Sunday, 30 April 2017

My Overwatch Obsession (Sorry)

Though a proud member of the nerd community, I've never considered myself a gamer.

Like, I love video games. I always have. But not real video games. Growing up the only consoles I had were Nintendo, while around me my friends would discuss the merits of Call of Duty VS Halo. Next to those 'proper games', Mario Kart and Zelda don't count, do they?

I mean they probably do, but they're definitely different. When I was first exposed to First Person Shooter games, they disgusted me - especially COD. I couldn't understand how you could have fun pretending to shoot other human beings. I only got into Halo because you're killing aliens instead of people.

But then Blizzard made one. And it is everything I thought an FPS could never be.

It has a fertile backstory, but Halo has that.

It's co-operative, but then so is Left 4 Dead.

There are two things that make Overwatch stand out: its characters and its outlook.

Of course, there are other character-based FPS games. Team Fortress 2 has 9 different classes, many of which have Blizzard Counterparts - Demo-man VS Junkrat for example. But all playable characters in TF2 are male, while Overwatch offers 24 (and counting) heroes, almost half of whom are female. This scope and diversity in gender and race means there's something for everyone, even before play styles come into the equation. It also keeps the game interesting, as strategy can alter with a single change in one team's composition.

Outlook is harder to explain, but it boils down to this: most FPS games have quite a negative atmosphere - they're set in a time of war, terrorism or even apocalypse. In aesthetic and atmosphere, Overwatch has a much more positive vibe. It frames its characters as heroes who save the world from rebellious AI, or rebel against authoritarian governments (looking at you, LĂșcio). In short, we don't just want to play as these heroes, we want to be them. If you're interested, this video explains the the game's vision of the future in more detail.

I haven't been this into a video game since Pokemon Sapphire. I watch YouTube videos about it, I track my stats online, and I do my best to keep up with the lore. And I think that's the main thing that attracts me to Overwatch above all other First Person Shooters - the characters are great to play, but they also drive a rich story line and populate a vast, ever-growing world. I love me some world building, and when it comes to video games, Blizzard (creators of World of Warcraft) are the masters.

Sorry to nerd out on you like this, I just needed to get this one out of my system. Normal (and hopefully regular) service will resume in May. Thanks for your time.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Obligatory Quidditch Post

This weekend, I won my first ever sporting medal. It was gold. And it was for playing quidditch.

Before I get started:
  • No, of course we cannot fly.
  • But yes, we do have brooms between our legs.
  • And yes, we reduced the value of the snitch: it's only worth 30 points (3 goals).
Anyway, this post isn't a guide to quidditch, there are plenty of those on the internet already. This is an appeal - if you can, I encourage you to give this game a try.

But I'm not a sporty person!
Fair enough. I have never considered myself a sporty person, and I still don't. Before quidditch, my primary form of exercise was walking with occasional cycling. I've always found team sports stressful, since I am not a competitive person, and people always seem to take sport (and the winning thereof) much to seriously. Quidditch players take the game seriously too, but no matter how competitive things get, we all have to remember that we're all running around with pipes between our legs. It sets enjoyment as a prerogative over winning, and for me that's perfect.

But Harry Potter sucks!
First of all, you are wrong. Like, objectively wrong. Second, it doesn't matter if you don't like Harry Potter. It's not just the points system or lack of flight that separates Quidditch from the world of the books and films. Many teams do have Potter-themed names, like the Norwich Nifflers and the Liverpuddly Cannons, but that is by no means the precedent - my own team is the Nottingham Nightmares, and our closest neighbours simply go by Derby Union Quidditch Club. So you don't have to be a nerd to play quidditch. But we might turn you into one.

But I don't go to university!
That's fine too. Though most quidditch teams (in Britain at least) are based in universities, and associated with Harry Potter Societies, this is not always the case. The Werewolves of London and Velociraptors are two examples of community/graduate teams, and most university teams would be more than happy to get in contact with anyone interested.

Quidditch may not yet be an established sport yet, but its increasing popularity puts it in a unique position - anyone who wants to, and is willing to put in the effort, can play quidditch at a competitive level. It's enormous fun, great exercise, and friendship-building. My quidditch team is practically a family, and most of us have only been there for a year.

So I heartily recommend this as an alternative (or supplement) to however you currently exercise. Come run around, make friends and learn the most enjoyable sport I have ever played.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

What's Wrong with Working Alone? - Thoughts on "La La Land" and "The Lego Batman Movie"

La La Land has split opinions across the board. Its red-carpet recognition reflects the general consensus that it is well made: a 'passionate but also exquisitely controlled' piece of cinema, as Variety put it. On the other hand, it has taken a lot of flack for a variety of reasons - some would have liked to see people of colour in the leading roles, especially since jazz and its roots have such a crucial role in the film's emotional impetus. But there is one complaint I have seen pop up quite often: that the protagonists of Damien Chazelle's latest effort are wholly selfish, chasing their own dreams with no concern for their audience or even each other.

This is true, at least to some extent. Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who, despite frequent collaborations, is at his most creative and inspired when playing alone. Mia (Emma Stone) attends many failed film auditions, eventually deciding to put on a one-woman play, not caring how many people turn up or whether they like it. As the film progresses, the couple realise that they cannot continue their careers and their relationship; something has to give, and so they go their separate ways.

Put this way, it doesn't sound hugely inspiring. But I enjoyed La La Land immensely, and on some level I think these critics might be missing the point. Enter The Lego Batman Movie.

Marketed principally for children, this film has a much more obvious thematic arc - Batman is used to working alone, achieving safety for Gotham and notoriety for his sole protection of the city. As the story unfolds, he is challenged to accept others into his professional life (new police commissioner Barbara Gordon) and his personal life (the orphan Dick Grayson, also known as Robin).

For an hour and a half we laugh as Bruce Wayne struggles with these new additions to his world, ultimately overcoming his unshakable independence and learning that working alone is not always the solution.

While La La Land and The Lego Batman Movie are very different films, they do have their similarities. for a start, each can be viewed as nothing more than an advert for a multi-million dollar industry, whether it be North American films or Scandinavian building bricks. One gets comic payoff from genre-crossing and pop culture references, and the other is made entirely out of Lego.

But they are linked thematically as well: they both focus on the people and experiences that shape and change us. No, Mia and Sebastian don't have their happily ever after, but their time together has an impact. At his lowest point, Sebastian joins a band making commercial music that he disagrees with, and only Mia has the sense to remind him of what he truly wants - his own jazz club. Their argument at the centre of the film is unfair from both sides, but at its heart is a desire for each to make sure the other is truly happy.

By the same token: While Mia's friends claim she can only find success by happening upon a Hollywood bigwig at a Los Angeles party, it is Sebastian who gives her the confidence to use her own life as inspiration, and build a career for herself. The climactic song "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" encapsulates these things, drawing on Mia's aunt's spontaneity for a toast to those unafraid to hold onto their dreams. Mia takes on the spirit of jazz - the confidence to improvise, live in the moment and do what comes naturally.

The idea of working alone is prominent in both of these films, but in my opinion it plays second fiddle to their most important message: be on the lookout for people and things that will challenge us, make us think differently, do things differently. As Aaron Sorkin wrote: "keep accepting more than one idea." In today's political and social environment, nothing is more important.