Quick Thoughts on Sympathetic Villains in Call of Duty

CoD sucks at writing terrorists. Duh.

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I’ve actually been playing some Call of Duty recently, specifically Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare since they were on sale. I gotta say, Advanced Warfare actually had some subtle themes in there about PMCs vs national armies and causes to rally behind, as well as the idea of the world being run as a business. And Advanced Warfare is seriously engaging as a piece of pop scifi. Both are still simplistic in the way that the villains are constructed, but there seems to be more of an effort in Advanced Warfare. Compare the two: Kevin Spacey’s Jonathan Irons tries to take over the world in order to stop all wars in a sort of Big Boss by way of Doctor Evil sort of way. He’s at least got sympathetic motifs, wanting to end war because war killed his son. Meanwhile Jon Snow’s… hmm Admiral Jon Snow (stupid in-game name) is a mustache twirler leading a bunch of amoral psychos to kill as many Earthers as possible because… freedom?

So the corporate executive was better written than the freedom fighter extremist. What a shock for a CoD game.

At first I thought this goes to show how palatable fictional politics become once removed from present values/conflicts, but it’s really because it really goes back to the idea of nations fighting nations, rather than freedom fighters/terrorists as in recent games like Black Ops and Ghosts. In those games complex morality is not only of paramount importance in terms of writing, but from a real world perspective it still seems impossible to actually write freedom fighters/terrorists as anyway sympathetic. Compare that to the 80s and 90s. James Bond and Rambo were teaming up with the Mudschaheddin. Star Trek had a former terrorist with Kira as their leading lady.

We can certainly argue over the timing of returning to a place in which terrorists, freedom fighters, and other assorted groups can be considered in any sympathetic light again. No one will likely see a Rambo 3-esque film starring the Kurdish militias circa 2017 anytime soon in Hollywood. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t at least portray your antagonists with some sort of depth past the usual American hypocrisy.

Frankly, in regards to what we consider to be our enemies, I think our media needs empathy more than anything these days. I specifically say empathy instead of sympathy. You can still identify with the concerns and reasons of grievance of a group without accepting them. With the War on Terror slowly but surely becoming a generational conflict, and racism and xenophobia on the rise partly because of that, we need empathy now more than ever. We need to understand the people we fight, both in reality as well as in fiction, if we ever want to move forward and end these conflicts.

Or CoD just sucks at writing non-corporate evil bad guys that are an obvious stand-in for their Activision overlords, I dunno.

 

 

The Orville: Star Trek Democratized

Introducing: The Star Trek Procedural

The Orville is a new show that has started this season on FOX. A science fiction show by Seth McFarlane, it is bascially a Star Trek show with the number plates filed off, originally advertised as a Galaxy Quest-esque homage. Turns out it’s actually the real deal.

I’m not really interested in the quality of the show. Some people have loved it, while most seem to not care. Being on FOX, it has already been moved to a different time slot and it’s likely we won’t be seeing the show return for a second season. But while we have the show here, at the same time as a new Star Trek show no less, gives us an odd situation.

While there have been science fiction shows running parallel to Star Trek in the past, the golden age of the late 90s and early 00s comes to mind, The Orville marks the occasion of the first show that takes Star Trek’s “space exploration vanilla” experience and doesn’t do much with it. While the likes of Babylon 5, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, and so forth, have all always been inspired by Trek, The Orville is simply another space exploration show with an exploration ship, a captain, and a crew all organized by some sort of vague UN-esque organization. And they got away with it. In this age of trigger-happy copyright lawyers they got away with it. And why wouldn’t they? After all, Star Trek doesn’t own the basic concept.  Continue reading “The Orville: Star Trek Democratized”

The Media Inferiority Complex

Okay, short rant. Movie adaptations are just the worst. Not because every adaptation is immediately bad, but because of the the drama around it.

Film has, as it currently stands, a standing as the primary entertainment medium in the world. It may have taken a few decades, but for the better part of a century now, cinema is considered the most prestigious medium to produce for, combining the legitimacy of the stage with the wide accessibility of television. Yet whenever an adaptation from a different medium looms at the horizon, there will be trouble.

You’ve been part of a fandom, you know how this goes. The endless years between announcement and release talking about every single snippet of information, and then, worst of all, the reviews. Comic adaptations, at least from my point of view, have gotten it the worst. Every single adaptation needs to be seen as the the ultimate version of something. If Afleck sucks at Batman, everything is ruined, if a certain story line is mistreated, it is ruined. Ruined forever even.

The focus on big budget movie or television adaptations for everything is, frankly, pathetic. A couple of months ago in a conversation with my friends Jessica and Peter (yay, citations) we came up with a good term for it in our usual rants about Marvel and DC: the media inferiority complex. Novels, web original television, comic books, video games, the medium the creators originally chose isn’t because they suck at film making it’s because that medium has unique properties needed to tell that story well, couldn’t be accomplished with a budget because of limitations, has too small a target audience, you name the reasons.  Continue reading “The Media Inferiority Complex”

Game of Thrones & the Illusion of Depth

Game of Thrones: a series of simple fantasy deconstruction/reconstruction ruined by too much flabbiness

We’ve all come across dozens of videos and articles since the season finale of Game of Thrones a while back and if they have one thing in common, like this video by “Just Write”, it is the disappointment in Game of Thrones no longer bucking fantasy tropes and is instead playing into it.

As a reader of the books, you know, the ones that always touted the books as superior, I have to say something here that might shock you: THAT’S A MISTAKE I HAVE MADE A LONG TIME AGO.

Once you start reading the Song of Ice and Fire series or watch the show, it is easy to quickly see a series of fantasy novels that does something different with the genre. This isn’t Lord of the Rings, you say, this is a show where good guys die and bad guys triumph. Except it isn’t.

If you go by the original outlines of the series, by the original plan, and also look at the period in which the first few books were released, we can quickly come to an understanding of what the series actually was all about. It took me a while to realize as well, but it wasn’t until I discussed the matter of the weekend with my friend Peter that it really dawned on me. To quote him freely:

Game of Thrones is a simple series with the moral that all of our petty bullshit doesn’t matter, in the end it’s all a conflict between the dead and the living.

He got it one-hundred percent there. Song of Ice and Fire, at it’s hard, is a “simple” trilogy of fantasy novels with a simple plot, that is elevated by clever plot twists (for the time?) and a brilliantly realized setting.

At it’s heart, Song of Ice and Fire is a reconstruction of Standard Medieval Fantasy. Yes, the good guys aren’t really all that shining and the bad guys are morally complex and have their own reasons, but in the end the good guys will still prevail. Also nobles were really into incest. Keep in mind that Game of Thrones is working off of George’s cliff notes. And while his conclusion might eventually be the better written one because of additional time and without budgetary restrictions, eventually it will conclude similarly. The ending will likely be another part that is a deconstruction/reconstruction of standard fantasy, giving a bittersweet “history repeats itself” ending or something similar, with at least one of the plot lines not satisfyingly wrapped up, because that’s another point about human nature.  Continue reading “Game of Thrones & the Illusion of Depth”

Cognizant – A Free Short Story

Again I haven’t written anything on here for a while.. Please accept a free short story as an apology that totally isn’t hyping for an upcoming book release.

Again I haven’t written anything on here for a while.. Please accept a free short story as an apology that totally isn’t hyping for an upcoming book release.

 

Cognizant


The transport capsules exited the planet’s atmosphere at the minimum required escape velocity. They were limping away. Beaten. Defeated. Humiliated.
Vree looked out the window of his capsule and took a deep breath as the thrust cut out as his capsule drifted away from Earth, its gravitational pull finally subsided. Although his body felt the welcome microgravity of space, his aching limbs getting some relief from the stress of the last few hours and days, mentally he was barely holding together. The Blongamun put all four of his arms towards his face, took a deep breath, then sighed quite loudly. He opened his eyes and moved his arms towards the instruments of the capsule’s distress system. The other passengers of the capsule were still out, still under shock. As he worked the necessary switches and buttons to get the solar array and the radio working, it occurred to him that he had to be the most lucid Blongamun among the twenty-odd people who managed to climb aboard before they had launched from the pad. And he was barely holding together as was, three of his massive arms shaking, his sharp-edged teeth shattering. Clattering? Something like that, it didn’t really matter. Not anymore. Not after the days and weeks that lay behind them.
“Vree, what are going to do?” It was a quiet voice that suddenly spoke up. Vree turned around and saw Daki from accounting uncomfortably scratching at his restraining harness. He held a big brown paper bag. The smell told him everything he needed to know. He looked pale beneath the bright orange fur. Poor guy.
“Relax, Daki, we got this. We were trained for this,” Vree responded, trying to sound as confident as possible. Truth be told, he wasn’t trained for it, neither was Daki. All the people who were, had remained behind for the last wave. If there ever was a last wave. Vree shuttered again as he tried to get the radio working.
“You think Captain Ula got away in time?” Daki had managed to open his restraining harness and found a way to store the brown bag. He floated next to Vree, who was grateful that he kept his voice down. The others aboard, all carrying wounds both physically and mentally, scars for life, didn’t need to hear the half of it.
“I don’t know,” Vree responded harsher than he needed, “last time I saw her was when she led the embassy’s Marine detachment against the mob.”
“She’s got to be okay then, right? She was at Trendo Ridge after all.”
“I know,” Vree pressed through his teeth. He chastised himself from being so harsh with Daki. The poor kid was an accountant straight out of school, he wasn’t ready for any of this. Then again, neither was he and he was just the janitor. “Look, the Captain’s resourceful, if she can’t get a shuttle out, she’ll lay low, gather any survivors around her, and make due until we can get help.”
“Can we get help?”
Daki’s question cut deep and Vree didn’t blame him for his pessimism. Here they were after all, a bunch of embassy staff, an accountant, and a janitor fleeing a hostile planet in a half-broken escape vehicle that had been shot at during launch. It was a wonder that it still flew.
Then, a light switched to green. Solar arrays extending, read the screen next to it and showed an outside view of the capsule. And just like that the panels extended in a way that Vree never thought could be in any way beautiful, but as the light of the upcoming sun reflected in the midnight blue panels, Vree could find hope for the first time in this very long month that lay behind them. Another panel lit up: main power on.
“Yes, Daki, yes, we can get help,” Vree said with a smile. He switched the radio on with another button. “What’s the frequency again?”
“I thought you knew?” Daki scratched his head. A crust of dried blood had formed and Vree quickly slapped his finger. Blood was easy to get out of floors and clothing under normal gravity but in space it was a bit trickier. He didn’t need his ten-hour course in space janitorial duties to understand that.
“I’m the assistant deputy janitor,” Vree replied annoyed. He looked down into the passenger hold. People were slowly coming to or out of their catatonic state. “Hey, what’s the emergency frequency?”
“104-Jerry,” a voice came from the hold.
“Thanks, Hoz.”
“Sure.”

It took an agonizingly slow three minutes for a Blongamun light cruiser to warp into high Earth orbit and tractor beam the escape transport into its cargo hold. Vree felt even more nautious than before now, the quick switch between microgravity and real honest to god simulated Blongamun Prime gravity, the first time he had felt this solid in years.
He was the first to stumble out of the hatch and immediately fell to the ground. It was the perfect metaphor for the shittiest day of his life. The loud alarm siren blaring in the background didn’t help.
“You okay, sir?” It was a medic that tried to help him immediately up.
“Yup, couldn’t be better, but thanks for asking. There’s people in there that need more help than I do.”
“No worries,” the medic replied, putting his arms around his waist and gently pulling him up. He handed him a bottle of water and waved around an eye light in his blurry vision. “We got you all, you’re save now.”
Vree almost wanted to believe the fleet medic when the cargo hold’s doors opened once again and an angry-looking officer marched in flanked by two marines. “The fuck is going on?” It was a voice that inspired dread. Which was all fine and good in most situations involving scary men with guns but not really today. “Who’s in charge?”
“I don’t think anyone is, Commander, that’s kinda the point” Vree stood up, his legs still wobbly. He wondered if he had been hit when the embassy was attacked or later during the escape to the launchpad.
The naval officer looked him up and down with disdain. “A janitor?”
“Assistant Deputy Janitor Vree, sir,” Vree stated, “I’m sorry, but we really need to send a rescue team down there, there’s still dozens of our people stuck.”
The officer frowned, then sighed. “Sorry about that, son, we’re a bit on edge right now.”
Vree kept a snarky comment applicable in this situation to himself. “It’s okay, sir, I… it hit us too.”
The commander beckoned a marine to come over and help steady Vree. Together they slowly limbed out of the cargo hold. “Tell me, son, what the hell happened down there on Earth?”

“I don’t know when it started,” Vree said, as the commander had brought him to the bridge and introduced him to the captain, a no-nonsense aristocrat that reminded him very much of Captain Ula as she was just as confident and scary looking. “Maybe a couple of days ago?”
The Captain, whose name tag read Inez, nodded, “That seems likely. We monitored the planet’s communications for a while now, but it seemed peaceful all things considered.”
“It was until a while ago. Most of the humans welcomed us just fine. I was there for over a year and I could walk the streets in peace,” Vree said and meant it, “then, I don’t know, in the last few weeks the mood changed.”
“Just like that?” Captain Inez exchanged glances with her first officer and he immediately gave orders to ready the ship for battle. Ironically, this meant that the still blaring alarm sirens went silent. Probably so that everyone could hear it when the captain ordered Earth to be shelled.
“Just like that,” Vree stated in as clear a tone as possible. “I don’t even think it’s the majority of humans that want us any harm. I think it’s a fringe element.”
The captain seemed more than a little perplexed and Vree couldn’t blame her. This entire day, this week, was quickly turning into his worst experience in life. She looked around and saw the different bridge officers trying to casually listen in. She stood up, straightened her uniform, then turned over command to the first officer. “Come with me, Mister Vree.”
The two of them quickly left the bridge and Vree had trouble keeping up with the captain as they walked into a briefing room adjacent to the bridge. Now alone, the captain walked over to a big holographic display of the planet below. The ship had now settled into a high orbit. High enough for Earth missiles not to reach them, if they could even hurt them at all, low enough to send out landing ships to search for the other Blongamun still missing.
Captain Inez motioned for Vree to take a seat at the big table as she kept her back to him, clearly pondering the situation. She sighed. “PDI?”
Vree straightened up, almost like a switch was flipped in him hearing those magical initials of the spy agency he belonged to. “Yes, ma’am. May I ask how you knew?”
“It’s an open secret that all janitors are secret agents,” Inez snarked. “So tell me what the hell went on down there. I need to know more before I can commit troops to a SAR mission.”
“Fair enough,” Vree said, glad not to play pretend anymore. “From what I can tell it’s not attacks carried out by the planetary governments.”
“That does actually surprise me,” Captain Inez stated, “making first contact with a race that isn’t even speaking with a unified voice was stupid. But then who did this?”
“Ving O’Malley.”
“Pardon?”
“He’s a media personality back on Earth, lives in the United States,” Vree said. He looked around for a water fountain or something but to no avail, so he simply walked up to the holographic display to look down on the planet that had betrayed all their trust.
“His name doesn’t appear in any of the briefings on this place I can remember. Enlighten me,” said the Captain.
Vree shrugged. “He wasn’t on our radar as we made contact three years ago. He had a small online presence that was mostly dedicated to political commentary. Harmless. Ever since we landed though, he got really big with Anti-Blongamun speech.”
“And he wasn’t silenced by the human governments?” The aristocrat in the captain was now speaking up.
“The humans are big on free speech,” he explained, “they’ll defend the right of any idiot to lie.”
“I’m starting to see where this is going and I’m not liking it,” Captain Inez mumbled.
Vree allowed himself the first smile in a while. “Well, it’s where things get complicated. Turns out the humans are actually really paranoid. They thought we’d come to secretly subjugate them.”
Now Captain Inez finally turned to him, unable to contain her dumbfoundedness anymore. “That’s stupid. If we wanted we could have dropped a single squad of soldiers on their planets or shelled them from orbit if we wanted to do that. They know we have full automation, right?”
“The thing with these people like O’Malley is that they just spout any old nonsense and are taken seriously by their fans. They could say that the sky is purple and the delusional people around the world who actually believe that would still defend that claim.”
“And how do we come into this?”
“From what I could gather from my undercover work, these scam artists like O’Malley were slowly losing influence over the last few years because people finally wised up on their tricks. And then…”
“And then we showed up and gave their conspiracy theories new fuel. Oh boy,” Captain Inez rubbed her temples.
“Apparently the cancer cure we traded them would lower their birthrates or something.”
“Does it?” Captain Inez eyed the undercover spy suspiciously.
“No,” Vree said harmfully, “Look, just because we used to do that doesn’t mean we didn’t clean up our act all those years ago. Anyway this O’Malley ended up inspiring a lot of the society’s malcontents to stand up against us and built an underground movement. Those are the people who attacked us this week. They’re better organized than we believed.”
Captain Inez nodded thoughtfully. “So we have a planet of angry idiots with access to nuclear weapons. Wonderful.” She sighed and opened up an intercom channel. “Launch SAR team, get our people off that planet. Prep for hyperspace jump.”

For the next hour, Vree and Captain Inez observed as the rescue operation was launched, executed, and finally successfully concluded. The military shuttles were back aboard within the hour. The results were meager, much to Vree’s dismay. Dozens of Blongamun had been saved, but the majority of embassy staff from around the planet had been killed, including the troops posted to defend them.
Disheartened by the news, Vree departed the ship’s command center. He had been assigned a quarter for the return journey home. For now he would slip back into the rule of Vree the deputy assistant janitor. He was just glad to be gone from this planet.
The room he was assigned, ended up being a shared space with none other than Daki from accounting. “You feeling okay?”
The accountant nodded. “They checked me out. I might need some therapy though.”
“Don’t we all. That planet,” he said and pointed towards the window in which the planet Earth was getting smaller, “needs therapy en masse.”
“Aren’t we going to, you know, nuke the planet?”
Vree gave Daki a perplexed look. “No. Why would we? We’re just going to leave. Jeez.”
The accountant looked somewhat ashamed. “I’ll be in the mess hall. You want to come?”
Vree looked out of the window again, pondering life for a moment. “Maybe later. I need a shower first.”
Daki nodded understandingly, then left. Vree was alone with his thoughts. His thoughts and a computer terminal to log in with his secret agent access codes.
“Record encrypted message to PDI headquarters,” he stated as he continued to watch Earth growing smaller. He imagined the people cheering for the departure of the horribly oppressive Blongamun.
“Special Agent Vree reporting from Assignment ‘Earth Plumbing’.”
He imagined art being made in order to celebrate victory over a more advanced species with plucky underdog themes and lots of pathos.
“Deputy Director Tir, I regret to inform you that planet Earth turned out to be a massive waste of time.”
He imagined the planet now unifying under the control of xenophobes and fear mongers, emboldened by the actions of the few as governments scrambled to establish communications with the Blongamun people over the hyperspace radio channels established years ago.
“It’s not really worth developing the planet or species further as a trading partner or ally.”
He imagined the fear mongers gaining more and more power as fear of new alien contacts, maybe retaliation or actual invasion, grew more and more as humans goaded each other on in their little echo chamber.
“Maybe we can use this to our advantage. Send the coordinated to the Pofjep… Pofjeppu… the crab monsters from sector 7. We still owe them one for that quagmire on Sirius. Could be fun to watch… Save message.” Continue reading “Cognizant – A Free Short Story”

DC: The Button, Doomsday Clock & Thoughts Going Forward

Over the course of the last two days I did something I hadn’t done in a long while there. I bought a relatively new DC comic book. Many of you know the new status quo at the moment. After the New 52 failed to attract new readers and only succeeded in pissing off the old ones, DC decided to do another relaunch. Under the umbrella name Rebirth they started rebooting the universe once again, bringing in a lot of old stuff, mostly in the usual DC manner that of course attracted the old fans back: fanwank up the ass. I’m not one to scold though. Worked on me.

I gave DC Universe Rebirth a read and that turned out to be pretty okay. As meta as it is, I think the idea of writing the meta element of DC’s history being changed and the backlash against some of the more, shall we say, unpopular elements, into it, was a decent move. DC has always very much been the more pulpy scifi universe of the “Big Two” and it seems like a fitting continuation. Similar to how The Flash and Green Lantern had their acclaimed Rebirths a decade ago and books like 52 garnered acclaim, DC is often very good at wollowing in fanservice and cute little in-jokes. That’s not to say a reboot couldn’t have worked, but as we all know by now, the New 52 wasn’t meant to be that. There were some excellent stories in there, but none that couldn’t have been told in the old universe without some tweaking.  Continue reading “DC: The Button, Doomsday Clock & Thoughts Going Forward”

Robert Hewitt Wolfe and the Secret of Game of Thrones

This might be a shocker, but I really like Game of Thrones these days again. There was a time there between the first two seasons and me devouring the books in the interim that I was losing more and more patience with the tv series. This came to ahead in seasons 4 and 5, which started a severe break from the narrative of the books, while at the same time retaining the drum solo that was the entire experience of A Dance with Dragons and A Feast for Crows. But something curious happened by the time season 6 came about. I started to like the show again.

For all the grandeur and quality of the book series, the ability to communicate grander and less mainstream ideas, combined with an infinite budget and more deliberate pacing, a book is in many ways a superior form of storytelling to a tv show constrained by budget, time, and sheer possibility and legality sometimes. Yet seasons 6 and 7 of Game of Thrones drew me in once more. Why is that?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe is a former staff writer for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and was the showrunner for Andromeda when it was a show with potential. In an interview he once gave, he put a succinct point into what makes television, as a medium, unique from more standalone fair. To quote the essence of his words: “In movies and books it doesn’t matter how unlikable for irredeemable your characters are. In television it’s not so simple, you need a reason to invite these characters into your home every week after all.” Continue reading “Robert Hewitt Wolfe and the Secret of Game of Thrones”