Archive for July, 2007

Typo Graphic

This week we saw inspired typography at play where we least expected it: blood, sky, speeches. Plus, a touch of Brooklyn eye candy for good measure.

Written in Blood – simply gorgeous motion work matches words and music with surprisingly lovely water-bound blood. Done for Konzerthaus Dortmund.

Urban Lettered – photos find a whole alphabet in the blue sky between buildings. Gotta love negative space.

Speaking of al Qaeda – Bush speech with everything but 9/11, Iraq, al Qaeda, and the like blacked out. Proximity alert?

City Type – cleverly used text as data in a new exhibit that compares size, speed, form, density and diversity among 10 major cities worldwide

Brooklyn Single Shot – wicked body language in this uncut on-crutches video for RJD2’s Work It Out. And don’t miss his different but equally arresting 1976 video from a few years back.

Blackface Goes HD? The Case of Resident Evil 5

OK, we all know zombies gotta die. And I loved Resident Evil 4. So why do these early images from the next installment of the Resident Evil franchise make me so queasy?

After all, in RE4, you spend the game shooting equally out-of-their-mind Spaniards. But, then, the Spanish haven’t been so egregiously misrepresented as blacks through the ages, have they? Not even close.

From Birth of a Nation to Black Hawk Down, black folk are apparently responsible for some of the most mindless and evil activities you got. Rape, murder, satanic voodoo. With bulging eyes, simian super strength, and a room temperature IQ, we’ve been portrayed as savages beyond redemption. So, when we see images like these, it doesn’t just resonate with the long lived zombie genre, it also triggers memories of so many awful stereotypes — and what those stereotypes have been used to justify past and present. Put down the crazed negroes before they take the white women! And so on…

But perhaps the most troubling part is that these scenes seem to be set in Africa; the “dark continent.” With all the positive steps being taken of late to raise awareness of the good things happening in Africa as well as the urgent need in some parts of the continent, we really can’t afford this kind of step back. We need to find ways to humanize Africans, not dehumanize them.

George Romero’s genre-defining 1968 film Night of the Living Dead is often read as a black empowerment tale. It’s ironic, then, that 40 years later, the preeminent zombie franchise appears poised to give us just the opposite. If LocoRoco’s Mojas were a kind of high tech blackface, Resident Evil 5 takes blackface into the HD era. It’s horror alright, just not the kind Capcom intended.

Find more history of black characters in games at The First 11 Black Videogame Stars. And the full trailer for RE5 at Gamersyde.

 Follow-up post Race in Games: Culture, Context, and Controversy

Thanks to those who have posted thoughtful responses. My main concern here is really for the perception of black countries. Over the years, many of them have been portrayed as uncivilized and recently a good deal has been done to change that thinking (particularly in Africa). But there’s still a lot more work to do.

I do understand the characters presented in the trailer are zombies. Still, I find the proximity of those zombies to old school long lived black stereotypes alarming. And that’s what my post is about.

So, perhaps the deeper question is: How are black countries and those who live in them portrayed in games now? How have they been portrayed in the popular media and movies? Is it on par with other peoples and places in the world? If so, maybe it is time for a game like this. If not, then how do we respond?

Note to commenters: I will delete your comment for name calling or generally being obnoxious. I will not delete your comment for disagreeing with me.

Colma: Slacker Awesome in Deadsville, USA

Ever heard of Colma? Population 1.5 million; only 1,191 alive. With stats like that, Colma is literally Deadsville, USA. And that’s the backdrop for… a musical? Indeed — one that I didn’t want to end. And I hate musicals.

Rich Wong’s Colma: The Musical sometimes feels like a student film. But that’s precisely what makes it awesome. Shot on a shoestring, it opens with a lo-fi number featuring cheesy keyboards and the not-so-steady cam. Minutes in, though, you can’t help but submit to its slacker charm. The characters (Billy, Rodel, Maribel) don’t feel so much written as playing themselves. There’s something about the understated charm of characters who fall so far outside Hollywood stereotype that they feel like someone you know. And their post high-school doldrums are immediately relatable. It might be a little angsty, but it also feels real.

It’s the kind of film that’ll set a musical number to the obnoxious pulsing of a car alarm (“car alarm karaoke”) and in the next instant features some truly thoughtful discussion of what it means to have graduated high school fully expecting the rest of your life to be spelled out only to discover you are more lost than ever, in a dead-end suburb — able to see the skyscrapers of San Francisco, but feeling so far away from anywhere. It’s at once cynical and giddy. And poetic when you least expect it.

While most of the songs will stick in your head for weeks (H.P. Mendoza rocks!), a couple fall flat. And not every subplot quite flies, either. But it’s just that imperfection that makes Colma work. The filmmakers seem, in some ways, to be in the same quandary as the characters: showing flashes of brilliance, falling down, finding their way back, singing their lungs out. And their songs hit home more than most because they clearly come from someplace genuine. How many movie musicals can say that?

Colma comes out of nowhere and will have you smiling for weeks. It’s clear that Mendoza and Wong are at just the beginning of very promising careers. L.A. Renigen (Maribel) is quite a find as well. As much as the movie is about leaving Colma, I didn’t want to.

[Watch the Trailer] For more, visit Colma: The Musical and Colma, CA

How China Works: Life in 24/7 Factories

Where do all the hot new electronic gadgets really come from? Who builds them? What is it like to work in China’s new engine: the 24/7 factory? Last week, we wished aloud for more in-depth stories about the people in the trenches driving China’s new revolution. Since then, some fabulous links have turned up. Here are a few…

Shenzhen Seen – richly colorful photos show us the face, pain, and beauty of life in and around Shenzhen’s factory towns

Life of a Gold Farmer – video from the front lines of low wage work in the world’s top online games

21st Century Carrier Pigeon – following a day’s work for “Mr. Wang” as he plays a fascinating role in global supply chain

Blogging Factory – the skill, the food, the environment, the scale — Andy Huang’s blog gets up close and personal with video, photos, and discussion straight from the assembly line

China Blue – important, touching, haunting documentary gets behind the propaganda and into “camera free zones” to show us how things run when the inspectors go home (show website)

Best reaction: “Wow – that is intense. I am sitting here looking at everything digital in my room, and realizing the most of it probably came from factories like these.” Couldn’t say it better.

image by bob croslin; with thanks to mefi

China’s Booming, But Where Are The People?

The one thing I’ll always remember about China is beauty — in the clothing, the architecture, but most of all the people. There seemed to be a story in every face I saw, but the cultural gap (not to mention language) was too wide to traverse. So I’ve used films to see what life is like for a local. Still, that leaves a lot of mysteries unexplained. I want more.

These days, many seem fascinated with what makes China tick, and The Atlantic has been one of the best at feeding that curiosity. (Most recently with their China Issue.) It’s engaging stuff, but it deals largely with big operators (Liam “Mr. China” Casey, Zhang Yue), big factories, and big business. And we’re left wondering about the “regular people” who make those booming operations what they are — the kinds of people I saw on in the backstreets of Beijing and Shanghai, and in countryside villages. Here, we often find them discussed only in aggregate. Like so:

At 8 a.m. in Shenzhen, the young women on the night shift got up from the assembly line, took off the hats and hairnets they had been wearing, and shook out their dark hair. They passed through the metal detector at the door to their workroom (they pass through it going in and coming out) and walked downstairs to the racks where they had left their bikes. They wore red company jackets, as part of their working uniform—and, as an informal uniform, virtually every one wore tight, low-rise blue jeans with embroidery or sequins on the seams. Most of them rode their bikes back to the dormitory; others walked, or walked their bikes, chatting with each other. That evening they would be back at work. Meanwhile, flocks of red-topped, blue-bottomed young women on the day shift filled the road, riding their bikes in.   (full article)

And that’s invariably where the story ends. I wish more writers would pick one of the faces in the crowd and go home with them. See how they live. Meet their families, their roommates. See what they eat, how they think. And then find another worker in a different factory and do the same thing. Or a waitress, or a rickshaw driver, or a welder, or a young artist.

I don’t mean to be overly critical. There’s a huge amount of ground to cover in China and the high-level stories are as good a place to start as any. But I do hope that, before authors like James Fallows leave China, we get just as close with the blood and guts workers (who travel hundreds of miles to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week) as we have with the ultra wealthy captains of industry who employ them. It might be a little grim at times but, to my mind, that’s the only way we can truly begin to see China’s heart, and its soul.

image by cao fei

Freaky Clever Art

This week found us inspired by a little strange and a lot of clever…

Terrorsel – Carousel gone haywire and many more strangely beautiful prints from Joy Ang. Don’t miss her Cubic Chinese Zodiac. (via Fabulist)

Life on the Moon – Gorgeously animated fairy tale of a music video by Yannick. “A father speaks to his son. He explains how was his life on the moon. […] A place for imagination, a place in which you’ll find the entrance only if you open your mind.” (via Drawn)

Girls Girls Girls – Thoughtful activist ad shines neon spotlights on human trafficking (more: one, two)

Creepy Candy – Subtle Twilight Zone freakiness makes this Halloween Snickers ad a new classic

Human Tetris – It’s not quite Sasuke, but Japanese body puzzle game shows are a special kind of genius

Train Takes Flight – Long exposure subway shot from Joe gives us beautiful angular light, and a serious sense of speed

Mushroom Clown: Nuclear Destruction and Fun

See the clown face in that mushroom cloud? Ironic, no? Mixing childhood smiles and nuclear detonation to hock Playstaton 3. We’re supposed to read it as “atomic fun” but I can’t help but see it as a perverse commentary: laughter at death. Sexy bombs, slick fun, sick stomach.

Many who encounter “Mushroom Clown,” though, seem to focus on the (admittedly impressive) art direction rather than the twisted irony of its message (see discussion at aotw). And I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, “weapons of mass destruction” is part of our daily vocabulary now — more a slogan than anything real. What those weapons do to people seems an afterthought.

As a lover of unusual games, I very much want to see the industry push the envelope in every way imaginable. And sometimes that means offending folks. But Sony could have done better. Games like DEFCON and Balance of Power, for example, let us use nukes without ever letting us forget the damage they do. The specter of nuclear winter hangs over both in very different but equally potent ways. That’s important stuff.

It’s easy to trivialize nuclear war. It’s art to make it matter. Sony should learn from its mistakes.

Who Won E3? Think Small…

You know the good E3 presentations by the number of times you reach in vain for the rewind button. And, going in this year, it was hard to tell who would have us wishing for it most. Each of the big three seemed like they could have a trick or two up their sleeve. But, given recent history, we were most excited to see what Nintendo might reveal. Ooops!

Sadly, Nintendo’s big bang involved spending a good 15 minutes of Miyamoto prime time on Wii Fit, a balance board peripheral and exercise game that don’t seem to make fitness very fun. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the game isn’t even coming to the US this year (and it’s going to be expensive when it does). I might have wanted to rewind a little for Phantom Hourglass, but I desperately wanted to fast forward Miyamoto. And that’s sad. A fanboy friend sleeping off a cold put it this way:

I awoke from my nap . . . from a sweaty, feverish sleep and thought “oh, maybe the Nintendo press conference didn’t really happen!” But then I saddened as I remembered every last horrible detail about it.

Then there was Microsoft. After the hype of the mystery Xbox 360 SKU dissolved into a uninspired green case, Microsoft’s biggest surprise seemed to be Mass Effect FMV. More epic, more aliens, more testosterone from Microsoft? Who would have guessed? Even Peter Moore rocking out with Harmonix couldn’t get the rewind masher going. And I love those folks. Zero rewinds (but no fast forwards, either). Just what we expected and no more.

The really big surprise, then, was that Sony came out swinging with… downloads? That Home business might still wreak of Second Life ghost town, but their downloadable games are starting to rock. Most notably Echochrome, a lo-fi puzzler by way of MC Escher. You’re charged with getting a stick man from one end of a warped cubic landscape to another, the twist being that one can overcome obstacles (a pit, say) by rotating the camera to the point where that obstacle is occluded, essentially changing the nature of the illusion.

Echochrome, followed by Wipeout HD and Pain, made me ever so slightly less nauseated by Phil Harrison. And that’s saying something. Put those alongside Little Big Planet and I may end up buying a PS3 after all. Three rewinds, one fast forward (Chewbacca?!), and the best showing of E3.

Who would have guessed after all its recent cluelessness and consistent spec screaming that Sony would win E3 on a few small games with big ideas? But that’s just what happened.

Update: Parish says Wii Fit is actually good stuff in spite of Nintendo’s awful presentation. Let’s hope so. Better a botched press conference than a botched product.

images grabbed from joystiq, ign, and gamescore

Vision and Innervision

We’re forever fascinated by the the interplay of inspiration in the world and inspiration from within. This week’s links have a mix of both.

What Does the Color Green Look Like? – Powerful short film celebrates the majesty of vision and reflects on the hardship of blindness, all in the same instant — during the Indian festival of colors. More on vision in the developing world at Game Changing Technology. (via Houtlust)

Life in Floods – Surreal rickshaw scene brought on by unusually heavy downpours before monsoon season in Calcutta. And Time captured an equally amazing shot as life goes on in a flooded Mumbai home.

Rethinking Landscapes – Formal and informal urban design play off each other in this fantastic Mexico City motion graphics video.

Home Inversion – House turned inside out in Houston a few months before demolition. Best comment yet: “I think the owner divided by zero.” (via Design Verb)

Ratatouille Synaesthetic – Who knew rats had synaesthesia? Taste goes visual in Pixar’s newest baby and animator Michael Gagné is kind enough to explain (and show!) how he did it. (via Drawn)

Gummy Bear Genocide

What does it mean when genocide becomes a punch line? Lately, we’ve had a bunch of opportunities to find out. Example 1: Monday’s Attack of the Show starts off funny enough, as an unsuspecting gummy bear is dumped into potassium chloride and an impressive chemical reaction follows. Jokes all around. “We can hear your screams.” And, honestly, the gurgling in the video doesn’t sound too far from it. Giggles.

Then it gets interesting. Host Kevin Pereira goes on about powering cars with the chemical reaction: “Screw the Prius, why can’t I run my car on that?” [more banter] “Running your car on gummy bears would be just like, well, genocide.” Uhm. Still funny, or did we just get a little sick?

Want more? Have a look at the review of Lost Planet in February’s Wired:

In the opening scenes of the gorgeous sci-fi actioner, a green-eyed alien or some such has killed your father and you’re ticked off about it. Vent your wrath by going genocidal on an army of insectoids straight out of Starship Troopers.

Then there’s the Zombie Genocider achievement in Dead Rising. Edge picked up on that, calling Dead Rising its “favorite zombie genocider.” And so on.

I know it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Hell, maybe it’s a coping strategy. Still, I can’t seem to find the word genocide amusing in any context. And I find it particularly sickening considering there’s a genocide going on this instant. Not to mention all those in recent memory: Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo.

Let’s be clear: these are largely good folks. (Any channel that shows Ninja Warrior can’t be all bad, for instance.) Being a tech person myself, I typically find the folks in my field more thoughtful than most. Still, when I hear talk like this, it really makes me wonder if we are quite as in touch with the difficult things that are happening in the world as we should be.

And, to some degree, we should be thankful for that. Most of us don’t have contact with genocide beyond the headlines. But imagine how those who aren’t so lucky might feel on hearing it used as a punchline. Every once in a while, we need a reminder.

So, that’s how I spent my Fourth of July. Giving thanks that we are to live in a country where large scale horror doesn’t visit us daily. And remembering that we need to do more to change things for those who don’t share our fortune.

image grabbed from wikipedia

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