Month: March 2017

Year of the Console: March Review. God of War 3 Remastered.

God of War 3 Remastered. Sony Santa Monica Studio (2010, remastered 2015), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in Ancient Greece.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, in which we attempt to play 14 retro and contemporary games in 14 months, on the PS4 and Xbox 360, in order of the historical period in which they are set.

March was Month 3, in which we left behind two months of pre-history and moved forward into Ancient Greece, to follow the adventures of an angry man called Kratos who is trying to take revenge on his father by leaping up a big mountain and hitting things with flaming swords. Here’s where I’ve abandoned Kratos, probably for ever. Standing on a platform. You are supposed to grapple across to another platform but I kept falling off and dying until I couldn’t take it any more.

God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550

That largely summed up my experience, actually. This game was a tough one, the gameplay was well outside of my usual style and repertoire. There was a fair amount of puzzle-solving and there seemed to be a heavy requirement to remember combinations of Playstation buttons in order to execute dramatic combo moves. The combat is almost all melee. Being able to mash buttons on the handset very hard and fast is an essential skill and so there were significant periods of time where I was hammering buttons frantically while grimacing, clutching the handset awkwardly and making it all sweaty. Then I would inevitably die and have to do the fight again. It was not very dignified.

Everyone says the graphics are nice and they are not lying, it is fairly impressive scenery. This is a platform game so you have to move through the landscape on a set trajectory, which was unfamiliar to me as a player of open-world games; I kept wanting to change direction and finding that there weren’t many places to move.

Here are some screenshots of the scenery and general action.

I relied heavily on walkthroughs to help me figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and even then it took me ages to catch on to things like destroying vases and jars to gain experience points.

Thumbs up: The outdoor scenery and some of the buildings are quite nice. The action was quite exciting.

Thumbs down: It was just too linear and platformy for me and there was too much extreme button-mashing. I prefer a slightly more thoughtful, slower-paced sandbox game with a wider choice of in-game activities. Also, Kratos’s world is very dark and gloomy when it’s not on fire and I missed the glorious sunshine and unspoiled nature of Far Cry: Primal and Ark: Survival Evolved which we played in January and February.

Return to? Probably not, I’m afraid. The rewards weren’t sufficient to keep luring me back in for consistent play throughout the month. I think I completed about 20% of the content before giving up. However, it was certainly a learning experience and expanded my console gaming skills. I would never have played it if I hadn’t embarked on this Year of Console Gaming project and needed something set in Antiquity. So I’m quite pleased that it delivered this new experience even though it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had.

It’s almost April, Month 4. I’ll announce the new title for the month on Saturday. I’m very excited to begin and to share the news so stay tuned.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932

I went to see the Russian Art exhibition that is on at the Royal Academy.

It’s quite a large exhibition. It describes a fifteen-year period following the Russian Revolution when artists working in many different media (painting, sculpture, textiles, ceramics), representing various different schools, including a new avant-garde movement, made art for a new Russia. A post-revolutionary Russia where the old, imperialist ideas and religion were dispensed with in favour of industry, collectivism and the state. Interestingly, it seems that Stalin took art much more seriously than Lenin. He knew that, under his reign of terror, he could make individual artists disappear if they said counter-revolutionary things, but he could not reduce the impact of their work. And that is why Stalin eventually decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable art form and the avant-garde was suppressed.

I was very interested indeed to see the painted cups and plates. An Imperial Porcelain Factory was founded in St Petersburg in 1744. For 150 years it produced ceramics of the highest quality which were hand-painted. These items were for the use of the monarchy and the imperial court. After the revolution the factory was seized and renamed the State Porcelain Factory and artists began to paint the plates and cups with propaganda images that would suit the new regime.

I was particularly taken with this plate, painted by Mikhail Adamovich in 1924. It shows Lenin’s mausoleum (Lenin died in 1924 which is when Stalin took over). I had never seen ceramics painted in that style before. It uses enamel paint and gilding. The exhibition features quite a lot of these ceramics and now I want to get some plain, white plates and paint them.

adamovich plate

A section of the exhibition focuses on Symbolism, a romantic and idealistic style of painting that was left over from the 19th century and threatened by the new Soviet politics. It regularly focused on religious subjects and argued for the preservation of churches and the Christian faith. While I personally disapprove of Christianity, there is no denying the beauty of Russian Symbolist paintings.

Mikhail Nesterov, Philosophers, 1917 (the philosophers are Russian orthodox theologians Pavel Florensky, in white, and Sergei Bulgakov, in black).

Nesterov philosophers

Konstantin Yuon, The Day of Annunciation, 1922

yuon annunciation

Finally, a little sport. Both these paintings are by Alexander Samokhvalov, 1932 (Girl in a Football Jersey, right) and 1933 (Sportswoman with a Shot-put, left). Before the revolution, sport was for wealthy, leisured men. After the revolution, efforts were made to extend sport to everyone, especially women. Physical education of the young was regarded as very important for producing fit and healthy Communist citizens and future soldiers.

samokhvalolv

Annual sports parades were held in Moscow’s Red Square during this period. Here’s a video of one such parade in the 1930s. The film is edited so that Stalin regularly appears, looking approving.

The exhibition continues until 17 April.

The Psychopath Factory

The Psychopath Factory: How Capitalism Organises Empathy. Adams, Tristam (2016) Repeater Books

I just finished this and it deserves a quick review, mainly so I can collect an achievement point.

The book has two main ingredients. On the one hand, there is interesting and well-informed discussion of the ways that late-capitalist work organises empathy, manages it in the right amounts, switches it on and off at the right time. On the other hand, there’s considerable discussion of psychopathy as a condition defined by the absence of empathy. This latter aspect is much less interesting because it goes on at some length without really going anywhere and there is too much reliance on fictional accounts of psychopaths and also on Robert Hare, who is a moron and should be taken seriously by nobody. He is like the Donald Trump of psychology.

Anyway. The parts about capitalism are good and considering it is a short book, it is well referenced. As I was reading I made purchases of several other books, particularly:

  • everything by Franco Berardi, an Italian Marxist.
  • Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism by Eva Ilouz (2007)
  • 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary (2013)
  • Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno & Horkheimer, first published 1944

Favourite quotes:

The unknowability of empathy, in contradistinction to observable social behaviour, haunts the question of the psychopath. We could say that anxiety about psychopathy is anxiety about empathy. The impossibility of truly determining empathy in others provides some ground for contemporary culture’s fascination with the different degrees of social psychopathy.

Like an adult entertainment film star, if the employee fails to perform enjoyment of the role – if they do not cultivate a convincing impression of enjoyment, of having fun and some emotional investment – then the job is not done. The job is, at a certain level, performing enjoyment, not the job itself.

The psychopath is not, like the schizophrenic or the psychotic, a failed script, a subject outside of the social or working code, but an example of capitalist code itself.

By this latter remark, Adams means that the psychopath successfully feigns empathy; controls and manages its display; never becomes too genuinely, authentically engaged in a way that would break the capitalist machine.

I managed to use some of these insights in a small project I was working on, so that paid for the books. 1 Books point.

the-psychopath-factory

Marc Almond

I ticked another item off the bucket list by seeing the glorious Marc Almond in concert in Camden on Wednesday. He is going to be 60 this year, his voice remains incredibly powerful and seems unspoiled. He is a vocal athlete who has somehow preserved all of his abilities. He was a big influence on me circa 1982 and I was glad to go and pay homage at long last.

almond poster

 

Soft Cell ft. Marc Almond: Where The Heart Is (1982)

I am still dating the stunning red-haired model and another guy who’s also young and extravagantly good-looking but my heart isn’t in it really. I am still attached to the Person from last year. I personally think it is a bit cruel to text me and ask cryptic questions about how I am and then don’t ask to see me.

The church didn’t burst into flame, so there’s that.

I sang in public today. It was freaky-deaky. It was very fucking freaky indeed.

I thought I’d joined a community choir but I’m honestly not sure whether it is one or not. I’ve got a feeling it sort of might be a church choir that lets in non-church members to boost the numbers. You do see one or two people in religious jewellery at rehearsals and quite frankly you can tell that a couple of the poor dears are Christians from the abysmal way they dress but no-one ever talks about Jesus and we sing popular music so it’s all cool.

This event came up, there was going to be some sort of memorial service at this church. I didn’t know what ‘memorial service’ means, I assumed it was basically a funeral for somebody specific. The musical director of the choir kept emphasising at rehearsals that she wanted as many choir members as possible at this event so that’s why I showed up. I had the impression we were basically hired help. Turn up and sing at someone’s funeral, okay, I can do that, it doesn’t matter to me what religion they are. When I was a child I used to sing at weddings and I had no emotional investment in that either, I was mildly interested to see what dress the bride turned up in (sometimes it was the same as the bride from the previous week, haha) and I just wanted to sing and get my pocket money.

Wow, this thing today was something else. It wasn’t a funeral for someone specific, it was a general-purpose religious service with a theme of death. It was a bit mental. A whole lot of people in the congregation were publicly emoting, there was a ritual involving a giant cross on the floor and supernatural entities were invoked. It was a kind of voodoo. I was considerably less freaked out when I was in South Africa visiting the sangoma, at least there was only one of her, and she wasn’t crying. The most freaky part was when it got to the prayers. As I mentioned, I was under the impression that the choir was there for professional reasons to provide musical services. I was mildly alarmed when what seemed like the whole choir started praying under their breath. I’ve never felt so conspicuous in my whole life. I’d better not go to any more of those events. I’m not such a strong singer that they will miss me. Strictly secular gigs for me from now on.

Bloody hell. Afterwards, everyone commented on what an emotional occasion it was. I must have had the driest eyes in the house.

Let’s have a tune to take the edge off.

Church.

L7: Pretend We’re Dead (1992)

Colds & flu, surprise text messages, huge bottoms.

I am on my third cold of 2017. Cold and flu viruses are sweeping Britain. Apparently flu is up 38% compared to December and coughs are up by 28%. I despair of ever making it to the gym again.

My present cold isn’t quite as terrible as the previous one, which I only just recovered from in February, because I have less painfully blocked sinuses. I still have a sore chest, a headache and a fever, though, so it’s not good. I’m not getting any work done today and I’m too sick to enjoy having a day off. I am just drinking water and sleeping. Such a waste of time.

Of course, I have plans for this weekend, don’t I. Both Saturday and Sunday. Have to wait and see how I get on. Saturday’s event means going out at 9.30 in the morning. It’s now 2.30 on Friday afternoon so I still have 19 hours to try and feel slightly better.

As a result, there isn’t really any news. The only news I have to report is that on Tuesday I received a surprise text message from the Person who I wasn’t supposed to be in love with from last year. That came quite out of the blue, I didn’t expect to hear from him again. We had this short and cryptic conversation where he wanted to know how I was, apparently for no reason. I have rarely met a more ambivalent man. Probably he was having a spasm of missing me, enough to text me but not enough to suggest seeing each other. Maybe he has flu as well, who knows. Have to wait and see if I hear from him again.

While we are patiently WAITING to feel better and to receive messages from handsome boys, let’s have a tune. I saw this video for the first time today and I simply adore it. This is one of the most beautiful young women I’ve ever seen, the video is like a fairytale and she preaches a message of self-love and body positivity. ‘I’m getting thicker and thicker’, she says, waving her perfect, huge bottom. We could all use some of that. I might start looking to her for fashion and beauty tips, not to mention advice on how to be happy.

Behold.

Lizzo: Scuse Me (2016)

lizzo

America After The Fall: Painting in the 1930s

America After The Fall is an exhibition that is currently on at the Royal Academy in London. The Fall refers to the period of economic depression that followed the stock market crash in 1929. People lost their jobs, homes and savings and there was massive poverty, despair and social upheaval. People who stayed in rural areas watched wheat and cotton prices falling, meaning that they needed to produce more crops for the same money, and they over-farmed the land until it turned to dust and could give no more. Share-croppers, people who did not own the land they worked on but took a small percentage of profits, found themselves in a poverty trap where they couldn’t make enough money to survive or to move. People with a little bit more money migrated to the cities to look for work and meanwhile city-dwelling, newly unemployed workers in construction and heavy manufacturing moved back to rural areas to work the family farm.

People looked to the government to somehow rescue the situation and voted in Franklin Roosevelt, who introduced The New Deal, an economic stimulus package that created hundreds of jobs for people including up to 10,000 artists as a result of commissioning public art. This was also the very beginning of the golden age of Hollywood cinema, as the technology developed to produce ‘talkies’ rather than the silent films of the 1920s, providing a cheap form of entertainment for millions of people – a ticket cost about 20 cents.

This well-curated exhibition tells the story through 50 paintings, organised into themes such as city life, the country and heavy industry. I will not attempt to recount the entire story here but I will point out a few of the works that particularly struck me.

Edward Hopper, Gas, 1940

gas

A typical Hopper painting. A solitary human is both participant and observer. A brightly-illuminated interior and a dark, rather mysterious exterior. Liminal spaces – is this the road between the city and the country in which impoverished, Depression-era migrants were travelling in both directions? What awaits them?

Grant Wood, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931

wood revere

Revere was an American patriot who was involved in the American Revolution in the 18th century. He is remembered for his epic horse ride in New England in 1775, in which he warned American militia of the approach of British forces. I was captivated by the birds-eye view which allows you take in so much of the town and country and also by the toy-like architecture of the houses and the church. In fact,  the whole thing looks like a model village or even a picturesque video game.

William H Johnson, Street Life, Harlem, 1939

johnson street life

A well-dressed African-American couple step out for the evening in Harlem. I wish any of my dates were ever that stylish.

Joe Jones, American Justice, 1933

jones justice

Meanwhile, in the Deep South. The ironic title of this painting communicates the absence of justice. The woman in the foreground has had her house burned down and is about to be hanged and of course the white, hooded figures are Klansmen. Needless to say, these were extra-judicial, unlawful killings and virtually no-one was prosecuted.

America After The Fall is on until 4 June, so you have plenty of time to go and see it.