453. Fans, Geeks, and Cosplay: A Momentary Study

Geeks are fascinating creatures. In a perfect world, someone would make a nature documentary about them, and it would be narrated by Morgan Freeman. Tragically, since I don’t own a video camera and can’t afford to employ Mr. Freeman, I’ll have to keep writing blog posts about geeks instead of producing that well-deserved documentary.

Yes, it’s time for another brief exploration of geek culture. Today’s subject is cosplay, the hobby (or art, depending on your point of view) of dressing up like characters from movies, comics, video games, or other media. It’s sort of like wearing Halloween costumes, but really… hardcore.

Lord of the Rings cosplay

Here’s some Lord of the Rings cosplay.

The word cosplay is a portmanteau of costume and play; it denotes not only the hobby, but also specific examples of it.

Dedicated cosplayers often create their own cosplays. This sounds easy, but flipping heck, some cosplays are complicated. Depending on the complexity of the costume, a cosplayer may need the expertise of a tailor, makeup artist, leatherworker, blacksmith, or even computer modeler (for 3D printing).

Cosplayers show off their creations by attending geeky events (such as conventions) in costume, or by holding photo shoots and sharing the photos via blogs or social networks. Some fans are so good at cosplay that they do it professionally. In order to promote their brands or products, companies may hire professional cosplayers to mingle or manage booths at conventions, trade shows, or other events. Some cosplayers don’t merely dress as characters, but act and speak like them in improvised performances.

While some cosplay strives for perfect authenticity to its source material, other styles may feature creative twists on familiar characters, or gender swaps.

Darth Batman and Lady Link

On the left is a gender-swapped Link from The Legend of Zelda. On the right is… wait, is that Darth Batman? That is AWESOME!

What separates cosplay from other forms of dressing up? Costumes feature in some holidays and cultural events, but their purpose is nearly always rooted in tradition, religion, or symbolism. Cosplay, by contrast, is an expression of enthusiasm for a particular work or character. (Halloween costumes can be a bit cosplay-ish.)

Aided by the spread of the Internet, cosplay has gained prominence in just the past few decades; the term itself originated in the eighties. However, dressing up as fictional characters has a long and rich history. For example, just off the top of my head, I recall a scene in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in which a couple of its characters dress up as literary figures for a fancy dress ball. Cosplay has evolved as a hobby in recent times, but its roots are firmly planted in centuries of human history.

Like many geeky hobbies, cosplay sometimes carries social stigmas. Cosplay may be considered childish, creepy, or inappropriate.

I’m not a cosplayer, but I usually disagree with these stereotypes. Cosplay is a creative hobby. It often requires superb dedication and all kinds of specialized skills. Like dressing up for Halloween, it’s fun for a lot of people. It can be inappropriate, certainly—but generally as a reflection of inappropriate media or characters. If a cosplay is in poor taste, it’s probably because the media it represents was in poor taste first.

Sadly, not all of the stigmas against cosplay come from outside its community. Fans and geeks can be as cruel as anybody. Over the years, some cosplayers have been criticized or insulted for having the wrong body type, skin color, or physical features for cosplaying certain characters. That’s dumb.

Perfectly fine cosplay

Black Captain America? Plus-size Batman? Cool. I see no problem here.

Do you see that black guy cosplaying Captain America, a traditionally white character? He’s a cosplayer. He’s not actually Captain America. It’s okay. Everyone can stop freaking out. The chubby fellow cosplaying Batman? He isn’t Batman. He lacks Batman’s muscular physique, and he’s smiling happily, which isn’t terribly Batman-like. Does it matter? He’s having a good time. So is the black gentleman in the Captain America suit, and the lady rocking Link’s iconic green tunic, and whatever mad genius created Darth Batman.

Cosplay isn’t about rules. It’s about fun, acceptance, and coming together as geeks to wear goofy costumes. Anybody should be able to cosplay as whatever the heck they want. After all, isn’t that the point of cosplay? Isn’t cosplay a chance to be an actor without a stage, becoming a completely different person, if only for a little while?

I don’t cosplay, but I understand why so many people have embraced it as a hobby. I respect them. I wish more people did. In fact, generally speaking, I wish more people respected geeks instead of assuming the worst of them. Heck, while I’m at it, I wish more people respected other people. That would be a great start.

I’m not planning ever to cosplay… but if I did, I bet I’d make a pretty good Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon, or even a tolerable Tenth Doctor. Just a thought.

452. Prayer Requests?

It occurred to me lately that I’ve never invited my readers to submit prayer requests so that I could, y’know, pray for ’em specifically.

Today seems like a good day to make that right. How, dear reader, can I pray for you? There’s no catch, I won’t charge a cent, and there’s no fine print. I promise to pray for readers who submit requests, and to keep requests private. (I’ll also try to keep my use of the word just to a minimum; that’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing banished.)

I believe prayer can be powerful and effective, like a water-type move against a fire-type Pokémon. Okay, I admit that analogy is a bit far-fetched… or, dare I say, a bit Farfetch’d. (Wow, that pun was esoteric and lame. I’m so, so sorry.)

Adam used Pray

Life should be more like Pokémon… or maybe it shouldn’t. I dunno.

If I can pray for you in any way, leave a comment or tweet at me—or, if you want to keep your request private, send me a Facebook message or use TMTF’s Contact page.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get the Pokémon anime theme out of my head. Pray for me, guys.

446. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I had planned to share this beautiful cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” at some point, but quixotically decided to record my own cover of the hymn instead. You see, kids, this is why we don’t let Adam near microphones.

My wobbly vocals are propped up by a dynamic piano arrangement from Silas Rosenskjold, who made it freely available on his YouTube channel. The photo in the video, snapped by my dad quite a number of years ago, shows the Basílica del Voto Nacional: a cathedral in Quito renowned for its architecture and hideous gargoyles.

I discovered this lovely hymn in a violent video game, of all places. BioShock Infinite, a first-person shooter, offers the most fascinating take on Christianity I’ve ever seen in a video game. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Around the time I shared of how I almost left my faith last year, I found myself often listening to this hymn. Some of its questions seem to be aimed squarely at wavering skeptics like me.

There are loved ones in the glory whose dear forms you often miss; when you close your earthly story, will you join them in their bliss?

You remember songs of heaven, which you sang with childish voice; do you love the hymns they taught you, or are songs of earth your choice?

One by one their seats were emptied, one by one they went away; now the family is parted—will it be complete one day?

One question, the question, stands above the rest: Will the circle be unbroken? Will that legacy of faith, cherished by your loved ones, upheld by generations past, live on in you—or will you break the circle? Will you be the one to shatter this legacy of religious faith?

I know people who’ve broken the circle. I know people who’ve kept it whole. For my part, the circle remains unbroken.

As I work with the elderly, I face regular reminders of the transience and frailty of human life. As James Thurber flatly expressed it, “Even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of the sea-puss gets us all in the end.”

While the skeptical part of me can’t help but question the notion of an afterlife, I rejoice that death is a temporary separation, not a permanent one. I can hardly bear the thought of losing loved ones forever.

When my family is parted, it will yet be reunited one day—thank God.

441. TMTF’s Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction

Do you know what this blog needs? Hot guys. This blog needs more hot guys.

What? You think hot guys are an inappropriate subject for this blog? Oh, I disagree. I won’t discriminate against anyone for being totally smoking hot. I think this post is long overdue.

It’s a burning question: Who are the hottest guys in fiction? There are a lot of potential answers, so let’s warm up with a list of ten.

We’re turning up the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction!

10. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle)

Calcifer

This friendly fire demon is not only helpful and adorable, but also sounds exactly like Billy Crystal. (Wait, he’s actually voiced by Billy Crystal? Well.) Calcifer may not be the hottest guy on this list, but he’s certainly hot enough to fry eggs and bacon.

Cooking with Calcifer

That’s pretty hot, right?

9. Anger (Inside Out)

Anger (Inside Out)

This one is easy. I mean, the dude’s head is literally on fire.

Hot guy. No doubt about it. Great movie, too.

8. Mario (Super Mario Bros. series)

Fireball Mario

Mario isn’t always hot, but he occasionally throws fireballs. These whirling spheres of flame aren’t terribly large or threatening, except when they get out of hand. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) When Mario cuts loose with the fireballs, things heat up pretty quickly.

Mario's Final Smash

Bowser is another hot character from the Super Mario Bros. series, but I chose Mario because this list has quite enough scaly fire-breathing monsters. Speaking of which….

7. Charizard (Pokémon)

Charizard

Charizard is labeled a Fire-type Pokémon, and for good reason. His flaming tail is a life sign, like a pulse… but more likely to burn down buildings. Charizard also breathes fire.

Totally hot, man.

6. The Fury (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

The Fury

This crazy cosmonaut hails from my favorite Metal Gear Solid game as a member of the Cobra Unit: a team of supervillains working for a rogue Soviet colonel. The Fury is a pyromaniac through and through, packing a flamethrower and a jet pack—which, I can only assume, were standard issue for Soviet cosmonauts prior to the sixties.

When the Fury finally gives up the ghost, it’s with delusions, explosions, and surreal shrieking heads of fire. So hot.

5. The Guys in the Seventh Circle of Hell (Dante’s Inferno)

Seventh Circle of Hell

The circles of Dante’s hell offer various horrors, from violent winds to ceaseless whippings. It’s the seventh circle that most closely resembles the classic image of hell as a fiery place, with a river of boiling blood and flakes of fire drifting to the ground. “Thus was descending the eternal heat, whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder beneath the steel.”

You can bet the sinners in hell’s seventh circle are pretty hot.

4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Zuko

In the fantasy world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is a firebender: a martial artist who redirects chi (spiritual energy) and unleashes it as fire. Firebending is awesome. It can be used to warm tea, heat bathwater, or do this:

Firebending

Zuko is the show’s most dynamic firebender, learning from dragons and experimenting with advanced forms of his art. He never did learn to make a good cup of tea, but he’s still a really hot guy.

3. Hades (Disney’s Hercules)

Hades

At first glance, Hades looks like a shady uncle to Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Don’t be fooled. The smooth-talking god of the dead from Disney’s Hercules often loses his cool. (Pun intended. I’m still sorry.) When his temper flares (I’m so, so sorry), those flames rage out of control.

Yes, Hades is a hot guy… but he’s the master of the underworld, so what did you expect?

2. Smaug (The Hobbit)

Smaug

Do I even need to explain this one? Smaug is a dragon. He breathes fire. Dragons breathe fire. Hot.

It would have been easy to fill this list with dragons, but I limited myself to one. I chose Smaug because, of all the dragons I considered, he hit the best blend of hotness and cultural significance. (Next time, Toothless. Next time.) Smaug is far from the only hot character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books; Sauron is represented by a fiery eye, and Denethor was pretty hot right at the end of his life.

1. The Human Torch (Marvel comics)

The Human Torch

I don’t really have anything to say about the Human Torch, except that he’s literally on fire, burning at impossibly high temperatures that would reduce ordinary men to greasy little piles of soot.

I can think of no hotter guy in fiction.

Who are your favorite hot guys or gals in fiction? Fire away in the comments!

440. Christianity in Video Games

In my last post, I wondered whether video games can be art. They’re fun, sure, but can they be anything more?

My own belief is that video games have artistic potential. Whether they actually fulfill that potential is an entirely separate question. For the most part, they favor fun over artistic expression, leaving weighty subjects to other media.

Religion is an especially weighty subject, and its effect on art is incalculably great. Christianity in particular has inspired art for two thousand years, and some of it isn’t particularly religious.

Of course, much of the art informed by Christianity is overtly religious in nature: works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, classics like The Pilgrim’s Progress and Dante’s Divine Comedy, music like Handel’s Messiah, and countless more. However, Christianity has also influenced many secular works—watch nearly any movie by Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers and you’ll see what I mean.

Pulp Fiction

The book of Ezekiel is apparently a bit more vengeful than I remembered.

Yes, the influence of Christianity has reached some unlikely places. It begs the question: If video games have artistic potential, have they used any of it to explore the subject of Christianity?

The answer is… hardly.

Christianity has informed many video games, but its influence is mostly superficial. Many games draw upon Christianity for its cultural or symbolic flair—or, if I may put it another way, its flavor.

The Legend of Zelda, one of the most important games ever made, uses Christian iconography not to make a point, but rather to convey an impression. For example, the game’s protagonist has the symbol of a cross on his shield.

Zelda NES screenshot

Is it just me, or does the hero of The Legend of Zelda look like he’s going from door to door with a Gospel tract?

I don’t know why the game’s developers put a Christian cross on the shield. Perhaps it was inspired by the cross designs on shields in medieval Europe. Maybe it was supposed to represent nobility, righteousness, or heroism. Either way, this symbol of Christianity is literally front and center in one of the greatest games of all time.

Incidentally, the game features another Christian symbol: the Bible, whose title was translated for Western versions as the Book of Magic. In the game, the Bible empowers the protagonist to throw fireballs, which isn’t something Bibles generally do. (At any rate, mine doesn’t.)

I’m going to discuss a few more games in this post, but for full disclosure, I should admit that I haven’t played most of them. I know them mostly by reputation, by reading about them, or in one case by following the game’s story on YouTube.

Christian imagery shows up occasionally in video games, many of which avoid association with the religion itself in order to avoid controversy. This has led to fictional religions that bear outward resemblance to Christianity—particularly to Roman Catholicism.

Video games such as the Final Fantasy series sometimes feature Christian (especially Roman Catholic) elements such as priests, churches, cathedrals, holy water, and baptisms.

Final Fantasy VII church

Can we take up an offering to repair the church in Final Fantasy VII? It could use a new floor. And some more pews. And a table in the back for coffee and doughnuts.

A few games even tackle the subject of religious corruption, but always within fictional religions whose resemblance to Christianity is only superficial.

Of course, some video games take a more direct approach, depicting Christianity itself (instead of a fictional religion) for its imagery, culture, or history.

The Hitman series—which, as its name suggests, is all about assassinations—uses “Ave Maria,” a song based on a Christian prayer, as its theme. It may be meant to evoke a somber mood, or perhaps to suggest an ironic parallel between the Church and the syndicate that employs the eponymous hitman. Either way, the series doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about Christianity; the games merely borrow from it.

The Assassin’s Creed series uses religion as a backdrop to its fictional history. The first game takes place in the Holy Land during the Crusades, and the second in Italy during the Renaissance. That second game apparently ends with the player beating up Pope Alexander VI, which seems weird to me. What developer, when given the limitless possibilities of game design, decided to make a game that climaxed in a fight against a fifteenth-century Pope? Did that developer just assume that all Christians are evil? Should I be offended?

There are a few games—just a few—that try to say something meaningful, whether good or bad, about Christianity.

The Binding of Isaac is an indie game named for the biblical account of Abraham nearly sacrificing his own son. It follows a young boy through an underworld of twisted imagery: much of it Christian. The game seems almost blasphemous with its lurid imagery and grotesque monsters.

The Binding of Isaac

This is, um, not a game for children.

I’m not sure what point The Binding of Isaac is trying to make. The game definitely has something to say. It may be an exploration of how religion can be abused, or maybe an outright censure of Christianity. I’m in no hurry to find out; I prefer my video games not hopelessly gloomy, thank you.

The most interesting treatment of Christianity I’ve seen in a video game comes from Bioshock Infinite, a story-driven first-person shooter. (For the uninitiated: a first-person shooter is a game in which the player shoots things from a first-person perspective, simply enough.) The game doesn’t focus on religion itself as much as on what it brings out in people.

The original Bioshock game is set in Rapture: a ruined underwater dystopia. It was built by an atheist who was convinced he could harness the potential of humankind in an enlightened society. The city fell apart, its remaining inhabitants fighting for the survival of the fittest.

No gods or kings

Welcome to Rapture?

By contrast, Bioshock Infinite is set in Columbia: an airborne city bustling with religious folks and overseen by Father Comstock, a self-proclaimed prophet. Despite its bright exterior, Columbia is also a dystopia. It reflects not a Darwinian struggle for survival, however, but the ugliest blunders of American Christianity.

The religion in Bioshock Infinite is the Christianity that excused slavery, oppressed Native Americans, reviled foreigners, and mistook love of country for love of God. It’s an exaggerated picture, but also one based on history.

Bioshock Infinite mural

Welcome to Columbia?

I appreciate that Bioshock Infinite doesn’t blame Christianity for Columbia’s problems, but acknowledges how it has, throughout history, sometimes brought out the worst in people. The game suggests the problem is not with faith, but with human beings.

Fortunately, Christianity also brings out the best in people. The game’s debt-ridden protagonist, Booker, is hired to rescue a woman from Columbia on the promise that his employer will “wipe away the debt.” As the game unfolds, it becomes clear that Booker’s debt isn’t just a matter of money. He needs to be forgiven.

Besides forgiveness, Christian themes in the game include baptism and longing. The latter is beautifully expressed in the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Bioshock Infinite isn’t a perfect game, and its depiction of Christianity is definitely upsetting. However, it’s a more ambitious and nuanced take than I’ve seen from any other video game, and I respect it for that.

While a few games offer thoughtful explorations of Christian themes, others exist simply to appeal to a religious market. They’re the worst. They often steal their ideas from other games, and they’re nearly always terrible.

What are your thoughts on Christianity in video games? Let us know in the comments!

439. Are Video Games Art?

Can video games be art?

This question has proved divisive and difficult. Some people have praised games for their visuals, music, writing, and interactive narratives; others have dismissed games as a childish diversion.

Are games art

My own opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that video games have the artistic potential of any other medium.

A few days ago, someone with whom I shared this opinion smirked, shook her head in contempt, and said “Nuh-uh,” before walking away as though she had just won an argument. I didn’t pursue the matter any further, though I did suppress a strong impulse to kick that person in the shin.

Such a jeering derision of video games—not of any specific game, but of video games as a medium—irritates me. If books, films, and songs can be valued as art forms, why not video games? They are just as capable of conveying ideas, challenging perceptions, and evoking emotions. What makes game design any less valid than other media as a form of artistic expression?

After all, many games blend acknowledged art forms—music, graphic design, storytelling, and sometimes acting—into a single medium. It seems irrational, small-minded, or even prejudiced to dismiss the entire medium as intrinsically inferior to other media, especially without giving any good reasons why.

Of course, some people have given good reasons. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the arguments against video games as an art form are well worth consideration.

Roger Ebert, for example, argued that the interactive nature of games interferes with their artistic value. Some degree of creative control is wrested from the game designers and thrust into the hands of players. To illustrate his point, Ebert posited a video game retelling of Romeo and Juliet that allowed for a happy alternate ending. Such an ending would weaken the story; the storyteller’s vision would be lost.

Romeo and Juliet

I’ve never played a Grand Theft Auto game, but its “Game over” message was too perfect not to use for Romeo and Juliet. I’m so, so sorry. (I’m not sorry.)

Another argument claims that the popular nature of video games disqualifies them for serious artistic consideration. Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, stands by this argument. More than perhaps any other medium, games typically exist not to convey moral, emotional, or existential insights, but simply to be fun.

Yet another argument states that video games, with their rules and conditions, are no more artistic than sports, cards, or board games. Few people consider soccer matches or poker games works of art.

What about video games that exist not to be played in a traditional sense, but simply to immerse the player or tell a story? The argument goes that these aren’t really games, which brings us back to the contentious not-a-game debate. What is a video game, really?

In the end, the question of whether video games can be art hinges on an even bigger question: What is art, anyway? That’s a question with no easy answer, and without a categorical standard for art, there’s no way of knowing whether video games can meet such a standard.

Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter whether video games can be art. I believe they have value as a medium in any case. For example, I think the Portal games are works of art, but I know they’re tons of fun. My appreciation for those games doesn’t depend on whether anyone labels them art.

Adam and... GLaDOS

If any game is a work of art, it’s Portal 2. (I covered up the indecent bits.)

The question of whether video games can be art is interesting to discuss, but not worth a fight. I suppose the thing that irritates me is when people express unsupported opinions as fact, without acknowledging even the possibility of discussion—and that’s a problem that goes far beyond the video-games-as-art debate.

I believe video games have artistic potential. That said, whether video games actually fulfill that potential is an entirely separate question. For the most part, they tend to favor fun over artistic expression, which is a valid choice.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the ways a subject of particular interest to me has been handled by video games. Stay tuned!

431. My Creative Heroes

Creative people are fun, quirky, smart, and responsible for most of the entertainment in my life. (The rest of it comes from acting silly in public to make my younger brother uncomfortable.) I have many creative heroes: people I know personally, people on the Internet, and professionals in the media.

Today’s post honors three of my creative heroes, one each from the media of film, video games, and literature. I admire and respect the heck out of these people. If I were the sort of person who cries and gives hugs, I would embrace these heroes of mine and weep tears of joy and gratitude. I’m not, however, so instead I’ll ramble about them, because rambling is what I do.

John Lasseter

[Update: I wrote this post long before the #MeToo movement exposed Mr. Lasseter’s history of sexually harassing coworkers and others. While I admire his creative genius, I hasten to add that success and talent are never acceptable excuses for being a sleazebag.]

I considered naming Hayao Miyazaki one of my creative heroes, but this brilliant Japanese filmmaker is also demanding and grouchy: not qualities I admire in anyone, creative or not. John Lasseter, like Miyazaki, is a legend; unlike Miyazaki, he seems like a nice human being.

John Lasseter

Lasseter’s career is one of the most incredible rags-to-riches stories I know. As a boy, he dreamed of working for Disney as an animator. He achieved his dream—only to be fired after just a few years. His mistake was annoying his superiors by experimenting with a brand-new form of art: computer animation.

Heartbroken, Lasseter drifted to a division of Lucasfilm, which later became an independent company called Pixar Animation Studios. (You may have heard of it.) For a decade, Pixar pioneered computer animation with masterpieces like Toy Story and its sequel, both of which Lasseter directed.

It seems strange to us nowadays, as we enjoy terrific films like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, but just ten years ago Disney’s animation studios were stuck in a losing streak. Their films found neither commercial nor critical success, and their fans yearned for the good old days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Disney, the most successful animation company in history, had sunk to the unimaginable low of mediocrity.

Faced with this crisis, Disney’s newly-appointed CEO, Bob Iger, did the only sensible thing: oversee Disney’s purchase of Pixar, and then put Lasseter and his colleague Ed Catmull in charge of basically everything. After more than twenty years, John Lasseter returned to the studio that had fired him—as its chief creative officer. His employees welcomed him with cheers and applause.

In the following years, Lasseter renamed and restructured Disney’s main animation studio, canceled cash-grab projects and lazy sequels, and oversaw the release of superb films from both Disney and Pixar: all while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts.

I admire John Lasseter for his creative vision, which blends an appreciation for tradition with a dedication to cutting-edge innovation. Mr. Lasseter emphasizes teamwork, strives for quality in art and storytelling, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of my heroes, and a colorful one at that.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Several decades ago, the president of a company on the verge of financial collapse made a desperate plan to salvage unpopular hardware. He tasked a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a new game for old arcade units. That game was Donkey Kong, that company was Nintendo, and that employee went on to create Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the greatest video games ever made.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo is awesome, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the genius behind many of its successes. Many of the turning points in the history of video gaming hinge on Miyamoto’s games. Donkey Kong established the platforming genre. Super Mario Bros. helped save the video game industry after it crashed in the eighties. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time pioneered movement in a virtual 3D space, and the Wii experimented with motion control.

Miyamoto has helped shape the video game industry for nearly four decades, but you wouldn’t guess it to look at him. He’s a mild gentleman who enjoys music and gardening, and walked or biked to work until his company pressured him for his own safety to drive. For a creative visionary, he seems entirely down to earth.

Nowadays, Miyamoto is more of a creative consultant for Nintendo than a game designer. He is notorious for “upending the tea table” during game development, flipping design concepts on their heads. (His suggestions are game-changing, so to speak.) Miyamoto seems like Nintendo’s idea guy, stepping in when a development team needs a boost.

I admire Miyamoto’s design philosophy: he values fun over fancy graphics or technical intricacy. Most of his games are based on his own life experiences, from exploring woods and caves as a child to gardening as an adult. (He even made a game inspired by his attempts to lose weight!) His work is colorful, charming, fun, and friendly. Nintendo is basically the Pixar of the video game industry, and Miyamoto-san, like Pixar’s Mr. Lasseter, is one of my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course this man is one of my creative heroes. Really, they don’t get any more creative than J.R.R. Tolkien. The man created an entire world—an earth with its own geography, mythology, languages, cultures, genealogies, and thousands of years of history—and he did it in his spare time.

J.R.R. TolkienLong before he published The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a noted academic renowned for his groundbreaking work in literary criticism. He lectured, graded papers, translated old texts, published books, raised a family, and still found time somehow to create his own vast, private, intricate mythology.

Tolkien was irrepressibly creative. For example, every year his children wrote to Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus—and, incredibly, Father Christmas wrote back. For twenty-two years, Tolkien played the role of Father Christmas to amuse his kids: writing and illustrating stories about his misadventures at the North Pole. These letters were published as a children’s book after Tolkien’s death; I’ve read them, and and they’re delightful. Even in his little pet projects, Tolkien’s creativity and cleverness were astounding.

Of course, Tolkien’s greatest project of all was Middle-earth and its stories, the most famous of which is The Lord of the Rings. The sheer size and intricacy of Tolkien’s world is astounding; by some estimates, it’s the largest and most complex ever created by a single person in all of human history. Tolkien’s influence on literature and pop culture is literally incalculable.

In his vast mythologies and in his little stories for children, at work and at home, J.R.R. Tolkien was incredibly creative, and he’s one of my heroes.

Whew! That was a long post. What can I say? Creative people inspire me!

Who are your creative heroes? Let us know in the comments!

428. An Open Letter to Hollywood 2: The Sequel

Dear Hollywood Executives,

I know you’re all very busy, so I’ll try to keep this short. It’s been a while since my last letter, which I assume you all read, and another one is due. Consider it a sequel.

You’ve made a few small improvements since my last letter. For example, you actually made a Deadpool movie. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. (I’ve also heard that it’s extremely vulgar, but Deadpool’s gotta Deadpool, I guess.) So many superhero movies are all doom and gloom, because, y’know, heaven forbid comic-book stories be fun for anybody. Irreverent takes on the genre like Deadpool and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are a welcome change. It’s okay for superhero movies not to take themselves so seriously. We don’t mind, honest!

Speaking of superhero movies, can we get a bit more diversity? Please? Take the Avengers, otherwise known as the League of White Guys. (They have only one female member: a token femme fatale with no superpowers.) I don’t read Marvel comics, but I know they feature more than white dudes. I don’t have anything against white dudes—I am one, as a matter of fact—but flooding superhero movies with them is unfair, uncool, and frankly kinda boring.

To be fair, I must congratulate you on giving Black Panther, the no-nonsense African superhero, a part in the new Captain America movie, and working toward giving him his own film in a couple of years. For a change, the black guy won’t be just a sidekick. He’ll be the hero.

Black PantherIt will be nice, after more than a dozen Marvel movies, finally to have one whose hero isn’t a white American (or quasi-British) male. It’s a step in the right direction. Keep stepping, ladies and gentlemen. Keep stepping.

I’ve already written about video game movies and portrayals of Christians in secular media, so I won’t repeat myself here. Just go read those blog posts. I will, however, emphatically repeat my appeal for a Metal Gear Solid movie. It should happen. It needs to happen. Please, please, please, make it happen. I will give you anything to make a Metal Gear Solid movie, unto half my kingdom. (I won’t actually give you anything for making the movie, but I will buy tickets to see it.)

Look, I’ve even done some of the casting for you.

Metal Gear Solid movie Now you just need to make the movie. Please do.

As long as we’re discussing film adaptations: Why don’t you adapt more old books? As you struggle to come up with ideas, consider the thousands of terrific stories available at your local library. I once made a list of books that would make great films, and you’ve made only one of them (Ender’s Game) with a second (Ben-Hur) on its way. Seriously, I want a film version of The Man Who Was Thursday almost as much as I want that Metal Gear Solid movie.

Incidentally, I hear Martin Scorsese is working on an adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s Silence: a brooding and powerful novel about the silence of God.

SilenceIt’s exactly the sort of obscure, slow-paced book you Hollywood execs won’t touch with a ten-foot boom pole. Mr. Scorsese thinks differently. Learn from Mr. Scorsese, Hollywood.

Moving on from a good director to some really bad ones: Why are you still letting Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan make movies? Why?! Just stop. Stop. Staaahhhp.

On a brighter note, Disney and Pixar have been making some outstanding movies lately. I’m glad to see that animation is not merely surviving on the Hollywood scene, but evolving and thriving. As long as you have Disney and Pixar, Hollywood, I think you’ll be all right.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough for one letter. I hope it doesn’t seem too harsh or demanding. For all of my grumbling, I really appreciate good movies, and I suppose I have you Hollywood people to thank for them. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen, for making my life a little brighter, and occasionally a little more explode-y.

Peace,

Adam

P.S. I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could just put Disney’s John Lasseter in charge of everything? No? Well, there was no harm in asking.

Strange American Valentine Rituals

The United States of America has many strange customs and holidays, and I consider it my duty to research them. With St. Valentine’s Day soon taking place, I set my studies of Halloween and Thanksgiving behind me in order to give this latest holiday the anthropological scrutiny it deserves.*

My findings were… dark. Despite its popular image as a time for giving gifts and expressing romantic love, St. Valentine’s Day represents bloodstained history and wanton consumerism.

Verily, of the various letters vividly visible above, the very first veers vaguely toward the visual vibe of a violent yet entertaining film I once viewed.

Verily, of the various letters vividly visible above, the very first veers vaguely toward the visual vibe of a viscerally vicious and violent film I once viewed: V for Valentine, or some variation.

As the holiday is named for a historical figure, my first task was to research St. Valentine himself. Little is known of this ancient Roman martyr, whose death is celebrated every year in America by the sale and distribution of gifts such as flowers, chocolates, cookies, cards, jewelry, and frilly undergarments. St. Valentine, who is known as Valentinus in some accounts, is surrounded by legends, but few facts remain.

Upon finding the study of this dead saint to be a dead end, I turned my researches toward the holiday itself, and discovered a sordid celebration of Valentine’s demise.

The name of the event, St. Valentine’s Day, is generally shortened to Valentine’s Day by the disgraceful omission of Valentine’s hagiographic title. Just as the Christmas season is marked by certain colors (viz. red and green), so Valentine’s Day is recognized by the colors red and pink.

The significance of these colors is open to speculation. Given what little is known of St. Valentine’s personal history, the color red may represent his violent death as a martyr. Pink generally represents love or sweetness; its association with the bloody red of Valentine’s death demonstrates a disturbing veneration of violence.

More than fifteen centuries after Valentine’s tragic end, why is it celebrated by the giving of gifts? Why is romantic love the legacy of Valentine’s martyrdom? What aspect of his brutal death inspired sappy cards, heart-shaped candies, and other mawkish gifts?

These are distressing questions, and my best researches have yielded no answer.

Do you know what else is distressing? These awful pills. I don't know what kind of medication they contain, but they taste awful.

Do you know what else is distressing? These awful tablets. I don’t know what kind of medication they contain, but they taste awful.

Perhaps it would be prudent for me to narrow the lens of my researches from the purpose of the holiday to its specific observances.

The greatest tradition of Valentine’s Day seems to be buying things, such as the aforementioned flowers, candy, cookies, cards, jewelry, and lingerie. This eclectic assortment of romantic items has no discernible connection to Valentine himself, leaving me to surmise that their popularity as Valentine’s Day gifts is prompted by the theme of romantic love that has left its indelible and inexplicable mark upon the remembrance of that saint’s death.

Never mind the occasion—coffee is always an appropriate gift.

Never mind the occasion—coffee is always an appropriate gift.

Although these gifts are generally exchanged by romantic partners, it is common for celebrants of Valentine’s Day to distribute cheaper and less intimate gifts among friends, classmates, and coworkers; candy and cards are among the most popular options. Other Valentine’s Day traditions observed in America include going on dates or to parties.

A romantic card or letter given on Valentine’s Day is known as a valentine. This eponymous designation is shared by any person to whom such a card or letter is given.

(If I may permit a personal view to interfere with my serious studies of American holidays: I strongly opine that video game valentines are the best valentines.)

If you recognize all of the games represented in these Valentine's Day cards, you deserve a cookie.

If you recognize all of the games represented in these valentines, a winner is you!

In conclusion, Valentine’s Day seems to celebrate the violent death of a good man, associating it (for dark, unknown reasons) with romantic sentimentality. I acknowledge, regardless, the importance of the virtues venerated by the holiday—to wit, love and friendship.

Thus, with sincerity and due caution, I wish you a happy St. Valentine’s Day.

*I should remind my dear readers that my studies of American holidays are silly, sarcastic, and absolutely not serious. This blog post is a joke. Please don’t take it seriously!


This post was originally published on February 13, 2015. TMTF shall return with new content on February 22, 2016!

415. The Bests of 2015

I no longer review stuff on this blog, but I don’t mind taking a day to look back on the best media I experienced in 2015. I didn’t spend as much time reading, watching movies and television, or playing video games as I would have liked, but I did enjoy some notable works, and here are the best of the best. (For clarification, this list includes only media I experienced for the first time in 2015. I’m featuring neither old favorites I revisited nor new episodes of shows I’ve seen.)

After I’ve shared my favorites, feel free to share yours in the comments! What great films, books, television shows, or video games did you enjoy in 2015?

Here are mine.

Best Live Action Film: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max

This film is a work of art, and also an action movie with spiky cars and fire-spewing electric guitars. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action film in the purest sense, with sparse dialogue and explosive momentum. The movie is basically a two-hour car chase through a dystopian wasteland, yet manages to convey (amid explosions) meaningful themes such as guilt, redemption, the empowerment of women, and the worth of human life. The film also gets bonus points for its oversaturated, brightly-colored scenery: a welcome change from the bleached, washed-out look of most dystopian movies. Fury Road is stupid, campy action elevated to an art form: a film with all the ferocious beauty and power of an erupting volcano.

Best Animated Film: Inside Out

Inside Out

Pixar films nearly always leave an emotional impression, so it’s only to be expected that a Pixar film about emotions makes a terrific impact. Inside Out nearly made me cry in the movie theater, and I’m not a person who cries. Pixar’s best movies have a simple premise, and this one is no exception: What if your emotions were tiny people inside your head? Inside Out tells two intertwining stories: the fantastical journey of a little girl’s emotions inside her mind, and the consequent struggles of that little girl to accept the changes in her life. This film warms the viewer’s heart, but only after it has finishing breaking it. Inside Out is a sad, joyful movie… which seems appropriate, as Sadness and Joy are two of its most important characters.

Best Fiction Book: The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King cover

The Once and Future King is a retelling of King Arthur’s life. Like Inside Out, this story is both happy and sad; unlike that film, this novel leans much more heavily toward sadness than happiness. The epic backdrop of the Arthurian legends is used here as a stage for the intimate stories of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Fragments of the old legends—the Round Table, the Grail Quest, Mordred’s betrayal—are woven neatly into two stories: the king who spends his life trying to do the right thing, and the knight whose loyalties are forever divided. Both men are great heroes, and both are doomed from the start. As it reinvents old stories for our cynical age, The Once and Future King is funny, sad, and well worth reading.

Best Nonfiction Book: All Groan Up

All Groan Up

Its title is a really bad pun, but this is not a bad book. (Seriously, though, that title causes me physical pain.) This memoir of a young man’s post-college panic, crises of faith, search for employment, and painful transition to adulthood is eerily similar to my own experiences. Paul Angone tells his story with openness, honesty, Jon Acuff-like humor, and way too many silly metaphors. In the end, despite its stylistic quirks, his story is well worth reading for all those college-age adults who feel lost, alone, ashamed, and hopeless. I wish I had read this book five years ago.

Best Console Video Game: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni No Kuni cover

This is probably the most beautiful game I have ever played. With visuals inspired (and some contributed) by the legendary Studio Ghibli, and music by noted composer Joe Hisaishi, this game looks and sounds amazing—and it plays beautifully. The game’s story of a little boy searching for his mother is touching and bittersweet… except for when it’s cute and hilarious, which it frequently is. The Final Fantasy-meets-Pokémon gameplay may be a bit deep for casual players, and the ending is unsatisfying, but these are nitpicks. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is magical. And it’s getting a sequel!

Best Handheld Video Game: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

“A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved,” and Professor Hershel Layton is the truest of gentlemen. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a delightful collection of puzzles, strung together by the most intriguing Professor Layton story I’ve seen yet. The good Professor’s search for the diabolical relic known as the Miracle Mask is packed with interesting characters, charming visuals, good voice acting, and (of course) scores upon scores of puzzles to solve. This is a game for everyone, casual players and veteran gamers alike. In fact, the only people for whom I can’t recommend this game are those with no feeling, soul, or sense of humor.

Best Live Action Television Series: Marvel’s Daredevil

Marvel's Daredevil

I’ve already written two entire blog posts about the excellence of Marvel’s Daredevil, so I won’t add much here. I’ll just point out one more fun detail: a scene set in a Hispanic lady’s home contains a two-liter bottle of Inca Kola. (I grew up drinking Inca Kola in Ecuador.) That is serious attention to detail.

Daredevil (now with 100% more Inca Kola!)

Marvel’s Daredevil has a breakable hero, a fascinating villain, great writing, brilliant action scenes, a gripping (and grounded) story, and an artistically comic-booky visual style. This show is superb.

Best Animated Television Series: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

This anime isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but there’s something compelling about its unromantic romance writer and his quirky entourage of artists. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is neither a romantic comedy nor a satire, but something in between. It never feels cynical or mean-spirited as it deconstructs rom-com clichés; the show’s self-aware humor is balanced by a heartwarming charm and innocence. As an added bonus, the show offers fascinating glimpses into the process of making manga (i.e. Japanese comics). It’s fairly short and available only in Japanese with English subtitles, but Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is delightful.

What are some of the best media you experienced in 2015? Let us know in the comments!