Category: The Desk of Gabriel Morton

It’s not a real desk.

Living Arrangements

Living Arrangements

Housemates, can’t live with ’em and casual labour laws that favour business interests means you can’t live without ’em. Back in the day, I lived in a big one in the Valley with a rotating ensemble cast of about 7-8 other people and innumerable guests. It was a vile flop-house full of degenerates and one of my fondest memories. That said, living with that many other people has its challenges, and these challenges eventually caused me to snap. What I wrote came from a specific time and place in my life, but is applicable to any time and place where directionless adults cluster for warmth.

I wrote this in 2012 when my recent sobriety meant I could suddenly smell everything. It will apply to people you know. It will apply to places you’ve lived. It may even apply to you. It is

An Open Letter to Housemates

Dear Filthcunts,

                         I get the feeling that writing something about keeping a space clean and the amount of cleaning I do is going to give my parents a laugh. If you are acting on their behalf then I say, well played, and to my parents I will remind them that I will outlive you and in doing so shall ignore all your burial wishes and sell you to a necrophile collective to buy expensive action figures. Remember that the next time you feel brave enough to try something like this.

Should that not be the case, I do need to make an appeal. I will start by admitting that I do enjoy cleaning. It is a simple pastime that has a clear goal and a demonstrably positive outcome and that cannot be said about much else in existence. That said, when I have to do 20 minutes worth of cleaning before I can even begin the actual-goddamn-fucking-cleaning it makes the process feel like the punishment I would receive for pissing of some Greek god or something. Every time I neared what appeared to be an end I’d turn around only to discover another mountain of plates or pots or pans turning what should be an exercise in goal-reaching into the same endless series of meaningless acts that forms the rest of human life. This is not fun for me. In an effort to alter this situation I have come up with a series of tips that will make everything a lot easier for everyone.

An actual person with other stuff to do is cleaning up after you.

This is probably the most important reminder I can give. I clean the kitchen and most other aspects of the upper-house (more on that later). I am guessing that most of you have been operating under the assumption that this job has been getting done by helpful elves or some kind of Classy Santa who tidies share houses in exchange for fancy nibbles. The latter is something that would never have occurred to me had not someone left out Brie and Toast last night. This is obviously to placate Classy Santa, a mythical character of Finnish and Japanese heritage, but I would still advise putting it on a table and not the floor. Also if you really want to follow tradition you need to use those store bought miniature toasts. Using shitty substitutes just makes Classy Santa angry meaning you will get a visit from his friend Fondleshitz who never cleans and just shoots warm caviar at your from his grundlefont.

Don’t just leave your stuff where you were.

Skyrim won’t play itself, I am aware of this and I am sure your fifth or sixth playthrough to see what plot differences occur between your Nordic warrior and Vampiric lesbian is an important use of your time. So I completely understand that you have decided not to clean whatever you were using. That said, unless you are chasing the dragon in an opium den or are a poorly programmed NPC there is little excuse for just dropping or leaving whatever you were holding exactly where you were holding it. You all manage to shit in the toilet so consider the leaving of stuff around a bit like shitting your pants. If you put these things in an area where I can get to them they will be cleaned, leaving them about the house like some kind of Easter Egg Hunt at the home for Disobedient Little Cunts is irritating and slows the cleaning process.

Rinse and Stack

Like anything else, cleaning is something that can be done wrong. The other day, after cooking custard tarts, the vessels that held said tarts were filled with water and then just abandoned. I understand the intention and the idea behind it. Someone has evolved from elf worship to cargo cult and has semi-understood the process enough to add water to the dirty things. Thank you for your help now go play with your legos. See, leaving custard tart to stew in water for a day or two doesn’t actually clean any of the material away. The result was not pleasant. It reminded me of the documentary I saw on crime scene clean-up crews, how they have to go into apartments where an old shut in has been dead for months and find him having died and dissolved through his couch and into the carpet. This was like that, if I had bronchitis and coughed everything I could into a jar with some rice crackers then let that sit in the sun for an afternoon I would begin approaching the consistency of what I was dealing with. In future, run water over it then stack it to the side where I will deal with it later.

Don’t hoard kitchenware.

This is more for the sub-C.H.U.D’s than anyone else so I will now address them.

DEEP TIDINGS, DOWNLINGS, HOW IS THE LOWCITY TODAY? FORGIVE ME FOR WRITING IN ENGLISH BUT AS YOUR TONGUE SOUNDS LIKE THE BLEATINGS OF A SACRIFICED GOAT PASSING THROUGH AN OPTIMUS PRIME VOICE CHANGER HELMET I STILL LACK THE VOWELS TO ATTEMPT EVEN A PHOENETIC TRANSLATION. I KNOW NOT WHAT REASON YOU SEEK TO ACQUIRE THE CUTLERY OF THE UPMEN, AS THE AGREEMENT I CAME TO WITH THE BENEATHOIDS HAS CLEARLY STATED THAT YOU MAY COME AND GO AS YOU PLEASE AS WELL AS UTILISE ANY ITEMS YOU MAY NEED. EVIDENCE SUGGESTS YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO BUILD SOME KIND OF CATHEDRAL OF CROCKERY AND MOULD TO AN OLD HYPO-FLOORIC DEITY BY THE NAME OF HWOARULTHIEKIANIITEOZLEKEPTHOTHTIC.  WHILE I RESPECT YOUR RIGHT TO PRACTISE YOUR FAITH AND EVEN RESPECT THE WORKS OF HWOARULTHIEKIANIITEOZLEKEPTHOTHTIC, MAY HIS MEAT INFECT US ALL, THE TOWERS OF SKYWORLDER MATERIALS YOU BUILD ARE BECOMING AN INCONVENIENCE. PERHAPS WE CAN ORGANISE A TRADE WHEREBY YOU BRING ALL THE USED ITEMS UPSTAIRS FOR ME TO WASH AND I STOP SHITTING IN YOUR AIR-HOLE WHENEVER SOMEONE ELSE IS USING THE TOILET. THIS WAY I WON’T THINK I HAVE CLEANED EVERYTHING ONLY TO DISCOVER YOUR DANK CHASM HOLDS A THOUSANDFOLD MORE CHORES FOR ME TO DO AND YOUR LIVING SPACE WILL SMELL LIKE THE SWEATY, FOOT-ORGY IT SHOULD AND NOT MY MORNING DISCHARGE. THANK YOU, AND MAY THE SHADOW ECLIPSE THE BRIGHT ORB, BLESSINGS BE UNTO THE DAYHATERS.

This house contains, at last count, approximately fourteen and a half people and so it has the ability to get very messy very quickly. By keeping these tips in mind I will be able to continue doing, for free, something that most people have to actually pay someone to do. Now with that said I am going to put someone’s toothbrush in my bum.

By Gabe.

Kangaroo Chilli

Kangaroo Chilli

The kangaroo is a bouncing rat monster whose whole goal in a fight is to rip your testicles off. They’re the second most dangerous Normal Type Australian animal you can encounter, coming second only to a combination between a feather duster and a velociraptor. You can eat that too, but today we’re making chilli out of an animal so badass only Ice-T has ever successfully portrayed one.

Eating kangaroo is great because eating an animal drenched in the warrior energy of a thousand testicles both tastes better and is easier to source. They’re everywhere and people shoot them, so they’re a great option for environmental vegetarians, and people stockpiling masculine energy for one of Australia’s famous boss runs.

You’ll need a kilo of it which will run you between 8-10 dollarydoos. I have no idea how to get it in Not-Australia, so you’ll have to put down your assault rifles and your baguettes for a moment and look for yourselves.

Otherwise, you’ll need a large pan with high edges or a slow cooker, though this recipe is presuming a high edge pan.

Ingredients

1 kilo of kangaroo flesh.

You’ll get a bonus 8 hearts back if you killed the kangaroo yourself.

Two tins of tomatoes.

The medium type, or one of the big lads. This is a red and brown dish, so the tomatoes are the red part of this.

Two tins of refried beans.

You can go one if you want but I go two as it gives the end result a near mashed potato consistency that is useful for burrito rolling. Trying to roll a sloppy mess in a burrito is like trying to catch your own vomit in a tissue.

Two medium onions.

Brown or white, the cooking onions. Red can be used if you have no other ones around, but they’re a bit light and sweet for this dish. This is an angry dish that resents you for existing at all, so the onions need to be the kind that make you cry.

Two whole knobs of garlic.

This is not negotiable. Don’t be a little bitch. Garlic is a magical food that imbues you with arcane strengths, eat it whenever possible.

1-2 habaneros.

These are great, one costs nothing and adds a fun, housemate-punishing zest to your meals. I used to be one of those guys who ate the spiciest things he could, and while I still enjoy a bit of heat, I grew tired of feeling like I was trying to shit a length of barbed wire every morning. I maintain that it’s a mark of immaturity to prove yourself by eating purpose-bred poison fruit, but you do you.

A capsicum.

My brother ate a whole yellow one like an apple once and I still think about that. I go green as they’re cheaper and the colour contrast is fun.

1 cup of cumin.

All foods are just stews with different ingredients. Do you know what the difference between a Bolognese and a chilli is? Cumin. Put lots of it in or you’re just some kind of maniac who put refried beans in his pasta sauce, and not only will I not take responsibility for any mockery you get for doing this, I will join in and probably take things too far.

Half cup of coriander.

Coriander is the treble to cumin’s bass; you want a bit but not as much as the cumin. This assumes the powdered variety. Fresh is good too but go harder with that. Fresh coriander is great. Actually, before I forget, don’t get spices from a fucking supermarket. That shit’s a grim ripoff, $2.30 for 25 fucking grams! Go to one of those Indian stores with the blatant fire hazard quantity of shelves, get 250 grams for $2.50. Bulk spice prices are generally where it’s at. I went to an outlet store the other day and got 3 kilos of chipotles in abodo for 21 dollars, now my dick is slightly girthier and everything tastes excellent.

1 cup of smoked paprika.

Smoked paprika is the thinking man’s paprika. Sweet is the manic pixie dream girl of spices and hot paprika is something Hungarians invented as a prank on people who don’t know cayenne pepper exists.

Salt.

Salt.

1 cup of vinegar.

This may be the fact that I once drank a whole bottle of cider vinegar talking, but I love vinegar. This will compliment the coriander in giving your chilli a flavour complexity beyond just brown guck.

Method

I’m an adult who can feed himself, so I have nifty devices like a mandolin slicer and food processors to make this easier. If you don’t have these, find your sharpest stone and cut the onions, garlic, capsicum, and habaneros up. The garlic and habaneros should be cut pretty fine, but the rest can be “rustic” (shithouse). Toss these into a pan that is hot but not smoking, with some oil. I assume you have oil. I didn’t list it in the ingredients for the same reason I don’t consider lube a genital.

Get these translucent, a little brown is fine, then toss the kangaroo in and brown it. You’ll wanna have a wooden spoon or something like that, and really dig at the kangaroo meat so it breaks up. Once the meat is brown, add the spices and fry it a bit longer. Frying brings out the spices and really makes ‘em pop, and this whole meal is all about that. It’s an aggressive dish that leans in and demands your attention, don’t fight it.

Once everything is well coloured and smelling good, pour in the tins of stuff and give them a good stir. Once you’re looking at a bubbling brown mess, add the vinegar. Congratulations, now you just have to wait until the heat does its magic, so set your stove real low, cover the pan, and wander off for a half hour.

While it’s still hot, it will be quite runny, and good for nachos. If you let it sit for a while, or let it cook for a bit uncovered, it will be thicker and good for tacos or burritos. You can also just eat it with a spoon.

This is a nutritious meal that most of you dingbats can manage. If you can’t, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with you. To be honest, I’m just impressed you can read.

By Gabe.

The War of The Simpsons

The War of The Simpsons

My Recollection

QUEEN OF THE HARPIES . General Sherman wink. The ones at the bottom.

Drunks are like Pokemon, there’s a surprising number of different varieties, they all spend their down time curled up in balls, and they seem cute and funny until you look closely. Many of the character traits a sitcom uses for its comic folly are tragic when they exist for more than twenty-one minutes, and drunks are only an exception in that you don’t even need that long. But the road to drunk tragedy is paved with drunk comedy, and drunk comedy is so good that both the drunk and their eventual victims will skip gaily to the inevitable as though it hasn’t been laughing beside them the whole time.

Mine ends in tragedy so depressing it didn’t even have the good taste to be dramatic. Anodyne realisation, a padded rock bottom, but before that there was a lot to laugh at.

It was some time in 99 or 2000, there’s precious little difference in what’s left of my memory from that period. I was a 64-kilo stoner with no capacity for booze, but I’d settled on drinking that Friday evening if only to give a sense of meaning to weekends that had begun their inexorable blend into abandoned work days.

Taste is built from experimentation which is why beginners have none. I, not having any taste, allowed others to select my evening for me. I, not having any taste, was without a knowledge platform from which to assess the selection others selected. I, not having any taste, wound up with a combination of vodka and Pasito. I, following this event, developed some taste.

A word on Pasito for the foreigners: It orange but it tastes like purple electricity. It’s a synthetic knockoff of a fruit that only exists in anime. If you licked everything in Wonka’s factory, your tongue would taste like Pasito and you’d have consumed only half the sugar. It’s what a passionfruit sees when it trips on mushrooms and we feed it to children. Mix it with vodka and you don’t taste the vodka. Naturally, it is the mixer of choice for youths and “fun” aunties.

Alcohol tastes rough for a reason: it’s fucking poison. You are poisoning yourself, idiot, and that burn is a good way of keeping your mind on that fact. Take it away and, well…

About the last thing I remember is thinking that vodka didn’t taste bad. Then there’s a blip and I’m waking up on the floor. The thing about these blips is that they’re gone. I thought, for a while that maybe they were somewhere in there, to be revealed like DVD extras when the last sparks were vanishing from my neurons. Nope. The brain isn’t making memories during a blackout. None of it is stored. Hardware corrupted: please format to continue.

As I slowly come online, my sequentially activating senses each start yelling at me. Each has, what it deems to be, the most vital information that the executive function needs to hear right now. Vision wins, and I realise I’m looking at a ceiling, then a wall, then the eternally dank grey surroundings of my friend’s quasi-subterranean flat/fungiculture. At least I know where I am.

Nothing is making any noise and the only smell is the inescapable mildew stench common to the kinds of shitty flats that aren’t exactly underground but aren’t exactly ground floor.

Everything hurts in a way that I have no frame of reference to understand. It’s not like everything hurts because there are injuries on everything that radiate out enough to create a soft hegemony of pain. It’s like there’s no locality to any of it. Every bit hurts as much as every other bit and this seems to be happening at a cellular level.

What was also happening at a cellular level, was the dawning realization that I was in my underwear.

You see this kind of thing in movies. It’s hacky, cliché, something only still done by 3rd rate Animal House knockoffs. I could do nothing in the silent, grey pain but try to think about why this may be the case.

Thinking too much made me queasy so I think about that for a while. Then the pain distracts me from the queasiness. This goes on for about 20 minutes. I have no idea of the actual time because, while the VCR’s LCD keeps it, it has steadfastly refused to ever adhere to a known numerical system. You could learn the glyphs well enough to mark passages, that was it. It was forty-E past lower-case i capital F and nobody else is around.

Nobody remained around.

After Fd minutes, I decided to chance some form of movement. It felt like what I imagine getting attacked by a telekinetic would feel like, pinned to the ground by gravity that shifted every time I did.

After backwards-L reverse-P minutes, I shifted again, and this time enough to realise something. I wasn’t just on the floor of the lounge, as previous reports had suggested. There was something beneath me: a full-sized rollerblade. At this point, I’ll remind you that it was the very late 90s. I rolled and felt the floor sink like a waterbed. I used the momentum of it sloshing back to wrench the rollerblade from under my lower back and held it up for inspection.

I stared at it, expecting nothing less than it to fill me in on what had happened. It silently rollerbladed back while the VCR LCD laughed at me in primitive emoticons. This went on forever, or as near as such a thing can exist within a timeless, grey flat.

The need to vomit eventually drove me from my floor spot, and the subsequent torrent of spew flooded my sinuses with a singeing combination of bile and Kirks artificial passionfruit that, to this day, makes my nose tickle to think about.

After another forever, my friend woke up and told me I vomited a bit, then a lot, so they put me in the shower and let me sleep it off while they went out. I didn’t drink again for quite some time after that.

The Episode.

What made Jackie Gleeson threatening to punch his wife in the face funny was that it was an empty threat. Sometimes the threat itself was funny, like “Bang, zoom” which is largely absurd, but often it was “POW! Right in the kisser” which is him straight-up threatening to closed-fist strike his small wife in the mouth. But we never see him do it and we never see the results of him having done it. She doesn’t wince, she’s never bruised, it’s a false alarm so it’s funny.

Marital discord is one of the primary sources of plot conflict and comedy in a family sitcom but it’s a source that gets taken for granted. In the formative years of this comic trope, social, religious, economic, and political institutions worked to make the “death do us part” bit of marriage a reality, and these barriers to escape created a stabilising structure. This stabilising structure, combined with the need to escalate humour both within a series and across the broader genre, created a feedback system that let the points of conflict grow incrementally wackier. This process forge-welded a new trope, and so now you can be as bad a husband as Ray Romano and still not bother viewers with the obvious question of “why don’t they get a divorce?”

Running parallel to this is the nature of comedy and power. A situation where a lady threatens me like Ralph threatens Alice is funny for the same reason a man biting a dog is funny. Women are so much smaller and weaker that it’s not unlike wrestling with a kitten, so the power inversion is fundamentally absurd. Making a sitcom couple where the female is physically dominant is tricky (at least until HBO premiers Here Comes Gwendoline), which means for the physically dominant husband to be funny, he must be an oaf. This leaves the female comic power inversion being “smart one” which inevitably becomes the comic “straight man”.

It’s never the straight who’s going out and getting into hijinks, so that just leaves the husband, a fact obviously unquestionable in Homer’s case. Combine this with narrative conflict and you have a situation where it’s one part of the relationship who is clearly the problem. This is a delicate weld, but historical forces keep it together, provided you don’t pick at it. War of The Simpsons doesn’t just pick at it, War of The Simpsons makes bringing an unreconcilable conflict to a head the focus of the story by sending Homer and Marge to marriage counselling.

There are ways to dampen the impact of this decision and the episode deliberately avoids them. Like bashing women, light tones can counteract the severity of the joke’s foundation. This shouldn’t be difficult for The Simpsons, as it was born before the 90s edge wave. It’s a softer format, sweet, the married couple uses the word “snuggle” in a bashful way. Jokes that would fit fine in Duckman, Oblongs, Mission Hill, Family Guy, American Dad, et-fucking-cetera, don’t go in The Simpsons because it, even at its raunchiest, is still a family show.

Homer drunkenly sexually harassing his neighbour is not sweet to begin with, and this narrative choice is compounded by Homer being the not-fun kind of drunk. The episode emphasises the realism of being a drunken asshole, a statement that takes on further emphasis given that it is happening within a sweet, goofy animated world. Even other episodes about Homer’s problematic drinking treat it as a joke. Here, he worries his wife, he annoys everyone he speaks to, and there’s no scene of him flexing imaginary man-tits in the mirror to help the audience laugh it off. It is grotesque, and a grotesqueness that wounds the viewer, as we know that he’ll never change because we’ve been through this already.

Breaking the softer tone of the show exposes Homer and Marge’s relationship as less happy-in-the-face-of-adversity and more a vile knot of fear and desperation. They are only together because Homer knocked Marge up, and even daring to explore the question of why either loves the other would cast a light on their relationship that neither’s eyes could stand. Marge is a moron, and each piece of Homeric cartoon nonsense is a grain of sand in my porridge.

So why quit when you’re behind?

I’ve mentioned before about the way that some formats of expression are defined by their structural quirks, so much so that to critique them would be to complain about a cat’s meow. The kind of quickie resolutions found in family sitcoms are one of these quirks. They are not technically good, but, like the bun of a cheap hotdog, they serve their purpose. There’s a kind of unspoken agreement between show and audience, though, where we can only tolerate so much before the quickie resolution becomes so disproportionately weak compared to the problem it’s resolving that it becomes a slap in the face.

“She says one word and I toss it back” would be a fine enough line to end a variety of minor conflicts, but the story has almost artfully managed to ensure that it lands like a fishbone in the throat. If Marge’s words mattered so much, enough to overcome a 6-hour battle with a fish, they would be enough to overcome any of the other problems Homer brings to the marriage. Of course, they don’t, they aren’t meant to. Structurally, they can’t. And this wouldn’t be a problem had the story not broken the show’s tone to lend uncomfortable realism to a horrible marriage.

Later sitcoms that built upon what The Simpsons created or perfected have found tonal balance with extremes of cartoon comedy and naturalist tragedy, but they have accomplished this by aiming at it from the start and seeding audience expectation. The Simpsons can’t do this because it was a different dish by design. An olive on a pepperoni pizza is a mistake whereas an olive on a supreme isn’t. War of The Simpsons isn’t the first or last episode to focus on trouble in the Simpson marriage, but it crosses its own lines and becomes a mix of unpleasant and insulting as a result.

Yours in having arms like tree trunks, Gabriel.

Jokes, Lines, and Stray Thoughts.

The title is a play on The War of the Roses, a movie about a divorce based on a book about a divorce.

According to the commentary track, there was a weird thing with this episode, where the show had to pay a guy about 3k because he’d submitted a story script that was similar (marriage counselling). They stopped even opening submissions after that.

Here we see what went on to become a solid joke template, Homer talking about something instead of sex. This is also a good example of the show’s natural tone level.

Flanders making an alcoholic beverage would get retconned.

The thing is, Haha Drunk and Sad Drunk are the same thing, it just depends on how many people are  laughing. Simple and slight modifications in authorial voice are enough to shift this. Homer could have easily been more haha drunk here. Marge could have reacted the same way and the plot could have continued on as normal without the jarring tonal abnormality.

The cat under Homer is a classic gag, and I mean it when I say you can pass out on anything. Actual goddamn rollerblade, and I’d gotten so used to it that I didn’t even know it was there for some conscious time.

The idea of a radio station that only plays the Mexican Hat Dance is hilarious. Incidentally, it’s called  Jarabe Tapatío, and is Mexico’s national dance. It’s about flirting with a woman. Lisa’s comment about how the music sends a chill down her spine is a good example of the nature of how humans develop stress responses to any paired stimulus. It’s from this process that we get our odd triggers.

The scene of Homer remembering how funny he was the night before is based on a cartoon by Al Hirschfeld of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of society wits from the early 1900s.

There’s this weird background character design that looks like Hitler. Groening hates it and it gets retired fairly quickly. Here he is attending church.

Homer exists as much as an archetype as he does a character, and this gives him a Lego-like ability to have lore-friendly hobbies for single episodes. Fat husbands like fishing, so Homer does. This is in spite of it never coming up prior or really since.

Omen reference with the babysitter. Not bad but the “Bart is evil” thing gets played out very fast.

“Everyone’s against me” from Grampa is a goodun.

While the episode is a poor work in terms of tone and structure, the B story is a great accompaniment. Pairing the kids with Grampa is a reliable source of comedy as it lets the each lean in to their comic elements, Bart’s maliciousness and Grampa’s befuddlement. Lisa goes along with this abuse quite willingly too, which I don’t consider as out of character. Earlier Lisa was quite immature and would often turn a blind eye to bad behaviour if she could get away with her own minor forms.

The Queen of the Harpies scene is a favourite because of how insanely dramatic it is. The gag where it immediately switches after one of Lovejoy’s banal bits of advice is lame but the scene of Marge and Homer watching these two terrible people play out a horrifying argument is classic. “Queen of the Harpies” became a local meme when we were kids.

Bart smoking a cigar was an impressive feat to get past the censors, though there’s no way a child could have one of those without throwing up.

The counselling scenes were originally going to feature Burns and a mail order bride, and Ken Krabapple. Ken was going to look like Dean Martin but have a Cletus accent. I’m glad they never showed him, as being unseen makes him more interesting, if only because he’s never had a chance to wear out his welcome. Also, it means Edna kept his name.

It’s the first appearance of Snake Jailbird! Though he’s unnamed here.

I always love seeing out-of-hand parties written for TV. Everyone there simply to destroy things as the chaos needs to be compressed into a few shots of malice.

“Any chicks over 8?” Otto Mann would fuck a nine-year-old. CANON!

This weird fucking kid looks like a human Hershey’s Kiss.

Nelson’s first draft Ha-ha, this time Ha-ha-ha. Glad they shortened it.

Grampa crying has a quick shift for the audience because torturing an old man is funny until he cries.

It’s important that Marge points out that the fish represents all of Homer’s faults, otherwise the resolution would be dismal and weak.

Groening hates the fish winking at the camera and is right to do so. Asides like that are fucking awful and should never be done in anything that isn’t built around it.

I actually really love the epilogue. One of Homer’s only honest successes is to become part of a bait shop’s mythos.

AEW Double or Nothing Pre Show: Part 2

AEW Double or Nothing Pre Show: Part 2

Backstage

A girl who presents like Bayley on meth is backstage saying things. Apparently, she was like this first, which is a bit of a bummer as, first or not, the work is on her to demonstrate difference from her more famous comparison. I have yet to see “Girl who is happy” be a character with much depth if she is always happy. Bayley would frequently get serious, mad, etcetera, and this was much needed variety. But Smiley Kiley Ray gets all of a few seconds so I won’t hold anything against her yet.

She’s interrupted by two librarians who shush a bunch. This is obnoxiously bad for two reasons: 1, wrestlers who are jobs; and 2, the most it could be is funny and it isn’t that. Wrestlers who are other jobs is not a personality or character, prior roles can inform those, but otherwise there is no narrative reason for you to be here. Things like this can work when you’re creating or twisting within an established story world, otherwise it’s a comedian getting on stage and telling you about this hilarious thing his friend said before telling you that you probably had to be there. Like a lot of the show, this feels like an in-joke, which is stupid in a context where you are trying to create a new In.

We go to a video recap of Cody/Dustin which is great but I’ll talk about that when I get to the match, otherwise we’re onto their first singles match.

Kip Sabian vs Sammy Guevara

Expectations:

I have neither heard of nor seen anything from these two so that creates a kind of starting bias. Without any prior narrative to draw on, the pair are given a single point around which to make their impact, so I’m keeping this in mind. Aside from this, they both look lean and light, but not explicitly lucha, so I’m expecting some decent spots. That said, this is the pilot for a series, so spots alone won’t carry the match.

The Match

Out of the gate, the commentators do their jobs which is already addressing my problem of not having any narrative. They tell me about Sammy, about how he’s an irritatingly egotistical self-promoter. They don’t explain the panda motif, but since they’ve done some other work, that can be a point to be revealed as opposed to a frustrating piece of meaningless festoonery designed to distract from a lack of personality. He expresses his character in the ring the moment he gets in, lazing on the turnbuckle and bothering the ref when Sabian is entering, so he is already exceeding expectation. A competent match will be enough and anything good will impress.

Kip Sabian (Sabin?, the announcer pronounced it like that), enters and the commentary actually explain why this match exists, why each wants to win it, and how to buy the PPV. COMPETANCE! He’s basically the same archetype as Sammy, which is what led to the match, and I like that. This town ain’t big enough sorta thing between two very similar wrestlers creates a natural conflict point and a goal besides just “win”. NJPW does this a bit, where it’s less about winning as much as it’s about how you win, and this secondary goal point creates an internal logic for spots that would otherwise be fucking stupid.

You let a guy elbow you in the face 6 times to prove that you aren’t just lucky, you’re stronger and better. Kip and Sammy are already expressing this with a mirrored headscissor takedown to kick-up routine. This tells me that they both think they are so much better than the other that they can afford to be showy, and this creates a narrative reason for a lot of the fancier stuff I am expecting. This is a great example of meshing character and narrative to create a logical platform for the in-ring expression. I am pleased.

Excalibur is doing a reasonable job of explaining why the wrestlers do things and Sammy does a backflip over an Irish whip before basking in the audience attention. Some great character moments follow, Sammy avoiding the obvious attack only to be read by Kip and punished. I have now learned, through the medium of wrestling, that while both are egotistical, Kip is smarter and more serious. Excellent work.

The ref is active in a good way, looks like she actually remembers rules exist. Excalibur explains why Kip is going for Sammy’s legs, take out the high flying, and is emphasising that he lacks experience when Kip does things too close to the ropes. Again, more examples of how commentary supplements character and helps define the narrative.

Over the top to the floor suplex was a little sloppy looking. I’ve not seen it before, so I am assuming the point is to carry the momentum through. Going to the effort of generating momentum only to stop it may work for The People’s Elbow, but it is an otherwise poor idea as it breaks the internal logic of wrestling. Momentum equals more move damage, killing it kills the move.

Sammy does a neat shooting star press to a hung up Kip. Well, I’d think it were neat but I could barely get a look at it as whatever blighted dipshit is producing this edited it like it was Liam Neeson trying to jump a fence. I can’t say this clearly enough: EDITING BREAKS IMMERSION. Hollywood has occasional excuses in the form of having to edit around the fact that your star is often not a stuntman, doing it when it’s pro-wrestling is inexcusable.

GAAAAAH!

Sammy heralds a 630 and cops Kip’s knees in the back. Kip does his finisher, The (sigh) Deathly Hallows, a kind of sit down reverse FU, and wins. Were I on commentary, I’d have emphasised that Sammy lost because he was shouting the move he was going to do to impress fans. If you want losses to have meaning, they have to occur for reasons. Sammy’s ego told Kip what was coming next, which was why he was able to reverse it.

The commentary was still a bit dry and slow, but I’ll forgive them that here and focus on the good work done in calling the match and explaining the narrative elements.

The production so far has been worryingly bad, WWE bad, and this stands out terribly when “not WWE” is one of your primary marketing gimmicks. Big spots were missed in the Battle Royal, okay, maybe a bit chaotic, but big spots missed like Sammy’s suicide dive?  Are you taking a nap? That and the camera cutting during moves have got to stop. These aren’t aesthetic choices, they are measurable mistakes when presenting dramatic violence and doubly stupid when the people you are filming are the ones doing all the cool shit.  

Overall, the match exceeded expectations. It had a nice lock-up opening that emphasised that it was a wrestling match, the clash of similar characters created a reason for the showiness, and the characters defined themselves through their wrestling. Nothing was unforgivably sloppy, and (production aside) the bits that were supposed to wow me did. Can’t ask for more from the competitors so I am excited to see more, and this is a very good start to AEW’s singles competition.

Star Rating

I’ve already written here about the stupidity of this, but I’ll say it again: homogenous rating systems for wildly variable creative works are done by lazy people to get idiots to argue. Putting them at the end of an otherwise well written piece just nudges dingbats into further illiteracy and weaker critical understanding of the thing they are supposed to love.

This match gets a 12 out of Umlaut

The Tail End

The video package for Sadie Gibbs looks good and it’s nice to be able to see something like this and be excited for it as opposed to dreading the inevitable waste. Whether AEW will succeed is still very open to debate, what isn’t is the near clockwork efficiency of WWE’s failings.

Hey, Adequate ‘ol JR, neat.

Ending on the Executive Vice Presidents arriving is a solid idea and gives a kind of character to the event. Cody continues to look like a young Geese Howard, Kenny reminds us that he is an internet goof, and the Young Bucks remind us that they are the Family Guy cutaway gags of wrestling. Cody playing straight helps counterbalance the goofy in-joke-ness of the others. I don’t want to sound like I don’t like comedy in wrestling, I love it, but like a lot of things, you have to be judicious with it as comic tone can disrupt any attempt at seriousness. This goes triple for meta, which is my primary concern with anything Young Bucks.

I wish Wrestling Arcade would make a fucking game already. Ah well, bring on the main show!

By Gabe

AEW: Double or Nothing Pre Show

AEW: Double or Nothing Pre Show

Like a lot of single, unemployed 36-year-old men, I am a big fan of the art of Professional Wrestling, and in 2019, it has never been a better time to be an art buff. New promotions are hardly news, nobody even bothered to read the press release for my one based around stop-motion teddy bears, but when one has the backing of a billionaire and several of the saner sounding performers, the world takes notice. And so it was that Double or Nothing, from the newly minted All Elite Wrestling, burst into life. Technically their second stab at it, this one serves as a kind of pilot for what will be a series proper, and, as this is a rare opportunity, I decided to write about it. If for no other reason than nobody else I know pays attention to wrestling and there’s only so much a bus stranger is willing to tolerate.

As it is new, I am going into this fairly raw. While it’s impossible not to be aware of a lot of the roster, I have consciously avoided doing any research on anyone, as I want to receive the performance as AEW’s new creative world intends. Additionally, except the battle royal, this will not be a strict blow-by-blow recount of events. This is closer to critique than news, so it is expected that you’ll have a working knowledge of the work being discussed.

I’ll also be discussing my expectations of things going into them. I tend to only see this in discussions around wrestling (and other media besides) when something has failed terribly or succeeded wildly, but it’s an important thing to discuss in general. This is because it gives readers a way to frame their understanding of a critical point.

What I mean by this last bit is that when someone says something is Great and you say it’s Good, they’ll only see the relative difference between those two points and not the fact that the thing being discussed is still of a high quality. Basically, if you jump up and down, telling me something is the best thing ever, that’s the bar set, so even something very good is going to fall below that. I’ve been through this dozens of times with dozens of things, most notably with Breaking Bad and Bioshock: Infinite, and I don’t expect it to work but I’ll go to my grave trying.

The Name

I am already not a big fan of the All Elite Wrestling moniker. As a standalone, it’s overdone. Nobody would expect Partially Elite Wrestling or Frequently Elite Wrestling, so All is an odd determiner to use. As a reference to the name of the core group of wrestle-friends who are producing it, it’s a tad on the nose and brings up minor concerns regarding a dominant group both booking and wrestling for a promotion. All this said, AE-Dub is a fairly innocuous initialism so these are minor points.

The Buy-In

Having some basic shit going on to keep the early arrivals busy is one thing, but I’m finding the increasing complexity and plot relevance of pre-shows to be counter to the idea. If it were a series of single matches, or even a battle royal, that just introduced some potential hires to an audience who may never have seen them, that’s one thing, but that there’s a stipulation (winner gets a shot at the belt) means this is critical to AEW’s fledgling narrative world and so having it exist as a diminished, separate pre-show is a mistake.

My expectations for this are just a bit above average. A battle royal is not the format for deeper narrative expression, and the chaos of that many people lends itself toward sloppy spots, so they’re always a mixed bag. I expect a bit more than say, the WWE, though, as this is a new fed with a less restricted move set and many young up-and-comers all trying to make a good impression. I am predicting this will lead to some fun spots that will elevate it above the somewhat messy nature of the match type. Otherwise, this will be thoughts-as-I-go with a little pausing for an idea or two.

And we’re off.

I like Excalibur from about go, never heard of him before this but he has a good voice for this and seems to know what he’s talking about. Alex Marvez looks and talks like the audience is the principal and he’s explaining why the school dress code doesn’t apply to him. I’m giving them some leeway, though, as things like commentary chemistry can’t be forced. Dryness or some quiet moments will be largely ignored, but anything worse is cause for concern.

TOO MANY RULES. Fucking hell, this feels like Wrestlers of Catan and all to fit the casino motif is absolutely not worth it. Why are there groups? Are these functioning as teams? I don’t feel like any of this will be meaningfully relevant to the way the match flows either so the whole thing is like taking 2 minutes to explain Uno to the audience before Avengers starts.

Starting with guys in the ring already is a bit of a bummer too, but one I’ll let slide. The roster is hardly set yet so having fully organised entrance themes/videos to bind them to is beyond fair expectation.

Okay, so the clubs are in the ring, oh and Excalibur is explaining that yes, the rules are needlessly complicated and this is a basic battle royal. Of the clubs there’s Sid Haig fresh of a Simpsons cameo, my Christopher Daniels CAW, my Akira Tozawa CAW, a guy with no legs, and MJF who looks like the anime main character in a crowd shot already. Michael Nakazawa gets a good reaction from the audience, but I’ve otherwise little to go on.

MJF reminds me of a rich lady’s corgi with that scarf and he is absolutely a guy who had a trollface pic as his avi on a message board somewhere.

Marvez is talking and I realize I haven’t understood a word of it. He’s the perfect white noise, I have achieved Buddha nature and returned only to finish this article and be a bodhisattva.

LOOKS LIKE IT’S TIME TO OIL UP! Excalibur helpfully telling me that the man using baby oil uses baby oil. Nakazawa and MJF both conduct themselves with a very strong sense of character so they’re standing out already. Actual Hakan reference from Excalibur so his stock is only getting higher.

The battle royal problem is already emerging. When there’s not a lot of guys in the ring, it’s everybody taking a nap while the spot happens. This puts a lot on the spot to be enough to distract me from this fact but starting with the funny stuff is a good plan as it gives the violence somewhere to go.

MJF looks like Colt Cabana fucked Matt Striker.

Nothing is happening for a long time and it’s boring. They need to be filling the ring at this point. Pacing means you can’t have these guys doing the fun shit yet, but that means I’m watching MJF and Simp Haig coordinate stomping. There’s neither character nor athleticism and there’s not much left of wrestling if you take those two away.

Hey more people.

Brian Pillman Jr with a mullet that makes him look like Ricky Morton Jr, a guy called Isiah Cassidy who is swiftly kicked over by Brian, and Jimmy Havoc. Havoc looks exactly like this emo guy I met in Melbourne who kept trying to talk me into a threesome with him and a girl that I was 100% sure didn’t exist. Oh, and Joey Janela, who looks like a last-minute Macho Man costume. Clustered entrances like this are novel, and at least they’re doing something with it, but this is still change for its own sake as opposed to whether it meaningfully benefits the format.

Hey, it’s Stan, or Sean Spears, another WWE refugee. He hits the ring and the wrestlers are allowed to start being interesting again. There is a very good argument to be made that AEW can’t just absorb every underused WWE guy, but it is nice to see the audience getting into Spears.

Man, they’re making up for it being empty earlier. Another minute and now another full pile-o-dudes heading down. Jungle Boy is the son of the recently deceased Luke Perry, which is odd for people of my age bracket because Luke Perry was the name synonymous with hot dudes for ages. His kid looks like a Tarzan twink in a gay escort catalogue. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as it’s nice to see genuine youth on a roster. It’s particularly helpful here as he’s countering the age of Billy Gunn and, of all people, fucking Glacier. As a huge Mortal Kombat fan, I was so into Glacier back in the day, so this is nice.

An orange guy who seems to care about Isiah emerges with them along with oh my fucking god what is that!

Acey looks like Kirby swallowed Samoa Joe. I hope he’s athletic fat and not just one of the barely-ambulatory physical oddities that promotions like to add to the roster. What a mighty Chungus! I bet he’s the athletic fat so I’m looking forward to him pulling out a moonsault or something.

Joey Janela sells a Jungle Boy headscissor take down like RVD sells a piledriver and things are picking up a little.

I know the rules are “over the top rope” but I still feel that letting anyone on the outside for too long clutters the match visual. Outside the ring is where the losers are, having to keep track of who went out but not the bad way is poor storytelling. The most we can get out of it is the “guy sneaks back in” bit which is the kind of shitty cliché AEW said they were avoiding.

Nak is out and GLACIER HAS ICE MIST! It should have been blue or something, right now it looks like he’s just HHH spitting in people’s faces. AEW’s reality level is veering more toward the mixed variety, with New Japan as the sport and Lucha Underground as the comic book as poles. I like this blend, and it can be managed perfectly well as Undertaker demonstrates.

Okay. In the space of 3 seconds we have: a plot relevant event of Glacier being tossed and a confrontation between MJF and Billy Gunn; and a novelty spot of Janela having a lit cigarette stapled to his head. The camera doesn’t catch that second one which is staggeringly bad production. If someone stapled something to my head to get attention, I’d want people to see it. Also, it should have been something else. Janela lighting a cigarette in the middle of a battle royal is dumb unless nicotine is his spinach. They’re still looking at Billy Gunn’s foreskin-y head when I hear the staple gun go off again and a woman scream.

Here come the spade – HOLY SHIT THE ORANGE BLACK GUYS DID A LEAPING TOP ROPE HURRICANRANA TO CUTTER! Again, this happens in the bottom right corner. This is a good example of fault within structure and not fault inherent to structure. Napping wrestlers while stuff happens is effectively inevitable. Not being organised enough to have your cameras on major spots isn’t.

I’m a fan of Luchasaurus from his Lucha Underground days so it’s nice to see him. I—okay someone’s angry aunty is barrelling down the ramp like they’ve just seen someone in the ring attempt to vaccinate a child.

Apparently that’s Marko Stunt and he’s 5’2. Sonny Kiss looks like the kind of guy who makes being gay their whole character while simultaneously railing against having characters defined by their sexuality. Like if Russel T Davies wrote a Bayard Rustin biopic. And everyone’s favourite brain damaged uncle, Tommy Dreamer. Neat-o.

Stunt is a fascinating height and weight combo. Like, clearly not a midget, but doesn’t look like an adult at all. It’s legitimately like watching someone bash a child from the outer suburbs.

Acey had been standing still for so long he blended into the horizon, but the suicide dive was nice. Luchasaurus rolls into the ring and literally lays there. This doesn’t stand out enough to look like anything deliberate, as though he were playing possum or something, it just looks like he edits a later spot into a part where it makes no sense.

Tommy Dreamer lobbing bin parts into the ring and hitting Luchasaurus is fun, gives a sense of genuine chaos as opposed to a bunch of separate theatre sports groups trying not to bump into each other. Now everyone lines up for their concussion syndrome.

As someone who loathes Vince McMahon’s bodybuilder fetish, it’s good to see a lot of smaller guys running around AEW. That said, Luchasaurus is a good and necessary counterpoint. No behemoths can be as dull as only behemoths, and some of my favourite matches are between different sizes. Case in point, the double choke slam on Private Party, watching a big guy try to do that to two also big guys is always sloppy.

Adam Page looks like if Tumblr drew Stone Cold. I know very little of him, aside from some NJPW work, and nothing has really stood out. Knowing that AEW intends to make him something big ups the expectation. His run to the ring and immediate dominance are a good opportunity to explore the difference between a story demonstrating something using its tools and storytellers relying on external tropes.

The two main tools wrestling has are the wrestlers and the commentators, what one does the other can elaborate on. Page comes down and starts beating people left-right-and-centre, why? He is not visually different, he’s not huge or anything that would otherwise set him apart and explain this, even Dreamer had his bin lid. Page even has a limiting factor, an injury, so we need to know why he can do so well.

Is it because he is the last guy out? Makes perfect sense, but the commentary doesn’t mention this to confirm it as part of the narrative, so we’re left with a guy doing the Top Tier battle royal clean-out just because. The audience never sees a reason why Page is this big deal, and the commentary never supplements our ignorance. He doesn’t even have the external record, like Moxley, to lean on. AEW hasn’t told us why Page is the new IT guy, there just has to be one and we know he’s been picked. This is narrative structure, trope, doing work that storytelling tools should be doing.

Conversely, Moxley and Juice Robinson have an upcoming match in NJPW and the first thing that fed did was address the fact that the pair fought when their new big guy, Juice, was an NXT jobber. Juice addressed this himself, via NJPW’s more sport like interview narrative tool, and stressed that prior jobbings were irrelevant, as he has trained very hard and changed a lot since then. This is using established narrative elements to explain why someone who was a jobber in one fed is a high tier guy in another, and why an upcoming match will be more competitive than prior ones.

This Page thing stands out a little more as he’s a friend of the people who run everything, and so far, that’s my biggest alarm going into AEW. Anything even veering in the direction of All Elite Wrestling being All About the Elite Wrestling is a concern.

Jungle Boy is trying to choke Chungus and it reminds me of the time I RNCd a huge Samoan neighbour.

Marko Stunt’s whole career is going to be getting thrown very long distances and I hope he makes tonnes of money doing it.

There’s gotta be a no-armed wrestler we can tape the no leg guy to. Dustin Thomas does a 619 and a neat slingshot 450, but the fact remains that there’s no viable way to have him be more than a novelty act.

Another storytelling thing, how does Brandon Cutler have the wherewithal to reverse Gunn AFTER he’s eaten a finisher? No-sells are okay in the tiniest of doses and for very specific narrative reasons. Cutler’s just some guy and he’s fine so I suppose the Assman’s ass ain’t what it used to be.

Per the Page point, Sleepy the Zen Commentator emphasises that MJF is doing well because he is a crafty opportunist. This fits with his dickbag persona and so now we have a meshing of personality and combat tactics which leaves us with a well-rounded wrestling character. I know what sort of things to expect from MJF, how he may structure situations and matches, or which ones may benefit him. These are proper storytelling tools.

Janela goes through a table in the best way possible. It looks like it was head first but I think he’s okay so it’s fine. While I’m on them, these tables are great. Wrestling tables run the gamut from Lucha Underground’s gimmicked and delicate ones to any rando indy fed using a veteran hall’s slab of oak that doubles as a bomb shelter. These are a great mix, solid looking but they break well.

Sonny Kiss gets Dreamer in a move I can only describe as the “Ha Ha, You’re Gay”, so I may have been wrong about some aspect of my earlier impression of him.

WRESTLING CANON ADDITION! Gay guy butts are the butt equivalent of Samoan guy heads. If you are hit by one, you lose, and even a straight butt user like Taguchi loses if his butt connects with gay butt.

I don’t know what an Orange Cassidy is or why he’s even in this match, but he amused me. Commentary explained him and his character better than they did Page.

Havoc bites fingers like the Melbourne emo tried to suck mine and we’re down to the meaty end of the royal, the characters who matter. See, this is how a battle royal can be used to create that upper tier, I now see these 4 guys –MJF, Luchasaurus, Havoc, and Page—as being the logical better guys by virtue of having fought their way to the most attention. Page still hasn’t leapt out though, as MJF has been in this thing from the start while he’s been napping for most of the 5 minutes he’s been in the ring.

Havoc busting out a shoryuken is neat. Luchasaurus’s low bridge was slow and lame.

Page’s buckshot lariat is a great move and something that would work better without a supposed knee injury. I want to emphasise, I have no issue with Page or his push. This is about me watching AEW and trying to learn about what it is and who is in it via what is presented. Page won with an injured leg, so I suppose he is pretty tough and has a lot of willpower. But he was the last entrant so he kind of had it easy. I know more about the character and wrestling styles of the not-quite-midgets, Twinkzans, gays, and various hardcore legends than I do the guy who won the thing.

Overall, the battle royal lived up to expectations. The modified rules are pointless and should be jettisoned. Change is only worthwhile if it adds anything and entrance interference is the sum gain from a needlessly complicated rule change so it’s not worth it. The match itself was the standard mix of fun spots and naptimes, but the overall plot arc of making Page the next title challenger was stunted by very poor characterisation.

Up next, Sammy Guevara and Kip Sabin. I have no idea who these two are so I’m looking forward to it. But that’s a tomorrow story.

By Gabe.

When it’s you

When it’s you

Professional Book Slammers

The point of interaction between created work and end user is a dynamic one. There’re a lot of reasons for making art and one of the most common is to create some kind of effect in the audience (there are exceptions but they’re not relevant here). So, this dynamic point is where someone or a group of someones’ intentions interact with another human. Dara Ó Briain has famously stated that this point of interaction is so pronounced in video games that they are the only medium to kick you out for not doing it right. A book doesn’t slam itself shut if you aren’t picking up on the themes. This is somewhat inaccurate, as the book will shut if you’re not getting it, it’s just the agent in this case is you. Videogames take what all other art does and makes it official.

In this, there is a lesson that there are rights and wrongs with art, and that sometimes the wrong party is you. Games make this clear and yet it is still such a difficult thing to get people to realize that sometimes the fault isn’t external. The blame for this process being harder than it should be lies with the types who lord their knowledge over others, or craft a thin personality from the illusory prestige that comes with swaddling oneself with socially constructed high art. But a third party making a point look bad isn’t the same thing as a point not existing. Sometimes it’s you. But to make this easier on you, the rest of this will be about how I’m the idiot.

We, Aaron and I, well, he, played Sekiro recently for some dumb YouTube channel and at the point when that video was recorded, I’d only played a little bit of the game. In this time, I had formed several thoughts about the nature of it, its pros and cons, and expressed a few of them over the course of the video. Being already aware of this as a problem already, I’d prefaced these with the disclaimer that my experience with the game was short, and my feelings did change over the course of the video (particularly in regards to the environment bounding). But by the time of this writing, I have played a lot of Sekiro and, over that time, learned just how much of the problem was mine.

It’s important to reflect on things like this because failing to runs you the risk of missing out on fun things as a consumer, saying dumb things as an internet talker, and/or not growing as a human. And god help you if you call yourself a fucking critic.

Cratin’ for Granted

Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you’d be a good teacher of it. Much like how you don’t have to actively think about walking or getting a fork into your mouth, the things we practise a lot become automatic and we lose sight of them as they become parts of larger patterns. Remaining aware of these pieces is a key skill for educators. This is why watching my lady-friend, who only ever plays games like Factorio, play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey has been a great refresher course.

There’s a point in Odyssey where your genetic VR avatar has to get a beam of light to point at something. Even if you’ve not played the game, this is probably already creating a picture in your head. Twisting and shoving a mirror about, that sort of thing. You’ve probably already solved it without even seeing it, and you’d be right. So I was concerned when my lady-friend was hopping all about the place and grumbling about how hard it was.

The kind of craftiness it would take to hide severe mental retardation from me would still require at least an average IQ, so I dismissed that as the problem. Then I sat there and watched. She jumped about, swung the camera over the obvious solution, didn’t see it, and jumped about some more. This repeated several times. Then I finally got it. The obvious “shove these things about” signals, like a bunch of rectangular and square boxes within a bounded shoving zone, were meaningless to her because she’d never seen them before. Show an illiterate tribe some words and it won’t even occur to them that they are a thing to be decoded let alone begin decoding them.

But this isn’t about her. This is about how long it took for me to figure it out.

Stand. Lion. Two Reeds. Stool. Twisted Flax. Folded Cloth.

The mistaken idea that hieroglyphs are ideograms, pictures representing ideas, is something that’s still fairly common today. It’s not an unfair thing to think, as few writing systems use characters that are so recognisable as representations of objects in the world, but they’re actually letters that represent sounds similar to modern alphabets (they can also be the things they represent as determinatives when combined with spelled words but that’s not relevant here). A researcher from the 5th century CE, Horapollo, is mostly responsible for this. He believed the writing system to be ideogrammatic and his treatise on it shaped its understanding until the Rosetta stone allowed proper translation in the early 1800s.

Prior to that, every attempt at understanding them began at an incorrect initial assumption which was only going to produce incorrect understandings.

I am very familiar with the languages videogames use to express themselves, but this does not mean I am immune to misunderstandings. Horapollo wasn’t malicious or even necessarily bad at what he was doing. He made a basically understandable mistake and that shaped his subsequent work. Illiteracy is not the only means of misreading, and this was my problem going into Sekiro. I was familiar with languages, even ones very close to the one I was currently reading, and this is typically something beneficial. Unless you’ve made an incorrect initial assumption.

Praise it.

The language of From Software games is distinct enough that, while perhaps not the originators of it, they are certainly now the most prominent speakers of it. It is something so profoundly identifiable and describable that one can almost know exactly what to expect when buying one, a fact reflected in their odd but dedicated fan base. It’s a language I love, but it was exactly that familiarity that brought me to fault in my understanding of Sekiro.

I am a Beef Unit. A cube of mass atop slow but sensible legs that can’t move out of the way of attacks but has since learned to absorb an awful lot of them. I tend toward this approach in my games as well, but this has been particularly prominent in my Dark Souls builds. I swaddle myself in thick armour, grab something large or long (the halberd was a favourite in DS1), and then wallop whatever is in front of me while showing little regard for nonsense like parrying or moving.

I beat all three of the Dark Souls series this way, without summoning, so while I’m not one of those lunatics who do a throwables only run using a disagreeable rat as a controller, I don’t consider myself bad at the series.

So in I dive to Sekiro. Like Horapollo, I am presented with things that very closely resemble things I am already familiar with, so I approach the game with tools I already have. Because Sekiro is so familiar in so many ways, I’m not actually listening to what it’s telling me, and what it is telling me is pretty bloody obvious when I went back over it.

Firstly, there’s no stamina bar. This should stand out. The absence of a whole meter should be fairly obvious, but I was still playing the game like I was a strong but otherwise out of shape goon in a metal shell. You don’t get to be too aggressive for too long when you’re gassed after 3 swings. Gabe, there is no fucking stamina bar in Sekiro. You don’t have to retreat to catch your breath, doing this just lets your enemies regain their balance, you are to press hard and parry when needed. The game is built around this aggression, you are not rewarded for the kind of fighting I’d used in Dark Souls and yet it took me ages to figure this out. By the time I did, I realised that formerly daunting bosses like Fatty Drunkospew were actually fairly simple.

Secondly, the parrying. This game doesn’t have dozens of possible forms of weapon and it doesn’t even have a shield, so the parrying is exactly one reaction point that is based around the point of impact. Couple this with the 60fps frame rate and, with a little practise, I was getting to understand the ways this, combined with the aggression, made for some excellent swordplay. One could poke and whittle an enemy’s life down but it was far more fun, though riskier, to learn parry patterns and push for the shinobi kill.

None of this was hidden behind a Byzantine series of NPC conversations. I didn’t have to look this up on a wiki. All of this was presented in plain English at the start of the game, but I was too front loaded with preconceptions to recognise it. I have seen many pictures of ducks, so when I saw another one, I failed to see any other possibility. And that is the important element here, the I. I failed to see something, the game didn’t fail to communicate it.

“I don’t know” is the first step toward wisdom

No games slam shut. You die, that’s it. The game is still there. It doesn’t uninstall itself and send your family your internet history on the way out. You just lose and don’t want to go back. Like the book, you are the agent of its ending, even if it is more explicit in telling you that you aren’t getting it. Sometimes you won’t want to go back because the game is a genuine piece of shit and there will be more of those than good games you mistakenly abandon.

But like with the hieroglyphs, this is teaching you an ultimately bad lesson. It turns you into a blind spot, the impossible option that makes every issue the fault of the art. To say every game is an unappreciated gem is obviously incorrect. To say you have never been wrong about one is as obvious. This goes for largely any work. I’ve returned to things I’d dismissed and immediately felt like an idiot for doing it. You gain nothing by defining yourself by terrible art you don’t engage in, so aggressively manning that wall will just cut you off from good things. I tend to be a little gentler in my approach today and that’s an approach I’d recommend as, after all, the problem could always be you.

By Gabriel