Monthly Archives: June 2020

Intensive Purposes

This post is not about The Last of Us Part Two, which I have been enjoying immensely. It’s also not about She-Ra and The Princesses Of Power, which I have been joyfully devouring. Nope, this one is about a turn of phrase.

Particularly “for all intents and purposes.”

Apparently, the phrase is one of those that people regularly get confused for “all intensive purposes.” I didn’t know this was a malapropism, perhaps because I’d never heard the phrase “intensive purposes,” but more likely because, an avid reader, I undoubtedly came across “for all intents and purposes” in writing before hearing it said, and so it became one of those things that just clicked (“ah, yes, that’s that thing I’ve heard”).

But when I, a few years ago, learnt about the malapropism, I’ve found myself checking every time I write the phrase, making sure that I didn’t slip and write “intensive.” Even though I never have, and tend to doubt I will unless I find a purpose that’s truly intense. Nonetheless, it’s something I do just in case.

Is this mixup something I’ve personally had to deal with? No, not at all. But is it something I should be aware of? Oh yes, certainly. It’s a thing that exists, and given that I’m aware of it, it’s something I have to watch out for.

Sometimes it’s easy to get really caught up in our own experiences and our own views of the world. Just because I’d never heard of “intensive purposes” prior to finding out about the malapropism doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A lot of things are that way.

Take women in refrigerators. This is a term coined by Gail Simone to describe the trope in comics (and really a lot of media) of having a female character killed or maimed (usually quite brutally) in order to provide a male character with angst and motivation. It’s so-named because of a Green Lantern comic wherein the hero returns to find his girlfriend killed and, uh, stuffed in a fridge. It’s a tired trope because it reduces female characters (and it’s almost always women) to little more than plot devices, one that is predicated on violence against women and withholding of agency. That’s not to say it can’t be done well, just to say that it’s often done poorly.

I first learnt of this trope maybe a decade or so ago, during a deep dive into TV Tropes. I remember my first response being a defensive one; it’s a cool plot device, and it’s cause for plot progression and difficult backstories. What’s the problem? A lot of learning later, and I came to reckon with its problematic nature and how, sure, it’s fine here and there, but we’re well past that point and the onus of storytellers is to find better ways to make their plots happen without ‘fridging a woman.

These days it’s something I’m acutely aware of, and something I also get very annoyed by (my main takeaway from Deadpool 2 is they took an awesome female character from the first one and ‘fridged her in the first act and I’m still mad about it). This doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist prior to my knowing about it, just that it’s something I was unaware of and now have no excuse to not perpetuate it. If I kill off a female character in one of my stories for manpain, I’m a part of the problem.

Not to belabor the point, but the important thing is to be open and learn. There’s stuff that mayn’t concern you personally but are still existent in society. It can be misunderstanding “intents and purposes,” it can be a crappy narrative trope, it can be far more important issues out there that we are fortunate enough to be ignorant of. So shut up, listen, be wrong, and learn to be better. It can be a lot to deal with, but there’s a real reason for it; it’s something that’s gotta be done with intensive purpose.

Remember: Black Lives Matter. Even if you’re fortunate enough to not be affected by systemic racism, it’s something to be aware of and fight against. Please take a minute and help.

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Are We Having Fun Yet?

This week, I finally replayed The Last of Us in full or the first time since it came out seven years ago. It’s not an easy game to play, and one I’ve put off for a long time. But The Last of Us Part Two came out on Friday and I figured I oughta finally replay the first one that I love so much (and cited on my university rationale, so, y’know). I’ve started Part Two and, man, it’s striking how far video games have come in seven years.

But this post isn’t about that.

This one’s about fun.

Fun is weird. Play is odd. There are people who try and figure out how to describe it, people like John Huizinga and Bernard Suits and many others. It’s elusive, something I’ve discussed on this blog before, and much of that is due to how we use language to describe ‘fun.’ Something being fun can be described as entertaining, and you could also see it as being joyful. This would rule out a lot of heavy non-fiction and ‘serious’ movies; we aren’t really ‘playing’ when we’re watching Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man, are we? For the sake of simplifying a complex argument, maybe let’s just focus on games, since those necessitate an active role by the participant — and are also things that one stops if they aren’t having fun.

While talking about The Last of Us Part Two with a friend of mine, and he said a review had described it as a ‘misery simulator.’ Please understand that this is amidst a conversation about how we’re looking forward to the game, and in this context ‘misery simulator’ is a good thing.

So, uh, why?

I’d argue that one reason why games are fun is because they are mechanically satisfying, that is there is pleasure to be had from using the rules of the game well. Board games like Scythe or Game of Thrones are fun because, even though they’re really hardcore with interlaced systems and require thinking several turns in advance, throughout all that strategic stress there is that satisfaction that comes from things working out. You’ve been given a puzzle consisting of the game’s rules and the other people and your job is to solve it. The better your solutions, the better the game.

Schoolyard tag is fun not just because you get to run around, but you’re running with a purpose. Figuring out how to avoid who’s It so you that become It yourself, the mechanics of the game is a very simple puzzle played out by reflex.

Expounding on that, a video game is ‘fun’ in some ways because of the mechanics. Borderlands has a really satisfying gameplay loop of shooting bad guys and getting loop and it’s fun to do. The Sims’ sandbox for you to play out lives is designed in such a way for gameplay to be smooth and rewarding. The Last of Us, even as gutwrenching as the story is, is still ‘fun’ in that there’s a delight to be had when you manage to sneak past a group of Infected or getting out of a particularly hairy encounter. Even if it’s thematically crushing at times, it’s still gratifying to play because the game lets you be good at it.

I’m only a few hours in The Last of Us Part Two, I’ve been taking my time and making sure to really enjoy it. Thus far, it’s terrific, and exploration has been a lot of, yes, fun. I know the game is going to take a dark turn (but I don’t know when, where, or how), but I know I’ll probably keep playing because, well, I wanna know what happens, but also because, yeah, the game’s fun to play. In that even if things get really rough, it’s still immensely gratifying to play.


So yeah, I guess I am having fun.

 

Remember: Black Lives Matter. Please take a minute and help.

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Lightsabers

Hi. I’m twenty-nine years old, and when my mind wanders, it starts to think about lightsabers.

One of the many many things that make Star Wars so cool is the lightsaber: in a world with laser guns and space ships, there are a select group of people who forego all of that in favor of laser swords. When we first see it in A New Hope, Obi-Wan introduces it as the “weapon of a Jedi Knight, not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.” Cool bit of world-building that sets up the Jedi Knights and the importance of the weapon.

But that’s not the part of lightsabers I’m thinking about.

Each Jedi has their own saber, one that’s theirs, and this weapon, as Obi-Wan admonishes Anakin in Attack of The Clones, “is your life.” Lightsabers are made by the individual Jedi and so is specific to them. Even the Sith lightsabers require an artificial (in the old Expanded Universe) or a tainted (as in the new canon) crystal. These weapons are almost an extension of their owner. Far more than Han’s DL-44 blaster, the lightsabers are far more personal and representative of those who wield them.

And Rey doesn’t get her own lightsaber in the Sequel Trilogy. I mean, yeah, she does, sure: In literally the final minute of The Rise of Skywalker, she stands in Tatooine and turns on her brand new yellow-bladed saber and then watches the sunset.

Which.

Okay.

Fine.

But when the mythos of the world puts so much import on a saber, it feels like a very weak culmination of a character arc for that to be it.

Consider Luke Skywalker. He is given Anakin’s saber in A New Hope, which he then uses throughout Empire Strikes Back. It’s his father’s weapon, by using it he is inheriting a legacy. It’s the Skywalker lightsaber, and it’s his, as it was his father’s before him.

Then in Empire’s climax, he loses it (along with his hand) and finds out that Darth Vader is his father. The villain is Luke’s father, that lightsaber he had been using belonged to the man who became Darth Vader. Turns out Luke’s inheritance is that one tainted by the Dark Side.

That’s rough.

Come Return of The Jedi, Luke has built his own lightsaber. He’s still gonna be a Jedi, but this time he’s creating his own legacy. While Anakin’s lightsaber bears a strong resemblance to Vader’s, Luke’s lightsaber takes more after Obi-Wan’s than Anakin’s. It’s a declaration of sorts that Luke’s following the path of Obi-Wan, rather than the failings of Anakin. Later on, during the final duel on the Death Star II, he tosses that lightsaber aside — that new definition of himself — to state that he is a Jedi, like his father before him. Obi-Wan didn’t think that Vader could be saved, but Luke did and he was proven right. Looking at a lightsaber as an extension of its wielder’s psyche, this is the culmination of Luke wrestling with his inheritance. He’s a Skywalker.

In The Force Awakens the Skywalker Lightsaber reemerges as an icon of legacy once again, this time to be taken up by Rey — who initially rejects it but in the climax claims it in one of my favorite Star Wars moments.

Fittingly, The Last Jedi is all about legacies and what to do with them. Luke rejects the lightsaber and the importance it has to being a Jedi. At the onset of the story, he is done with that past. Rey wields it in the duel aboard the Supremacy (since she’s gonna be a Jedi) and later vies against Kylo Ren for it. Both want control of it, but for different reasons. Kylo sees it as his birthright, his chance to wield Darth Vader’s legacy for his own. Rey sees it as the other part of Anakin’s legacy; that of a fallen hero redeemed — as she hopes to enact towards Kylo. In the end, the lightsaber is sundered and Rey collects the broken fragments. The past is broken.

But the lightsaber shows up one last time in The Last Jedi, in the hand of Luke’s Force Projection when he duels Kylo. Its purpose here is twofold: he taunts Kylo Ren with what he wants, yes, but Luke is also taking back up that legacy he had thrown away in the beginning. This is a Force Projection, Luke could have shown himself holding any lightsaber, and even from a cinematic standpoint, we’d just seen that lightsaber broken, how could Luke have it? The incongruity not only hints at the Projection’s nature but shows us that this is a Luke Skywalker who has agreed to his symbolism, who will be the hero the Resistance needs.

Such a wonderful culmination.

So now Rey is set up to craft her own lightsaber for The Rise of Skywalker. It’s part of the Jedi path and all that, plus she has all the books from Ahch-To to teach her. The lightsaber we see her is an extension of her — its design bears a similarity to the staff she wielded in The Force Awakens and the yellow blade suggests a new path. Except this comes at the end. It’s a coda to the story rather than a final act. Rey spends the movie still with the Skywalker saber, except rather than being willing to throw away the past and start fresh, she’s put it back together so it could still be in use. Which, fine, but by the end of The Last Jedi, Rey has the chance to start something new… and instead, she retreads a path.

As a fan, I’m someone who’s wanted Rey to kick ass with a double-sided lightsaber since the credits rolled on The Force Awakens. That The Last Jedi featured no such instance was an initial disappointment, but the missed chance in Rise is frustrating. Here was a chance for the new hero to make a statement, but instead, well, we got what we got. Rey’s yellow lightsaber is super cool, not just aesthetically but as a statement of identity. That it gets relegated to the very end is nothing less than a missed opportunity.

Remember: Black Lives Matter. Please take a minute and help.

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Learn

There’s a lot going on out there. The pandemic is still very much a thing and frustration at systemic racism has finally boiled over. Earlier this week I started thinking out a blog post about it all, about my own experiences with race and learning to be better.

That said, it’s difficult for me to really sit down and write something concrete. Mostly because there’s a lot of things I’m still thinking through, a lot of stuff that I feel like I don’t know enough to pontificate here on my blog.

There are things that I believe are true. Black lives matter. There is systemic racism within the US and abroad that has its tendrils sunk into every institution. For too long the police have been allowed to run roughshod over society’s most vulnerable. But things don’t have to be this way. Things can change. We can change.

Herein is the most important thing: learning. Please, be willing to learn. Be willing to realize when you’ve made a mistake, realize when you were wrong. It’s how you become a better person, isn’t it?

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