Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Swine Fever

No sooner does America work up a good head of crazy over ISIS than a real threat pops up. While both they and ebola are less likely to kill you than an enraged mime, the latter has managed to penetrate US borders. That alone has gotten the Fear from boiling over in ludicrous ways, from open racial hatred of West Africa to a lady in Newark refusing to leave her house without latex gloves and a surgical mask.

"Boo!"

But how did it get to this point anyway? Isn't ebola one of those Third World diseases that thrives in the absence of modernism and sanitation? Indeed it is, and you can thank good ol' capitalism for bringing it to the US of A!

Specifically, you can thank both a for-profit healthcare system and career pols opposed to any sort of public spending. Like Rick Perry, Texas governor and responsible for a state healthcare budget ranked 33rd in the nation despite being number 1 in ebola cases. Not that you can blame Perry for all of it - tempting as it is - as he's just following the party line. The Bad Guys - and yes, the GOP are pretty much The Bad Guys from now on - have worked rigorously to break the grip of Big Health on the nation's budget. Mostly by cutting the CDC's emrgancy preparedness budget by half since 2006. In their defense, it's not like they expected any of those brown people diseases to cross the Atlantic because they've never heard of airplanes.

Meanwhile at the local level, administrators with no patient care experience decide on not just who gets the HAZMAT suits, but whether it's worth the time to actually sterilize medical equipment. This is also how Duncan, the only poor bastard to die of ebola in the US so far, got sent home by the ER despite showing symptoms. They've since insisted it just looked like a viral infection.

Much like how your local high school hired a confirmed pederast, this is just more of that highly decentralized decision making Confederates conservatives claim to love so much. It's why they want more small government like Perry's and why they slash all federal spending except the hyper-efficient and meritocratic defense budget. The free market will take care of things, like it took care of that uninsured Ron Paul staffer.

"But there's no alternative to capitalism!" says any given stupid person. Indeed, every American schoolkid knows socialism leads to such horrors as longer life-expectancy, shorter workdays, and the most reliable spacecraft ever made. Better to stick with this neofeudal disease pit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The New Normal

While Republicans were busy terrorizing Wall Street last year, a little story slipped through the cracks that says even more about that dementedly inverted hologram normal Americans treat as reality.

Kaitlyn Hunt, a girl with the poor luck to be a lesbian in Florida, plea bargained her way into a deal to serve time for having sex with her 15-year-old girlfriend without having to register as a sex offender. It's a familiar story involving statutory rape law but this time applied to a homosexual couple.

Quick legal aside - statutory rape is essentially any sexual intercourse between a legal adult and a minor, even if said minor gives consent. This is generally a good law because no matter how mature some snot-nosed teenager says they are, they're still a damned teenager. So no touchy.

Where it can  - and has - run into problems is when it's applied to a teenage couple where one is eighteen and the other is not. In Hunt's case, she was 18 and her girlfriend was at the time 14. Hunt has since moved on to dating a 27-year-old, whom the Daily News tries real hard to portray as a hardened ex-con, despite the fact that being black in Florida is even worse for your future than being gay.

What makes Hunt's case interesting isn't all these sordid details. Well it is, but not for the reasons the comfortable media class would have you believe: Hunt's relationships are reflective of a simple reality of life in America that is only rarely acknowledged.

I'm talking of course about white trash. I grew up in Woodbridge Virginia and got to see this up close. For every kid with two stable parents and a future there were about a dozen from broken homes with no greater ambition than an associate's degree from NOVA and a car built after the 1980s. A couple of them were parents themselves, while still in high school. This one girl in my 11th grade English class was a 19-year-old raver with an angel obsession. And she was Jewish because in modern America even Jews can be white trash.

Relationships with three to fours years age difference was not that uncommon. The Woodbridge kids - like all teenagers - were looking for affection and working off their hormones with whoever was willing. If one was 18 and the other was 14, so be it.

"But the 18-year-old is the responsible party! The law says so!"

That's the common defense of Hunt's sentence and it raises what I thought was an obvious question - Are you lying or just plain stupid? What 18-year-old has ever demonstrated responsibility? Isn't that why we make 'em wait three more years to buy beer?

But this world, this Real America, is stridently denied at all times. Either it's wrong for Hunt to touch her girlfriend because she was technically an adult at the time, or it's wrong to throw her in because fill in your preferred cause. "Love" was the most popular cause on display at the time, as if any teenager is capable of such a thing, and it likely doesn't hold much water now that Hunt moved on to an actual adult (who, at nearly a decade Hunt's senior, is doing even more cradle robbing but hey, legal age and all). The gay cause is sneered at more than it's actually cited, another standard of the flat normal in America. If anything, the popular response at the time was how only a lesbian would be so lucky as to not have to register as a sex offender for, you know, sexing up a minor:

"If this person was male, 20 years, no parole." ~ henrythe8iam

If you go digging through the various other articles from a year ago, you'll find that exact comment by someone. By a disturbingly many someones. This isn't just common misogyny or the bizarre double-standard of the homophobe - guy on guy is evil, girl on girl is hot - but representative of probably the most grotesque brainwave in modern America that nobody ever wants to talk about. It comes up frequently enough, whether in the latest outrage at Reddit for upvoting child pornography or pointing out that sexualizing an adult actress known for playing a minor is skeevey no matter what way you cut it, but the popularity of the sentiment is . When internet commentators like henrythe8iam say these things, it's because they can't say the simple truth of how they feel - "I'm a 30 something loser and I want to fuck middle schoolers!"

That's the dark desire at the heart of so many American men. Far more than we will ever be comfortable admitting. Whether because they never developed emotionally after the age of 15 or because the flat hell that is existence outside the coastalite enclaves has worn down their confidence when addressing fellow grown-ups, it doesn't matter. The result is this atomized culture has ever more lonely, desperate dweebs who will end up on To catch a Predator. Helps you understand why this rotten country needs a Mid-East war every couple years, keep itself distracted from its own miserable reality.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

March of the Pigs

#GamerGate is a thing now. For those of you thankfully not in the know,  it all started with some jilted ex posting some screed about how some indie dev was totally sleeping around the industry to get good reviews. This is what originally galvanized people, on the grounds that it's indicative of corruption in games journalism, though it's just as likely a bunch of losers were pissed off - again - about someone, somewhere having a sex life.

If you're unfamiliar with the business side of the arts, this may look like a proper target of outrage. If you've ever worked in publishing or film, you're having good laugh at all the #GamersUnited dopes because you know every creative industry is like this. Meritocracy is one of those comforting lies no one really believes, like Santa Claus or Jesus, and these sorts of chummy relationships are how everyone advances. Everyone. Particularly in publishing, where authors write glowing reviews of other authors who wrote them glowing reviews.

While such entrenched nepotism and its ties to an exploitative capitalist system is worth discussing, gamers naturally didn't go for that. They just called the accused dev a cunt and sent her rape threats. Kinda like they do to Anita Sarkeesian whenever she puts out a new video - and that particular hatedom got a second wind with this latest outrage over a successful woman having a sex life. The harried feminist critic had to flee her home and now the FBI is involved.

"I am not a misogynist! I'll prove it with rape jokes!"

The irony is that Sarkeesian is giving gamers exactly what they want: the treatment of video games as an artistic medium. Her analyses place everything from indie games to Triple A cash cows in a cultural context, examining how things like Dragon Age and Braid reflect and interact with existing gender stereotypes. This is Critical Theory 101, applied to a body of work often dismissed as too immature to warrant such consideration. Tropes vs Women in Video Games legitimizes video games as an art form better than anything else.

And gamers hate her for it. Because even the most cursory analysis of popular games reveals reactionary gender politics from the bland to the brutal. So too with some of the greatest works of Western literature, but the gamer dweebs are too binary to understand the distinction between "This reflects retrograde aspects of the dominant culture," and "The thing you like is bad therefore you are bad."

Really, the biggest barrier to video games being accepted as art is the gamer culture itself. The past few weeks has seen a level of misogyny usually confined to Mad Men, with the the enraged horde demanding first that their hobby be purified of incestuous business practices - like that's even possible in America - then freaking out over one of the few attempts to grant video games the seriousness they insist on.

While the two may seem rather disconnected, they both reflect the immature entitlement of gamers. They expect the production of video games to be some pure, artistic process and then turn around and disparage any critical analysis that isn't fawning, two-dimensional praise of all the badass guns and titties. Which should come as no surprise because, for all their "serious art" pretensions, gamers understand nothing but dumb consumption. That's their raison d'etra:

Gamer identity is tainted, root and branch, by its embrace of consumption as a way of life. If gamers suddenly became completely inclusive, if all of the threats and stamping of feet went away and the doors were flung open, conspicuous consumption would still be the essential core of their identity. The mythical gamer who does not exist to consume is not a gamer. ~ Ian Williams, Jacobin

If the video game industry, from the indies to the Call of Duties, really did turn into some magical meritocracy for developers, it wouldn't matter because the same fools dreaming of such a thing would shout down any critical analysis. If the industry does nothing, it doesn't suffer one bit because gamer identity revolves around the consumption of games. #GamerGate is the apotheosis of a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Update 9/12/2014


Oh my fucking god, they hacked Tim Schafer! Tim "Psychonauts" "Monkey Island" "Grim Fandango" Schafer!!!


If you support #GamerGate to any degree, you are a despicable asshole and you are killing what you love.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

YA Goes Meta (God Help Us All...)

Two weeks ago, I attended the launch of Lev Grossman's latest book in Green Point. The third and final in a trilogy about magical kids, with pretensions of metafiction and being a proper bildungsroman, so I was expecting a congenial literary affair. Instead, it was a defiantly Fans Only event, with Grossman and a few "stars" of YA up on the stage and all us filthy nobodies relegated to folding chairs. That shoulda tipped me off...

I left in the middle of Q&A, while the fans - a smattering of twenty-something white girls, a few with scraggly boyfriends - were trading in-jokes with Grossman and his crew. It had the gross air of desperate flirting or a job interview. However, I did shell out for Grossman's first novel and spent the time since reading it so you don't have to. And you don't want to because The Magicians, celebrated as a new Harry Potter, is nothing more than an overlong angst-wank for the dweebs in Park Slope.

The Chosen One of this latest campbellian knock-off is one Quentin Coldwater, an overachieving coastalite like the majority of Americans never encounter in person. These people do exist, they're just a much slimmer majority than even they know, owing to a Manhattan literati that wants to read the same story over and over again, as exemplified in the works of Jonathan Franzen. Grossman is on record as a fan and he's learned his master's lesson because The Magicians has a central schtick to differentiate it from every other magical academy of whimsy: Quentin is a fan of a Narnia-knockoff series about these Anglo children adventuring in the magical land of Fillory. This allows Quentin to constantly compare his own muddling non-adventures to the heroic excitement of these kids' books.

This serves two stated purposes - and Grossman really did state this at his egopalooza. First, it presents Quentin as someone who already "knows" how these sorts of stories playout when he's invited to the Brakesbills post-secondary magickal learnatorium (accreditation not recognized in Trinidad).Which than leads into number two - "This is real life!" in which even this magical land he escapes to is just as dull and cruel as his regular life. It's not as exciting as it sounds...

Grossman is trying to deconstruct the Harry Potter formula into a much darker coming of age tale, complete with drinking and curse words. Problem is, this was already done years ago in Peter Straub's magnificent Shadowloand. Further, Grossman can't divorce himself from his characters long enough to do a proper psychological novel. A Brooklyn native himself, it's hard not to read Quentin as thinly veiled autobiography, mixed with wish fulfillment. Grossman is either too honest or just lacking in imagination to make Quentin into the all-conquering champion he wants... but he won't stop pointing out just how special Quentin is either. He's unique because he still believes in magic, even though all his classmates are turning fashionably cynical and the headmaster doesn't really give a damn. This sort of solipsism kills the broader metafictional point Grossman is trying to make, but it's exactly the sort of nonsense that drives the YA market so he's getting a SyFy series.

Let's hope they re-work the characters because the ones on display here are damned atrocious. Quentin and his childhood friends, Julia and that other one, are the sort of overachieving knobs you never met if you went to a real high school. New York City has this deal where kids test into certain advanced placement schools and New Yorkers are annoyingly oblivious to the fact that this is not the norm in American eduction. Rowling's approach of making Harry some suburban nobody was one of the few things she did right because that makes him relatable to the reader; Quentin already has fantastical and alien life, illustrated in dozens of little details you only pick up if you live in Brooklyn. His friends, first in the muggle world and then at Brakesbills, are equally from the same overachieving coastal enclave background, making them about as relatable as Donald Trump Fuckface von Clownstick.

Then there's Elliot, the sort of interesting non-New Yorker that New Yorkers of limited imagination always imagine. A romantic archetype of the gifted but cast out farm boy, resentful of his hayseed family who assume he's at some hoity toity art school for homosexuals. There's so much wrong with this characterization - for instance, a real rural America dirthead would say "fags" or "queers" - and it turns out Elliot really is homosexual. But it can't be the boring, "I just like cock," sort of homosexuality that, y'know actually exists. Grossman has to give this poor kid an elaborate domination and submission fetish.

Julia shows up as a hedge witch during one of the occasional Back in the World interludes, usually devoted to Quentin feeling ever more alienated from his parents because they just don't understand. Julia is rather competent at her hedge witchery, even though she had to go all goth to get it - though this further indicates Grossman's gross ignorance of contemporary trends as she's a fellow Park Slope overachiever and the goth thing was too old for such kids in Charlottesville, Virginia circa 2007. Further, her pursuit of witchery, while just as successful as Quentin's advanced sulking studies, is nontheless looked down on by the folks at Brakesbills, illustrating a class distinction which Grossman naturally doesn't bother to explore.

And then there's Alice. Child of a magical family, the highly-capable natural to Quentin's muddling everyman - at least I think that was Grossman's intention. And because this story is supposed to be for grown-ups as well as tweens, we get to read about 'em fuckin'. A lot. Sometimes they drink before or after, along with the rest of their social circle named Janet and Josh and there may have been others but I stopped paying attention somewhere in Book II. At least when little Frankie McCourt got into the champagne and sherry, it was low and funny enough to be interesting. Grossman, like so many typical New York writers, insists on making a big deal out of twenty-year-olds having a few drinks and shooting the shit.

It's a juvenile approach to sex and really juvenile sex is what this is all about. Some reality bending Beast makes an appearance to give the illusion of something threatening or interesting, but only after a hundred pages of Quentin's quest to fuck Alice. Which he does, and in keeping with this unconscious representation of a spoiled yuppie, he finds no joy in the long-awaited rutting. It all soon becomes just one more thing which Quentin finds to be so empty and wah wah Evanescence lyrics.

There's this forced refrain through the book of how Quentin isn't really such a two dimensional crybaby. How he's the only one who really finds magic to still be magical and it has to do with his fixation on the Fillory books, but Grossman would much rather tell than show. Even at four hundred pages, this reads like a rushed job. I swear a whole year passed between chapters at one point, with nary a comment or an episode of interest. As much as I scorn the marketing gimmick, Rowling still had the right idea of dedicated one book to one school year. Grossman glosses over anything that Quentin can't sulk over or that doesn't involve him and his rowdy friends saying "fuck" enough.

Of course, Grossman has to spell out this conflict: how Quentin's personal fairy land has heroic conflict, unlike the ugly fight with The Beast which is gruesome and disastrous. That sort of revelation happens long before the college years for anyone living in Gaza or Ferguson. Hell, anyone who's ever been in a playground fight.

And of course the Not-Narnia books turn out to be deeply relevant, with Fillory being a real magical land where those fussy Anglo kids have gone mad and mutated like Artorias the Abysswalker. Shit's not allowed to be random and meaningless in YA fiction, despite the past hree-hundred and some pages saying otherwise. Though Grossman does try to keep it real in the climax - Alice dies so Quentin can angst.

There. I saved you two weeks and four hundred pages. Watch the Syfy series if you really want or, better yet, just read Shadowland. It does the coming of age via studying magic with a dash of horror bit ten thousand times better than this overwritten wank.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson: Activism beats Slacktivism

It's appropriate that last week while Wired was publishing glamor shots of Eddie Snowden, the people of Ferguson were reminding America what real resistance looks like. Outraged at the local police and their cavalier attitude towards killing yet another young and unarmed black man, this community went quickly from somber candlelight vigils to raging insurrection in less than a week, scaring the local police into exposing themselves as the heavily armed and terrified crackers they are.

"Meine Ehre heißt Treue?"

And there's still nary a libertarian to be seen. Which if you know what animates them deep down, you expected - Jacobin has an excellent summation of the economic factors driving this rebellion, how the capitalist system extracts wealth from minorities whether through ticketing and bail money or through the very same businesses the protesters burned down. That's what really scares the privileged in this country, not the murder of an unarmed man by government employees but people rejecting the hierarchy of wealth that places minorities in the free fire zone of people too dumb or racist to make it into the infantry.

Since that night, the Ferguson PD has doubled down on the sort of police state malarkey you usually see in tin pot dictatorships: tear gas, mass arrests, and one desperate smear campaign against Michael Brown after another. It's gotten so bad the governor called in the state cops and even President Oreo is finally suggesting a federal investigation into the shooting, rather than just echoing the tone trolling of the rest of the ruling class. Because  these protesters, even when looting a local McDonald's recuperating from indiscriminate police tear gas, remained a disciplined and organized force to be reckoned with. They scare the ruling class.

Coastal liberals and internet libertarians do not scare the ruling class. The latter buy into the capitalist system, sanctioning any affront to liberty as long as it's committed by your boss rather than the state, and the latter are too busy with their fucking puppets. The massive and massively ineffective protests of the Bush years should have driven this point home, that the ruling class knows the economically comfortable have no stomach for the long fight. That people bitching about civil liberties online are just letting off steam and, no matter how many likes or upvotes, remain utterly inconsequential.

The slacktivism of the internet age doesn't threaten the ruling class. At all. Because it reveals the disgruntled citizens as too atomized to properly organize. Libertarians, perfect marks that they are, support this sort of solo activism because they've not only internalized the supposed individuality of capitalism but also the power fantasies of a million bad sci-fi and fantasy stories. They imagine themselves the stars of Ender's Game while confronting a Jack Vance world. So they fixate on the conveniences of their own lives as the full extent of human liberty, seeing freedom from government bureaucrats reading their boring emails as the ultimate freedom, and thus spending more time dithering over police state products like Tor and other means to sneakily say "Fight the power!" to equally isolated inconsequential milquetoasts.

You don't fight the ruling class with encryption, you fight it with a megaphone and hundreds of your friends and neighbors at your side. Like the people of Ferguson are doing. And they're winning.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Down and Out in Youngstown

Noah Cicero is the best goddamn thing to happen to American literature since speed. And now you can see it all - or most of it - in two slim volumes from Lazy Fascist Press.

I came to know Cicero, like I came to know most of my favorites, in the book reviews John Dolan wrote for the now defunct eXile newspaper in Moscow. It's appropriate because Cicero's work brings to mind what Dolan said of another great author - "it's so true and so long overdue that you inhale it, reread it a half dozen times... so hungry are you for a little truth." Cicero chronicles life as it is lived for millions of Americans in nowhere towns with nothing lives, a demographic rising faster and faster as income inequality becomes more culturally normal.

For instance, there's the opener to Volume 1 titled "I Clean in Silence." A few pages inside the head of some white trash girl just smart enough to understand her desperate state. She's got no prospects beyond her body - which, like many Americans', is fatter than the emaciated ideal - and she knows she doesn't know enough to hold on to her college-bound boyfriend with her mind. So, despite being a neurotic neat freak, she let's him fuck her in the ass.

The alpha version of this desperate girl shows up later in "The Condemned." Kathy, a pregnant stripper full of piss and vinegar, makes a big show of being the one in control of her own life while being perpetually strapped for cash and making all the same horrible mistakes with her children as her own mother did with her. Though a terrible person in every conceivable way, Cicero nonetheless makes her sympathetic in her very familiar struggle to assert some kind of autonomy within the disinterested, post-industrial capitalism of rust-belt Ohio.

Cicero is very much focused on sex, though not to titillate but illuminate. There's nothing you can do but cringe as Kathy remembers getting french-kissed by her own mother as a child. It's a violation in every conceivable way. An Oprah book club would insist on this driving Kathy towards some sort of redemption but Cicero does not write for the Oprah's of the world - thank Christ - but for the miserable nobodies who populate places like Youngstown. There's nothing redemptive in Kathy's suffering, though it manages that rare balancing act of sympathy without sentiment seen previously in the works of Celine and DH Lawrence.

A lesser author - like, say, Palahniuk - would use these shocking scenes simply for the gross-out factor. Cicero has bigger fish to fry, wallowing in the grotesque not for shock value so much as shocking the reader into seeing the pain of normal American existence.

And that's just Volume 1. Volume 2 functions almost as a single novel, being dominated by the novella The Insurgent and followed by shorter pieces revolving around the same miserable narrator. Cicero chooses a Russian-American for this extended examination of failure and depression, seeing as Russians are such gloomy fucks in general, and uses his flat life to illustrate the flatness that is life in that vast swath of America outside the hyperachieving coastal enclaves. The same America explored in the books of Charles Portis and even in Cicero's own earlier novella The Human War (handily included in Volume 1).

The Insurgent really covers a lot of the same ground as The Human War but, like a good punk band, this repetition still works. The Human War covers a single night on the eve of the Iraq War and stirs in musings on Life, the Universe, and Everything; The Insurgent covers a good few months of a single loser's life, starting in Youngstown and ending out West. How Vassily and his neurotic friend Chang get there isn't some grand epic tale and that's the whole point. Even when stumbling upon a huge stash of oxy, these two don't so much live up the glamorous life of drug dealers as try to sell it off wholesale as fats as they can to finance their escape from Middle America. In the last pages, now far away from the familiar miseries of Youngstown, Vassily starts to find something like peace though one can't escape the concern that it will be fleeting. He's disconnected from all the people who stirred up his misery and resentment but just wait for him to meet some new people. They're Hell, to paraphrase Sartre and possibly Cicero.

Indeed, it's appropriate to compare Noah to those early to mid-century maniacs because he's absorbed their lessons so much better than fools like DeLilo who just write for the seminars. He's captured perfectly that feeling of the thwarted nobody and delivers it in a clipped, flat style that reflects the inner lives - or lack thereof - of his own characters. However this is always focused, purposeful - making Cicero a little like Beckett, but not up his own ass. He cuts straight to the awful horror of the everyday without ever getting lost in his own style.

So go buy his books. Now.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Best Games for Free!

American politics is a more dismal science than economics. You're talking about an entrenched, technocratic oligarchy that still gets the peasants to argue over which scumsucker deserves to sit in the big house, when they're not just celebrating the forced sodomy of others all in the name of security. Makes you root for the meteors or at the very least feel some burgeoning Texas Tower Syndrome...

So today we're gonna talk about video games! Where if someone is being an irredeemable asshole, you can shoot 'em in the face without consequence! Yeah!

And since despite the recent "job growth" in the economy everyone is still strapped for cash, these games are utterly and completely free! Just go install Steam and have at it!

Cry of Fear
A total conversion mod of the original Half-Life and the best of the new survival horror generation outside the Amnesia IP. Dropping you into an abandoned Scandinavian city, you have to survive twitchy monsters while piecing together the mystery of your own shattered mind.

Läderface? Herrejävlar!

And it really emphasizes the survival aspect. You get a limited inventory and must manage both your health and stamina to keep from getting pecked to death by undead toddlers. The store page boasts a dual-wield mechanic but they're really messing with you - you can hold a pistol in hand and your light in the other, but it makes your aim less accurate. Drop the light and you can shoot straighter, if you can see anything at all. Mixed with the best atmospheric horror this side of PS2 era Silent Hill, and you've got the best horror gaming experience not produced by Frictional.

Only the first Act is out now but it's two or three hours well spent. Part survival horror, part old timey adventure game, it drops you on the dock of some mysterious island where the few people who haven't gone all gold-eyed with the rage virus are still a few marbles short.

"I just want to ask you some questions. With my my hammer."

Though you won't encounter either for a good ten to twenty minutes. Like Cry of Fear, this is mostly an exercise in atmosphere and how the constructed game world - bereft of life but likely with a monster about to pop out at any moment - can have you on edge and carrying around any random object the Source engine will let you pick up as a crude improvised weapon. And once into the game proper, you find a mystery involving corporate conspiracy and malfeasance that may have consumed this island community and just may consume you too...

Hawken
Why pay sixty bucks for a MechWarrior clone when the same thing is available for free? Hawken gives you all the giant robot combat you want without first making you scamper around in yet another Modern Military Shooter!

DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!!!

Though not stated anywhere in the official documentation, this is pretty clearly a throwback to MechWarrior. You pilot a walking murder machine through an industrial dystopia, ever on the lookout for enemy robots to blow apart or the mission objective if you're lame. There's a variety of chassis to choose from, depending on whether you prefer armor to speed, and just as many weapons to clip on. And in that best MechWarrior tradition, you get jump jets! Who needs to stumble around the battlefield like an angry turtle when you can go hurtling over terrain like Baron Munchhausen on a cannonball?


Back in college, I played way too much Diablo II with my friends. I know I'm not the only one to do so, nor am I the only one with such fond memories as the time someone messaged "I M TEH L33T HAX0RZ!1" just before getting annihilated by a boss monster. Path of Exile was made for people with such memories, being a shameless Diablo clone in every way it's possible without getting sued.

"Haduken!"

A simple point and click interface, isometric view, respawning monsters, a few simple ingredients that make for a surprisingly addictive experience. There's a story - you're an exile, come to this cursed land to finagle the mystical pants of Hildebrandt or something - but if you've been playing computer games long enough, you know it don't matter. This is just an epic quest for awesome loot, complete with gem sockets in said loot and a skill tree inspired by a baobab to ensure you will never ever run out things to steal and monsters to kill.

You can find me and all my rowdy friends every Monday night. My handle is "Klown_Hammer."

No More Room in Hell
Oh look, another co-op zombie shooter. Haven't we had enough of these yet? Clearly not and No More Room in Hell is one of the proper ones, eschewing any sense of "realism"in favor of ridiculous fun. Sure, it's got the sublime Source physics engine and a collection of real life firearms, but it also features player skins of Disco Stu and John Goodman.

"I will show you the life of the mind!"

You can still die real easy, but so can everyone else. So you won't spend too long waiting to do it all again, like that overrated douche-magnet Counter-Strike. And if you can get a good group going and survive long enough - since, in the grand tradition of co-op Source games, you really do need to work together to get anywhere - you can get a hold of AKMs, ArmaLites, sledgehammers, and the ever necessary chainsaw!

The shortest game you'll ever play but worth every second. More an exercise in visual and sound design than a game, it involves nothing more than directing a fly ever upward, through the soggy and fecund natural world into the choking industrial soot of modern urban civilization, then further and further into the infinite.

...

There is an end, though. And I'll leave it up to you whether it's the culmination of a surprisingly sublime experience or just a cheap joke. Personally, I accept that it's both.

Team Fortress 2

Do I even need to say anything? If you have the sense to PC game rather than burn money on a console, you already know about this finest of all online multiplayer shooters. Why do I need to go on about how it balances classes across varied and creative maps and game types?

...It still doesn't make sense in context.

Instead, a personal story: I was about to pack it in for the night but figured I'd do one more round. Clicking on a server named "Mario Kart," I found myself on a user generated map born of legos, old school Nintendo games, and crystal meth. People were driving boxy go-carts with even boxier cannons, exploring the castle of mirrors in the sky, and the gravity was turned down so my Scout's double-jump took me clear across the map and smack into a billboard full of dancing Japanese cartoons. A more delightfully surreal experience cannot be had anywhere outside Salvador Dali's home movies.

*          *          *          *

Honorable Mention
I would have like to put MINERVA: Metastasis in this list but it just didn't cut it. Despite it's excellent action and pretty good story, it's held back by some puzzles so obtuse as to earn the developer a dick punching party.

This can't end well...

Essentially Half-Life 2 fanfiction, it's well done enough to stand alongside Lost Coast as an apocryphal chapter of the game proper. The story is delivered in text from the titular Minerva, who might be an artificial intelligence from the same production line as GlaDOS or might just be an asshole. These messages are the most uneven part, swinging from juvenile vulgarity to understated sincerity and pathos. And as it doesn't distract you with amateur voice acting, you can just ignore it while blasting through Combine mooks.

So while not the best, definitely recommended.