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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

12 Comments

  1. brownstudy
    November 29, 2013 @ 9:33 am

    I remember playing that game on my C=64 in the early '90s. Yes, not so much video game as computer game, and more like the procedural/turn-based games like Rogue or NetHack.

    BTW, I don't know if you're planning to cover the Star Trek novels and books that came out during the wilderness years. You may already know about him, but Steve Donoghue at the Stevereads site was a ST fan from way back and reviews some of the books that were published during those years. And he passes along a bit of history as it was lived for a fan of the time. Here's an example of one of his posts: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/stevereads/2012/07/notes-for-a-star-trek-bibliography-last-word-from-the-team/

    Cheers.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    November 29, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Thanks for the link-I've got different plans for the so-called "Wilderness Years" of the 1970s, but this is a great little bit of history. I'm no expert on Star Trek fandom, so it's always good for me to see something from people who are far more qualified then me!

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  3. Cleofis
    November 29, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

    "he point being video games have been an incredibly important part of my life for a very long time. So much so that I'm far more comfortable associating with and relating to video games then I am to pretty much any other kind of creative expression with the exception of music, and this influences the approach I take to media studies and just media consumption in general."

    Hear hear! This is the sort of perspective we need more of in this day and age, says I. Although I must shamefully admit, Elite Force is still my favorite Trek game.

    Speaking of video games generally though, have you played the Metal Gear Solid series at all, Josh? I think you'd find quite a lot to both love and say about it (especially MGS2) if you haven't already.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    November 29, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

    Well, I certainly did not expect to get praise for slagging off scripted drama in a blog about scripted drama, but I certainly appreciate it and am flattered!

    I have played Metal Gear Solid, though I quit the series after Subsistence/Snake Eater. After that point it kinda felt like Kojima was silently screaming for help to me. And yes, Sons of Liberty/Substance was utterly, utterly brilliant (I presume you've seen this? http://www.deltaheadtranslation.com/MGS2/DOTM_TOC.htm).

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  5. Cleofis
    November 29, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

    I have in fact read the Delta Head essays (multiple times, in fact); I don't think I'd be overstating it too much to say that what Elder Scrolls is for you, Metal Gear is for me. It's not just entertainment, it gets at Truth. And hoo boy, if you think MGS3 was Kojima screaming for help, better for you that you never played MGS4, which goes even further. He seems to have gotten a second wind with the MGS5, although given some of the things I've been hearing he's doing rather too good a job of playing loyal company man (the gratuitously oversexualized female characters for the bald-facedly singular purpose of increasing the potential merchandising? Good lord). Here's hoping he's got some furtherfast ones to pull on us.

    And nah, scripted drama, like any form of art, has limitations, and acknowledging it as the be all and end all of what TV, prestige or otherwise, can achieve is as wrongheaded as putting any other form of entertainment in that role. In fact, I've begun to think that video games are the only medium/form of art we have in which meaningful art can be created on a true budget, that is one that you can partake of without having to worry about the larger societal issues that abetted its making. While Hollywood builds a ziggurat to Western excess and The Fuckign Avengers makes enough money to feed multiple Third World countries twice over, here we have things like Gone Home, or Braid, or Kentucky Route Zero (which I cannot recommend to you highly enough if you haven't already played it, you will adore it), or any number of games produced before the inflation of the industry. Which isn't to say the rest of the industry isn't already beginning to scale to Hollywood heights of excess, but still. At the very least change can be meaningfully affected within it in a way that it most likely never will be in Hollywood.

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    November 30, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

    Oh, I liked MGS3: I thought it was a great conclusion to the trilogy. It was, like you said, MGS4 where I thought things started to get stilted and stretched thin.

    I guess my problem with scripted drama is that it feels so patriarchal and authoritarian: I'm expected to sit and passively consume someone else's story. I'm free to dislike it, but it's considered unbecoming if I want to change it myself. More often than not I find myself liking parts of a thing but wishing it went differently-I'm a big fan of reappropriation in that sense. You may have noticed this creeping into my episode reviews: I tend to say stuff like "this would have worked a lot better if X". That's why I dig the fanficiton scene as much as I do.

    Furthermore I just really don't like conflict and spectacle for conflict and spectacle's sake, which is what pretty much all drama boils down to IMO. And that goes for all kinds of spectacle, of which I would say "character development" is the biggest one these days. The TV I do like (such as Scooby-Doo, for example) relies on imagery, atmosphere and symbolism. I can seriously do without character arcs.

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  7. Cleofis
    November 30, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

    "I guess my problem with scripted drama is that it feels so patriarchal and authoritarian: I'm expected to sit and passively consume someone else's story. I'm free to dislike it, but it's considered unbecoming if I want to change it myself."

    Yeah, I see where you're coming from there. Personally, I think it can be really interesting to get a peek into someone else's creative vision, when it's done well; I've never really had much problem being sat down and told a story. Plus, as you go on to note, the fanfiction scene acts as a corrective to this regardless. That said, I think TV that relies more on "imagery, atmosphere, and symbolism" and less on character arcs/spectacle is indeed something we're in desperate need of (that Twin Peaks was a thing that actually happened on American TV seems less and less possible as the years wear on). I think the tension in Trek between arcs and more programmatic storytelling is definitely a strength lacking in a lot of today's fare.

    Speaking of imagery, atmosphere and symbolism, incidentally, have you perchance seen Revolutionary Girl Utena?

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  8. Josh Marsfelder
    December 1, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    Well, certainly there's a fine line to walk. Just because I don't have patience for a lot of scripted drama doesn't mean there's something inherently wrong with telling a story. I suppose what gets to me is the connection between storytelling and authority in Western societies. It's the deification of Creator, which while a logical extension of the concept of Creator in the first place, that really bothers me.

    Also, I just tend to be of the belief stories should grow generatively, be shared orally and be constantly be reinterpreted by different people and periods. I'd remove the concept of "Writing", or at least scale it back and considerably reappropriate it, if I could.

    Not seen Revolutionary Girl Utena nor read the manga, but I have heard of it. My knowledge of anime/manga isn't as comprehensive as it probably should be.

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  9. Cleofis
    December 1, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

    "Also, I just tend to be of the belief stories should grow generatively, be shared orally and be constantly be reinterpreted by different people and periods. I'd remove the concept of "Writing", or at least scale it back and considerably reappropriate it, if I could."

    I can get behind this 🙂 Or the two can at the very least exist side by side. This actually reminds me of a great scene from that Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey fight dragons in the post-apocalypse movie Reign of Fire, where two characters are orally Star Wars (namely the climax of Empire Strikes Back) to a group of children, complete with re-enactment, and how it perfectly recaptures what it's like to have seen it for the first time as a kid (to say nothing of being better than all three prequels put together). Aside from characters like Superman and Sherlock Holmes, who really are intended to be told and retold forever, I wonder how Shakespeare, or Paradise Lost, or Dostoyevsky would change and morph if they existed solely in a oral-generative context only, or had started there? Actually, come to Star Wars, the EU (and Star Trek's as well) may be as good evidence as any of your idea. This gets at one of the things I love about video games: at their best, they split the difference between Creator/auteur and generative/participatory in truly fruitful ways (this opposed to glorified roller coasters like CoD). MGS2 is all about this, and games like Journey up and dispense with narrative storytelling altogether in favor of atmosphere and player interaction.

    You can safely ignore the manga, but Utena the anime would be right up your alley, I think; at 36 episodes it's a bit of a commitment, and it doesn't really and truly dive down the rabbit hole until the second arc, but boy howdy is it worth the ride.

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  10. brownstudy
    December 1, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

    I reviewed local theater for a couple of years and there's nothing more manufactured and stylized than theater productions. That said, there's good and bad scripted drama just as there's good and bad everything. The good novels, movies, TV, radio, etc. are really really good and I don't notice their plotting. Or plotting is probably the least important thing to me. (And by "good", I mean "I liked it.")

    That said, I do find myself getting rather tired of plotted stories in movies and whatnot. One of my favorite movies of recent years was "Russian Ark," a sort of dramatized tour through the history of the Hermitage Museum that didn't follow a story but that had me mesmerized throughout. When I described it to friends, most of them said that it would have driven them crazy. They needed a destination whereas this movie was about the journey.

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  11. Daru
    January 28, 2014 @ 3:01 am

    Josh: "stories should grow generatively, be shared orally and be constantly be reinterpreted by different people and periods"

    I really agree with this – though I am a lover of both scripted and non-scripted narratives. One of my ways of making a living is through live storytelling performance. I work with my own improvised interpretations of a lot or Irish, Welsh, Celtic and Faerie-world based myths and tales. Stories always change if they are passed on orally, no one person can ever tell them the same, and the context and audience (if the teller is sensitive) will change them too too. I especially love taking the old myths and dropping them into a modern context too.

    And brownstudy – Yes! Russian Ark is a masterpiece!

    Reply

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