The Twilight Zone VR - title

I like the original The Twilight Zone TV show. I wouldn't call myself a huge mega fan or anything, but it's easily my second favorite show from the 60's. Heck, The Twilight Zone might even hold up better than the majority of original Star Trek episodes, and the show is probably more progressive too. For one thing, it isn't loaded with as much of the casual sexism and fetishization of women that keeps popping up in Star Trek.

In any case, the PSVR2 release of a Twilight Zone game kind of came out of nowhere. I saw a preview of it on my Google news feed on my phone the day before the game went on sale on PSN. Heck, the PSN didn't even have it listed as "coming soon". It didn't even show up in the store until it was released, and I immediately jumped on it and bought it.

The game is a small anthology of 3 short, original Twilight Zone stories with some contemporary themes. I was glad to see the game divided up into multiple chapters, and for these chapters to apparently be playable in any order (even though I opted to play them in order anyway). The Twilight Zone really works better as short stories like this, as the premises and twists rarely (if ever) hold up for longer stories. In fact, trying to pad some of its stories into an hour runtime or longer was one of the biggest problems with CBS and Jordan Peele's recent reboot.

You are about to enter The Twilight Zone.

As a tiny nitpick, I will say that I don't understand why Pocket Money chose to use the term "chapters" instead of "episodes"? The use of the word "chapter" implies a small section of a larger story, with that small section not being a story in itself; while the word "episode" would imply self-contained stories that may relate to or follow one another, but which have their own beginning, middle, and end that does not necessarily depend on the other episodes. Yes, all 3 chapters do refer to one another, and seem to take place in the same continuity, and one of them kind of acts as a prequel to another. Regardless of those connections, each chapter is a completely independent, self-contained story that does not at all rely on the events of the other chapters in order to understand what is happening. You can play these chapters in any order, or play any one of them without playing the others, and it wouldn't make any difference to the perception or interpretation of the stories. And in fact, the game is perfectly willing to let the player play them in any order.

Each of this game's chapters takes about 30 minutes to an hour to play, and the whole game should be playable in 2 hours (give or take). Any of the chapters may take longer depending on how many times you might have to repeat some of its more tedious stealth or shooting sections. So these little VR stories hit the sweet spot in terms of length, and they don't over-complicate their gameplay such that it distracts from the story being told. In terms of story-telling, Pocket Money Games puts up a really solid product here. The actual game, however, is a lot less solid.

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A few months ago, the Jimquisition had an episode about gamers criticizing game reviews and reviewers for "not finishing the game". James/Stephanie Sterling correctly points out that this complaint with a game review is most often employed to deflect from valid criticism of a game -- usually because the person complaining likes the game and gets overly defensive in response to any criticism. While I agree with James/Stephanie Sterling's response in the original video, I also have strong feelings about other practical concerns regarding whether a video game reviewer should need to finish a game in order to review it. As an amateur game critic and YouTube essayist, this particular brand of attack against reviews and reviewers is relevant to me, my gaming habits, and my content creation, so I hope that I have a worthwhile perspective about this topic.

This essay was inspired by a recent episode of The Jimquisition.

As for the underlying issue of whether a game reviewer should have to finish a game before reviewing it: the answer to that question is a resounding, absolute, unequivocal "no".

As an amateur, who plays games and creates written reviews and video essays, all on my free time, outside of a full-time job, I cannot play every game to end credits -- let alone to 100% completion or a Platinum Trophy.

And you know what? Neither do most players.

This essay is available in video format on YouTube.

Go ahead, take a look at the achievement or trophy metrics for any game you play. You'll probably find that the achievement for beating almost any game will be owned by well below half of all players, and might actually be less than a quarter of players for many longer games like RPGs. And while there are certainly some players who play offline and don't report their stats to Steam, Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo, the achievement stats for the vast, overwhelming majority of games is very closely representative of the population, since most players don't go to the trouble of playing "off the grid".

Finishing a game is a relatively rare thing for the average gamer to do, which means the average gamer isn't going to care if a particular review finished the game or not. That average gamer is probably not going to see the end of the game anyway, so a review that only covers the first half or so of the game will still be perfectly adequate and informative for such a player.

Most games are completed by well under than half of all players.

Patreon

So as an "average gamer" who plays as a hobby and writes reviews and other content on the side, as an un-paid amateur, not finishing a game is good enough for me too. Yes, I will try to finish the main campaign of a game that I review, if it's possible and practical. For most shorter games (with campaigns less than 20 hours), I do, indeed, almost always hit the end credits before I publish a review. It will usually take me a few weeks to do it, which is why, even if I bought the game on release day, my reviews will still be several weeks late, or longer. Most of my reviews are practically retro reviews by the time I get them out.

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Oh, boy. Here we go. The Matrix: Resurrections is basically The Last Jedi of Matrix movies. If you hated The Last Jedi, then you'll probably hate this for much the same reason. Similar to The Last Jedi, The Matrix Resurrections is all about the creative pressure to live up to toxic fandom expectations, and it's predicated on a twist that a lot of fans might consider to be "unfaithful" to the original trilogy.

Personally, I liked The Last Jedi much more than most. I think it's the best film in the sequel trilogy, even if it does make a lot of very hard missteps. And the stuff that I liked most about The Last Jedi happened to be the stuff that most other people were most offended by.

Despite the similarities, I doubt that The Matrix Resurrections will be received with the same level of vitriol as The Last Jedi was. For one, we've seen a lot of these sort of cynical deconstructions of fandoms and sequel expectations since The Last Jedi released, and so I think a lot of the public is desensitized to it now. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, The Matrix Resurrections doesn't commit as fully to its cynical view of the franchise. While that might appease many fans who just want to see another "Matrix" movie, it's probably the biggest reason that I felt disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections.

Personally, I enjoyed the first half of the movie, but was immensely disappointed with the second half.

The Matrix Resurrections - sad Keanu
© Warner Bros., 2020.
The Last Jedi - jaded Luke
© Disney, 2017.
The Matrix Resurrections reminded me a lot of The Last Jedi, but without the guts to commit to its polarizing twist.

This review will be pretty spoiler-y, as I will be talking about the plot twist. So consider yourself warned, and watch the movie before reading further if you don't want to have it spoiled. Though at this point, just telling you that there are spoilers at all is probably already a spoiler, so what's the point of the warning?

...

If you care enough to not be spoiled, have you watched the movie yet? If not, then I'm assuming you don't care. OK. Good. Let's continue.

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I was inspired a few weeks ago by a Twitter post from Ryan Moody (@ShutdownSafety), who asked why people are being so negative about football video gaming, and why people aren't making content. Well, I decided that I'd make some content sharing some of my optimism about the future of football video gaming in the next few years. I posted a video to my YouTube channel, but loyal blog readers can read the full transcription here.

YouTube: Will 2020 be a good year for football video games?

Football video games have been in a rut for a while now. The exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA didn't only kill NFL 2k series, it also may have killed the NFL Gameday, NFL Fever, NFL Blitz, and other series as well, some of which had game releases as late as 2004. All Pro Football 2k8 is now eleven years old. Backbreaker came and went nine years ago, leaving EA as the only major publisher still making football video games. EA's own NCAA Football series is now in the fifth year of its hiatus (the optimist in me still prefers to use the term "hiatus" instead of "cancellation"). This has all left football video gamers with nothing but mediocre Madden releases for years.

EA's NFL exclusivity may have put the final nail in the coffin for other games besides just NFL 2k.

All that being said, I am actually very optimistic about football video gaming come 2020 or 2021.

New indie games on the market

First and foremost, Madden's 5-year complete monopoly on consoles was broken this year with the releases of Canuck Play's Maximum Football 2018 and Axis Games' Axis Football 18. For the first time since 2013, there are football games on consoles not called Madden, and for the first time since 2009, there are football games on consoles that are not published by EA.

So why do I still consider football gaming to be in a rut?

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Netflix's extraordinary exclusive series Black Mirror recently released its fourth season, and it's premiere episode, "USS Callister", is already being praised around the internet for its spectacular deconstruction of toxic fandom and male-entitlement power fantasies. It deserves every bit of that praise. Jesse Plemons is also deservedly earning plenty of praise for his incredible performance as both a nerdy creeper and for his spot-on Shatner send-up. But Black Mirror, as a series, is so good, in part, because it works on many, many different levels. So I wanted to spend a bit of time praising the episode for some of its other concepts that are getting less attention in the mainstream.

Jesse Plemons puts on a masterful performance as a nerdy office creeper and a spot-on Shatner send-up.

Before I do that, I want to start by saying that I love Black Mirror as a series. It's a modern-day Twilight Zone with a specific focus on the social impacts of technology, and dire warnings about their dangers. Yes, it's pessimistic, but it's bloody brilliant! I haven't sat down to watch every episode yet, and have only seen a handful of episodes from the first three seasons and the season four premiere. That being said, the show's second episode "Fifteen Million Merits" is one of my favorite pieces of television ever. "The Entire History of You", "Be Right Back", and "San Junipero" are also some of my favorites so far.

These episodes (along with "USS Callister") work so well for me because they do such a fantastic job of world-building -- at least, when they are not unrealistically pretending that memories and personality can be replicated from DNA, which is a major (almost story-breaking) stumbling block for Callister. These deep, nuanced worlds create many levels of commentary to unpack. "Fifteen Million Merits" focused on reality TV and pervasive advertising, but it also has some scathing warnings about a culture of body-shaming, obsession over digital merits (read: XBox Live and Steam Achievements), and how corporate avarice could turn a post-scarcity economy into an absolute dystopia.

A friend of mine highly recommended "San Junipero" to me on the grounds that it's a more optimistic episode than many of the others -- even having a happy ending. But my takeaway was not a "happy ending" at all. The fairy tale ending hides a sinister metaphysical question that the text of the episode mostly sidesteps: the mind-body problem. Is the avatar of a deceased person living in San Junipero really that same person? Or merely a copy? Are they one power failure away from being snuffed out of existence? Are people committing suicide based on misinformation from a multi-billion dollar corporation promising that they can live forever in a simulated reality?

Black Mirror's exceptionally well-thought-out worlds always leave sinister nuances to unpack.

"USS Callister", on the surface, appears to be entirely about toxic fandom (along with male entitlement). It is absolutely about that, and it does a fantastic job of presenting it. As a Star Trek fan, I also enjoyed the deconstructive elements about Trek tropes and the unrealistic reverence that fans hold for the series and its established canon. As someone who blogs about Star Trek, Star Wars, video games, and other fanboy topics, I am certainly a target of at least some of this episode's criticism.

As someone who works in the software industry, I recognized the episode also taking swipes at the cult of personality attached to tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Gabe Newell, and others, and the idea that they may be taking credit and profiting on other people's work, and becoming filthy stinking rich at the expense of the consumers who mindlessly use and venerate their products, all with willful disregard for how those products may be misused. As someone who can't wait to put myself on the waiting list for a Tesla self-driving car, I'm also well within the cross-hairs of that line of commentary...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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