The Writing on the Wall: Why The Last of Us Part II Was a Predictable Disaster

If The Last of Us Part II is meant to be the game of my generation, we’re in big trouble.

When this game debuted on June 19, 2020, it quickly became one of the most controversial mainstream releases in the medium’s history. Director Neil Druckmann considered it his magnum opus, and critics, by and large, had nothing but praise for the game. The same, however, could not be said of fans – many of whom rejected it as an inferior follow-up to a beloved masterpiece. To critics, it was the greatest sequel in entertainment history since The Godfather Part II, but to fans, it may as well have been Exorcist II: The Heretic.

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A Rebuttal to James Whitbrook: Our Fascination With Canon Is Not Killing the Way We Value Stories

On April 1, 2020, a news editor by the name of James Whitbrook wrote an article for Gizmodo entitled “Our Fascination With Canon Is Killing the Way We Value Stories”. His central argument being made clear in the title, he claims that with pop culture being dominated by large franchises featuring interconnected stories, the fanbase’s love of stories is morphing into what he calls an archival competition. He then laments that critics and fans alike don’t discuss the underlying themes of a given work, but rather melt down the base components to what he calls “pure, unflinching facts”.

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Impeccable Timing: 5 Classic Films That Contemporary Critics Would Have Hated

Last December, I had the pleasure of watching Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Although I didn’t like it quite as much as Memento, I definitely think it’s a great film well worth watching. Unfortunately, critics at the time didn’t agree, for the film’s initial reception was lukewarm. The critics who enjoyed it were in the majority, but the writing was on the wall; it paled in comparison to his earlier efforts. When the decade came to a close, something unexpected happened. Suddenly, this film that currently sits at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes began appearing on various “best of” lists regarding the most exemplary efforts of the 2000s.

Because of this development, one of the greatest weaknesses of aggregate review sites was revealed – it only provides a snapshot as to what critics thought of a film the minute it debuted. If a film is subject to retroactive vindication, the score does not change accordingly. This is also evident in how Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter achieved 100% on the same site despite being so poorly received upon its 1955 release that it completely ruined his chances of ever directing another film.

Seeing these two films got me thinking about how works are received. How many critical darlings are going to stand the test of time? How many masterpieces are the critics of today letting fall by the wayside? Critics have proven over the years to be masters of tooting their own horns, but as the late, great Orson Welles once proposed in his excellent swansong effort, F for Fake, they can be hoodwinked just as easily the audience they look down upon. If critics could make this mistake as recently as 2006 when the rules of the medium had been firmly established, I expect there will be many more instances of such a thing occurring to come.

Even with an educated guess here and there, I don’t have any way of determining what films considered mediocre or even outright bad now will receive their vindication in the future. Therefore, I will instead talk about the opposite phenomenon. As a result of the various think pieces ostensibly professional critics and journalists have written in the past decade, which range anywhere from woefully misbegotten to condescending to their audience, I’ve found them to be increasingly untrustworthy. Consequently, I can believe they would have hated many classic, undeniably good films had they been released today.

Now, to be clear, with this editorial, I’m not talking about films such as D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation or Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. Though critics continue to praise both works, it’s clear they have nothing to offer most people, promoting obviously outdated values among other problems. Instead, I propose that there are films considered to this very day some of the greatest ever made – but only because the current wave of critics took their predecessors at their word. I feel that if you were to somehow beam present-day critical sensibilities into their predecessors’ collective headspace, they would have dropped certain objectively great films like a hot potato. They fly in the face of present-day critical sensibilities to the extent that they would have lambasted them on principle alone. There are plenty of films I feel fall into this category, but five in particular struck me as the kinds of works contemporary critics would loathe with every fiber of their being.

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The Blunders of Filip Miucin and Dean Takahashi: Why Critics Should Be Open to Criticism

In the summer of 2017, I learned of an independently produced video game known as Cuphead. Its art style immediately grabbed my attention. I thought it was fascinating how the creators drew inspiration from the pioneering American animated short films of the 1920s and 1930s, giving it a colorful, fresh coat of paint.  As it wasn’t released until September of that year, one would expect I learned of it through the publicity professional journalists were giving it on the eve of its release. Such an assertion would indeed be the case.

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A Rebuttal to Paul Schrader: Learn to Respect Your Audience

Fresh off his latest acclaimed film, First Reformed, veteran director Paul Schrader was interviewed on the online magazine Deadline Hollywood about his take on the current state of cinema. I myself have always found the discussion of what decade could be said to be the high point of a given medium fascinating. Are the consensuses guided by nostalgia or did the masters of old really have something the current generation doesn’t possess? If one were to look at any given list of the greatest films ever made, one would get the impression the 1970s in particular was an exemplary decade for the medium.

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A Critique of the Critics: Aggregated Assault

When it came to films, 2017 seemed to have little middle ground between the critically beloved gems and the turkeys. Nonetheless, I could consider it one of the medium’s better years within the 2010s if for no other reason than because the critically acclaimed films had little trouble living up to the hype. It was to the point where I would argue nine nominations weren’t enough to do the year justice – especially when one considers quality works such as Good Time and Blade Runner 2049 failed to gain recognition.

My primary means of determining what film to watch would be Rotten Tomatoes. Launched in 1998, Rotten Tomatoes would appear to be a hopeful filmgoer’s best friend. Why wouldn’t it be? It aggregates what critics have to say about the film. If it gets a high score, you can safely bet you’re seeing something special. Meanwhile, if Hollywood extensively markets a film only for it to receive 20% or less, you can bet it’s the product of a particularly cynical cabal of boardroom executives attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It was to the point where Brett Ratner, known for having directed the Rush Hour series and X-Men: The Last Stand, felt it to be the “destruction of [their] business”.

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4 Ways in Which Gamers Are Ahead of the Curve

Back in August of 2018, I had the pleasure of responding to a Sunshine Blogger Award. After I answered the eleven questions, I, in turn, proposed eleven of my own. To shake things up a bit, I tagged more than twenty random people at once. Though I enjoyed reading these answers, I have to confess that one in particular stood out – and not in a good way, unfortunately. One of the questions I asked concerned what cinephiles could learn from gamers. One individual, in lieu of actually answering the question, took this opportunity to go on a rant on how gamers are anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, exclusionary, and any number of pejoratives anyone versed in the hobby has heard countless times. In doing so, they unfairly put every single well-adjusted person who enjoys gaming into the same box as white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and any number of unorganized bullies they would want nothing to do with.

The sad part is that it’s a typical example of how gamers tend to get portrayed in the media as well. It’s so pervasive that certain gamers have bought into it, and actively feel shame engaging in the hobby. You should never feel shame doing something you like – provided it isn’t immoral, of course. In all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out the media constantly putting down gamers could be a contributing factor to their bad behavior. After all, gamers have spent entire decades trying to prove they’re not monsters, yet the media pushes that narrative without any signs of stopping. If you tell a group of people they’re monsters for a long enough time, you don’t get to act surprised when they abandon their humanity and become just that. Note that being shunned doesn’t give a person a blank check to behave poorly; barring a debilitating neurological impairment or a truly extenuating circumstance, everyone has the ability to do the right thing.

Fortunately, despite the media’s best efforts, it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, one thing I’ve observed over the years, which has become much clearer as time has gone on, is that gamers are remarkably progressive in certain fields compared to consumers of other media. Despite being apparent to anyone willing to do even the slightest bit of cursory research, they barely ever get reported in favor of clickbait articles detailing outlying gamers losing their minds, with the writers not knowing or not caring there’s much more to them than that. By this point, I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m not one to blindly go with the flow, so if the mainstream media wishes to demonize gamers, here’s an article praising their strong suits.

Now, to make things clear, the purpose of this editorial isn’t to ignore reality. I cannot deny certain pockets of gamers have certainly proven to be all four of those things that individual spoke of and more. I also don’t wish to downplay the very real instances in which would-be gamers have been shunned for incredibly petty reasons. Any of these grievances deserve to be called out for what they are. However, by that same token, you have to remember that many of these issues aren’t endemic to gamers specifically. One of the biggest reasons they tend to get the worst of it is because video games still haven’t quite reached that level of mainstream acceptance where most people can rightly dismiss the bad apples as not representative of the group as a whole. After all, if a mass murderer were to cite a favorite film as the blueprints for their crime, the media wouldn’t then go out of their way to damn cinephiles. In fact, if the film in question was mainstream, they would likely dismiss the perpetrator as a lone wolf. So now that I have established where I stand when it comes to gamers’ representation in the media, here are four ways in which I feel they can claim to be ahead of the curve.

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A Critique of the Critics: How Ex Machina’s Viral Marketing Campaign Got Film Journalists to Abandon Their Audience

I’ve always found the subject of causal fans and critics failing to see eye to eye a fascinating subject. Many people have speculated on why these disconnects exist. Some say the critics are out of touch; others feel the common moviegoer is lacking in taste. In all honesty, this phenomenon couldn’t realistically be boiled down to a single reason. Because critics inevitably watch every noteworthy film that goes their way, it stands to reason the odd, experimental titles would stand out more than the crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster – even if the former has glaring plot holes and the latter has no execution issues whatsoever.

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Start Strong, End Strong

Pictured - A better ending than that of The Last of Us

Introduction

Regardless of the medium, a bad ending is one of the worst flaws a work can have. It’s one of the few mistakes that the author cannot recover from without resorting to sequels and extensive retconning. I am, and always have been, a stickler for endings. Indeed, I’ve made it a rule when critiquing that any work with a lackluster ending is not worthy of being deemed a classic and the highest score it could ever hope to get is a 6/10, which roughly translates to a B- in my book. While discussing the nature of story progression with my fellow games enthusiast, Aether, he perfectly illustrated why I insist on holding this belief.

“A weak ending is one of the few things that can retroactively lower the quality of a story, turning sour all the good memories of what you’ve been reading, watching, or playing.”

–Aether

This is especially crucial for video games; you want to reward your audience for overcoming a challenge and having the tenacity to see your work through to the end. Depriving them of a good ending is one of the worst insults any development team can dish out. In all of the games I’ve played over the years, three stand out as having endings so bad, the good memories I had of them were almost completely erased. They should be studied by writers as what to avoid when crafting and structuring their stories. In order to demonstrate my points, I will have to resort to spoilers, so if you are at all interested in playing the following games, feel free to skip those sections. Don’t worry though, should I mention other games in the following sections, I will be sure to include spoiler tags if needed.

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The Fall of Squaresoft

The Fall of Squaresoft

Introduction

Squaresoft used to be one of the most prolific gaming companies and a legendary RPG house. Practically all of their works received near-universal acclaim; just seeing them associated with a project was enough to guarantee the sale of millions of units. Unfortunately, it was not to last. Sometime around the mid-2000s, the bottom fell out and, suddenly, the same people who were praising their games found themselves instinctually shirking away whenever they heard the name of Square, eventually turning what was once a respected group of developers into the punchline of every joke lambasting JRPGs. “How could such a lauded company fall so hard?” many veteran video game fans doubtlessly wonder to this day. Personally, I don’t think the answer can be pinpointed to any one thing, and with this essay, I intend to demonstrate the factors that caused their downward spiral.

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