Wednesday, 3 November 2010

What do you expect us to use man, harsh language?

There's a lot of things that annoy me. For example, when you dunk a biscuit in to a cup of tea and it breaks in half, leaving a gunky mess at the bottom of the mug. Or people who wear beanie hats indoors. Or that weather presenter on the Welsh national news who finishes his broadcasts by winking at the camera. Or Glenn Beck. Or pigeons. The list goes on and on.

But I honestly never thought I would get annoyed with Cryptomundo.

Now I'm not what you would call a "gamer". Oh sure, I play video games occasionally. And for the most part I enjoy it. But I would say that of all the things I do with my spare time, playing video games would come a distant fourth behind watching television, reading, and sitting down. (Gee Note: Actually it would come fifth if you count "scratching" as an activity).

Part of the problem is I'm not very good at them. There was a time that I was exceedingly competent with a joypad in my hands, around the time of the NES and the Master System in fact. Back then I was nowt but knee high to grasshopper and I, like most of my friends, would spend hours at a time devoted to the flickering images of Mario and Sonic stuttering from left to right. But then I hit my late teens, found other virtues to pursue (Gee Note: Namely girls and beer, neither of which was particularly successful) and by the time I started playing again in my early twenties the entire scene had moved on. For a start video games had become far more complex. Gone were the days of breezily running through a multicoloured landscape jumping on the heads of walking mushrooms. Instead the video game market had become dominated by grimy first person shooters. You'd assume the role of some gun totting bad ass and head off to take on evil Nazis, or blood thirsty aliens, or evil blood thirsty Nazi aliens. Games now revolved around being able to aim accurately, move stealthily, and pull the trigger at a seconds notice.

The thing is none of that has ever struck me as all that much fun. And it's not that I'm opposed to the idea of running around and shooting things. In fact one of my favourite games of the modern era, Mass Effect 2, is basically just that. In Mass Effect you go to a new planet, have a natter with some folks with blue skin, and before you know it your blasting your way through wave after wave of bad guys. Which is great. But Mass Effect differs from most games in that you don't have to treat the combat sections like they're a real life war. In contrast Halo, which has a similar premise to Mass Effect, leaves me cold despite it's universal acclaim amongst the gaming community. Partly because my experience of playing Halo is me running around desperately firing bullets left right and centre, only to find out some sneaky bastard has crept up behind me and is steadily unloading their ammunition in to the back of my neck.

This isn't to say that people who enjoy these video games are somehow misguided. They're not. In fact if I was any good at them I would probably love these games as much the next man. But because I'm pretty much useless when it comes to "circle strafing" and throwing grenades at moving targets, it means I end up looking for other things to occupy my console disk drives. Games like Civilization Revolutions where you have to build a city and stop other world renowned leaders (Gee Note: Including a strangely aggressive Gandhi. No really. A typical conversation with Gandhi in Civ Rev goes something like "Hey Gandhi. How's it going?" "Give me your gold!!!" "I'm sorry Gandhi. I have no gold to give you." "WHAT?!?!? F*** YOU BUDDY!! THIS MEANS WAR!!!!!") from taking it over. Or Heavy Rain, which is kind of a murder mystery with French voice actors pretending to be American and failing miserably (Gee Note: "But Scott don't you realize? Zis could 'elp us find ze killer!").

Or, more to the point, Red Dead Redemption.





Red Dead Redemption is,a cowboy action-adventure. Developed by Rockstar, the people responsible for the Grand Theft Auto games, RDR is set in a fictional Wild West where men are men, women are women, and animals are a good way of generating some cash by hunting them for their pelts. Anyone who has ever played a Grand Theft Auto game will instantly be comfortable with the mechanics. You jump on a horse, ride your way to a place marked out on your map, where upon a cut scene kicks in to move plot along. After that you complete the objective set out in front of you, which generally speaking is "ride over there and shoot those people", before moving on to the next thing. RDR differs from it's predecessors in one key aspect however. While the various incarnations of GTA were often juvenile and tawdry, RDR is a grown up and thoughtful game. Of course it still has a collection of buffoons to gawk at, a grave robber and an elderly work shy farm hand for example, but overall it tells a charming, tragic, and occasionally beautiful story.

Recently an add on for the game became available online. Coinciding with Halloween the developers released the "Undead Nightmare" downloadable pack, a separate mission from the main game in which zombies are unleashed on to the playing field causing havoc in the process. Designed to be a way to refresh the game for players who had already completed the original, "Undead Nightmare" brings with it a host of new features. You can catch and tame the four horses of the apocalypse, ride about on a unicorn, get attacked by a chupacabra, and fire a bullet at a demonic looking goat.

It also features a side mission which has upset some people. The reason? Well if you take a trip to the game area known as the tall trees you're given the chance to hunt some Sasquatch.
Learning of this Craig Woolheater of Cryptomundo published the following video found on Youtube,




Above it he added the following the following statement.

"I am not a gamer and find this somewhat offensive…"

This was then followed by a series of comments underneath from regular readers of Cryptomundo. These included…

"I find it HIGHLY offensive."

"I am a gamer. Have been for a long time. This is not only offensive, but pathetic."

"Disgraceful. Whatever happened to social responsibility and a respect for nature? This game will only appeal to violent morons. This is as bad as the rod and gun club in BC who use sasquatch targets for practice." (Gee Note: One. I've played this game I'm not violent. A moron maybe. But I have weak girl arms and don't really enjoy pain so I tend to avoid any kind of physical activity, fighting included. Two. There's a gun club that uses Sasquatch targets for practice? That's just… confusing.)

Finally some slightly saner voices joined the discussion, and the conversation degenerated in to a very dull debate about whether or not video games are evil. "YES!!!" shouted some people. "NO!!!!" cried others. And all the while everyone missed the point like English soccer players taking penalties.

You see this is what happens when something is taken out of context. It would be like watching one scene from "Aliens" where Sigourney Weaver is running away from a giant slathering extra terrestrial and saying "Oh my God. This movie totally presents women as feeble and spineless.". Well no, if you watch the rest of the rest of the movie it turns out the woman not only succeeds where a bunch of hardened male soldiers fail, but also kicks some serious ass in doing so. But if you only watch that one scene, you'll probably come to the conclusion that either Sigourney gets munched by the raging monster or she gets rescued by some handsome hunk in a tight t-shirt.

Red Dead Redemption is many things. In some ways, such as the use of the Wilhelm scream, it's an affectionate love letter to the Western genre. In others it's a fun action romp in which you get to test your skill by hitting moving targets. But the storyline of the game has one major thematic element that dwarfs everything else. Simply put it's the evil that men do. Even more simply put, people are generally dicks.

Take the game's protagonist, John Marston. Marston is a nice guy. A former gang member who used to kill people as soon as look at them, he fell in love, settled down, and started a family. Refreshingly for a story about a bad man made good, you never see him racked with guilt over his past deeds. In these times where the tortured hero struggling against personal demons has become a tired cliché, Marston is unique because he views his past almost philosophically. Running with a posse, killing innocent folk, robbing banks and stores, whatever he did Marston genuinely believes he is now a different person from the one who committed those crimes.




The problem is Marston is incredibly naïve. He left his life on the run to become a farmer, only to find out he wasn't very good at it. And after his family are kidnapped, Marston is forced by a corrupt law-man to hunt down his former comrades or risk losing his wife and son. This leads him on a quest where, time after time, his good nature is taken advantage of. Whether it be a down on his luck drunk trying to avoid his debts, a two bit hustler selling snake oil, or Mexican general trying to hold on to his lofty position, the universe of Red Dead Redemption is filled with back stabbing shysters.

Betrayal is the name of the game here. The first time we see Marston he gets shot by a friend and left for dead. By the time we leave him he's battling an entire army because he's been screwed yet again. Despite the odd ray of sunshine here and there not much changes for our man.

The reason I bring this up is that the controversial "Bigfoot murdering" fits in perfectly with this scenario. Marston isn't hunting the Sasquatch because he enjoys killing things. Marston is hunting the Sasquatch because he's been duped in to thinking it's a threat by another character desperate to acquire the animal's fur. In essence John is a tragic character, doomed to commit an act of violence against a harmless creature because he is trying to do the right thing.

And really, it amazes me how anyone could find that offensive. It's not even if Bigfoot is presented as a crazed beast prepared to tear humans limb from limb. All the Sasquatches featured run away as soon as you approach them, and the last one even explains calmly that his people are non threatening while bemoaning the loss of his kind. If anything the message here isn't "Hey! It's fun to kill Sasquatches!". Instead it's "Yeah it's fun to shoot things. No one is denying that. But really, don't blow away Bigfoot just because you can. It's kind of a douche move.". 

It wouldn't be so bad if the good people of Cryptomundo weren't used to being on the receiving end of this type of thing. By it's very nature people who are proponents of something like cryptozoology are often scoffed at, much in the same way that ufologists are. By simply saying "I believe there might be large undiscovered creatures in the world somewhere." or "I believe there might be aircraft in our skies that shouldn't be there" certain sections of the community will instantly disregard anything you say and label you a loony.

For example last night I watched an episode of "Solving History with Olly Steeds". Steeds, a British journalist and explorer, had decided to tackle the Nazca lines. According to the TV guide the episode would look at various theories including whether the lines were made for ceremonial purposes, whether they were used as an astrological guide, or whether they were made by aliens. "Awesome" thinks I. "A really good investigative piece about the pros and cons of the various theories sounds fascinating". Except it wasn't. In fact the part of the programme devoted to the extra terrestrial theory was given a measly thirty seconds, and was summed up by Steeds saying something along the lines of "I can see how some people would think that these lines look like runways for alien spacecraft. But that theory assumes the Nazca wouldn't have the intelligence to make the lines themselves. Which I find rather insulting.". For the rest of the show Steeds spent his time getting high (Gee Note: No really he did. On the premise that "this is what the Nazca would have done". I'm surprised he didn't go the whole hog and rent out a hotel room, fill it with prostitutes, and claim it was "what they did back in the day". When in Peru, Olly-boy. When in Peru.) and presenting an opinion that is not universally accepted as if it was stone cold fact.

And it made me furious because at no point have I ever read an "alternative" theory about the Nazca lines that starts with "Yo Nazca so dumb when they hear it's chilly outside they go get a bowl." Because nobody has ever brought up the question of if could they make the lines. I mean if they can build pyramids then I'm pretty sure they could draw in some dirt. The question has always been why would they? What purpose would it possibly serve? Why design a complex picture of a monkey or a shark if no one is ever going to see it? Now a lot of very intelligent people have come up with a lot of evidence to support the idea that they were designed by beings not of this world (Gee Note: Admittedly a few nutters have also joined in the "It was aliens!" chorus. You take the rough with the smooth I guess). To ignore their work just because you happen to think it's a load of codswallop is, well, just plain wrong when you're trying to "Solve History".

Put it this way. Anyone who has read this blog for more than three minutes will probably know that I hate conspiracy theories. Actually that's not true. I don't hate the ones that make sense. Have Western governments in the past lied about the existence of UFOs? Well yeah, they almost certainly have. Are those UFOs of alien origin? I… I don't know. I'd like to think they were. But considering the USA and Russia were looking at each other with twitching eyelids and beads of sweat  dripping from their foreheads for over four decades, I'm guessing most of the famous UFO reports from that era were military devices taken out for test runs.

But things like the 9/11 conspiracy I can't stand. However just because I can't stand them doesn't mean I haven't done my research. In fact it's looking up and debating the various questions about the legitimacy of the terrorists attacks that has formed the strength of my opinion.

Which is why it's frustrating that Cryptomundo should take a different stance. Rather than open up a valid conversation about whether Bigfoot's depiction in the game offsets any negative impact about encouraging players to hunt a sasquatch, or whether Rockstar the company has made a misstep when trying to present an obviously emotional story of a sentient being losing it's loved ones, we instead get “I know nothing about this. But I hate it”. It's amazingly closed minded.

And considering it's a website about animals mainstream science doesn't recognise as real, Cryptomundo is the last place you'd expect to find closed mindedness.

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