Marketing Creativity – An Article For LEGO’s Marketing and Design Departments

Quick memorandum: This post is intended as a direct address to the marketing and design departments of the LEGO company. As such, I will be dropping my usual narrative voice and speaking solely in terms of marketing, sales, et cetera. There are plenty of other angles that could be taken on the issues and ideas I will put forward in this article, but I will abstain from taking them for the sake of effective communication. LEGO is a business, and as this is intended as a fully serious set of comments and proposals concerning its marketing and design efforts, I will be addressing LEGO in business terms. I personally care about a great deal more things than sales when discussing company practices, but LEGO’s sales departments revolve around sales, and so will this article. I will be taking the obviously wonderful effects of imagination and creativity for granted, and focusing on why incentivizing them and catering more to them would be profitable to LEGO. Obviously MOCers need no encouragement to create MOCs, but if LEGO incentivized it more I think it would be better for everyone.

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It is without question that the products of the LEGO company are inherently creative. LEGO sets can be reconstructed and recombined into an endless amount of things, the only limit being the builder’s imagination. This being evident, the benefits of marketing LEGO products creatively are conceivable. I do not use the term “creatively” to indicate using creative approaches and strategies—that is intrinsic to marketing any products—but rather to propose the idea of marketing LEGO products as a creative medium. To market creativity itself, so to speak. This is no easy task, and not one yet undertaken by any other company I can think of, but considering the obvious creative nature of LEGO products it is rather surprising it has not yet been attempted at any considerable scale. If LEGO products were properly marketed in this fashion, the results could be incredibly lucrative for the company and beneficial for all concerned.

Currently, LEGO’s primary marketing strategy could be summed up in the maxim, “Collect Them All”. These words have been the go-to slogan for virtually every toy line ever sold, from Beanie Babies to the cheap miniatures provided in happy meals. Presenting your products as collectibles is a classic and effective strategy to motivate consumers to purchase a great many of them. And, in many cases, it has served the LEGO company well. The epitome of this can be found in the LEGO Minifigures theme, which revolves entirely around collection.

The trouble is,”Collecting Them All” is not a particularly creative exercise, and only engages consumers until they have “Collected Them All” (or at least as many of them as they happen to like—since LEGO products do not tie into a game or larger scheme of engagement like Magic: The Gathering cards or Webkinz, there is no real reason for consumers to purchase products whose looks don’t particularly excite them). In order to making collection a valid sales incentive, there has to be a continuous stream of things to collect, and that stream has to remain endlessly interesting. This is no easy feat, even for a theme as simple as LEGO Minifigures.

Not only is collection a difficult incentive to maintain when there is no larger metagame or purpose to said collection, it hardly works at all outside of LEGO themes like Minifigures. LEGO Minifigures sets are relatively cheap, and can be easily purchased en masse. The majority of sets from other LEGO themes are quite expensive (especially in the world of children’s toys which the LEGO company claims to belong to) and do not lend themselves to easy collection. Buying a LEGO Ninjago or Creator set is an investment, and sometimes a considerable one. While I have been encouraged as a consumer to collect all the Modular Buildings and “build an entire town”, I have never felt it remotely realistic to do so. Even the LEGO fans I have known (and I have known many) who owned several Modular Buildings sets never gave the impression they purchased them to “Collect Them All”, but rather because they thought they were interesting, well-made sets.

This is the real problem: LEGO is marketing creative products as collectibles, and doing so when few of their consumers are interested in collecting. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, LEGO products are inherently creative, and, because of that, people purchase them for creative purposes. Most consumers of LEGO products are not interested in collecting them and lining them up on shelves, despite LEGO’s encouragement to do so (and subsequent criticism of doing so in The Lego Movie, which is oddly conflicting with the company’s current business model). People buy LEGO products to build with them. Even if they follow the instructions to sets that LEGO provides (and not everyone does, some serious fans and dedicated purchasers being more interested in the bricks), the sets thus built are usually taken apart and repurposed fairly quickly.

To reiterate: Nobody collects LEGO sets—they build with them.

So what do I suggest LEGO do differently? The “Collect Them All” strategy is arguably somewhat successful, though not necessarily apt or particularly effective. What would be the benefits of switching marketing strategies, and more importantly, what marketing strategy would be the most effective and preferable?

Well, obviously, a creative one. LEGO sells creative products, and marketing them as such is the obvious choice. Marketing creativity, so to speak, instead of collectibles. Encouraging consumers to build new things with what they buy rather than simply put them together and display them. The advantage of such a strategy is that it encourages consumers to engage quite heavily with the product, and even promotes a lifelong commitment to it. While playing with the flick-fire missiles on a LEGO set is not something you’re likely to see an older teenager or adult doing, building enormous, grandiose LEGO creations of their own design is. Older fans in general actually build more seriously and more extensively than younger ones, on average. Building with LEGO bricks is nowadays considered a perfectly grown-up activity, while playing with them is not. And this means that, with creativity-oriented marketing, LEGO can not only approach their consumers in a more fitting and effective way, but also engage older individuals and more age groups in general; the obvious business advantage of this being these individuals will continue buying more sets over their lifetimes.

And LEGO has tried this to a limited degree, but not necessarily in the right ways or to any great success. A prime example of this is the LEGO Classics theme; a lineup of sets composed solely of building bricks. You could easily argue this is selling creativity rather than a collectible, and rightfully so, but you could also easily argue these sets are poorly composed and marketed. Once again, dedicated and serious LEGO builders are primarily teenagers and adults—these are the LEGO fans who have years of building experience and are even part of large, building-oriented communities. One only has to look at sites like MOCpages or Eurobricks, or at the LEGO communities on sites like Flickr, or even at books like Beautiful Lego, to see that the serious LEGO building community is far older than LEGO’s target demographic. And, more importantly, it is far older than the demographic sets like those in the Classics theme are marketed towards.

If you look at LEGO fan-made creations (or “MOCs” as they are called, MOC standing for My Own Creation), you can see they universally use a wide range of complex LEGO elements and techniques. However, all of the building-oriented sets LEGO has sold in recent years, LEGO Classics included, do not contain most of the complex LEGO bricks and elements serious builders use. I could not buy a stack of LEGO Classics sets and build a dragon or spaceship to the level of detail and complexity I would expect out of a MOC, or even a LEGO set from themes like Ninjago.

In short, the LEGO company almost never markets their sets as creative opportunities for builders, and when they rarely do they market them to young children who are more interested in playing than building. This, to me, seems like a critical error, and I would like to propose an alternate strategy.

Suppose there was a line of LEGO “building kit” sets that were marketed directly to builders, and designed especially for builders. These sets would not cater to the chunky, childish building that is found in the Classics theme, but rather to the creation of complex, detailed MOCs. I can imagine a “Spaceship Builder’s Kit”, or even a more expensive line containing such sets as the “Ultimate Castle Creator’s Kit”. Even licensed kits like a “Star Wars Builder’s Kit”. This would allow the LEGO company to tap into the serious builder (or “MOCer”) market, which would be incredibly lucrative. These MOCers buy in bulk, and they buy regularly. If, after the proper research and with the proper marketing, LEGO could begin selling to this market, the profits would be considerable. MOCers make it their business to build extremely regularly and acquire as many LEGO bricks and elements as they can afford, and selling to such individuals would be highly desirable and profitable to the LEGO company.

The problem with selling such “building kit” sets targeted directly at MOCers is obviously that LEGO has never done it before, and MOCers have no reason to think LEGO would start doing it now. LEGO has a set a precedent of making all their creativity-oriented sets incredibly childish and and generally unhelpful to serious building (with the possible exception of some of the Creator sets, but there is actually very little creativity encouraged even in their marketing, and even the admirable 3-in-1 sets simply provide three possible sets of instructions to follow, and don’t actively market creative building to the consumer except in the theme’s name). However, with the proper marketing push and presentation, I think it would be entirely doable and highly profitable. MOCers already often buy sets for the sake of their bricks; releasing sets tailored to these purchasing habits could be a remarkable sales opportunity.

But there is certainly more that could be done to tap into this massive, remunerative, LEGO-exclusive market. MOCers love their bricks and pieces, and will go to great lengths to procure just the right ones (which is yet another reason why sets containing generic, chunky, ordinary bricks not tailored to any particular or serious kind of building are not very popular, at least among MOCers). A prime example of this brick-hunting can be found in the fan site of Bricklink. As it has shockingly never been especially catered to by the company whose products it is so obsessed with, the MOCing community has solved its own LEGO brick-hunting problems by creating their own online marketplace called Bricklink for the resale and purchase of LEGO bricks. While it is rather daunting to use and was only recently upgraded to look like anything more than a site from the 90s, it is nonetheless the largest of such online LEGO markets in existence, and is used by nearly every serious LEGO builder. I would not be surprised if millions of dollars were moved through the site every year. And yet LEGO has made little effort to get in on those millions, despite being in the perfect position to do so, and to do it better than anyone else.

There is Pick-a-Brick, and Pick-a-Brick is surely a good start. But, just like those Classics sets, it is incredibly limited and not really well marketed. As a MOCer myself, I’ve never considered Pick-a-Brick as a valid option for purchasing large amounts of LEGO bricks, mostly because of its limited selection. The entire purpose of shopping and searching for particular LEGO bricks is to get certain, special, potentially rare LEGO bricks. Pick-A-Brick offers very few such bricks, and I’ve never been under the impression it offered a great deal of opportunities for bulk purchases. Of course, I may be wrong, but unfortunately the online version of Pick-a-Brick is so under-marketed I wouldn’t know if I was. I would wager at least 70% of LEGO fans know nothing about the online version of Pick-a-Brick, and I’d wager 90% of that lucrative, bulk-purchasing MOCer community doesn’t use it. And why would they? Even aside from the limited selection, Pick-a-Brick doesn’t use simple things like search keywords, and there are entire search categories that are completely empty. With a little polish, a lot more selection, and the right amount of marketing, the online Pick-a-Brick service could be a potential gold mine, but at this point neither consumers nor the LEGO company seem to remember it exists. Even if it simply had a few more bricks added and a better search engine implemented, I could see it taking off. Consumers of LEGO products are willing to pay out of pocket for international shipping insurance to buy certain LEGO elements off Bricklink—surely the LEGO company backed Pick-a-Brick can contend in that market.

This is all well and good, and should such ideas be instituted it is likely LEGO would profit heavily, but I do believe more than this can be done. Marketing creativity need not only mean catering directly to building MOCs, and probably cannot be limited to it. Because LEGO fans have been so bombarded with the “Collect Them All” mantra and are used to flashy, licensed, action-oriented sets, the full potential profits of a creativity-oriented business strategy may not be easily accessible in the current market. Because of LEGO’s current marketing, plenty of children and younger consumers may not be particularly drawn to mere boxes full of bricks. Since LEGO has not been marketing their sets in terms of creativity and imagination, and because it has been leaning so heavily on licensed product lineups, some consumers (especially younger ones) may not be thinking along the right lines to be interested in building whatever they want out of a simple box of bricks (strange as it may sound, since that is really what LEGO products are all about). In short, children who are used to flashy box-art and awesome-looking sets may not immediately see the appeal of a building kit. Nonetheless, it would be highly advantageous for LEGO to encourage them to build creatively, if only in the hopes they buy the MOCer-oriented kits and even eventually join the MOCer market that could potentially be so lucrative to the company. Everyone who plays with LEGO products does build to some degree, but not everyone ends up building complex MOCs or making LEGO-building a hobby for the majority of their life.

So how can the preexistent set-oriented market of LEGO consumers be sold creativity? Well, one obvious route would be to just market building kit sets more like sets, showing things that could potentially be built with them. This would probably require instructions on how to build said things to be included, though, and unless special care was taken to encourage consumers to deviate from said instructions, these building kits might end up being little more than Creator 3-in-1 sets. Not bad things in of themselves, but not particularly creativity-oriented in their marketing or different from current sets.

My proposed answer? Modular sets.

If there was a lineup of sets that focused on modular construction, this could encourage recombination and construction even in the youngest LEGO product consumers. Not modular construction like the Modular Buildings, of course, which simply can be stuck together if you “Collect Them All”, but modular construction more along the lines of the original Blacktron sets. Modular sets would be composed of vehicles (and potentially even buildings) made of sections that could be recombined into whole new vehicles (or buildings), or even combined with other sets to make even bigger creations. Such modular design is not necessarily difficult to do, would appeal directly to creativity-loving LEGO fans, and mesh perfectly with a creativity-oriented business model and the fact LEGO sells inherently creative products. And, if through this emphasis on creativity LEGO consumers end up joining that dedicated MOCing community through a love of creative building, it would mean a great deal of profit for the LEGO company.

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My Problem with Tropes

It is shocking how common it is in today’s artistic landscape for people to place so much  emphasis on tropes. It doesn’t matter what medium they’re talking about; it can be movies, or books, or video games—anything so long as it tells a story. People distill everything into tropes, and obsess over the tropes stories share. Everyone seems to be stark-mad over whether or not something is cliché, and utterly convinced that, at the end of the day, X story and Y story are just “the same story”.

For those of you that may be unaware, a “trope” is the term for any concept that occurs within a story. For instance, a Damsel in Distress is a trope. So is a Big Bad Baddy of Badness, or a Sidekick, or a Comic Relief character. A cliché is simply a trope condemned as overused. Just about everything is a trope, or an example of a trope, because a trope is basically just any piece in the grand mosaic of Story.

Of course, tropes aren’t bad—they’re unavoidable, like atoms in a molecule. However, I am confused as to our obsession with tropes, and our emphasis upon them. Sure, tropes are there, but are they really even that important? Is it actually useful to think about our stories in the context of tropes? As a creator and a writer, I rarely think about my stories as assemblies of tropes, and I’ve never really heard another writer do so. If I have a comic relief character named Joey, I don’t think of him as my Comic Relief character, but as Joey. Why then should readers and critics think about him in any other way?

I was brought about to this question when reading On Fairy Stories, that inexpressibly excellent essay by J. R. R. Tolkien. In it, he says some very interesting, and fairly unpopular, things about the analysis of stories using what we would now call tropes (and I quote directly from an actual book I dug up and poured through without the mercy of find function or copy-paste):

“Such studies are, however, scientific (at least in intent); they are the pursuit of folklorists or anthropologists: that is of people using the stories not as they were meant to be used, but as a quarry from which to dig evidence, or information, about matters in which they are interested. A perfectly legitimate procedure in itself – but ignorance or forgetfulness of the nature of a story (as a thing told in its entirety) has often led such inquirers into strange judgements. To investigators of this sort recurring similarities… seem specially important. So much so that students of folk-lore are apt to get off their own proper track, or to express themselves in misleading ‘shorthand’: misleading, in particular, if it gets out of their monographs into books about literature. They are inclined to say that any two stories that are built round the same folk-lore motive, or are made up of a generally similar combination of such motives, are ‘the same stories’.

And Tolkien has a problem with this, as he elaborates:

Statements of that kind may express (in undue abbreviation) some element of truth; but they are not true in a fairy-story sense, they are not true in art or literature. It is precisely the colouring, the atmosphere, the unclassifiable individual details of a story, and above all the general purport that informs with life the undissected bones of the plot, that really count.

And, after reading this, I had a sort of revelation. I’d never been one of those people to say two stories were somehow “the same story”—in fact that sort of thing always greatly bothered me—but, up till reading this again, I’d always sort of been a fan of tropes. To parse stories into little nice-sounding pieces and organize these pieces in scientific ways is quite a satisfying process. Tropes are wonderful as analytical tools, and, to be honest, they made me feel rather smart. But the trouble is, they’re just that—tools created for analysis, not creation or consumption. Tropes are scientific, not artistic.

And how can we, as people who claim to specialize in the criticism, analysis, and enjoyment of artistic work, make use of a system of dissection and classification that is so entirely unartistic? How can we anatomize stories into tropes that take the elements of said stories entirely out of their own context? How can we, as consumers of art, hope to benefit in examining stories by taking them to bits and leaving the actual story behind? How can we appreciate Gandalf if we just consider him another faceless Guide Character, or a stereotypical Old Wizard? How can we see films like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers for what they are we if just classify them as both stories about “teams of extraordinary people uniting to fight an enormous, unthinkable evil with a vague motive?”

And, most terribly of all, we consider this completely irrelevant and unfitting system as professionalAs academic. We judge stories as assemblies of these unartistically and arbitrarily defined parts, as if the quality of paintings could be determined by the sort of paint they used rather than the use of this paint. How is this in any way useful or beneficial to us, as consumers of art; or to the stories, as artistic works?

Once again, I’m not trying to say tropes are necessarily bad—I just don’t see how they’re supposed to be useful. They make for fun analysis, but this sort of analysis does not serve either the consumption or the creation of art. Sure, you could argue that a knowledge of tropes could help a writer or creator in their work, and it could potentially be inspirational to them, but I’m not really sure this is the case as much as people seem to think. The best way to use tropes in writing is to think of ways to invert them—in other words, to make them less tropey. It’s like how the best compliment you can give fish is that it’s not fishy. If you don’t want things to be tropey, why even bother with tropes in the first place?

And then there’s the fact that the tropes stories contain don’t really mean anything, insofar as the story is concerned. Even the most overused clichés can be refreshing and excellent if they are properly pulled off within their own context, and the most new and fascinating ideas can be insufferable if poorly executed. Why then bother taking stories to bits in pursuit of tropes in the first place? What does it actually accomplish for us, as creators and enjoyers of art?

Personally, I am going to give tropes a wide berth in the future, if I can help it. I no longer see any value in analyzing stories outside of their own context, or pretending it’s impossible to be creative because all the tropes have already been used. Just because we’ve invented bricks doesn’t mean we can’t continue to make new buildings, and just because we have tropes doesn’t mean all our stories will inevitably be terminally similar.

Upcoming URL Change

Hello, readers.

I just wanted to let you all know that I’ll be changing both the title and the URL of this blog very shortly. The new URL should be either “thinkdeeplydreamlightly.wordpress.com” or “thinkdeepdreamlight.wordpress.com”, and should be put into effect sometime tomorrow. The internet has been unclear if followers will remain persistent between URL changes, so I wanted to give the few people who read this blog a head’s up in case they suddenly stop receiving posts.

A Milestone of Sorts

Well, it’s that time again. Something has been said or done or thought that I felt worth noting, and so I’ve come here to talk about it. Come to think of it, when you say it like that, blogging sounds way less impressive. Maybe that’s why we call it blogging.

Anyway, before you ask, no, this is not a Christmas blog post. I haven’t the words to fittingly describe Christmas, nor anything new to add to the discussion (nor even much excitement to share, owing to brain fog and general emotional disconnect). Instead, I’m going to talk about a milestone I recently reached. Or, more specifically, a milestone I recently wrote.

Now, of course, I don’t tend to talk much about myself on this blog, simply because that always ends up feeling whiny and bellyachish (that’s a word now, I just decided), but in this case I feel it’s justified because this milestone has more to do with my work than my actual life. This blog, is, obviously, a manifestation of my writing (though not a very good one), so, when I reach a writing milestone, it’s only logical to talk about it here.

The gist of it is—I just released my first pseudo-published work. No, it’s not a novel, and no, it’s not even a novella. It’s actually, as fate would have it, a short work of interactive fiction, and a very weird, random one at that. I’m personally of the opinion that irony is one of the strongest forces in the universe, and never more so than now. I’ve spent my entire life (or at least my entire life from the age of three) trying to write these long, epic stories and sagas, and the first finished project I end up releasing to the world on a major channel of distribution is a goofy, six-or-seven choice text game. And by major channel of distribution I mean, naturally, an extremely obscure site that people release interactive fiction through.

When I say it like this, it actually sounds rather unimpressive, but, to me, it is something of a big step. It’s certainly a step of some sort, anyway. The fact that I finished something I set about writing is significant enough (I’m a notoriously bad finisher), but then to go on and release it for all to read (or, in this case, play) is even bigger for me. And then, on top of all of that, to actually feel proud of it—that’s a big deal for me.

Of course, in the ironic fashion of life, it’s not actually that great of a story; it’s really just a compilation of bizarre randomness and unintelligible in-jokes created for my brother’s birthday. I was stumped with present ideas for him, and then just a couple days before his birthday celebration had the idea of making an interactive fiction title for him. I finished the thing in less than 24 hours, so it’s quite hurried, but, in spite of that, I’m somehow still proud of it. It makes people laugh, and that’s pretty great to see.

Instead of me ranting on about it, why don’t you just go play it. It’s free (both of a price and of ads), online, and won’t take up more than five minutes of your life. And, hey, if I’m lucky, it might give you a laugh or two, and we could really use more of those these days.

Living in the Present is Lame

Everyone always talks about “living in the present” as something you should aspire to. People constantly assert that, if you let go of your past and quit thinking so much about the future, you’ll be truly happy. I get the feeling the people who say this either have never lived in the present personally or mean this in a far less literal way than I think they do (in which case, they’re not really living in the present). Because, frankly, living in the present sucks.

Full disclosure, this whole philosophical rant was prompted by the mental clarity and memory issues I’m currently going through since my spinal surgery. As someone who’s essentially stuck living in the present, I thought I could speak with some authority on this subject. Perhaps my case is a bit extreme, but nonetheless I think my thoughts have some bearing on the ideal at large.

To put it as shortly as possible, I really don’t understand why anyone would want to live in the present, let alone propose it to others as a lifestyle.

True, sometimes it can be nice. When you’re living in the present, you don’t worry about the future, and your past never haunts you. But, the trouble is, that’s a double-edged sword. The past is not a purely negative thing, and neither is the future. If your past never haunts you, all of a sudden everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve ever cared about just doesn’t matter. All the memories you most cherish are buried away, and you can’t learn from any of your mistakes because none of them are haunting you like they should. All your interests and passions crumble to dust because they’re tied to memories and past events, and since the future is kept firmly out of the picture you’re left with nothing to look forward to. Taking life “moment by moment” is, truthfully, a complete nightmare. And it’s really bizarre, because everyone’s always ranting about how great and wonderful it is to “live in the present”.

In fact, living in the present is contrary to the whole premise of living. Ideals, dreams, and goals are core to giving life meaning, and all those things require the future to exist. Not only that, but in order for anything to have any meaning in the first place, you have to have past experiences with them. It is the struggles you went through and the memories you formed that give value and significance to the world around you. Without the past, a wedding ring is just a ring, Thanksgiving is just an unusually nice meal, Christmas is just a day where you get presents, and your family are just nice people who you always seem to hang out with.

Living “moment by moment” is, at its core, a cheap and utterly false path to happiness. It’s like saying you’ll be truly happy if you just party all the time, or if you win the lottery and spend the rest of your life laying on the beach. You need the past in order to strive to be a better (and happier) person, no matter how painful and regretful it is, and you need the future so you can have something to hope and strive for. If you’ve got nowhere to look to and nothing to look back on, you’re truly nowhere.

Why People Want To Be Able To Turn Off Gore In Video Games

Okay, I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick and tired of people being so intolerant of those who do not like their games gory. All the time, across messageboards throughout the internet, I see people asking developers to add the option to turn off gore in their games, only to receive massive backlash from dozens of other players. Most of the time, these other players simply mock the original poster and tell them to go play another game, but sometimes they will list counterarguments about why they think gore should not be optional. At the heart of all these arguments, there is one simple question:

“It’s already a violent video game, why should it not have blood?”

This is usually followed up by statements such as, “If violence bothers you, don’t player violent games”, or even “I actually want more blood”, et cetera. Passing over the fact that the desire some players possess (note I say some, not most) to see human entrails explode is more than a little disturbing, the argument that one shouldn’t play violent video games if one doesn’t like blood is flawed.

This is simply because there is a difference between gore and violence.

Sure, gore is violent, but violence does not have to be gory. The real trouble is, a lot of people seem to be confused as to the nature of this distinction. Many often ask, “You’re already playing a game where you kill loads of people nonstop, why would blood bother you? Why would it make any difference?” And the truth is, it does make a difference. There is a very real reason why blood and gore bother people who are totally fine with violence in of itself. It’s the same reason why people can squash Goombas to death in Mario without a qualm and yet be greatly disturbed by things like Mortal Kombat or Battlefield.

To put it shortly, blood and gore symbolize pain. They remind players with a swift kick to the head the reality of the violence they’re committing, the reality of the pain they’re causing. They make players snap out of the fantasy of the game and see the full truth of the atrocities they’re creating in the virtual world they’re playing in. And this, frankly, just isn’t enjoyable, and it doesn’t help that the game itself almost always fails to recognize it. Personally, I feel like I could handle gore in video games a bit better if it was taken seriously—if the reality and the magnitude of the pain that was being caused was given justifiable drama and significance. But it’s not. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s treated as something of no importance at all, or else as the punchline of a sick, deranged sort of humour.

There are, of course, plenty of players who have long been desensitized to this swift kick to the head, or else consider it to be part of the experience—it certainly is realistic. But, it must not be forgotten there are also plenty of players who aren’t desensitized (or may even be incapable of becoming so). There are plenty of people who can’t look at blood shooting out of the body of some virtual character without feeling horror and revulsion and a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach. There are plenty of people to whom virtual pain is too real to be ignored, let alone enjoyed. Some people are just too empathetic and too imaginative to pass over it.

This is why people want to be able to turn off gore—because they’re empathetic. They simply aren’t (or can’t) be desensitized to blatant manifestations of pain. And I’m not saying this somehow makes them better than those who are desensitized, those who can handle gruesome displays of pain, just that that it makes them different. And differences, especially when they define whether or not someone can enjoy something, should be respected.

Why I Don’t Like The Ending Of Beauty and the Beast

A few weeks ago I happened to be in the room while Beauty in the Beast was playing. I’d never seen it before, and honestly I’ve never been really interested in it at all, but nonetheless I found myself watching it. Admittedly, when you’re sitting in a room with a big shiny screen it’s hard to look away. I walked in right around the time that dark-haired guy musters the villagers to go kill the Beast (you can tell I paid close attention to the characters’ names), and so I missed the majority of the film, but nevertheless I feel like I got the general idea.

Overall I think it was somewhat enjoyable, and I felt interested enough to want to know how it began, but the ending bugged me. Like, it bugged me a lot. I was sitting there, watching the happy ending come to its happy, glowing conclusion, enjoying the old-fashioned but nonetheless impressive animation (hand-drawn animation always impresses me), when suddenly something hit me.

The Beast turns back into a man at the end.

Now, like, I’m pretty sure I already knew this, but I’d never actually thought about it, and now that I saw it for myself it kind of struck me as going against everything the story meant. The whole point (or “moral”, if you will) of the tale is that you’re not supposed to judge by appearances—at least, that’s what I got from it. The hideous Beast in the scary castle turns out to be a really nice, sweet guy, the girl falls in love with him, and it’s all hunky-dory and lovely. But while the story makes a great point, it’s not actually brave enough to take it all the way. To provide the happy ending, the writers (or whoever authored the folk tale originally) felt obliged to make the Beast turn back into a Man. They couldn’t let the girl actually marry the Beast. They couldn’t let her live the rest of her life with a monster. And, to me, that just makes me feel like they chickened out. It shows that, while they’re trying to encourage audiences to not be prejudiced, they themselves are still too prejudiced to end the story without turning the Beast into a Man.

If monsters really did exist in the world, this movie would be flamingly speciesist.

And yes, I know the Beast was originally a Man and was transformed into a Beast by a curse of some kind or something of that nature. But, to me, that just seems even more chickenish. They couldn’t let the ugly, monstrous creature actually be an ugly, monstrous creature. They had to make him a Man deep down inside. And, while this does allow them to make their point more forcefully and more easily, it still sort of goes against what I feel like this story should stand for. Ultimately, while it shows why we shouldn’t judge by appearances, it isn’t brave enough to tell the tale of an actual real monster who’s actually good. It isn’t brave enough to say that actual monsters can actually be good guys. And, while there aren’t any real monsters in the world, there are plenty of people and groups who are villianized in the same sort of way, and I feel like a story that openly states a native member of a “monstrous” group can actually be good would be nice.

Maybe it’s just my recent fascination with ugly and monstrous characters (I have both a troll and a hideously deformed individual in the story I’m working on) that has driven me to feel this way, but I wanted to write this all the same. It’s my blog, after all, and it’s been really long since I’ve written anything.

—Skytrekker out.

TRANSMISSION

Oh, man, what can I say about this game? It’s one of those few, unique games that’re hard to exactly pin down in one sentence. It’s intrigued me very much, more than any game has since Planet Nomads and No Man’s Sky, I think. At any rate, it’s on Kickstarter and has a long way to go before it’s campaign is funded, so it could use some love.

Friends, let me introduce you to TRANSMISSION:

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TRANSMISSION is an open-world, exploration-based, story-driven, science-fiction game.  Or something along those lines—it’s a little difficult to put into words. In it, you crash land on a mysterious planet and must try to find a way home. Along the way, you “discover the planet’s secret past, and, ultimately, your own”, to paraphrase the developers’ description. It looks like it’s going to be an intriguing, emotive experience, and its visuals really emphasize this.

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I’ve never seen something quite like TRANSMISSION’s visuals. The game is from a sort of top-down perspective with camera angles that appear to vary depending on the area, almost like a 2D RPG but with a more 3D twist. It looks cell-shaded, like The Witness or The Chronicles of Valkyria, which I don’t think has ever been done from this kind of camera angle. It really does look rather like a painting in motion. The game even features breathtaking hand-painted cutscenes that help tell its story, like the one pictured below.

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The gameplay of TRANSMISSION seems to be very exploration-bent and somewhat RPG-ish, with fast-paced, challenging combat (the developers state “simply running into a fight will guarantee you perish swiftly”), crafting, puzzles, and interactive environments. It’s difficult to sum it up briefly without directly quoting what the developers have said, so I’d suggest heading over to its Kickstarter page and just reading that. Don’t forget to watch the trailer—it describes this game without words far better than I do with them. And, if you have the cash, definitely support it. I’d love to see it become a reality (in fact I may drop some of my limited funds on it myself), and it really needs some help to be able to hit its goal.

That’s all I have time to say today.

—Skytrekker out.

Retropunk

Most of the time on this blog I tend to talk about movies or occasionally video games or something of that nature. But today I wanna talk about something more general, something that could be used in any art form. Today I wanna talk about a genre, a genre which I think I may have invented. I’m calling it “Retropunk”.

Okay, so, first off, I kind of thought somebody would’ve already thought of this, and ten to one somebody already has. But, for all my searching, I can’t find anything quite like it. While there’s Solarpunk and Elfpunk and even Stitchpunk (whatever the heck that is), there doesn’t seem to be any Retropunk. But what, you ask, exactly is Retropunk?

Imagine the old, ridiculous, slightly dorky pulp magazine sci-fis of the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s. The shiny rockets and many-ringed rayguns. The landings on Jupiter and the Sun. All that sort of thing. Then, make it dark and gritty and dystopian. Instead of everything being utopian and shiny and chrome-plated, imagine it brooding and dark and grimy and noir-esque. Imagine more subdued colors instead of bright, flashy ones. But, at the same time, still use those same designs and aesthetics and ideas of rockets and rayguns and sun-landings.

That, my friend, is Retropunk.

It’s not dieselpunk, because it’s very strongly rooted in a more pulp-magazine-esque sci-fi. People don’t ride around in blimps—they ride rockets and hovercars. And they take their rockets to the surface of Saturn where they hang with absurd-looking (but nonetheless dystopian and punk-ish) aliens. And it’s not cyberpunk, because cyberpunk is all about invasive technology and doesn’t have much (if anything) to do with rockets or rayguns. And it’s not atompunk or Raygun Gothic per se, because it’s dirty and dystopian. Essentially, it’s all the aesthetics and designs of the perfect, fantastical future we once imagined, but without the actual perfect bit.

To finish off this unusual universe, add in some elements from the actual real-life ’30s and ’40s. Imagine a dystopian sci-fi universe like I’ve just describe where people dress similar to how people actually dressed in the ’30s and ’40s (but with a more sci-fi twist). Imagine a noir-esque detective stepping out of a grimy, rocketized version of a 1946 Chevrolet, stowing a raygun in the breast pocket of his jacket, and walking into a dark, dingy, bar-like, ’40s-esque diner with a sci-fi look to it.

I feel like Retropunk should pull from historical ’40s fashion because, first of all, you don’t really see very much sci-fi doing that, and I think it’s just part of the aesthetic (same with pulling from vehicles and such from that time period, if only a little bit). And, secondly and more importantly (to me, anyway), because I don’t feel like the common apparel in pulp-magazine sci-fis really works in Retropunk, no matter how punk you make it. From what I’ve seen (I’m no expert, though) a good deal of retro sci-fi used a lot of spotless uniforms and bathing-suits-in-space, and that’s just not how I envision Retropunk. That kind of thing is just a bit too zany and juvenile to work in the dystopia I’m envisioning. You can’t imagine a noir detective with a raygun boarding a grimy, punkified, bucket-of-bolts rocket in a spandex bathing suit. It just doesn’t work with the vibe at all. It’s the same reason people don’t walk around wearing top hats in Star Wars.

So that, in a nutshell, is Retropunk. I haven’t found anything exactly like it anywhere (though, again, it’s totally possible someone else already thought of it), but I think it’s a super awesome idea and it needs to happen. I want to see people do something with it. It’s kind of ambitious and far-fetched, but I want to see Retropunk art and stories and the like. So, please, whether you be a writer or an artist or a whatever, feel free to play with this idea. It’s a whole genre that’s completely unexplored. I would be ecstatic if even just one or two people took it and made something with it. Who knows, maybe someday it’ll have a brief little blippet on Wikipedia like elfpunk.

And, if you happen to know a brand of sci-fi that is exactly like what I just talked about, please, let me know. If someone’s already done this I totally want to see it.

That being said, thanks for reading, and go make Retropunk happen!

—Skytrekker out

Tentatively Titled…

As you may have noticed, I’m trying out a new name for this place. As I said at the end of my last post, the other one didn’t really fit anymore, and I felt like I needed something new, anyway. Admittedly, it’s not very specific, and I probably couldn’t use it because I doubt the address is available, but I still thought I’d try it out. It’s not permanent at this point, but I definitely like it.

I recently read the Hitchhiker series (maybe I oughta do a review for that) and absolutely loved it, so that’s obviously my inspiration for it. It feels quite fitting, honestly. If I could figure out a URL that goes with it that’s not taken, I may keep it.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts about the new title, feel free to leave ’em in the comments below. Until next time.

—Skytrekker out.