was enraptured. By remembering only the bad, I forget I said that I wanted to savor as much time with those characters as I possibly could.

I'll go back for the Leviathan and Citadel DLC, but when those are done, I don't think I'll go much further. It's a great game on its own merits, but absent an investment by BioWare or EA to right the ship, great is furthest star it'll ever reach.

Keelah sa'lai.


Entropy Magazine published a long piece about choice in the Mass Effect series, and it's absolutely worth your time. There's a massive chart of the choices, too. Go look. Pictures are from the developer, Kotaku and Ars Technica, in descending order. I've been listening to The 1975 singles for the past eight odd days, and the song that's currently ruling my headphones is by them, and it's called Chocolate.

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