The Lone Narrative: Episode 48 Continued

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Zero to Interstellar in 1000 words…

Here’s an article about Commander Shepard’s true origin.

It’s thought-provoking. Imagine a world where Commander Shepard actually was female from the outset. Talk about normalizing — you don’t get much larger than Mass Effect. And she in her intergalactic glory would be emblazoned on every billboard and ad and game cover, not just the third one as an option. Jesus — in retrospect, is that why I bought the regular copy of the game? I have the Mass Effect 2 Collector’s Edition, and have always wondered why I didn’t do the same for 3. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to play it as soon as I wanted… But maybe it was that reversible cover. Who knows, I’ve done idioticer things.

A female Shepard would’ve been amazing, but in the pit of my stomach, I wonder. Is having the choice better? It boils down to whether I trust Bioware enough, for all the female representation featured in their truly egalitarian world, to have allowed Shepard to be as cool as now — as cool as a man? Because in the games as they exist, there is no difference in behaviors or actions available to the male and female versions. Unlike Lara Croft to Nathan Drake, there is unblinking, 1:1 equality — no gendering of vulnerability or godlike strength. For every krogan the male Shepard headbutts, the female Shepard does the same. For every female reporter a female Shepard punches out, the male Shepard acts in kind.

If there’s any chance in the slightest that Shepard would not have been as cool, I don’t know if I’d agree that the choice of gender was such a bad idea. Besides, I love having this custom Shepard. As was talked on earlier, she’s tailored to my every taste — a unique palette (gross, this is getting gross) very rarely catered to by the media I otherwise love. I believe an ending in Halo 4 finally reveals the Master Chief’s face — no Metroid twist there. I’m sure the late Monty Oum was disappointed.

However, this custom character and custom experience is also incredibly lonely. Sure, I revel in the ability to play this game, and above even the incredibly fun gameplay, just seeing someone like that cruise around a scifi setting and kill aliens. But that is the extent of the experience, and that’s not how it is with other things.

One of the major points I meant to bring up on the last real podcast, Episode 48 – Mass Effect 3: Moralizing on The Omega Man, was this OCD about private narratives. You notice that picture I used at the top of the post for that episode. It’s pretty crappy quality — I mean, iPhones take pretty good photos given their size and limitless other features, but that was taken off of a television. It’s the only convenient way I have to publish that character — Pela Shepard — to anybody else.

There’s something to linear stories, set and pat characters, that I find increasingly appealing in my informal and ongoing study of game design. But what is it exactly that’s the problem here? It’s difficult to put into words, this idea of my game being so private it almost doesn’t exist.

It’s silly, and I’m sure I’d be much more absolute on this point were it not for the movie Interstellar.

Late 2014 was a fun time for movies. So many hits, and even more I wouldn’t have seen until the next year. And even one great surprise in The Grand Budapest Hotel being very enjoyable. But two movies came out simultaneously that I’d had my eyes on. Interstellar since the prior year, and John Wick as soon as I’d heard of it. ‘Sweet, Keanu’s doing another obscure comic book movie.’ In fact, no — but the movie was just as visually stimulating as Constantine in the color/cinematography dept.

I believe I saw that movie Saturday night, but really I was jonesing to see Interstellar. I could’ve gone then and there, but the theatre closest to school (and cheapest I’ve ever been to) has a screen maybe twice the size of my television, and a theatre that’s pretty narrow, like the first ten rows of an airplane. Some of my fondest memories at FSU were my buddy and me there — me, trying to fall asleep at Lincoln. But Interstellar was an IMAX for sure, which is my go-to in general.

And by this point, my closest friend and I had split, so it was just me alone. A private experience (the theatre was also… fairly empty, despite its size), which is fine, but action movies are best appreciated in the company of like-minded connoisseurs of the genre. And so I’m watching this movie and thinking like, “Wow, this is really impressive. I’m impressed. Oh Lester Freamon’s in it! I wonder if he talked to Lance Reddick on this set. And man, I hope nothing too bad or weird happens to this girl, she’s pretty cool. Huh, this camerawork is recalling the action of Kim Jee-Won, in beauty if not brutality…”

Piecing a review together in my mind is something that just happens — it’s nothing on the movie, which is definitely high on my imaginary Top 10 2014 list. I guess it’s inevitable when you spend an inordinate amount of time writing about movies and things — you begin to structure your thinking in that way, and even look forward to getting ideas down.

And in the end, it only amounted to two tweets, if I recall correctly. Back when I was on the old blog, which is mostly a sin, but became less sinful as time wore on, I’d review almost anything I watched, regardless of genre. Not so much anymore, though I’d have no quarrel were I to bring it up with myself at a later date.

So the next morning I head out to the IMAX in Natick (I left at like 8 I think and got back at 3, or something crazy like that), and watched Interstellar. It was the first time the theatre was filled, and I sat next to people on either side. And the movie came over me, and I knew I’d be emotionally affected just based on the trailer, and the idea at the center, of this father having to leave behind his daughter to go up into space, of all places. And he’s got a son, too, but nobody cares.

The ever-weepy eyes were swept at many a time. The choking up, the grimacing. And the lights came up and I sat there a moment, that odd music still ringing, thinking: I never want to talk about this with anyone. Ever.

The next week, I was on set at a student short film production, something my name is actually on, to my minor but notable distress. And this one kid is talking about Interstellar. Man, it was crazy! So good, dude, so good. And I just nodded along as if I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

My experience with Interstellar was mine alone, despite being completely shared by a sold-out IMAX crowd. In retrospect, the movie’s thematically twisty, and I’ve come to place The Raid 2 back at #1 on that imaginary list (could it be any other way? Truly). But that was one of the greatest movie theatre experiences of my life, and part of it was that novelty.

I remember a text interview with James Cameron talking about the intricate world-building of Avatar, and he mentioned however jokingly that he expected nerds to come up to him with questions about ermagerd um I just finished The Shattering… And the articlist, being so flip in a post-Titanic world, was like, yeah. You wish.

It’s a question of what, as creators or aspiring creators, we’re hoping to leave with our audience, or our make-believe audience? We don’t want them to become the super-nerds like Cameron says — but isn’t that obsession a mark that you’ve done something really special to someone?

For my future, I don’t know if I could do something like Mass Effect, even just conceptually (I would never claim to have the talent or confidence to do something like Mass Effect in general). Do I want people to come together in a shared appreciation, or really blow people away with their lone, individual experiences?

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