Well and truly.
On the plus side, I am well on the way to recovery. I still have intermittent bouts of fever and phlegmy coughing, but it's getting better. The main issue at this point though is that I'm tired of being sick. You know when you are sick and you know you should be sleeping, but you have been sleeping ~20 hours a day for almost a week and have come to think of your warm and comfy bed as a ghoulish iron maiden? I reached that point days ago. I am bored, but I am also not well enough to sit up for too long without starting to feel crappy again. What to do?
Replacing boredom with despair
I was thinking of getting one of the new Pokemon games (Scarlet or Violet) because I love teaming up with Daikon to do multi battles in Battle Tower. Sword/Shield was super disappointing in this aspect since its Battle Tower was so... nothing, and worse, local multi battles were gone. I didn't want to make the same mistake of buying two full-priced games and playing them to the end only to once again learn we can't take on the Battle Legends together, so I decided to do the barest amount of research into the games before splurging. Which meant, oh boy! Facing down the firehose of Pokemon coverage and trying to make sense of any of it.
I went in expecting breathless articles cooing over things like that this game will let you eat sandwiches with your Pokemon oh my god and other fluffy nonsense that I don't care about. Instead, I was pleased to finally see some reviewers having the courage to say the emperor has no clothes. From what I've seen, at best, Gen 9 looks like a bland one-o'-these type open world games that chugs hard on the Switch. At worst, it looks like cynical garbage crunched out by an understaffed team, that then went on to break every Nintendo record on the books and cement its legacy as The Future Of Pokemon. Augh.
(Anyway, it looks like Gen 9 doesn't have any post-game battle facilities. Thank you, that's all I needed to know.)
I started falling down a pit of reviews and game sites, trying to understand how this deeply underwhelming game could still be getting wall-to-wall coverage from every site. Five tips for new trainers! How to evolve your dough dog Pokemon! Which starter should you choose? The top glitches that are going viral on TikTok! I know that sites need to hit that sweet SEO while the getting's good, but boy is it depressing to watch.
The salve: more games crit, please
I am reminded of the essay The imagined importance of the blockbuster game by Brian Crimmins.
And [blockbuster games] are nowhere near as important as they make themselves out to be. As video game writers and without even thinking about it, we treat these games as though they automatically deserve the pre-eminence we give them. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Their success and the attention paid to them have more to do with their aggressively crowding out all other options than with any artistic merit they might have. While I'm far from innocent in giving blockbusters undue attention, and although I'm hardly the first person to challenge their supremacy, I still feel such a challenge has been necessary for years now. It is time we finally realize that blockbusters are not the only form of video game that are deserving of attention.
Reading about the open world in Scarlet/Violet reminded me of the essay The Abject Emptiness of 'Everything' by Brendan Vance:
We can view these games as a sequence of empty gestures designed to mediate our experience of the dreadful Other who lurks on the opposite side of their ending cinematics. We climb many instances of essentially the same tower to reveal wide swathes of essentially the same territory, in which we perform essentially the same regimen of busywork. We do this so that many instances of the same Orwellian super-presence will pass 'control' over this territory from itself unto us.
In Assassins Creed we transact with the evil and mysterious Templars; in Batman it's the evil and mysterious Arkham Knight. In The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, perhaps most tellingly of all, we transact with hell itself. The game opens scores of its Oblivion Gates—all of which are essentially the same Oblivion Gate—and invites us to close them one at a time. By investing many hours of our labour, we sew shut the bursting seams of eternity! What better way to relieve ourselves of boredom?
What is boredom, if not fear of our inevitable death?
And while you're here, you might as well re-read On Videogame Reviews by Tevis Thompson because it will always be relevant whenever people talk about video game reviews. The whole thing is golden, but this part always jumps to mind when I think of Pokemon:
We assume that disliking particular genre elements disqualifies a reviewer, but not the opposite: that being predisposed to liking a genre, being a fan, might be the problem. That it might also predispose a reviewer to a fan's conservatism, a fan's indulgence, a fan's myopia and pedantry. Fans excel at celebration, but criticism? No, fandom seeks to insulate itself from criticism. And yet videogame reviewers are, by and large, avowed videogame fans.
So, uh. I decided against buying the new Pokemon this time around. Hooray! More time for...
Stuff I've been reading
This time I do have stuff I've been reading! I'm still not quite in the right headspace to devour a whole book (Fellowship of the Ring is going to have to go back on the shelf yet again, I'm afraid). But short stories: I can do short stories. Let's get to some great recs.
I started Uncanny #49 before realizing I hadn't finished the previous issue yet and getting back to that. I didn't get that far in but I already hit a real masterclass with Rabbit Test by Samantha Mills. It is a powerful and damning statement about the overturning of Roe v Wade earlier this year, along with the ongoing destruction of LGBTQ rights. Rabbit Test does something that lesser stories would overlook: it centers not the cis white woman, but on bodily autonomy for all, and reserves POVs specifically for Black, brown, trans, bi, and gay people. By focusing on the roots of these injustices growing out of America's (among other countries') racist foundations, Mills points out the systemic failings that have led us all here. The overlapping points of views slipping across the generations is something I'm more accustomed to seeing in full novels, so to find it used here to such great effect was a real treat.
After that, I went back to Uncanny #48 and read Girl, Cat, Wolf, Moon by Rati Mehrotra. It's one of those magical anime stories about stepping out into a cozy nighttime market populated with talking cats... until it isn't, and our protagonist is dragged back into the harsh reality of the patriarchal society she lives in. It is a delicious story to read while drinking tea and praying for Lila to find the power she needs to save herself. There's also an interview with the author that was a delightful read.
Okay that was a lot of words coming from me after writing another entry only a couple days ago! Praise me! I need to go lie down again.