Zone Rapture of Fliffy Sandwich -- page 2

(I didn't change the picture, honest.)

As a continuation of Zen's legacy -- the Intergalactic Ninja took a leave of absence for reasons I can't quite grasp -- I have acted on his advice and enlisted Zebu, one of Crystalis' four wise people, to take his place. As with Zen, when you see and hear Zebu (he's been possessed too; it's just that he doesn't talk much), remember that you are reading unadulterated philosophizations. Thought in action, man!

I'd ask you to brace yourself for a ludicrous practice of aesthetic Crystalis, but that doesn't really make sense.

  • Code Name: Viper --- A Shocking Espousal of Public Nudity

    The war on drugs. A nice, pious early-90s cover, isn't it? The casual gamer would be content to believe he/she and Mr. Smith are at war against LSD, and so was I for some time. However, if you look slightly below the white-rectangle bullets and renegade soldiers who decompose in five seconds (that's what narcotics do to you, kids), you will discover something frighteningly contrary to all social conventions.

    Mr. Smith -- given uncoincidentally the most common last name in the United States, that of Jimmy Stewart's immortal and idealistic senator -- ISN'T WEARING ANY PANTS! Oh, sure, he could be wearing khaki, but what self-respecting federal agent would wear Dockers into the jungle? They're too thin for winter and too heavy for summer, and the "camouflage" effect really only works in the desert. I wish I could believe those were just skin-tight, flesh-colored pants. I wish I still lived in Pleasantville, but everywhere I look I see the non-greyscale hue of Mr. Smith's exposed legs.

    Like Pleasantville, there is more to CNV than meets the eye. At the core of this seemingly innocent juxtaposition of the absurd and the grave is an exhortation that all people have the freedom to dress, and not dress, as they choose.

    This jungle is a cavalcade of phonies -- wherein female hostages wear clean business attire. Is it just me, or does that sound slightly prearranged? Tattered rags are standard among kidnapped persons, and so it becomes clear that clothing and the genuine nature of the unclad human form are what this game discusses.

    We have been led by the society of our fathers to assume that "Pts.", whenever it appears in a video game, stands for "points." However, following the clothing motif out a bit farther, we see that this brilliant indictment of mainstream morality means us to take that abbreviation to mean not "Points", but "Pants" (the ROM doesn't work, so you'll have to trust me when I tell you the game uses "Pts.) After all, most games opt to introduce their points system with the word "Score", or assume that the numbers speak for themselves. Could it really be just a coincidence that CNV opted to use the unpopular "Pts." lead-in? I think not.

    The more enemy soldiers Smith kills, the more "Pants" he salvages. Yet he does not elect to don any of them. He takes a stand, refusing to be like the soldiers against whom he is fighting -- with their stylish berets and their pants rolled up around the calves -- those people who only accept well-dressed hostages. POSEURS! Mr. Smith is far too good for you! He will pass his days with his beat-up green shirt-wearing kryptoanalyst -- spend his time among the REAL PEOPLE. Follow his example, reader. Don't let yourself be drawn into the fickle, volatile morays of contemporary fashion. That's the message of this game. Every traffic light is the domineering eye of Big Brother. Put cotton in your ears and free Truman!

    Dief: ". . . . ." (Taps his foot.)
    Dief: "Uh... what did you think of that, Zebu?"
    "Man who see beyond self find peace of mind."

    Dief: "No, no. My - my theory -- what did you think of it? The guy who used to do this and I had a kind of... rapport on this topic."
    "Man have nothing to do to save life. Find what to say, much more than 'what a day.'"

    Dief: "That's not what I asked you. I want you to tell me what you thought of my bit of pedantry."
    "Must find way upstairs. Somebody speak, you go in dream."

    Dief: "I'm not seeking enlightenment just now. I want you to say something about my article -- something sarcastic, preferably."
    "Never to see any other one. Fun money no buy. Not matter if wrong. Right where belong.

    Dief: "Wait a minute. Are you quoting Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?"
    "Damn. You find me out. Next I quote Cosby Show."

    Dief: "You can't do Cosby."
    "Man want Jell-O. Mwa wa wa."

  • Ultima: Exodus -- The West's Damn-Fool Work Ethic

    Aren't we Westerners lucky to live in the culture we live in? -- a magical land where the study of psychology has as much to do with the anus as it does with the mind; where taking anything on faith is an act of unparalleled stupidity, and faith itself is synonymous only with a few incorporated societies wherein the most awing force in this universe is considered completely separate from humankind; where cynicism is realism; and where idealism is counted in the same lot as believing in spectres of things that never existed in the first place. The prescribed antidote for the latter affliction, if one cannot make a worthwhile empirical discovery, is to bury oneself in an infinite series of unrelated tasks defined under the heading of a particular "career", and in so doing to make a meaningful, appropriately boring, contribution to this little rat maze. I suppose that's the price of workable democratic leadership -- societal validation and outside empathy for only one's ridiculously long-suffering, unhealthy, and stupid decisions. There is no greater evidence of this trap than that presented in Ultima: Exodus.

    Suppose you have a particular task put upon you by your community -- say, doing away with a demon that is about to wreak havoc on said state. Now, suppose you possess a set of talents that make you particularly suited to the completion of this task -- say, a strength rating of 25 -- regardless of whether or not completing it would be personally fulfilling to you. That is exactly the sort of long-term goal set on this game's heroes by their king -- a man ever so befittingly named British (they might as well have called him "Lord West" -- the criticism is that obvious.) However, like any ultimate goal, the destruction of Exodus is actually comprised of a series of smaller tasks relevant, by association, to its achievement.

    Among those tasks, as in any RPG, is the building of levels. You venture out, and you kill the many monsters that have been summoned because of Exodus' foul presence. For that you earn experience, which enables you, at fixed intervals, to "level up" and increase your power.

    The trouble with this particular experience system, though, is that British seems to be pulling all the strings. Your levels don't increase by their own inborn volition. Rather, you have to speak to your king in order to be promoted. This would be patronizing enough on its own, but there is also something rather essential that British neglects to mention.

    You see, as your levels increase, more powerful monsters begin to appear on the mainland. This does have its perks -- such as letting one commandeer a pirate ship -- but, on the whole, it just underscores what an unsettling, duplicitous employer Lord British truly is. "Because you have done so well, I will give you more power" proves, then, to truly mean "Because you have done so well, I will 'reward' you by making you work even harder." Could there be any greater embodiment of the Western workplace ethic? He who does well does more -- great incentive, king.

    But wait! Could there exist someone uncorrupted by all this Sisyphan crap -- someone who doesn't just look at the veneer of what these "heroes" are doing and spout off some generic "Oh, you're going to fight against Exodus? How brave!"? Yes, Virginia, there is such a Santa Claus -- and in true Dickensian manner, he's a barfly -- a gaunt, pitiful little man already resigned to life's cruelties, but wiser than time itself, and more astute than even the Magical-Mystery-Tour shopkeeper in Milon's Secret Castle (not quite as Confucian, albeit, but he's a much more effective pundit). While everyone else cheers the player and the heroes on toward the goal they never even chose for themselves, this man expresses a genuine concern for their health and well-being -- not just whether or not they are poisoned, but whether or not they are happy. "Go to bed or you will be sleepy tomorrow".... Not "keep on truckin' till you're finished. I'd be lost without you." Just a staunchly dissident exhortation that has been embraced ideologically for generations, but seldom practiced: "Know and take care of yourself before you try to help others." There's something... just swell about that. You're a good man, Gin-soaked Earl.

    I've said in the past that I play this game only for the sheer enjoyment of walking around and not getting anything accomplished. Now I understand why. By spending more of my time at a casino playing high-stakes Rock-Paper-Scissors than I spend on my appointed task, I am, in a silent way, sticking it to that stupid bearded man in the castle -- that fool who took more responsibility upon himself than one man can sanely handle. Lord British is not the model character here. The "wretches" -- the drunkards, the convicts, and the gamblers -- on the other hand, are. Camus wrote that there is no fate (i.e. "no externally imposed task, however absurd") that cannot be surmounted by scorn. However, Camus himself was caught up in his own workhorse need to make a point. There may be no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn, but there is likewise no fate that cannot be placidly surmounted by laziness.

    "This Denise's answering service."

    Dief: "Look, I already know you're doing The Cosby Show. You don't need to keep on doing it."
    "How come every time I in bathroom, is parade?"

    Dief: "You know, I was kind of counting on your emotional involvement in my interpretations."
    "Big deal. So he go on boat for few months. Did he have take children to museum -- 'Can I go to baaaathroom?'"

    Dief: "You keep mentioning bathrooms. Toilet humor is not at all reflective of your... uh... wisdom."
    "Here have things that Mrs. Huxtable want us to try. 'We not want any!' Have healthy rice cakes. 'Throw out!' Well, I try."

    Dief: "You're not funny. You know that, don't you?"
    "Wise man not need be funny, not need be competitive. He know that funny man is wise -- like good man Andy Kaufman."

    Dief: "HA! That wasn't from Cosby."
    "Wise man not need worry about consistency. Knows that consistency take care of itself in world, not person."

    Dief: "That wasn't from The Cosby Show either."

  • River City Ransom -- The Progression of a War Against Conformity

    Before I begin, let me make a statement about the traditional American high school: It sucks. Nobody ever legitimately referred to that experience as "the greatest four years of my life" (in fact, the precepts of time and space forbid that any group other than farcically and unconvincingly sympathetic guidance counselors use that expression. A professional athlete once tried to invoke it for one of those "The More You Know" promotions, but a stage light fell on him before he could finish.) Even if a given individual claims to have enjoyed "high school", the enjoyment to which they refer more likely stems from some matter related to their actual school only by ludicrous tangent or cultural stereotype. That said, how does one cope with the anguish of spending period-in and period-out in the company of two or three thousand stoic jackasses and emotionally paralyzed twits (ALL high school students are idiots in one way or another -- it's the fourth inevitability of life*)? The solution to this seeming conundrum, as formulated over decades of intense dehumanization, is "by finding a clique." 99% of all high school students will spend the first two weeks of their experience scrambling to incorporate themselves into some group of people who seem sympathetic or potentially sympathetic to them** -- kind of in the same way that cockroaches scuttle to the dim cracks and corners of a room whenever the lights are turned on.

    This is where River City Ransom comes into play. As the story begins, an entire town is threatened by the tyranny of a psychotic overlord. It seems this person -- a high-school student who calls himself "Slick" -- has kidnapped Ryan's girlfriend Cyndi, and mobilized all the local "gangs" to terrorize the area until his demands (which, it bears noting, are never specified) are met. This all seems standard enough -- at least from the standpoint of terrorism. The problem is that these "gangs" do not seem very much like gangs. Granted, the members of each such incorporated society do all dress the same, and have rhyming or at least thematically consistent names. However, if one looks at the names of these groups (FRAT GUYS, GENERIC DUDES, HOME BOYS, JOCKS, MOB, SQUIDS, INTERNATIONALS, COWBOYS, PLAGUE), they seem indicative less of actual gangs than the cliques standard of any high school (with the exception of the SQUIDS and the PLAGUE, which were likely included to represent the sophomorically dangerous sect -- juxtaposed with the maturity and hedonism of the MOB -- every school seems to have.) The FRAT GUYS are, as is explained in the manual, the rich kids; the GENERIC DUDES are those one sees everywhere but can never identify by name; the HOME BOYS are the kids who act as though they live in the ghetto even though they obviously don't; the JOCKS are the athletes; the INTERNATIONALS are the exchange students (actually, it was for a time commonplace in my high school for people of particular ethnic backgrounds to seek each other's company -- so that might be the type of union to which this heading refers -- but I don't think I'm allowed say that); and the COWBOYS are the "out-of-towners" -- those who have "just moved in." (I assume Technos omitted the ARTISTS, NERDS, and OVERACHIEVERS because it would have been pitifully easy to beat the shit out of them and take their money.) The explanation of the territory bosses is more or less the same (note the color of their shirts) -- with especial reference to the Zombies and Benny and Clyde. This "Slick", then, seems to have established himself as a chieftain of conformists -- sort of "the best conformist of all." More on him later.

    If the hordes with which one does battle in this game can be, in this way, divided into sects and subsects of adherents to larger group morals, the question arises of what makes the heroes different. How, exactly, are Alex and Ryan not drawn into the masses by their ties to a particular clique? Ryan's incentive is easy enough to justify: his girlfriend has been kidnapped, and he feels obligated to save her. He, thus, is bound by a force stronger than fear of rejection to a clique of two people -- sort of like the one to which Benny and Clyde belong. Ryan's clique -- his motive for involvement -- is simply the clique of love. That matter is, however, BORING -- to say nothing of sappy -- so I'll devote my attention to Alex.

    It isn't suggested, within the game, that Alex has any friends other than Ryan. In fact, it is never expressly stated that the two heroes are friends. So, one may say that, where Ryan has a vendetta, Alex simply has a vested interest in what is right. That is likely the reason his is the only colorless shirt in the entire game -- he is untainted by the "gang colors" that have divided the city's conformists into different groups.

    We are meant to see Alex as something of a loner -- not necessarily in the sense of a brooding misanthrope, but of someone who, through some uncommon strength of character, manages to go through life without being indoctirnated by one particular set of people. He lives by his own sincerely cultivated values, and never submits to the will of any critic of his lifestyle (hence the ease with which he beats such people up.) However, this life of principle is not significantly complicated until he confronts the warped mind behind all the mayhem.

    Slick, it is revealed, is a person named Simon whom Alex evidently knew as a child. Further, it comes out in the one-way conversation between these two reunited adversaries that Alex used to make fun of Simon's name. Now, "Simon" -- thanks to the recent popularity of the Chipmunks -- is a somewhat geeky name; it is... well... not exactly a common name; but most importantly in this case, it is a Christian name (actually, I was baptized at St. Simon's Episcopal Church, but I've probably done or said something over the years that has gotten me excommunicated -- or at least named a heretic or something. Damn, now there's NOWHERE I can wear my sportcoat.) The message Technos seems to be conveying, therefore, is that religion is the genesis (no pun intended) and general of ALL conformity -- that it introduced conformity into the world back in Sumer, and has continued propagating it since that time.

    Simon, it seems, was a religious child. By mocking his name, Alex also mocked his faith -- or rather, his blind adherence to that faith. Simon, unable to endure these taunts (precisely, one would hazard, because he did not place his beliefs in himself, but in external mores), went mad and began plotting revenge on the enigmatically pious bully who lived life his own way ("even when we were kids you were... always too good.") However, to insure the concealment of his identity, he took on the moniker of "Slick", which Alex finds "dumber than Simon." By condemning his pseudonym as more ridiculous than his real name, Alex tells Simon that, when he went by his given name, he was being himself -- at least to some minute degree. But by this point Simon has been driven to complete devotion to any and all established ethics -- in this case, the taking of a shady "villain name." He is able to lead a city of conformists as effectively as he is because, by this point, his identity has been completely annihilated. At the game's end, he is referred to as "evil Simon" because of this self-surrender.

    The above detailed revelation, however, does not stand alone within the thematic content of the game. In fact, the entire work is riddled with stealthy references to religious -- predominantly, but not exclusively, Christian -- imagery; or at the very least, to eras and regions identified with an overabundance of or obsession with a particular religion (TURK, PLAGUE, TEX, Roman, and Nero.) Alex partakes of each of these theological implications in various ways -- for example, by eating the "Nero Pizza" at "The Roman Cow" -- and draws from them whatever understanding and meaning is pertinent to his own endeavors. However, he is not swept feverishly into any of these concepts -- he eats the pizza rather than being consumed by it; he defeats Thor instead of being subdued in awe of him (this would be up to more heated debate if Thor were somewhat more... let's say, mobile.) Brewing these experiences with his own principles, he is able to introduce to River City an entirely original, unfettered way of existing. And even though, after he defeats Simon, the majority of the gang members wind up as vehement students -- conformists to the value system of their school, rather than that of the psycho-religious Simon -- the meaning of Alex's life is left in Messianic fashion for coming generations.

    Of course, in order to fill out his role as a Messiah of sorts (just how many religions have I insulted in this article, I wonder?), Alex must be martyred. Cognizant of that need, Technos officials waited until the end of River City Ransom, snuck up behind the hero in a deserted Sherman Park (all the gang-members-turned-grade-whores were too busy studying to offer any help -- bastards), and decapitated him. About two years later, his head was grafted onto the absurdly burly body of Crash Cooney and made to compete in a series of cruel and unusual track meets. The triumph of his team of comparatively bumbling athletes (how many times can Dragon be named "Best of the Worst", anyway?) over the ostentatious, worldly Hillers might be thought something of a beatitude, but nonetheless Alex's pristine identity has been fractured. Rumors that, before being shipped off to the Street Challenge, he was given an eye tuck and forced to captain the U.S. Men's Soccer team (a fate several trillion times worse than death, as calculated by a task force of NASA mathematicians and people who watch ESPN) in Nintendo World Cup have been disclaimed. Apparently the surgeons were still rather preoccupied with painting funny faces on him when the alleged "soccer playing" would have taken place. His head was supposed to have been removed again and attached to a hockey uniform named "Crash" for some indefinite purpose, but that plan fell through when an undisclosed source informed Technos that hockey isn't a sport. Now, Alex's head sits embalmed and bronzed at the center of the Waterfront Mall, where appreciative River Citizens are every day reprimanded for touching it -- an act Alex himself would've supported. All in all, I'd say it's a fitting end for Technos' first mature alleogry (let's face it, the only message in Super Dodge Ball was that international relations won't improve until world leaders stop acting like seven year-olds.)

    * The other three are death, taxes, and cockamamie web sites.

    ** 99% of the remaining one percent will either lose their minds or transfer to another school within that time frame. The remaining .01% tend to be robots.

    "You insult faith of many generation! I not appreciate your impudence! By my spell you are frog!"

    Dief: "That... uh... didn't work."
    "Is because I not know frog spell. I will go get Tellah and he will show you the evil of rudeness."

    Dief: "Wait, you're leaving?"
    "I leave because you no have respect. I bring man who will make you respectful."

    Dief: "Amphibians are a respectful species, are they?"
    "More respectful than kid with snot of nose."

    Dief: "Well, I do have a cold, if that's what you mean."
    "You not pay attention. I leave!"

    Dief: "But now I won't have a commentator." (Shoves his hand up a sock and writes "Mr. Dief's Hand in Sock" on it.) "Okay, folks, this is my new symbol of focus that thinks I suck." (Scratches his head with the sock-hand.) "This isn't going to work at all, is it?"

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