REMEMBERING ISAO TAKAHATA

when i stop watching movies, the same thing always happens. i get sluggish. i don’t want to text people back. i chat too much on facebook discussion groups with people i don’t really know and probably don’t much like. i start drinking around 4-5 pm toward the end of the spell because i start feeling like enjoying things takes too much effort. i throw myself into the fantasy of my relationship whether the relationship is actual or intended.

and then, often, i show someone a studio ghibli movie and I snap out of it.

if i has to guess, usually, i’m making people watch whisper of the heart. yoshifumi kondo’s sole effort as a studio ghibli director before an unexpected heart attack is one of the studio’s underseen films and is very nearly my favorite. it’s the story of, yes, a teenage girl, but she very much falls in love with the boy this time, and all the magic that happens comes from the art they make together.

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kondo’s film wouldn’t make sense as part of studio ghibli without isao takahata, who passed away last night. when people complain they don’t like anime or animation in general because they’re “kid’s stuff,” they’re almost unilaterally directed toward Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. it’s described in hushed tones as the saddest film ever – two siblings are orphaned in an american firebombing of japan, and when their grief is too much for their aunt to bear, they are kicked out and starve to death. the death is not a spoiler, but how the film begins. that they find any joy and kindness in life is takahata’s idea of surprise.

of course, takahata did not invent grave of the fireflies: it’s based on a semi-autobiographical short story, in which the older brother seita survived, written as an apology to the dead sister. the kindness exhibited by seita in the story is the primary fiction: the author, nosoka, viewed seita as having some of the strength he lacked in real life. but takahata reiterated that he found seita interesting primarily because he was not stoic or particularly suited for survival. he saw it as relatable to the young people of the 80s, who he perceived as acting on their whims rather than behaving with the filial piety and sense of duty that would keep them alive in a dire situation. in japan, and to takahata, the moral of grave of the fireflies is not one of the horrors of war, but the reality of immaturity’s punishment. put up with the aunt who won’t respect your grief: stand straight: you have someone who needs you. the anti-war message is an invention of the american audiences who see the crime they inflicted on japan as unreal and unforgivable. japan has a long enough history with war to see famine, orphanage, and what we deem atrocity as a fact of life on earth among the indifference of mankind.

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takahata does not always access this cynical view. fireflies almost seems like an irritated response to castle in the sky, in which ghibli cofounder and past subordinate hayao miyazaki depicts precocious children who get away with everything and make friends with everyone. takahata fostered well enough love for the titular Little Norse Prince Hols of their first feature together, developed in 1968 with takahata as director and miyazaki as key animator.

miyazaki maybe tempered takahata’s steel with my neighbor totoro and kiki’s delivery service, maybe made him believe in the goodness of kids. his next project was another adaptation: only yesterday, which has just recently made its american debut with a proper dub and home video release. while daisy ridley is lovely, only yesterday screams its japanese culture with exuberance in telling the story of an unmarried city girl who visits the country and reminisces about her middle school days.

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it is almost unbearable how totally takahata captures childhood. every woman i know who’s seen it remarks on how truthfully and insightfully he captures something about adolescent girlhood. he simply does not shy away from the psychology of the discomfort and exhilaration of puberty, and he clearly did actually pay attention in conversations about what the girls did when the boys weren’t around. he does this without evangelizing the children: they are still often impetuous, often cruel, often wrong, and yet the care he takes in depicting that fallibility makes the love it displays so powerful. that he made these films while miyazaki was inventing another beloved anthropomorphized animal in porco rosso only further cements the level of takahata’s commitment to telling stories he felt were true.

which is why pom poko, his one solo creation, without adaptation (though some rightfully note its structural relationship to seven samurai), being about the shapeshifting tanuuki yokai attempting to survive a deforestation is so delightful. not a lick of it rings less true than his last two films, and his commitment to psychology keeps pom poko deliberate and full of experimentation. the same is true of his last film before his own long hiatus, my neighbor the yamadas, his first film after the death of kondo that threatened to retire both takahata and miyazaki.

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but both returned before takahata passed last night. in roughly 2013 (a date made complicated by international releases) the two men released elegiac swan songs in miyazaki’s the wind rises and takahata’s the tale of princess kaguya. i do not consider it overstatement to say these are the two men’s best films. kaguya evolves the ghibli art style and fuses it with the aesthetic of Heian-era japanese painting while sacrificing none of his psychological nuance. its final note is one of death as release from consciousness, maybe unbearable for those still on earth but unfelt by the deceased. it is how takahata chose to send himself off.

i cannot express how deeply the work of isao takahata has affected me. he in so many ways legitimized animation, and still he also legitimized the importance of telling women’s stories, of not letting yourself get bogged down in a genre, and of being willing to learn and admit wrong while maintaining conviction to yourself. his work is home to many of the great images i will ever see.

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i hope he rests peacefully.

My Top 15 Films of 2015, For Posterity

After an amazing year of over 500 flicks, it took me an age to narrow down the best films of 2015. What an astounding year we’ve had. I may narrow this down to a top 10 eventually, but, for now, it’s a beautiful top 15. The order, of course, will trade as months or years go by.

I’ll be catching up later with A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence, Shaun the Sheep, The Russian Woodpecker, Peanuts, The Big Short, Anomalisa, The Assassin, Taxi, and 45 Years, along with many others over the rest of my life. Though there are another five or ten films that could make this list (and may, someday,) the true honorable mention goes to Don Hertzfeldt’s WORLD OF TOMORROW, a great short film which warms my heart more as time passes.

I linked to my Letterboxd list in an earlier post, but I realized I’m planning to let that Letterboxd list be edited at some point. So this will be the standing record of my favorite films of 2015. Since the original version of this text, I’ve seen Anomalisa. It’s fantastic, and equally worthy of placement, but I like what I have here.

15. Bridge of Spies

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Spielberg’s film is one of his most understated successes; part Le Carre glare-off and part Capra-esque morality fable, the film works equally well as entertainment and political statement. The Coens’ touch, perhaps simply to have the running joke about “this cold,” remains one of the subtlest and most entertaining details in a film this year. I think that joke works thematically to exemplify that maybe everyone is so eager to get their job done in the first place that they don’t stop to think if they’ve done it right until they’re on the precipice of its completion. Hanks and Rylance excel, and the film’s levity helps establish the film as one of the best of the year.

14. Clouds of Sils Maria

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I can’t deny the performances of Binoche and Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria, a film which portrays the critique found in, say, Birdman, as simultaneously vital work against juvenility and pure cynicism. Similarly to Carol, its sexuality exists on its periphery, allowing excellent dialogue, performance, setting, and filmmaking to make the film’s statement. Hazier and more abstract than many of the films on this list, I suspect rewatching Clouds of Sils Maria may shoot it higher along.

13. The Revenant

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This poor flick is clouded by Academy Awards, talk of difficult shoots, and Birdman. It ought not to be. DiCaprio doesn’t give the best performance he’s ever given (that remains Django Unchained) but he gives an excellent one, with physicality enough to make the film’s mostly non-verbal second act a treasure to take in. The natural lighting results in a beautiful film, and the supporting turn from Hardy fills in a movie with a gap. As a revisionist Western, it does enough to favor the Native Americans to escape offense. It’s not even the most profound Western of the year, but it is one of the most enjoyable Westerns I’ve seen, and one of the most astounding as filmmaking.

12. Furious 7

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The Fast & Furious movies continue to be a highlight of my movie year. I watched Fast Five and was impressed by the amount of fun I had; I saw it because I won a t-shirt in a trivia competition. I watched all of the films in preparation for Fast & Furious 6, which I quite enjoyed, but was a little disappointed by upon first viewing. This year, for Furious 7, I rewatched Tokyo Drift, Fast Five, and F&F 6, and I enjoyed the last much more this time. But I’ve yet to enjoy any of these films like Furious 7, an insane romp which explodes off the screen with enthusiasm, invention, and delight. Furious 7 is a ride filled with small great elements like fights with Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa. But the bravery comes when it includes moments like the graveyard scene, in which Walker says from the grave, “No more funerals.” I’ve never seen a film include its own in memoriam; the last frames of that sequence are so moving, so light, that the bold stroke works. Furious 7 eschews the line between fact and fiction, ingratiating the audience into the Toretto family and then honoring the audience’s need to grieve.

11. Sicario

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Some people will watch Sicario and determine the path to hell is laid with best intentions. They’re missing the point; that justice is not the best intention when you make a deal with harbingers of doom, and that passion replaces clarity when we take the sword of justice into our own hands. Flagrant disregard for the law throughout Sicario creates a chaotic zone so toxic as to seem unsolvable. I walked out of Sicario red-eyed, not from tears, but from high-wire anxiety. The best use of Denis Villenueve’s talent for tension yet, Sicario is the first of his films that I would want to rewatch; I hope I will continue to find new volume in it over years.

10. Ex Machina

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From my review: “Ex Machina is simultaneously a film of this moment and a film which can last beyond it; its concerns about the objectification and domestication of women, its depiction of the hypermasculine domestication by web technologists of its consumers, and its concerns about levity in a time of moral panic all should hold some resonance for many years and spin from our very current concerns. One of the better dramas of the last several years, Ex Machina has that special touch where a screenwriter discovers that they, too, can direct, as well as the directors who have ever held their work, and they may begin to discover their own autonomy.” I haven’t come up with anything more succinct than my writing about this fun Alex Garland flick. A24 makes the coolest movies in the world.

9. Tangerine

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I don’t know if Tangerine would have made the same impact upon me had I not seen it in a theater. Something about seeing this story, this camera, these actresses on a big screen validated Tangerine as something more than “a cool thing shot on an iPhone.” I’m glad I watched it in a venue separate from where I might watch DJ Khaled’s SnapChat story or read about Zola. I hope I still would have found it entertaining, empathetic, multilayered, and worthy of its commentary on sex, poverty, cultural baggage, and hegemony. Some are still furious that Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez and Mya Taylor were not nominated for acting awards. I think they should have been up for Best Original Screenplay; my belief in the entire project comes from their belief in their portrayal.

8. Carol

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This premise sounds like it was practically designed to sweep the 2016 Oscars; in reality, it’s a miracle that it wound up excellent, and the forgotten Freeheld helps exemplify exactly where its statements about sexuality could have become too political. Instead, Carol works as a political act by being an expertly made romance drama which lets its lesbian romance speak as its own political statement. The film works best as a character drama and as an aesthetic accomplishment, with some of the most beautiful filmmaking and scoring I can recall. A taut screenplay lets it stick as a remarkable achievement; Blanchett and Mara develop career performances in their work off one another.

7. Room

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I really need to get around to Abrahamson’s Irish films; his prior film, Frank, is an empathetic film which achieves sublimity with its closure. Room is equally empathetic and sublime from the start, but it doesn’t lose steam once its denizens escape Room. Larson is an actress I’ve found compelling since her brief turn in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but it’s with this film that I turned into a fan. Her and Tremblay, together, work within the limited confines of Room and make it wholly compelling. When they leave, Abrahamson gives the film the brain it needs to stay moving. The structure of this is so effective, the emotional depth so fantastic. And the final moment, a treasure.

6. When Marnie Was There

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There is no shock that Studio Ghibli winds up on my list once more. My favorite film studio made sure that each of its directors’ last features would be each of their best work, and When Marnie Was There is certainly the best film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi as of 2015. The film’s best element is its lead character, a young artist named Anna. Anna is one of the studio’s most fully realized characters, and I fell wholly into her story of love and loss. If this is the last official Studio Ghibli film, they’ll have gone out as well as imaginable; I look forward to wherever Yonebayashi makes movies next, and I hope they have the same degree of empathy as this great film.

5. Mad Max Fury Road

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What can be said about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn’t been said already? That it would probably entertain those who think they’re done with action movies in a post-The Dark Knight world? That it, when looked at as a series of scenes or great images, works in ways unimagined when you just watch it as a sort of lore factory? That, somehow, it uses the orange and blue color palette of the modern blockbuster to reach an apex of visual filmmaking? Watch Mad Max: Fury Road. We can all keep watching Mad Max: Fury Road. It will always be here.

4. Spotlight

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Spotlight is, essentially, perfect. Spotlight is activist and emotional and empathetic while remaining dispassionate, complex, not exploitative. The story of the exposure of the Boston Catholic Church as a brotherhood of secrecy and permission of child molestation reveals so much about how the brain should work. Schriber’s character, who demands a full and complete dismantling of the system because the Boston Globe has the power to do more than expose bad priests, is a model for how the individual has intense power. Spotlight is entertaining in that it is enjoyable to watch people do their jobs well; it is emotional in that it respects those on its sideline. I have naught but praise for Spotlight, and it should not just be a model for how to handle ensemble drama, but a model for how to handle one’s own life.

3. The Hateful Eight

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I expected to find myself wholly disappointed by The Hateful Eight. Another Western, and one less obviously political than Django Unchained? It seemed a wasteful half-step. But no Tarantino film has better transformed the idea of what a Tarantino film might do; the film rewards not surface level analysis but deep meditation and immersion, having far more to say by saying several things less emphatically. We’ve become accustomed to genre movies screaming themes at us without subtlety. The Hateful Eight pulls them into an ensemble of figures who conflict with one another, making a muddy collection of ideas that actually reward using one’s brain. Each performance is astounding; Jennifer Jason Leigh obviously makes a mark, but how about Jackson’s great work, or the astounding performance from Bruce Dern? Rarely has the violence itself in a Tarantino film felt so criticized. This feels like his film that looks at all the misery in his work over the years and bothers to make it clear that this violence is not that of Randian evolution but of the end of the world. Some justice.

2. Magic Mike XXL

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Industrial welding. Magic Mike XXL utilizes the first film’s focus of the lack of glamour and stability in sex work and hangs this cloud over a more joyful film about all of sexuality’s greatest gifts. The convenience store. Some zany antics support the smiles, body positivity, gender dynamics, and comments on self-transformation that make Magic Mike XXL a magical experience for almost any viewer. Rome. There is a moment where this film transforms into a sort of odyssey, and the remaining encounters each are so progressive and beautiful as to make me laugh and cry all over again. Heaven. And with the last half hour, I knew I had a new favorite comedy on this earth. Magic Mike XXL is better than the film we need; it’s the film I love.

1. The Look of Silence

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I was aware there would be no hope in seeing anything better than The Look of Silence as soon as I saw that it existed. Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing shows a destroyed nation where its executors still hold power over the subjugated survivors, and the documentary evokes Werner Herzog (an executive producer on both films) as it heightens Indonesian genocide to divine tragedy. The essential antidote is The Look of Silence, a film which returns to earth and places an optometrist named Adi as a sort of vigilante investigator into his own brother’s death in those genocides. The latter evokes the other executive producer, Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) as it chases down those involved in Adi’s brother’s killing, but does not lose sight of the prior film’s gorgeous cinematography. If The Look of Silence were fiction, it would be receiving the same criticisms as Bridge of Spies, called a Capra-esque morality tale that sits as too unbelievable to be successful. As reality, the confrontations Adi has with those who perpetrated the genocide, or those who willfully enable their family members who did, are some of the boldest filmmaking I’ve ever witnessed. The Look of Silence is the year’s best film.

Desert Golfing And The Rejection of Endings

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I’ve written previously in brief about Desert Golfing, a recent intriguing mobile game. It’s a simple game where the player swings a ball across a desert into holes, a ticker keeping score all the while. The game’s escalating difficulty is accompanied by surprises in the desert and the player’s continuing mastery of the physics and control of the ball. It’s by no means the “best iPhone game of 2014” (it’s likely that’s Threes!, which spawned a legion of imitators) but a recent patch solidified its place as one of the most interesting, given credit by its inclusion as a Nuovo Award finalist for the annual 2015 Independent Games Festival.

Desert Golfing now has two canonical “endings,” each a variation on the same. Notably, it’s not likely the creator, Justin Smith, would reach either. He considered a hole roughly 500 before the first ending to be “impossible,” meaning he was nowhere near encountering the first when it was uncovered, and the second only requires more skill. Albeit both the game’s endings specifically place emphasis on that which came before the ending, I will fulfill the cyclical problem Desert Golfing addresses by reading its endings and the implications they raise. This piece, for what it’s worth, will presume some familiarity with Desert Golfing, meaning those who haven’t played the game should read my previous piece.


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Alex Recommends: Fantasy Zone (1986)

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“How on earth did we manage to play those games with the annoying beep-boop music on repeat?” That’s the question I was met with while discussing NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) games with a classmate of mine. It’s true classic games like “Bubble Bobble” and “Space Harrier” had tracks that looped for far too long; even games with multiple memorable themes, like “Metroid” or “The Legend of Zelda,” have 60-second loops that might extend upwards of 20 minutes, depending on your skill.

If these games had music as buoyant as Sega’s 1986 arcade classic “Fantasy Zone,” we might never complain. Though “Fantasy Zone” offers multiple versions of its core music (later offering a few less-memorable melodies) it scarcely requires the variation. Absurdly upbeat, “Fantasy Zone” offers a light, childlike experience, widely different from other games in its genre.

Read more at The Daily Cardinal.

Depth and Premonition: Reflection on Character in Swery65’s Magnum Opus

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After the rain.

Deadly Premonition,” a game inspired by “Twin Peaks,” remains one of the gaming world’s most underplayed entries. Released in the U.S. in 2010 as a budget title with mediocre box art, its often hideous graphics, and its mixed reviews running the gamut from “pretty close to perfect” to “awful in nearly every way,” the mystery-as-life-sim title has almost been washed from gaming’s history.

I, however, happen to know several of its most adamant fans—and not because I’ve searched for them. A strong undercurrent of devotion surrounds “Deadly Premonition” and an appreciation stands for its surreal, socially awkward, tragic protagonist FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. None of these traits are liable to be called his “primary state” at the start of the game. These are visions of the York we will come to know, a foreshadowing of his arc. Rather, York at the start of the game is idiosyncratic, confident and probably too smart for his own good.

In the first scene, York loses his cell phone and laptop. His repeated jabs at Greenvale, the game’s setting, as being set back in the “Middle Ages” wash over the player, distancing York from someone who can turn off their console and begin text messaging friends right away. But York is cut off from the outside world in Greenvale. These links to the outside world are lost for good after their inclusion at the beginning of the game—when York reports to the FBI, he must do so by landline, and when he writes summaries of the case thus far, he must write them on a typewriter.

Read more on The Daily Cardinal’s website.

In Which I Leave My Timeline To Denounce Gamergate.

A war on the people who have the audacity to make budget-priced or free, independent games that represent characters other than grizzled white dudes has been ongoing since August. Their games push back against the idea that games must be power fantasies, whether the power in place is the ownership of a vehicle worth millions or being an individual assassin striking terror in the hearts of the orcs of Middle Earth. Most, if not all, of these games are pretty easy to acquire, run on your college laptop, and cost $20 or less.

This hate campaign goes by the name #GamerGate. The movement was primarily founded in two events; the harassment and revealing of personal information of game developer Zoe Quinn (“Depression Quest”) regarding her supposed impropriety in “attaining press through personal relationships”—which has been debunked, though persists in a “Five Guys, Burgers and Fries” meme you can see perpetuated even in our own State Street location—and an article by games editorialist Leigh Alexander proclaiming the death of the “gamer” identity. The latter led to the creation of the #GamerGate hashtag by Adam Baldwin of the cast of “Firefly.”

Some claim that the movement is about the “contempt for the audience” this rejection of the “gamer” identity shows, but it seems to ignore sites like Giant Bomb that decried “gamer” as a marketing term invented in the early 2000s. Instead, it comes after those who entreat game developers and writers to offer experiences to new audiences. Many now claim it’s a movement about “corruption in the games industry,” but it seems to ignore sites that are taking marketing deals from Electronic Arts or Microsoft; rather they are coming after those who dare to publish “social justice oriented” articles that “push an agenda.” The agenda: it would be cool if LGBTQ and nonwhite characters appeared in more games.

Read more on the Daily Cardinal’s website.

An Extended Tomodachi Life

A conversation between residents of Tomodachi Life.

I’ve been playing Nintendo’s new life sim, “Tomodachi Life,” since a couple weeks after its release in June. To summarize, the game gives the player use of the Mii creation system—the same one used to make the avatars who populate Wii Sports—to create residents in an apartment complex on a resort island. The game encourages you to create your friends, your family, or your favorite celebrities. A handful have signed on to provide their likenesses; official Wayne Brady, Zendaya and Christina Aguilera Miis are easy to find online, and a commercial displays Shaq and Shaun White Miis tasting some of the food in the game.

Interaction is simple; the residents have needs, and by tapping the screen to navigate menus, you can visit their apartments to feed them (a major part of the game is giving them different food experiences to determine their favorites and help them level up, granting them new activities), give them advice on making friends or romantic partners, dress them in outfits ranging from pretty attractive dresses and tops to samurai armor and hamster suits and among a few other things, redecorate their apartments.

Most of the actual play of “Tomodachi Life” is in allowing the residents to perform on their own. The relationship system in “Tomodachi Life” is well developed; each Mii has a personality type (loosely linked to the Myers-Briggs types, although softened somewhat) and can have a noted sweetheart and best friend. The player mostly can’t control whom the residents develop feelings for or with whom they hang out, though occasionally the player can steer them. These established relationships can vary. Couples can get married and have kids, or break up (including married couples), best friends can get in fights and some residents keep friends they never really got along with at all.

Read more on The Daily Cardinal’s website.

The World of Desert Golfing

Desert Golfing: Hole 4

Some might say that beginning my residency as The Daily Cardinal’s video games columnist with an editorial on a mobile game is inauspicious. But amidst the several titles entangling me, none pull as much focus as the stark “Desert Golfing.” Described by iOS developer Adam Atomic (“Canabalt,” “Hundreds”) as “the ‘Dark Souls’ of ‘Angry Birds’”—perhaps the most absurd form of description, akin to the constant ringing question begging, “When will video games have their “Citizen Kane” moment?,” whatever that means—it is a spare experience that closely evokes the beloved RPG’s unforgiving indifference.

The game’s presentation is flat and hot; a light brown sky is delineated against a rough and imposing dark orange landmass. Like a construction paper collage, the angular hills defy the often-natural rolling dunes. Other times, the land towers above the small white ball at impossible angles, revealing the constructed nature of each hole. When the first prop appears beyond simple land and hole flags, it does so without fanfare, yet it simultaneously serves as a secret to be uncovered and a fascinating invigoration, an omen that, yes, there is more to discover in this vast wasteland.

The game presents itself in the iTunes store with a short haiku: “To see a world in a bunker of sand/And a heaven in a wild cactus,/Hold infinity in the pocket of your shorts,/And eternity in Desert Golfing.” It appears to be near endless. At hole 2172, I have yet to feel a need for the game to end. The furthest hole I can find a peer to have reached is hole 2884.

Read more on The Daily Cardinal’s website.

I’m Flushing My Animal Crossing Town.

I walk through my little fruit groves, perfect oranges and succulent peaches hanging from beautiful green trees. My town’s fountain is surrounded by flowers, and a bridge has nearly finished reconstruction just nearby. Before I cross the river, I stop in at Brewster’s Cafe. He mutters, “Coo to see you.” I sit across from my old friend, knowing that Mayor Alex isn’t going to see Brewster again.

I offer to work part-time for him one last time, and I question whether or not I should close my town. And as I work the counter, my favorite resident, Freya, asks for her mocha. I question my move again. And then, of course, my next customer is Samson.

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Samson. I’m so sick of Samson. I’ve had Samson in three separate villages throughout my Animal Crossing career over the last ten years, and he’s always been one of my least favorite villagers. I’ve done everything in my power to get him to leave. And then I remember that I’ve been trying to get Camofrog to leave too, and then I remember that I’ve had two villagers in the last six months that I’ve wanted to keep, and they remain two of four villagers I want to keep at all.

I love the layout of my town. It’s very convenient, and leaves plenty of room for an orchard. But my two favorite villagers, Twiggy and Papi, both left without warning during my absences. I’ve had a string of bad luck. So I could either wait eight months for these villagers I dislike to move out (of course, if another Gwen, or Broffina, or Limberg, or Hans were to move in, that would be worse still!) or I can restart and hope for the best.

My girlfriend is storing my stuff. It’s nice that Animal Crossing New Leaf makes it so easy to store things. And I’ll miss the progress I’ve made. It’s modest, to be sure, but I can pretty much do what I like. I just need new neighbors. Some people might point this out as a flaw with the game; MOST of the villagers are “not awesome,” so why do I praise the relationships in the game?

Well, I think most of the villagers are pretty rad, but even aside from that, even many of the most reviled villagers have their fans. The Tumblr community assured me that people do in fact like Hans and many of my least favorite villagers. I just can’t get past them.

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Like everything in life, sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Goodbye, Grænvale. I’ll miss your tall fruit trees and your beautiful rivers. But, well, I certainly won’t miss Samson.

Why We’re Recording a “Game of the Year” Podcast

I sit down to write this listening to the soundtrack of my podcast’s past Game of the Year, Fez. Disasterpeace’s work on the game is as stunning as I remember; melodies are accented and transition in register and dynamic range with expertise. Fez was a game primarily about learning, but also about nature, science fiction, the life cycle, space, God, loneliness, community, the Internet, childhood, accidents, and its designer, Phil Fish.

I regret how little time we spent discussing Fez on last year’s Game of the Year podcast. Most of the panel had spent less time with it than myself and were complacent to crown it, preferring to debate the runner-up spot between Mass Effect 3 and Journey. An hour of impassioned anecdotes, defenses, analyses, and even attacks defined Journey’s #2 placement. The same was true of 2011’s Game of the Year Deliberations, consisting of a battle between The Witcher 2 and Bastion before crowning Saints Row: The Third.

It’s not that I dispute these choices; Saints and Fez were “my” games. But the process of discussing Game of the Year is focused upon relating to people’s experiences. That’s why we put out a podcast rather than writing a lengthy feature; essays about these games can be written outside of this context, but assessing individual experiences and relating to each other as a collaborative group can only be accomplished through conversation. We failed to engage upon our most beloved titles, and I resolve to correct that issue this year.

What we’ve come up with is a verifiable fleet of lovable games to represent the best of 2013. They represent a diverse spread of experiences possible with the medium; from minimal, humanist storytelling, to innovation in both storytelling and gameplay, to pure excellence in a known format, the games selected struck out to our panel as especially vibrant and viable. With the possible exception of StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the expansion to the incredible Wings of Liberty, each could stand as an effective introduction to games.

Perhaps most meaningfully, I look at this list and have no idea which title will stand apart as our Game of the Year, inspiring me to believe we’ll have some amazing conversation.

And there’s still so many great games we’re not talking about, simply because they didn’t jump out at us quite as much as these 25 (not that there was a hard limit.) We’re not talking about Gunpoint, despite the fact that it reevaluates stealth design and excels in creating combat mechanics with personal weight that reflect their main character. We’re not talking about Guacamelee, even though it’s a very well-designed game that reflects gamer culture the way Borderlands 2 strove to achieve. We’re not talking about Studio Ghibli’s entry point into video games, Ni No Kuni, just because none of us had time to play it this year.

So, when our Game of the Year Deliberations come out, and we’ve reached our final top ten list, take it all with a grain of salt. The ultimate list part of this process is relatively arbitrary; it’s really about engaging with why we’ve chosen these games.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2014 NOMINEES

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Antichamber

Bioshock Infinite

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

Depression Quest

Divekick

DmC: Devil may Cry

Dota 2

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Gone Home

Grand Theft Auto V

Metro: Last Light

Nintendoland

Papers, Please

Pikmin 3

Pokémon X/Y

Rogue Legacy

Saints Row IV

StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm

Super House of Dead Ninjas

Super Mario 3D World

The Last of Us

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Stanley Parable

Tomb Raider