It’s that time again — time for us to sit back, reflect, and answer the question, “What the heck did I do over the past year, anyway?”.
Today’s list covers my personal favorite television shows of 2014. As with all of my year end lists, this reflects what I actually watched this year as opposed to what just what was newly released. In the era of Netflix and Hulu and Viki and Amazon Prime, the line between “new” and “new-to-me” is pretty blurry anyway.
Okay, to the list!
5. True Detective
After living without cable television for a few years the idea of waiting a week for the next episode of your favorite show starts to seem cruel and unusual, and yet for weeks I patiently waited for Wednesday night to see another episode of True Detective. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are both amazing in their roles as good detectives and flawed human beings, and I found the thoughtful, character-driven ending to be extremely satisfying.
A big part of why True Detective was a success, I think, is the producers’ willingness to tell a story over one season and be done with it. It certainly has me more interested in Season 2.
Hannibal, as I wrote when I watched it, is pretty ridiculous. “Florrid” seems like a gentle term to describe some of the dialogue, and in a show about super-geniuses everyone seems to be really bad at their job. But fortunately for us Hannibal also revels in its ludicrousness, never taking itself too seriously.
The food scenes are gorgeous and stomach-turning at the same time, and Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson seem determined to act the CRAP out of every scene in a way that becomes quite charming. And that season two finale! You have to respect a show that has no qualms about putting literally every cast member in peril.
3. House of Cards
I think season 1 was on my list last year, and season 2 did not disappoint.
House of Cards is at its best when Frank and Claire Underwood throw off their shreds of conscience and just go for the throat of democracy. They’re bad people who are smarter, meaner, and more hard working than anyone else around them, and while I wouldn’t want them in my real life government it makes for great television.
2. The Good Wife
If you’ve only seen ads for The Good Wife, as I had before this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was yet another show about a love triangle. And while that does come up, the show is actually much more about its ensemble cast and their courtroom antics. A show about lawyers actually skillfully practicing law — how refreshing!
The regular cast is great, and the recurring guests are always a treat. (Anyone who does not cheer when Elsbeth Tascioni appears on their screen has no soul.) But most importantly to me on a personal level is the number of competent, talented women characters “of a certain age” who appear on the show. As someone who is sliding into middle age it’s nice to have a show where not everyone is hot and 22.
1. The Genius
You guys didn’t think I’d make a list without a single South Korean show on it, did ya?
The Genius, particularly the first season, is far and away the best show I watched this year. It’s a competition show that could be subtitled “Game Theory Fight”. Each week a selection of smart guests including infamous poker players, StarCraft champions, and high-performing college kids is whittled down by playing a new game. Some players are adept at social manipulation, some are amazing at breaking down the rules and gaming the system — you never know what will happen. *cue Extreme Ways*
And of course unlike American reality shows people did actually “come here to make friends” so everyone is polite and pleasant while they devise ways to out-think each other. I’m serious you guys: if you like game theory or systems or smart people, watch the first episode of season 1 and you’ll be totally hooked. (The subtitles are extremely well done, too.)
Today almost every studio game has some multiplayer elements. Even games that have historically been for single players only now frequently come with an aspect of multiplayer, some of which has been done well (Mass Effect 3!) and some of which has not (SimCity 2013, whyyyy). The most popular and recognizable games in the world — League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty — all entirely rely on multiplayer, whether it’s creating social interaction or just having a target-rich environment.
A couple of years ago I would have said that all this multiplayer is a good thing. It’s making the most of modern technology! It’s bringing people together, and maybe we can expand our horizons occasionally and meet someone new or at least have a good game and some positive interaction. Multiplayer is exciting because you never know what to expect, and people will always surprise each other. Just set up the structure, dear developers, and let us rush in and fill it with fun and games.
As it stands at the moment, though… not so much.
Let me tell you a quick story. During the Extra Life marathon, myself, Ellyndrial, and two of our friends decided to try Blizzard’s new MOBA Heroes of the Storm. What the heck, right? So we log in to the game, which was in “technical alpha” at the time, do the required tutorials, and start our first match. It’s players vs. bots, pretty low stakes, and because there are only 4 of us the game randomly assigns a fifth player to our team.
So we’re bumbling around having fun and trying to figure out how to play and then suddenly in the middle of our screens are words of wisdom from our new teammate: “You guys all suck.” They never got much worse than that, but called us losers a few times and sarcastically thanked us for screwing up the game when it was all over.
To be fair being told that we’re losers who suck is pretty low on the vitriol scale, and I wasn’t hurt as much as amused: here we are playing a match against bots, on a day that’s pretty infamous for being a charity gaming day, in a game that’s still in ALPHA. And yet apparently we still deserved a brow-beating for bringing our fifth player down, man. This scenario, only with more hateful language, happens to someone every day in LoL or WoW or some other giant multiplayer game.
2014 was also the year of Gamergate. Here’s a little chart to show how that’s affected my view of my hobby:
Number of accounts I have blocked on Twitter, January 2014: 1
Number of accounts I have blocked on Twitter, December 2014: literally thousands
I’ve already written in the past about how Gamergate has chased well-known women out of developing, writing about, and playing games, but the further fallout has been even more depressing for me. It’s worse because now I know of multiple people (of all genders) in our little community of MMO-ish writers and podcasters who have reduced their efforts if not quit outright in large part because of the bullshit.
Think about it — you’re not going to hear these names on Twitter or read about them in the Guardian, but slowly, quietly, good people who love games are shuttering their websites and podcasts because they’re scared, or angry, or alienated, or a combination of all three. And lord, I cannot blame them for making that decision but each and every one of those people is a huge loss for the rest of us.
(This is also part of the reason I have been not been posting as much lately.)
In January I had a policy of just following back everyone on Twitter who followed me and mentioned a love of games in their profile. Hey, we’re all gamers, right? Today I carefully vet people who follow me and mention games, because my new mantra is that life is too short for me to accidentally read dumb upsetting crap, much less set off a minor pile-up in my direction. I miss cheerfully promoting other people’s posts and tweets without worrying that it will get shade thrown their way. I miss feeling like gaming was something I could have in common with someone, rather than a possible vector for abuse.
I am hesitant to play and expose myself to the charming banter of LoL or a random LFR group or other large multiplayer title. (True story: I almost resubbed to WoW to get a 10th anniversary core hound mount, and then I read people’s reports on the horrible auto-group chat and people pulling things and logging off and kicking group members when they got to the final boss. PASS.) Even when I’m not playing a game, the very fact that I might want to could set someone off on social media or in a blog comment.
2014 was the year I became alienated from my hobby, for the most part because of the behavior of other players and hobbyists. I don’t know what the solution is or if there even is one aside from people just not being buttheads, and I think we all know how that historically works out.
To quote the well-known gaming enthusiast Sartre: Hell, as it turns out, is other gamers.
I created my WoW guild in 2006 and we had our first in-person meetup in Seattle in 2008. I was a little nervous at the time — strange people! from the internet! — but there have been many, many, maaaany more meetups since.
Before I started writing this post I browsed through old albums looking for inspiration about what my little gaming community has meant to me over the years. So instead of words, allow me to share a few photos of things I’ve experienced because of MMOs and the people I’ve met playing them.
Without my guildies I would have never shot a zombie in the face with a shotgun.
I probably never would have cheered as my friends danced the tango on the Las Vegas strip.
I certainly never would have excitedly hoisted (inflatable) Frostmourne into the air during Blizzcon.
It’s only thanks to people I met as a virtual elf that I had a cold PBR in the middle of Portland…
and rocked it out on the BART to Oakland to see Tenacious D play.
I almost certainly would never have eaten pork shu mai with gold leaf on top without the influence of my guild.
And I wouldn’t have gone to PAX Prime and the associated Curse party, where I did the robot with a guy dressed like Wrex.
None of these are fundamentally life changing (although I have some of those stories too for another day). They’re just neat little moments. But these particular events only happened because I became part of a community of MMO players and made some damn good friends.
Okay so Dragon Age: Inquisition. As I have mentioned more than once, I was previously playing this game like it was my second job and loving the heck out of it. Yesterday though I didn’t play it at all. Today I’m worried if I’ll even finish it.
The part of the game that gives my computer the most trouble are the (great looking) cut scenes. If I play through too many of them in a row my video card has a hissy fit and reboots itself, crashing the game completely to the point where I have to close it from the task manager. So far this hasn’t been a huge problem — occasionally I have to enter the War Council room a second time after restarting — but I’m currently in the middle of a large story area with a ton of set pieces, and it’s been crash city. (It’s the Winter Palace for those in the know.) While the auto-saves help, twice now I’ve crashed at a point where the game correctly auto-saved me, but the conversation triggers are now bugged so I still have to backtrack and play from a previous save.
Now I feel a little weird saying this with any sincerity, but the backtracking really messes with my immersion. I find it almost irredeemably frustrating to replay conversations that I just had 5 minutes ago. It pulls me out of the idea that this is my Inquisitor’s story, and replaces it with the feeling that this is just a game with programmed choices. I go from being a player captivated by plot and dialogue to an impatient “ESC” button-masher in about two seconds.
Last night I sat down to play, but then remembered that I crashed last time and would have to redo some story segments while praying that my video card didn’t barf again. So instead I sighed, made a face, and watched goofy YouTube videos. It’s my computer’s fault as much as anything so I’m not Angry At Video Games exactly, but it’s just amazing how even what one may consider the best game of the year can be so quickly derailed by bugs and having to repeat sections.
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Last week we all got our first look at The Force Awakens. The teaser was only 88 seconds, but it inspired endless nerd rage and theory all over the internet, including Cat Context. We talk about whether J.J. Abrams can be trusted to take the beloved franchise in a good direction, explain how yes, internet, black stormtroopers could totally be a thing, and of course dissect that weird new t-bar light saber hilt. Liore speaks out in favor of the old school gritty 70s space aesthetic, while Aro thinks that wouldn’t fit in at all with the timeline of the series.
Of course Star Wars isn’t the only great genre franchise out there. Just ask Marvel! Aro and Elly try to convince Liore to watch the Captain America movies, while in turn she mildly defends the Agents of SHIELD television show.. and how pretty Thor is.
Also, Aro literally lights things on fire trying to play Dragon Age! Liore shares a sparkly, sparkly Christmas tradition! Elly hates Jedis!
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