Ask anyone about what an episode of Gilmore Girls consists of and they’ll tell you about the noise. The constant, sped-up dialogue, written and delivered unrealistically. That’s the caricature of the programme’s character, and it’s the draw, largely, for watching it. But Gilmore Girls knows when to be silent. It tends to be best when operating in the absence of that unmistakable dialogue, the cold vacuum of the void all the more remarkable for that noise. Silence is what separates Gilmore Girls from what it might immediately appear to be: teen romantic drama, family soap opera* … generic. Other examples of the former (I’m thinking your OC‘s, your 90210‘s) often use a similar pop-cultural, constantly-quipping voice but, apart from not actually doing the noise element nearly as well as Gilmore Girls, they don’t often know how to stop. Everything is on full, all of the time: pregnancies and break-ups and abortions get thrown at you one after the other. The premise of Gilmore Girls is founded on this kind of drama (girl has baby at 16, gets kicked out by parents), but the programme itself sits for the most part in a quiet idyll. (In fact, the biggest changes in this mould tend to be the most understated: Lorelai ditching her own wedding early on just doesn’t feel as big and important as small-town politics.) Terrifying. How it isn’t a family soap-opera is trickier to navigate, if only because I have less direct examples or experience with the genre I’m thinking of. It certainly is – like almost all the TV shows I love – about family. Examining three generations of the Gilmore family, it is one of the more straight-forward examples of this phenomenon. More Simpsons than, say, Firefly (Whedon’s stuff being, after all, always about carving your own family out of what is available). But, it’s got a touch of that, too. A well-serviced supporting cast, often the most accessible emotional route, providing the surrogate family. As I got a little choked up watching the finale of Season 3, it was this synthesised family that broke me: the tears of the local café owner. This was the reaction to an event – graduation – that will, when it happens in my own life later on today, likely provoke little emotion from me. But, I’m getting noisy. The point was silence. I’ve just reached the end of Season Three. It is uncharacteristically noisy in terms of plot points. One character got kicked out of school and ran away (again), one character’s getting married, an inn burnt down, a minor character died, there’s a big family feud… This is not the stuff of quiet old Gilmore Girls. Thing is, even when the lips don’t stop moving for a second of that forty-something minutes, the plot almost always stays restrained. Those genres I talked about earlier? You get the impression it knows them, and doesn’t want to be them, and so won’t surrender to cliché. But, I’m okay for the breaking of their key rule. For a few reasons: it’s those dying moments before Uni, before everything has to shift. So it makes sense that everything would feel accelerated. For me, that resonates because of its timing: everyone makes discoveries at Uni – alcohol, drugs, drum & bass, promiscuous sex. I discovered Gilmore Girls. That I’m still only on Season Three says a lot about my viewing habits, probably. But it’s also fitting. I’m just finishing Uni; Rory’s just finishing school. On screen, a graduation; a couple of week later, I graduate; for weeks after, I graduate again and again, my image passed around the extended family, on screen. Everything changes. It felt like a finale that the show could, almost, bow out on. Everything comes full circle, in the time-honoured tradition, while everything’s exactly as messy and unresolved as ever. Everything’s changing and for once on Gilmore Girls, everything’s changing. You just feel those changes more because of the contrast. It’s that use of noise and silence I talked about. *Watch the credits sequence, look at the cover of the first season DVD, both of which seem to be dedicated to convincing you this is a warm and cheesy afternoon family movie.
And so it is that another free weekend of Team Fortress 2 comes to an end. I haven’t spent as long as I might have wanted, due to the aforementioned birthday celebrations. My logical brain tells me this is probably a good thing. Meanwhile, my lower functions scream at the accursed social life.MUST. PLAY. MORE. TEE. EFF. TOO! I’m hooked. I’m hooked bad, in a way I haven’t been since my first experience with TF2 two Christmasses ago.* Is it the sweet, satisfyingly lumpy sensation of every successful kill? Well, yes. The giggle-inducing, pun-loving presentation? Definitely. The beautiful Pixar-cartoon design? Even though my non-gaming-friendly laptop appears to have knifed up the graphics in a back-alley, yes.It’s very much all of that. But why now?It’s the fault of… and, okay, appreciate this is a multiplayer deathmatch game about two teams called BLU and RED, killing each other, respawning, killing each other, with a cast of characters entirely made up of red/blue versions of various unbending stereotypes – German mad-scientist doctors, Australian huntsmen snipers, French gentlemen spies… it was the fault of Narrative. It all began with a mystifying comic put up online at the TF blog, which peeled back the curtain of the game, to show the (fictional) workings under each fight. TF2 has always done mini-narratives well: the basic premise puts your own small story (clocking up kills) in front of a backdrop of a larger story (capturing the control point). Simple but effective- the basis of most multiplayer shooters. More unique stuff like the game’s Domination feature- announcing a character who has killed you multiple times as your rival – and the natural class rivalries/symbioses that develop (the love between a hit-point-endowed Heavy and his Medic) build on that effectively, allowing you to sketch your own story on top of everything happening (and exploding) around you.I reckon, perhaps controversially,** that Achievements, flawed and artificial though they are, extend that. Team Fortress is probably as close to playing an MMO I’m ever going to come. It means a certain level of grinding for the newer, exciting-er weapons but, allowing you to put progress bars and reminders for achievements on the screen, there’s a constant sense of varied aims and slow improvement. In traditional narrative terms, character development. But this week was the first time it’s ever imposed such a big meta-narrative over the gameplay. First, making the narrative explicit with (admittedly nonsensical) backstory for the fight, and then setting up a direct war- between the rocket-jumping Soldier and explosive-wielding Scottish cyclops Demoman, all done in traditionally well-written, genuinely funny style over the Team Fortress blog. The winner would receive a special unlockable weapon.And that was it. I had to represent for my chosen side (the Soldiers, obv) so I re-installed TF2, fired up a game and jumped straight into the Soldier’s boots, where I loyally stayed for the duration. The thing being, while I probably would have started playing TF2 again this Christmas, nothing else would have got me this instantly attached. Watching my ‘War Contribution’ kill-counter slowly tick up, immediately booing at any Demomen I saw, furrowing my brow and making a mental note to throw as many rockets their way as possible (those damned Scots!) and striving to get better at that, TF2 temporarily took over my brain. I was logging on every chance I got, checking the War results like a football fan.There are some stats floating around on the internet somewhere*** tht show the spike TF2 sales take after each update, and it’s well deserved. There was a large internet backlash when Valve announced a Left4Dead2, rather than merely updating the first game for free, and TF2 is the reason. But I can’t see L4D updates pushing up the number of interested gamers the way these do- a lot of that is probably due to the more finite nature of level add-ons in an essentially linear game, and a lot to do with the clever way TF2 is marketed- take the Meet The… videos, individual works of genius. With every update, the attention to detail and sheer amount of jokes (under which a mythos is starting to quietly creep in) are astounding. The value-for-money feeling is as much reading the fake newspapers and comics and watching the videos, as it is the addition of weapons and maps. And it’s testament to Valve’s investment in new ways of storytelling. This is a game which doesn’t feature a single cutscene, but which has managed to build an atmosphere, if not a particularly necessary fiction.For all people talked about L4D telling a story in a new way with its graffiti and posters (and it did that reasonably well, but in a too-limited way), this is the ultimate showing-off of Valve’s confidence. Because they’re ace, and they understand gamers of all types- the whole spectrum of nerd- and they make computer games I buy 2 or 3 times. If you’re reading this and it’s still Sunday, then the game is still free and you can get it from Steam here. I leave you with the latest promo video, Meet The Spy. *In many ways, TF2 is as much a Christmas tradition as over-eating and kids’ films for me. First got the 360 Orange Box in the boxing-day sales and lost the rest of my Christmas holidays to it. I bought it again for some mystifying reason on PC, where it entirely failed to run until I received a new laptop last Christmas, and kissed farewell to any chances of leaving the house till New Year. And… well, here we are again. A lot of free time, a lot more work to do, and the temptation. Oh, the temptation. **Controversially because I know a lot of people- PC people especially, and me includedly- look down a bit on achievements as a cheap play-me-look-play-me grinding mechanic. Which they can certainly be, and I’m in no way endorsing the fact that sale page up there including “326 Steam Achievements!” amongst the game’s features. […]
I find a new platform* for my yapping over at the lovely Gamersyndrome.com, and begin by looking at upcoming jumpy-game New Super Mario Bros. Wii. “Nintendo have recently come out and admitted that, perhaps, their E3 showing was a bit weak. Certainly alongside Microsoft’s big Milo/Natal double-team, it wasn’t much. But, for a company so often accused these days of neglecting their “hardcore” audience- that’d be us guys- the headlines seemed to spell out ‘Nintendo Go Back To The Franchises’: two Mario games, a new Metroid and hints about a forthcoming Zelda.” BUT THERE’S A TWIST! Read the rest here.*Yup, this was certainly a pun.
Sometimes you read something just at the right time. Y’know? I’ve just finished the first trade of David Lapham’s Young Liars. It’s been a bit of a comedown week, so far. I made the bold claim, as Sunday turned into Monday, that I’d had “the perfect week“. The comedown means a few days of feeling unfulfilled and apathetic and confused as to why – generally pretty darn emo. This is pretty common, I presume. Young Liars is nasty. From the first couple of pages, there’s a sense that the writer’s voice is just a little off. I’ve never read Lapham before, so presumed it just wasn’t very well-written. Finishing it, I’m not so sure. I never finished the first issue last time I tried to read it, and I thought I had the measure of the series- the standard Vertigo formula: scratchy indie art, a varied collection of quirky ne’er-do-wells, a splash of Ennis gross-out weirdness. And a lot of Music References. And it stays that way, mostly, for the first and second issues. Normal people, weird circumstances, just on the edge of believability. The Vertigo trademark. But at some point around the second issue it takes a plunge into surreality, and deep deep unpleasantness. It’s an incredibly densely told story. There were a lot of double-take moments where I had to go back and reread a page. The narrative is constantly chopped up, disorientating, dropping chunks of explanation into holes made three issues back. Like I said, the narrator’s voice is just…off. And honestly? It left me feeling sick. Looking back at the cover, I can’t believe how misleading it is. I’m promised “a firecracker of a book”, Sadie bursting out and asking me, am I ready for this? It’s called Daydream Believer, for God’s sake.On the other side of the book, most of the supporting cast remain merely a bunch of 2-dimensional pricks (with the exception of Big C who wins the prize for most Eye-Gougingly Sad Moment) but our central couple, Sadie and Danny, are master sadists. Any sympathy for either character goes totally unrewarded. A Parental Advisory: Herein lies explicit content. There’s sex and violence and, anytime you think about enjoying either, there’s a steep plummet into guilt. There’s a lot of usage of the phrase ‘spreading her legs’ until it becomes the most foul obscenity I’ve ever read. The climactic scenes with the Pinkertons (no, I won’t explain) killed me. Lapham makes some bold choices and all the pain comes together between the big moments. Somehow there’s suddenly a lot riding on the lives of these characters you have absolutely no sympathy for. These scenes just hurt. And, now, I don’t feel any less weird and emo. The book was never cathartic. But just getting through it- surviving- felt like an achievement and I reckon when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be totally out of this comedown funk. And then it’s All-Star Superman time.