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Escapism vs Realism: What is Entertainment? | Film and Gaming | This Is Entertainment

Some people might insist that entertainment as an entity exists as a ‘way out’ from the stresses and hardships of everyday life, but why then do games and films so often strive to be ‘realistic’?

Surely if we just wanted to escape from reality (without turning to hallucinogenic substances), then the most attractive prospect would be to jump into something completely different from our everyday lives.

Take Super Mario for example. One of the quintessential platformers, there aren’t many of us who navigate pits of lava, turtles throwing hammers and flatten grumpy-looking, mushroom-shaped creatures on a daily basis.

Later Mario titles have arguably become even more unrealistic, adding talking fire extinguishers and intergalactic flight, and the titles sell in the hundreds of thousands. Perhaps this argument is a foregone conclusion then?

Not quite so simple in 2012. According to vgchartz.com, role-playing epic Diablo III takes the top spot, a clear point for the escapism camp, and three different Mario titles are in the top ten. On the other hand Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 remains at sixth and eighth on the multi-format global sales chart after a massive 39 weeks on sale.

MW3 is a game which seeks to immerse you into a world of guns, shooting and slow-motion breaching (before more shooting). While this isn’t the sort of thing the average person would get up to on a day to basis (we hope), it is presented in a highly detailed and ‘realistic’ way. From here it’s easy to begin to appreciate how blurred the lines between escapism and realism are.

In the first days of console gaming there was no chance of you mistaking Pac-Man for a real person just wandering down dark alleys looking for pills and trying to avoid his dealers – the poor guy was made up of about 12 pixels and didn’t have any legs – but now with the level of detail capable my modern technology you can very nearly almost be lured into thinking there really is such a thing as dragons from the likes of Skyrim.

In film too the harsh realities of the past decade or so have bled through into Hollywood’s presentation of much-loved characters. Batman successfully shed its campish past for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005. British institution James Bond followed suit and underwent a gritty reboot the following year with Casino Royale. Spiderman too returned to his more ‘real’ comic book roots for Andrew Garfield’s turn as the webslinger only this year.

Clearly escapism for escapism’s sake still exists, exemplified by the mere existence of The Expendables 2, but the new normal seems to be geared towards giving consumers a dose of reality.

There is a flaw in this plan though – people don’t like it when things get too real.

There has been a lot of fan backlash from the reboot or Devil May Cry: DMC. Undoubtedly the ‘new look’ Dante is grounded in a much more ‘real’ universe, albeit with crazy demonic stuff going on. Many fans of the original games took objection to the re-imagining of the character of someone more grounded and supposedly relatable, while others were just averse to change in the first place.

Tomb Raider too has his the ‘realism’ button pretty hard and there has been plenty of discussion whether it is necessary or appropriate to tackle the issue of rape – even in the context of the development of the character.

Undeniably though, horrible things do happen, and for gaming and films to be taken seriously as artistic mediums, they have to tackle sensitive issues. Film has a clear head start, having delivered countless classics over the years revered as taboo-breakers and genre-definers.

With games, it’s more of an uphill struggle, since the medium already has a long way to go to be respected by fellow industries as more than just ‘something kids and teenagers do’, let alone by the public in general.

Could tackling ‘real’ issues help? Perhaps, but it’s only worth doing if that’s what gamers actually want, which brings us back to the debate in question.

Reality is huge, but imagination is limitless, so with nothing but technical stumbling blocks to hold developers and directors back, entertainment should be striving to push the boundaries and show us things we have never seen or experienced before.

Whether that is something relatable, intimate and personal or off-the-wall, crazy and just good fun is up to us. If we as the people enjoying these products don’t give things which are a bit different a chance, then there will be less chances taken by the big studios, and we’ll miss out on things like Inception on the big screen and Bulletstorm on the small.

In the end, escapism and realism aren’t as much at odds as you might assume from first glance, and there is certainly place for both in the entertainment world – it all depends on what you feel like.

James Michael Parry
YouTubery lovingly embedded from original source. Images courtesy: popchassid.com and setlol.com

Gaming | E3 2012 Debriefing – What does it mean for Xbox 360? | This Is Entertainment

Oooo greenGoing into this years Electronic Entertainment Expo (that’s E3, technophobes), there were no illusions that the current console generation is approaching its end.

Nintendo is on the eve of announcing a release date for its new WiiU, revealed last year, and the speculation about the PS4 or Xbox 720 has reached boiling point. Luckily the signs that this generation wasn’t just a giant waste of time are there in the form of Nintendo‘s ‘Pro Controller’, which looks suspiciously like an Xbox 360 pad. Before all that excitement of shiny new things though, we need to be entertained in the meantime – so what’s left for 360 players?

A cynic would say we are at the bottom of the barrel, scraping together sequels to drag out the life of a console which is past its sell-by date. Ever the optimist however (hmm…) I thought I would take some time to contemplate before dismissing this year’s E3 offering as disappointing and think about what it means as we creep ever closer to the next generation.

Microsoft‘s conference this year wasn’t surprising, it wasn’t unexpected, what it was was logical. What makes the Xbox an effective games console is that it’s no longer just a games console, it has diversified into the multi-media hub which MS always envisioned.

The harsh reaction to the latest changes to the dashboard earlier this year gave a pretty clear message from those who would happily call themselves ‘gamers’ however, so it remains a fine line MS must tread to keep everyone happy – from the hardcore Halo fans who dress up as John 117 on the weekends to the working mums who just jump onto Your Shape for 15 minutes every Tuesday morning after Loose Women.

Get your Spartan onTo address these concerns, MS‘s E3 conference began by taking things back to the console’s roots, with a new instalment in their flagship franchise. In the hands of a new developer, 343 Industries, the game offers a fresh breath of life into a series which began at the original Xbox‘s inception back in 2001. There are new enemies, new weapons, new locations, but still the familiar touches which make the series what it is, including its protagonist Master Chief (who is John 117, if you were scratching your head earlier).

Next to be flaunted were (among others) a new Splinter Cell title subbed ‘Blacklist’, which seemed to throw away even more stealth than its predecessor, Tomb Raider, which still featured Lara Croft making odd sexual noises and a new Gears of War (Judgment – missing an ‘e’), this time with Damon Baird in the spotlight. Plus there were three blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Xbox exclusives, but very little was revealed about them other than the names: Ascend: New Gods, LocoCycle and Matter.

In terms of numbers of games at least, things were going well, and the 360 has always been at home with action-heavy gun-dominated titles like Gears and Halo. “…but what about innovation?!” I hear you cry.

Can you watch two screens at once?Xbox Smartglass, technology which allows you to use the smartphones and tablets you already own to control your 360, was undoubtedly the biggest innovation. While convergence of technology is nothing new, utilising products consumers already own is a masterstroke. The only problem is what about the people without these add-ons, are they going to get left behind as a brave new world comes along to slide its shimmering glass surface across their face?

With another console not a million miles away, this is software which will make the jump, and in many ways ease the transition between today’s gaming world and tomorrow’s. There are undoubtedly tons of things which can be done with touchscreens, but like the possibilities presented by Kinect, it will take a long time for them to be used effectively, and most importantly to enhance the experience rather than intrude on it.

After a few more services, including the shrug-worthy Xbox Music and marginally more interesting film and TV deals, featuring copious amounts of American sports which all have their own acronyms, it was time for more games.

Resident Evil 6 looked the part, albeit with plenty of potential to stray down the path away from its roots, something so commonly picked up on these days that it practically becomes a given. There was also a good show from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who notably mocked Smartglass‘ drive for interconnectivity, and surprisingly the pair proved to be the more civilised and fitting ‘celebrity’ guest appearances compared to the shocking performance from Usher in conjunction with the inevitable Just Dance 3. Jaws across the auditorium must have been on the floor for all the wrong reasons.

The grand finale was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which was the least surprising sequel of the day, but the footage shown was undeniably impressive, causing those who had sworn of ‘COD’ for life to sheepishly reconsider.

Here boy, walkies!The surprise of the week really came from Ubisoft‘s conference in the form of the gritty criminal underworld of the Watch Dogs, an original IP which nods to both Deus Ex and Grand Theft Auto IV. Grand masters of GTA themselves, Rockstar Games, were dutifully absent as usual, and no more was heard about the upcoming GTAV.

In all it was a business-sound case from MS, with enough games in the mix (predictable but present) to keep gamers occupied which they put the final touches on their new platform, sure to be revealed this time next year. The amount of services may seem dizzying, but with so many new partnerships and deals announced, it’s a safe bet the 360 will be around for a few years yet, even after its successor is released.

Now all we have to do is wait…in the meantime, have a listen to what industry veteran and passing colleague of This Is Entertainment Jon Hicks (@MrJonty) from Official Xbox Magazine, has to say about it all – and happy gaming.

James Michael Parry

pictures courtesy: gotgame.com, archetypegamer.com, openthefridge.net, monstervine.com