Web Series Review: The Guild

In 2009 I’d never heard of Felicia Day or really paid much attention to online video.  My sister and I were obsessed with Demon’s Souls and during one of our many conversations she mentioned she was watching a show online called The Guild while playing Souls and after watching the episodes a couple times it was a great playlist just to put on repeat and listen to over and over for background while you played.

The premise wasn’t immediately grabbing to me.  I didn’t play online much.  I still haven’t played an MMO.  I don’t play in groups when I do play online (Mostly just Mike and I playing various versions of Diablo).  But I watched the first episode and fell in love with it.  What’s it’s appeal?

Every cast member of the Knights of Good are terrific. Each distinct and absolutely hilarious.
  • The Cast: Felicia Day, Sandeep Parikh, Jeff Lewis, Amy Okuda, Vince Caso, and Robin Thorsen ARE the show.  As the titular guild, “The Knights of Good” they are the people we see and get to know during the course of the show.  Anyone who’s played games, online or off, knows gamers like these.  The Rule Nazis, the acid tongued, the goof off… We’ve all had experiences with them and they’ve made their marks on our gaming memories…for better or worse.  The fact that none of the cast was really into gaming prior to the show speaks volumes to how good they all are as performers.  The expanded cast is also excellent, most notable are Wil Wheaton, Mike Rose, Teal Shearer, Teddy Garces, and Alexandaer Yi as rival guild “The Axis of Anarchy” and Michele Boyd, Ted Michaels, Brett Sheridan, and Fernando Chien as great supporting characters.
The Axis of Anarchy. Season 3 might be my favorite partially due to the casting of the rival Guild.
  • The Concept: You can get this show whether you play online or play games at all.  At its base it’s just a person with a slightly unhealthy obsession trying to interact with a the world, both with those who share the obsession and those to whom it’s completely alien.  We follow Felicia’s Cyd Sherman from her closeted socially awkward start, to her attempts to shed her awkardness, and finally we come back to her accepting who she is, who her friends are, and where she is in life.  I can’t think of a season or episode I don’t like, even as the budgets increased and premises expanded it remains relatable and actually tracks, broadly, Felicia’s progress from shut-in gamer to an industry outsider-insider.
  • The Impact: Reading Felicia’s book made me realize how fast the internet world has changed. When I was watching the show YouTube was a place for cat videos and to find low-res versions of British TV shows not available in the US.  I still had a MySpace account.  Twitter wasn’t even a word most of us knew.  This was one of the first big shows to make internet-based entertainment a phenomenon.  It took a niche topic, released it on a niche medium, and had widespread impact.  Felicia was able to launch her Geek and Sundry due to its success and many other online-only YoutTube shows followed in its wake.  While it wasn’t the first and only (ONLY Tanith has the first and only…big ups to my 40k homies…) it was one of the avant garde pioneers and showed that YouTube shows could have narratives, productions, and concepts to rival TV.  Look at YouTube now and you’ll see the legacy of Felicia Day’s Guild on countless channels covering countless topics.

In many ways internet personalities, those who Felicia describes as “situationally famous,” are more “personal” than other celebrities.  Performers like Felicia, James Rolfe, Jim Sterling, and Joe Vargas invite us into their worlds, and in many cases literally into their homes, to entertain us.  Because of this we feel we know them better and can relate to them in ways we can’t with TV, movie, and music celebrities.  Media has changed and I now find I spend far more time using internet media than I do anything “conventional.”  Felicia and those who joined her in the internet media revolution have really changed entertainment forever.  So while people lament the derivative nature of TV show and movies I say you’re looking in the wrong place.  There are great experiences out there waiting for you to “sha-like-ub-scribe” and will provide hours upon hours of unparalleled, unique entertainment.

Quite multi-talented, the cast released several songs related to The Guild.  “Do You Want to Date My Avatar” is probably the most famous, and is a great pop song in addition to being a fun show tie-in.

Web Series Review: Co-Optitude

As I mentioned in my Ready Player Two! post, I’m a huge fan of local co-op. No matter how Microsoft tries to push the benefits of online multiplayer it will never take the place of playing a game with friends in the same room and experiencing actual social interaction.

In what I consider to be my spur of the moment “Days before Christmas” series I thought I’d cover one of my favorite webseries, Co-optitude.

When Geek and Sundry first launched I immediately became addicted to Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop and Felicia’s The Flog. One of my favorite early Flogs was her playing Streets of Rage on the Genesis with her brother, Ryon. The series was one of my favorite retro series and watching the two of them play it proved to be tremendously entertaining.

From the early Flog plays, including Gunstar Heroes, Battletoads, and Golden Axe they launched their own webseries Co-Optitude where…yep they play video games and hilarity ensues.

Over Thanksgiving I had a Fallout 4/Co-Optitude binge and realized just how great the series is.

In a world where everyone has a let’s play channel on YouTube what makes Co-Optitude stand out?

  • Felicia Day: I mentioned in my review of You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) that Felicia is one of those rare people you feel you know when you watch her in her videos or in her interviews. This is never truer than watching her interact with her brother. The laughter, the rage, the creativity shown in the insults and profanity used in the show are absolutely genuine. Sure, there are scripted moments, but even in those you can tell they enjoy making these shows and how much fun they are having.
  • Ryon Day: Anyone who thought Felicia may have been born out of some kind of magical internet realm, Ryon Day proves that whatever circumstances made Felicia into the charming, smart, strange person she is also factored into the creation of her brother. Ryon is every bit as funny as his sister and also is a great internet personality in his own right. Watching the two of them snipe at each other, compete in one and two player games, trade barbs, and demonstrate their game playing acumen (or lack thereof) is endlessly entertaining. As much as I love Felicia, I have to admit Ryon ends up with the catch phrases and some of the most memorable moments in the show. And speaking of catch phrases…
I missed out on this shirt…I’d kill for one.
  • Catch Phrases/Quotes: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a web show develop more on-the-fly catch phrases as this one. There’s the now iconic (used correctly, Jim Sterling) “Let’s play this f*cker,” but there have also been others, “We’re Gucci” (Meaning “we’re good,” though they couldn’t remember where it came from), the poorly conceived, “We didn’t get far but we got…fun,” and one that may be common but I’d never heard it before, “Oh they know about you” (usually combined with some insulting reference).   There’s the terrific sign off, “Don’t forget to Sh-Like-ubscribe” or “Like, share, and subscribe” crammed into one portmanteau.  Who doesn’t like giving beloved, classic video game characters silly names, “Anuss, Poopy, Nypps, Smegz, Nutsaq, and Taintiez?” Not only that but random sing-a-longs (Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is a favorite) make frequent appearances.
  • Bad Game Play: For some reason watching people pick up and play a game, especially classic games, with no experience and no pre-knowledge of the game is vastly amusing. It’s essentially the way we used to play games when we got them. No one read the books. We just jumped in and tried them out. Made dumb mistakes, argued with our friends and family who played, blamed the game for our poor abilities. We did all of it in our own homes not on the internet. It takes some guts (“Nickelodeon” Guts even) to be a bit buffoonish on the internet, especially playing Mario, Sonic, Pokémon, and Final Fantasy games, series with rabid fan bases. Even as much as I love some of the series, watching Felicia and Ryon play FFVII and name their characters Poopy Esq, Anuss II, and Tantiez is damn funny.
Apparently Dr. Watson has his own catch phrase. It’s “Whazzuuuuuup?”
  • Hector and Jess: This summer when Felicia was doing her book tour and Ryon was changing jobs the Geek and Sundry Twitch team took over Co-Optitude for about two months.  The Felicia and Ryon show has a unique feel.  The Hector and Jess shows have a unique feel of their own, but one that was no less hilarious and entertaining.  Watching them play through Catherine (it’s a weird game that I LOVE.  I have the special edition with the odd polka dot boxers…) or even better Sherlock Holmes, made for a great time.  I wouldn’t mind a permanent Co-Optitude spin off series with these two.

Co-Optitude has joined Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition, Cinemassacre’s Angry Video Game Nerd, and another show I’m saving for my next “Days Before Christmas” post as my favorite web playlists. They’re hilarious, genuine, fun-in-spirit, and are always good for a much-needed laugh.

Feeling a bit down from seasonal depression? Watch some Co-Optitude and a couple of Days will definitely improve your day.

Sources of Inspiration: Jim Sterling

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There are more online pundits and reviewers than we need.  It is rare however to find a reviewer or pundit who actually has something to say.  And even rarer to find one to whom I’d donate money in support.

I started watching videos put up by online magazine The Escapist because of Zero Punctuation aka Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw.  His show is a pithy, quick, and hilarious take on specific video games and their quirks.  But I admit I stayed to watch Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition shows.

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Jim’s commentary on video games, video game companies, and their trends is marvelous and, even if you don’t always agree, is always thought provoking.

Jim has had an interesting and transitional career.  From Destructoid to Escapist he has made numerous comments that have “enraged” (I put that in quotes because this is video games we’re talking about here…) game fans.  From being hated for the ultimate sin of “not liking” a Final Fantasy game (I agree though…Final Fantasy is an empty shell compared to the days when it’s games’ technological advancement could be categorized in terms of “bits”) to having the gall to say that female game critics, writers, and producers shouldn’t be threatened with violence and rape.

I’m actually not really interested in his controversy…  Mostly because I don’t find him to be that controversial.  He says what he believes.  One can agree or disagree (I don’t always agree but I find I agree the vast majority of the time) but he never says anything purely out of hate or shock value.  If a game is shit he says it’s shit and faces the backlash like a champ.  See The Slaughtering Grounds incident for an example of that.  If a practice of the industry or its fans is tasteless or predatory he says he thinks it is just that.  In fact I started watching his videos because he voiced exactly my problems with the way games are conceived and produced now.  And why I rarely play a “so-called AAA game,” to use his phrasing, nowadays.

I truly appreciate is his writing, production, and character construction.  The narratives in his videos are often fast, full of information, and loaded with complex ideas, but his presentations are always not only clear (you know EXACTLY his points from the outset) but often very clever, very witty, and biting in their arguments.   It’s that kind of methodology that is inspiring to other creative people, or at least to me as a creative person.  You can always count on Jim, not only to give you his opinion on all kinds of practices but to do so in a way that is so memorable you’ll go back to them repeatedly (I know I’ve queued his vids up to hear why Ubisoft is idiotic, free-to-play is a misnomer, and pre-order culture is poison).

His series with Yahtzee were also fun.  Last year’s rhymedown spectacular and the Uncivil Wars series which Jim won earlier this year provided another look at both his and Yahtzee’s personas outside of the review realm.

His newer material, since he’s gone rogue and become fan-funded through Patreon is even better.  Freed from even the loose shackles of another company he has been able to write more reviews and even start an absolutely terrific podcast series that is one of the best since The Ricky Gervais Show.

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The fact that he owns a chainsword gives him extra points…

If you are a video game fan, specifically a fan who feels the industry has gone the way of film production in its heartless and cold monetization of all aspects of gaming and its focus on useless tech over art design and storytelling, put on a Jimquisition playlist and you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement or raising your finger and saying “but…”  Either way he’s provoking a response and maybe cranking your brain out of idle for 6-12 minutes.  It’s worth it.  Because he’s Jim F’n Sterling Son.  And thank god for him.

Jim Sterling Cartoon
The Author’s Rendition of Jim on a rant.

 

Jimquisition website

AVGN the Movie: The Film Event of Our Generation

No. That was not hyperbole.

James Rolfe, aka, the Angry Video Game Nerd, encompasses two of the biggest influences of my generation of 20-30 somethings: video games and the internet. (with hip-hop culture rounding out the triumvirate of my generation’s biggest cultural influences).  And for the last eight years, he and his friend and writing partner Kevin Finn have been working on a full-length feature film for Rolfe’s online persona and, yes, I truly believe it to be the movie event of my generation.

Don’t believe me? Here is a short list of the reasons why!

  • Video Games & Gaming Culture: Video games have, since the beginning, had many myths and legends associated with them. The movie discusses all the little secrets that used to appear in Atari games (initials and easter eggs), but even later games like Mortal Kombat, Doom, Tomb Raider, and Killer Instinct all had their own lore associated with them . These little mysteries entered into gaming culture so much that secrets in games are commonplace and expected now. Myths about how games are created and their back stories are just as compelling; from how Pac-Man got his name (anyone believe Scott Pilgrim’s explanation?) how Rock-Man became Mega-Man, we just eat these legends up. The AVGN movie explores a real game legend with a fantastical explanation. It’s the kind of stuff the internet would run with in this day and age! And on that topic…
  • Internet & YouTube Culture: The only cultural aspect that has impacted my generation more than video gaming would be the internet. People make their entire careers as internet personalities (James Rolfe being one of the best and most successful) and legions of fans follow them, often doing just what they are begged not to do. The Angry Video Game Nerd even points out in “Nintendo Classics Re-Revisited” that people bought and played Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after he expressly told them not to. The whole premise of the film is that negative press from the right personality can bring positive results. Both from a slightly sleazy game publisher and from an altruistic scientist. It’s an interesting parallel and sums up how the internet community can have profound impact on course of popular culture.
  • The Movies of Our Youth: For those in my generation, the happy-go-lucky 20-30 somethings out there, we grew up with cheesy horror movies, giant monster movies, goofy cartoons, and practical effects (guys in suits, miniature sets, puppets, blue screen effects, etc.) James Rolfe is a filmmaker first and he makes movies the way he likes them. With…guys in suits, miniature sets, puppets, and blue screen effects… I think even if he’d managed to raise 10 million dollars we’d still see a model van explode in a spark-filled firecracker explosion and not a real van flip and burn before bursting into a gasoline bomb. Death Mwauthzyx would always be a home-made suit…never a CGI model. It’s just like the movies and afternoon cartoons we all grew up with; summed up in one brilliant two hour spectacle.

I don’t think it’s necessary to go into the plot or characters. I won’t spoil it and it’s actually got too much going on to sum up in a few sentences. But suffice it to say I think James Rolfe captured the entire culture of 25-35 year olds in a compelling and incredibly hilarious movie, made with love and affection for that culture AND love and affection for his fans. Furthermore it still feels like an AVGN episode. Yes it’s bigger, more characters, expanded world…but it is still his world and has his tone.

James Rolfe has declared a sequel isn’t likely. While I’d love to see another expanded look at the AVGN’s life I can see why and I’m looking forward to seeing what other, new creative ideas he has. Until then I know I’ll enjoy revisiting all things AVGN for a while to come. It truly takes me back to the past and exemplifies what’s great (and delightfully bad) about the cultural impacts of my generation in the best way possible.

Cinemassacre website

Buy the movie!