GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords

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Although Hip-Hop didn’t start this way, by the time Liquid Swords rolled around the verse became the center of the genre. Everything else was supposed to serve the verse, instead of contributing to a bigger idea. Beats couldn’t express an emotion or stand on their own. They couldn’t be danceable. That would be ‘too commercial’. The beats exist solely so the rapper will have something to rap over. Musical experimentation was also thrown out the window. Now that genre produced albums, rappers didn’t have to turn to other genres for inspiration and ideas. Hip-Hop stopped being a genre thriving on outside influence and become one that exists so rappers will show off their verbal skills.

If this sounds like guitar wankey, it’s because it is. The songs don’t drag beyond the four-minute mark, but there is no spark in the musical elements. Perhaps there is in the words, but words don’t need a musical backing to be powerful. Poetry and literature existed long before Hip-Hop.

Few albums epitomize this approach like Liquid Swords. Similar sounding albums, like Illmatic or The Infamous are just proof at how shallow this is. Illmatic was Hip-Hop distilled, but it was short, accessible and had an aim. The Infamous had very few ideas, but it wasn’t just tough guys bragging. The Infamous was about the paranoia of living in the street. It talked about killing people and selling drugs, all for survival with a banging and atmospheric production. It’s almost a soundtrack to a Fallout game. What is Liquid Swords‘ idea?

Only few tracks deviate from the subject of how good GZA’s rapping is, and their ideas are nothing new either. The aforementioned albums did a better job at portraying the streets, so all “Gold” and “Cold World” do is just sound like a decent addition to these albums. Then again, you can make an album that’s all about chest-beating and macho bullshit and make it work. Wu-Tang Clan’s debut did it right, but 36 Chambers had more than ‘clever lyrics’. It had a variety of MC’s and energy. They rapped as if they believed they were the best. Compare GZA’s performance on “Dual of the Iron Mic” or “Swordsman” to his climatic verse in “Protect Ya Neck”. Where does he sound more confident? No amount of clever lyrics will help you if you can’t make me believe you are that good.

In fact, even the lyrics are not that clever. Few lines stuck out. There’s the end of “Gold”, which is pretty effective, and the second verse of the title track. Another very memorable lyrics is Reakwon’s “My slang is out of this world”. I remember the days when I was afraid of some kids becuase their slang was crazy.

Maybe GZA was trying to match the beat. Unlike GZA, who shows an occasional spark, RZA has none in here. The beats are anemic, lacking anything that makes them do more than prevent the songs from being acappella. “Living in the World Today” is the worst offender. The beat is barely audible, and it’s not a clever experiment combining Rap with Ambient. Other offenders include the title track, “Cold World”, “Dual of the Iron Mic” and the otherwise pretty good “Labels”. Two tracks in particular have ideas that quickly fall apart. “Gold”‘s best first sounds aggressive and loud, but it quickly turns to white noise. “4th Chamber” opens with an unsettling, alien sound only for it to disappear. Only “Swordsman” has drums that are there. RZA has some interesting ideas, but shoving a quirky sound in the back of the beat does not make you creative, but cowardly. The Kong Fu audio clips are great, and provide great intros and outros but they only help to emphasize how lifeless these beats are.

If I lived in the era of ‘Hip-Hop is Dead’, I might’ve given this a pass. Rap music produced too much quality material to stay stuck in a past full of undeveloped ideas. Perhaps this was really ground breaking so long ago, but if today artists like Clipping, Tyler, El-P, Azealia Banks, Foreign Beggars and Kanye West are releasing music so much more exciting and daring, what does this has to offer?

2 liquid swords out of 5

Of Radical Feminism and Misandry

Whenever I bring up the subject of feminism, I always hear about those crazy extremists who really are all about hating men. I’m sure they exist. There plenty of crazy ideas out there, and misandry is actually saner compared to them. Women are also parrt of the dating game, so the terrible of reality of people wanting to have sex with you but not be in a relationship must have taken its toll on some. The thing is, these people can never refer to an example of such a radical feminist. They also don’t see that misandry and feminism, even the radical version, are two seperate things.. You can point out misandry all you want, and if it makes sense I’ll get behind you. It’ll never be a solid criticism of feminism or radical feminism.

We need to define these terms before we can talk about them. Feminism and misandry easy.

Feminism is the belief that the limits imposed on women, by various things must be lifted in order to achieve gender equality. Feminism is about equality, but it’s concerned mainly with women’s issues. Something is a feminist issue when it targets women (The wage gap), not necessarily when a man is an asshole and happens to annoy a few females (Manspreading).

Misandry is prejudice and hatred of males. It’s misogyny, only for males. Something is misandrist when it targets males as the problem, and generally attributes it to them being male. For example, the whole Manspreading debate is misandrist because it targets men for something that is not necessarily exclusive to males, and doesn’t back it up. Misandry generally exposes itself when people attribute bad deeds mostly to males, while ignoring the victims. It’s easiest to spot misandry when someone complains about something males do that doesn’t target any specific group (Assuming he has proof it’s done mostly by males), or attributing a bad behavior to males without any evidence.

Radical feminism is not misandrty. For the sake of definition, I will use ‘radical’ as any example of bad feminism. Radical feminism is when feminists view everything through the lens of feminism, and interpart anything based on whether it promotes equality or not. It turns many personal things into political. Radical feminism is criticizing women who prefer to be submissive and passive during sex, or choose a more traditional role. Radical feminism is feminism shooting itself in the foot. It aims for equality, but ends up limiting women just like the patriarchy. However, since feminism is concerned with women’s issues, it’s only radical feminism when it discusses women’s issues. Radical feminism is limiting women in the name of equality.

There’s obviously common ground between misandry and radical feminism. Both are irrational, and are more of an emotional reaction instead of a logical one. Hating males is an emotion. Feminists who shoot themselves in the foot do it because they feel so much like victims they’ll attack anything that reinforces that belief. Still, while both are problematic we can’t solve a problem if we don’t know what it is. More importantly, don’t talk about a quack idea or a radical movement if you can’t show them. Everyone can invent a radical version of something in their heads, but the real things are harder to spot. If they aren’t, they’re funnier than anything on TV. Most things are funnier than TV.

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

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It’s silly to expect every book on the Classic List to be brilliant, but you can expect to react to it. Cucko’s Nest is an awful book, but it’s not one that just passes by. Catcher in the Rye either pisses people off or become their inspiration for becoming an author. Even if you give up on Catch-22 because of how confusing it is, it’s still a reaction. Sometimes, these classics end up being both terrible and great at the same time, like Roth’s American Pastoral. To Kill a Mockingbird, unlike the aforementioned novels, failed to cause paragraphs to write themselves in my head.

Perhaps it was radical when it was published, but now To Kill a Mockingbird is a very tame, easy book that goes down easily and teaches a few nice lessons that you probably already know. It’s not that you can’t still say interesting things about obvious ideas like racism is bad and trying to see things from the other’s point of view. The child perspective is also not a reason to see the world in duller colours. Children don’t see the world in a simpler way, just different. There’s none of that here. Only around the end of the novel the ideas are starting to get examined. Until then, they’re just told as if they’re true and that’s it.

As a feel good novel, it’s great. Scout and Jem are fun, the black servant is treated as a part of the family and the adults always strive to understand children. If they don’t, they’re assholes. Racism is bad, but we’re never invited to understand why people are racist, or its true emotional damage. The true racists are just white trash, and their reasons for it is because they’re ignorant and stupid. There’s no challenging of the concept. Harper Lee could have at least asked us why do believe race exists anyway. Instead, she points at the white trash and says, “Look at those ignorant meanies”.

All the praise for Atticus is for how great a human being he is, but good characters aren’t necessarily good human beings. Characters are not real, so the standards of what makes them good differ from people in real life. Max Cohen, from Pi, is an unpleasant, elitist douchebag. In real life, his only merit would be his brain. Since he’s fictional though, he becomes someone to explore. His douchebaggery and intelligence are equally important. In real life, Atticus would be great. In a novel, though, he doesn’t do much but good. He listens to his children, defends the negro and never surrenders. That’s awesome, but what are we exploring? Only near the end Atticus’ ideas are challenged. Until then, he’s nothing but a beacon of light, and not a good one, either.

Atticus’ compassion is painted as noble, but plenty of times it’s really surrendering. Understanding someone’s point of view doesn’t mean not telling them they’re wrong. We should understand why people are racist, why they kill, why they steal, but it doesn’t mean to excuse their behavior. Sometimes, it’s perfectly reasonable to fight back. Look at the Jews. They tried to assimilate for so many years, and their reward was this kraut guy who wrote a rambling book about his struggle.

Jem and Scout are also unstable characters. Scout narrates the novel with intelligence and empathy, but her character is aggressive and childish. It could be that you grow up from wanting to bash everyone’s head to wanting to help the elderly, but the progression isn’t believable. Scout matures, but remains fairly aggressive and confrontational throughout the novel. In modern times, Scout would have walked with Linkin Park and Sum 41 shirts. That’s not a bad thing, but Harper needed a major event to convince that Scout went from a proto-punk to an intelligent, soft-spoken woman. Jem’s character is just a mess. Sometimes he’s just as aggressive as Scout, other times he’s intelligent and mature. This would have been a great thing if Jem was presented as a contradicting mess, but he’s not. He’s supposed to be the mature child, but ‘mature’ children are generally messy and confused. Take Holden Caulfield or Piggy (Lord of the Flies). Both are fairly mature for their age in aspects, while in others they’re way behind. Jem is mature and childish whether it suits the scene or not.

There’s an interesting examination of gender roles. Both the male stereotype and the female stereotype come under scrutiny. Scout doesn’t want to be ladylike, and prefers to do boys’ stuff and wear overalls. She finds it unbearable to be in the company of ladies who live and die on refreshments. On the other hand, Atticus is not much of a typical macho guy. He doesn’t drink, gamble, shoot, or fight. It sounds great so far, but it’s another undeveloped idea. Atticus’ refusal to be a macho dude is held as a virtue, same with Scout’s tomboyishness. There isn’t a connection between these do incidents, though. They exist mostly to tell us how unique Scout or Atticus are.

Harper fails to navigate her themes, but she’s at least a competent storyteller. If you read this solely for the story and try to ignore any message she tries to deliver, there’s plenty of entertainment. Harper is an excellent writer. The style is not too unique, but there’s almost no misplaced words. Every sentence flows well. She also has a large cast of side characters who each have their unique quirk to make them memorable. Mockingbird lacks a central plot, but its various episodes are all interesting enough on their own. In fact, as far as worldbuilding goes (If you call a small town a world), To Kill a Mockingbird is a success. Its characters are odd and interesting enough that each could have its own novel. Harper Lee should have written more novels not because she had anything interesting to say, but she created an interesting enough setting that was worth developing more.

To Kill a Mockingbird functions as a decent tale of small town life. It’s a failure at exploring any of its themes, but it manages to carry itself by its storytelling. The reason for its popularity is obvious. If I thought that ‘feel-good’ was enough, it’d be one of my favorites. Good people like Atticus aren’t interesting, though, at least not unless their goodness is challenged is anyway. It’s a fun, cute novel that leaves a lot less to be discussed than the worst Classics.

3 Recluses out of 5

Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep

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All Enter Shikari has to do to make a bad album is to listen to anyone who finds merging genres unoriginal. Chuck the wide-eyed approach out the window, and just kick straightforward, aggressive songs. There are people in the 21st century who still find Slayer more original than Linkin Park. A lot of bands tried to appease the idiots by going heavy, even if it was clear their spirit wasn’t into it (I See Stars, for example). As good as Enter Shikari are, there’s no guarantee they won’t cave in.

Listen to the three pre-released songs, and this fear evaporates. “The Last Garrison” is the most boring of the three, and it’s miles ahead of most loud music. It’s an empowering anthem with electronics, screeching guitars and a drum and bass final to improve it. “Never Let Go of the Microscope” is a rap song that ends with a breakdown. “Anesthetist”, the best of the three, combines Big Beat drums, rapping, hospital noises, thrashing and a hardcore breakdown.

These are enough elements to build an album on. Most bands work with less, but these are merely for these songs. There’s a piano ballad in “Dear Future Historians…”. “The Bank of England” is the opposite of epic, and includes a little rappping. “The One True Colour” alternates between very hard and very soft. “The Appeal & The Mindsweep I” has a spoken word intro, hardcore screaming and anthemic singing. This wealth of ideas sure makes the rock canon looks pretty embarrassing.

Shikari’s musical ideas don’t exist just to contrast each other. The quiet-loud or the screaming/singing dynamic relies on the contrast, and rarely do the bands try to make the parts stand on their own. In many cases, the screaming or the singing is there to relieve the monotony, but it’s a mere interlude. Shikari puts emphasis on both sections, letting them stand on their own. There’s no need for clean vocals on “There’s a Price On Your Head” or screaming on “Dear Future Historians…”. Shikari’s handling of the elements is good enough so they can also build a song around a single one, instead of a dozen.

More impressive is that Shikari always remains in control of their ideas. The problem with this abundance is a loss of control. That’s where you get the double album with too much fat in it, or the bands who switch from genre to genre with no connection (Or Andrew Huang). Shikari don’t merely pile up the ideas, but connect them. “The One True Colour” is perhaps the best example of alternating between the soft and hard parts. The band doesn’t just switch from a soft part to a hard section. They start the song with playing both, and always hint at what’s coming next.

Even the songs with the weaker structures would stick out in an album by any other band. Shikari understands that while it’s okay to have a core for your song to revolve around, such as hooks, you can’t rely on them to make your songs. Plenty of bands create a fantastic chorus and get lazy on anything that surrounds it. Even if your chorus is the center of your song, it’s important to make the rest of the elements matter and to have a satisfying climax. Not every song has to be as progressive as “The One True Colour”, but on more accessible tracks, like “The Last Garrison” they make sure that what surrounds the hook is just as good. Every song here has a climax, even the simpler “There’s a Price On Your Head” and “The Bank of England”. For most bands, this is a rarity.

Special mentions goes to “Torn Apart”. The political lyrics tend to be inoffensive cliches, but in that song they finally say something with substance. Unlike most songs against racism, “Torn Apart” isn’t a cry for equality. It’s a cry against the whole concept of race. All races are not equal, because they have to exist first. There may be more important songs against racism, but this is one that thinks outside of the box.

The Mindsweep’s only weakness is that it doesn’t sound like Shikari reached their limits. They pushed them even further, so the bars raised higher. At first, it seemed like their classic album would be this, where they will expand on every element of their music. Instead, it just leaves you begging for more. The electronics are still here, but not enough. Now that Rou started to rap, they must turn it into another part of their sound instead of a single genre experiment. Shikari’s masterpiece will not be an experimental rock record. It will be an album where they will abandon the concept of genre, and be almost impossible to categorize.

4 microscopes out of 5

Philip Pullman – The Amber Spyglass

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The Amber Spyglass is just as uneven as the previous entries. It’s uneven in different ways than the previous books, but I’m not sure whether if is a testament to Pullman’s skills. It could show a lack of learning. His main strength in showing ideas and not strawmanning the bad guys remains. His mechanical plotting that relies on a barely mentioned prophecy remains, too. Imagine if God texted Jonah once in a while to remind him he’s a prophet.

It’s good it ended here. The Amber Spyglass almost spins out of control, with some characters dropping out and others coming out of nowhere. The Mulefa race is pretty cool, but it’s ad hoc. It pops out of nowhere and exists mostly for Mary’s character arc. He did create an interesting and unique enough culture, and its exploration lines up with Mary’s character. On its own, it’s not bad. It reads like snippets from an even better novel, but here it’s out of place. Pullman’s connection to the rest of the story isn’t very convincing. Dust’s erratic behavior didn’t need a whole new world. Pantalaimon also might as well not be there. There are few comments from him. He used to be Lyra’s foil, but now he tends to change shape and that’s it.

Pullman characterizations also fails. Lyra remains subjugated to Will, and Will remains fairly uninteresting. The relationship between him and Lyra gives him a little more to do, namely act on what he wants, for selfish purposes, instead of going out to save the world because the Author(ity) said so. Mrs. Coulter stops being the villain, which is great, but her character’s shift is too extreme to be believable. Her motivation is not just because she loves Lyra, but also her conflict with the Church. This is only told about in a few dialogue lines, instead of being shown. If Pullman followed her more closely, and gave her a more focused character arc, he wouldn’t have lost focus on what really matters. Her big moment felt hollow. There’s also a bumbling assassin and the passages that narrate his adventures sound like Dan Brown. I could tell he was albino without that being described.

At least the battle field remains interesting. The Church are the villain, but they’re not bad because they’re bad. A few scenes lets us inside the Church, and instead of bad guys laughing evilly because they’re evil, we’re seeing people who are just (too) certain they’re rights. The battle field in The Amber Spyglass is not one where the good kind men fights the evil child murderer, but of two different worldviews. Our main heroes are also not part of any of the factions. They choose Asriel less because they agree with him. They choose because it’s better than the other. Pullman avoids making this about beating the enemy to death. It’s another example how good it is with violence. Perhaps, if he studied its history and made it the novel’s main theme the results were better.
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Somewhere near the end the battle is over and Pullman comes back to his philosophical ideas. The sections about the world of the dead are especially interesting, although the harpies’ role is a bit lost on me. I’m glad our heroes don’t defeat them using violence – most victories here aren’t won with that, thank God, but what is their connection to what Pullman is saying about death? His take on the afterlife is good. He views the afterlife as actually an undesirable thing, and looks at complete death, a person decomposing completely as something positive. It’s a more interesting discussion than whether life after death exist, but he didn’t connect the annoying harpies to this theme.

He also didn’t connect this whole prophecy thing. Prophecy is convenient, because it means that whatever our character thinks, feels, loves or drives he will do what must be done in the end. Prophecy doesn’t have to be like this. The reason a certain person is chosen can be meaningful and connect to the theme in the story. In Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, you are chosen because you’re an outlander. It’s not just chance. You being an outlander ties directly to the Dunmer’s xenophobia. Morrowind’s prophecy is also not obvious. There are a variety of different accounts, some false and some true. Morrowind uses the prophecy to explore what folklore means and the theme of xenophobia. Why were Lyra and Will chosen? There was nothing about them that made them special. Everyone kept insisting, but Pullman kept dragging Lyra down and lifting Will up slightly. Lyra briefly becomes interesting again by the end of the book. Will is also gone by then. That’s not a coincidence. She still wasn’t special enough to be chosen.

The the best display of the unevenness is how the big solution to the big problem sometimes made sense and sometimes didn’t. The it makes sense in the theme department, but not the plot department. It’s not clear how a small deed changes everything. Maybe it was the specialness, but see the above paragraph for that. The romance was also manipulative, but Pullman had little choice. The other way would have felt too convenient. Pullman wrote himself into a catch, and he barely got out.

Pullman stopped his car right before his crash. The Amber Spyglass can be hard to make sense of. Pullman gets his strengths and weaknesses mixed up, but the main focus was never lost. Even when it spins out of control, Pullman knows what are his themes and what is his purpose for writing. It didn’t prevent him from not exploring them enough, but it did help him keep his story exciting, fun and full of entertaining scenes even when their connection is not clear. It’s not a great ending, but it was worth the time.

3 wheels out of 5

Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

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Imagine if your average pop singer – Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kesha or Lady Gaga made a song called “This is What Makes Us Girls”. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that. There are songs called “We R Who We R” and “Run the World (Girls)”. In the world of Lana Del Rey though, girls don’t run the world, and who they are isn’t something to be proud of. The teachers said they’d never make it out alive, and Lana sings it with a sad agreement. The girls are not united, and instead they put their love first (Can’t run a world like that). The most telling moment is when Lana’s sing her best friend’s line – “Lana, how I hate those guys”. Lana sonds so vulnerable in that line, the complete opposite of the images other Pop singers are trying to project.

In a world saturated with empowering anthems, Born to Die is a dark album exploring the psych of the girl who’s attracted to bad guys, hard drinks and all that excitement. Happiness always comes with gloom. The aforementioned song makes it most obvious, but there’s also a summertime that’s full of sadness, and all the mentioning of swimming pools, make-up and Cristal in “Off to the Races” can’t cover up that insane reality. As soon as the chorus hits, it gets heavy. The hard drums don’t bang like a dance track, but are aggressive in the same way the drums rattle in Drill tracks. As the choruses go on, they get darker. Lana’s character is crazy, misbheaving, and wasted and falling down. There’s no joy, except perhaps a little spite at herself. When she sings “you are my one true love”, it’s not an expression of romance but of dependency.

The music is just as a departure as the lyrics. While it’s not exactly a sonically experimental album, it has a clear, unique sound that fits the lyrics. If most Pop singers drive their empowerment anthems with triyng to reach the highest notes, Lana’s singing is more subdued. The choruses, as catchy as they are, are never big and anthemic. Lana’s calm singing is closer to Dream Pop than anything. Even when she uses her higher voice, it never reaches Stadium territory. “Off to the Races” is the most energetic thing here, but its chorus is more aggressive than anthemic, something an Industrial Rock band would feel comfortable covering.

Where Lana departs from her male friends who revel in their self-loathing is in her treatment of it. Lana’s gloom is not as oppressive as Local H’s or Sadistik, and she doesn’t punish herself like Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson. “This is What Makes Us Girls”, again, is the best at illustrating it. They might be no joy in “Off to the Races”, but when she mentions her beauty queen friends and partying all night in “Girls”, there’s a sad nostalgia in it. As if she’s saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if all this fun didn’t come with all this sadness?”. Perhaps this is why Lana was bashed as ‘antifeminist’. She explores her flawed and broken characters, but she doesn’t suffocate them with regret, or paints them as utterly clueless and shallow. There’s a reason bad boys and hard drinks are attractive. They’re fun.

That’s why there’s still room for gorgeuous pop melodies. Even if you strip away that concept, you’re still left with a ridiculous amount of great pop. Every song here has a great melody, and every one can be a single. After you manage to get beyond the first four tracks – it’s hard, they’re all brilliant – they quickly become just some more good songs. The sequencing is just as great. “Girls” appear at the end, wrapping up the album’s themes while “Born to Die” appears in the beginning, which gives us the basics of crazy relationships with crazy guys.

Some on internet go off talking about her being ‘manufactured’, faking her past, being antifeminist and behaving awkwardly in interviews. Reznor was also not that tortured while making The Downward Spiral, but that doesn’t it any less gripping. Music speaks for itself, the singer doesn’t. While the antifeminist accusation make more sense and are more interesting, they’re missing the point. Born to Die does more than tell girls how cool they are. It gives them a voice, explores their issues and talks about their falls and shortcomings without beating them up. Women are equal to men, and just like men deserve to have their issues explored and expressed through music. It sure answers a lot of questions than just telling a 15-year-old with a crush on a weirdo that she runs the world. As for how she acts in interviews, I’m a banana octopus.

4 bottles of diet Mountain Dew out of 5

Five Nights at Freddy’s

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There are people out there who still think Five Nights at Freddy’s relies on jump scares. They can’t be blamed. The game was a hit among YouTubers, and their acting is so bad it would shame the Raspberry Awards. Things don’t just become popular. Sometimes, it’s the result of appealing to the lowest common denominator. Sometimes, it’s simple innovation.

The big game companies must be embarrassed, not because it topped the Steam charts* while being made on a much smaller budget. The companies should be embarrassed that their huge team couldn’t come up with such a unique game that’s both fun and artistic, challenging the notion of what a video game is. Then again, if the popularity of Call of Duty is anything to go by, the gaming community doesn’t want to be challenged either.

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In popular horror games like Amnesia or Outlast, you are active. You may be in a position of weakness, but this position is not new. Even in Pac-Man, you are much weaker than your enemies. They can always kill you, but you can only kill them sometimes and for a limited time. It also disables them for a short period, not really killing them. Five Nights at Freddy’s makes you passive.

It’s not just that the game consists of looking at pictures. There is no physical way for you to stop the animatronics. The doors are the only thing that can truly prevent them from entering, and even they are not that helpful. They drain a lot of power, and once it’s gone so are you. Your behavior influences the animatronics’ behavior, true, but it’s not something that prevents them. Freddy stays in the same place if you watch him a lot, but you only need to neglect him for a few seconds and he’s in the next room (Personal anecdote: On the sixth night, I watched Freddy and Foxy so much they remained in their starting places).

You win not by doing anything, but by simply killing time. You do not escape the terrible place, or defeat the Big Bad using the single bullet that is conveniently found right before the battle. Even when you win, your character’s action actually don’t change anything. It’s almost like a Russian Roulette. There’s no real winning. There is just no losing.

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That is why the jump scares are so effective. They are more than a grotesque robot screaming at you. You do your best to avoid them because a jump scare is game over. In fact, there are many ways to predict when the jump scares will arrive. Malfunctioning lights or moaning noises while looking at the monitor means your favorite furry friend is in the office. The jump scares are not that surprising. They are just a really unpleasant Game Over.

There is also the element of unpredictability. The antimatronics get more aggressive as the weeks goes on, and they do have some fixed movement patterns, but there are subtle changes in the way they act on them. It could be they will move off the stage very early, but approach the office only once or twice. They hang outside your door for minutes, or come and go constantly. Even when you know how they work and how aggressive they are, you still can’t predict their movements

The scariest element of the game isĀ its art, a form of ‘innocence lost’. For some reason, things related to childhood and kids are always scarier. Stephen King seems to have something with that, too. The game relies heavily on this contrast. The poster in front of you shows the antimatronics singing on stage in bright colors. A child would most likely enjoy the hell out of it, but you don’t get to experience this bright side. Instead, these cute animals want to kill you. Looking at the cameras, places that are meant to be for celebration are looking derelict, dark and abandoned.

If you pay attention to the story behind it, it gets even worse. The place that is supposed to be a haven for children reveals itself as dangerous. Parents describe the animatronics as having blood and mucus leaking from them. An animatronic bit someone’s head. The second game gets into that more in the minigames, where children dying becomes an important thread. There’s something more frightening about a horrible place acting like it’s safe and child-friendly while it’s very dangerous ot kids, than a house that’s filled with body parts. It’s the same reason the pedophile scene in Running Scared is the most effective scene in that movie.

The animatronics are also bad beyond their homicidal tendencies. Their design puts them right in the middle between grotesque and cute. They don’t look like outright monsters, but action figures of them would only fit Sid’s room. Thus, they look cute in the poster but scary in the dark. Artists exploit these qualities, sometimes focusing on a single aspect and sometimes fusing them.

There’s also the hallucinations, which may be considered a form of jumps scare because they’re just pictures flashing rapidly on the screen. However, there are also hallucinations that are easy to miss. Your character is also hallucinating small changes in the rooms. One character is even speculated to be one giant hallucination. All of this hints at a haunted place, but it can also hint at the player character’s mental breakdown. Some asked why would anyone continue to work there, but the player character doesn’t have certain proof the animatronics are deadly. He might just think Phone Guy is bullshitting him, because there’s no way the cute bear can kill anyone. The idea is still there, and the animatronics do move, and their danger becomes harder to deny as the nights go one. The hallucinations are an expression of the player character’s paranoia, not the player himself. You are literally playing as a character who’s breaking mentally.

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The only weakness is that the game is exhausting. It’s more stressful than scary, and being stressful is a surefire way to lose. It’s all about clicking at the buttons at the right time, which is much easier when you’re calm. However, the game is so effective in its presentation that it’s hard to play it for more than one or two nights (levels) in a row. The game gained a reputation for being an ‘I dare you’ thing, for good reason. It’s joyless. It’s not a game you play in order to have fun, but in order to immerse yourself in an emotional experience.

A game is an activity that consists of overcoming obstacles for amusement and pleasure. It doesn’t mean that games shouldn’t be hard, or challenge us, but in general they contain a certain element of joy. Even serious and artistic games like Planescape: Torment had the joy of exploring, reading and learning about different perspectives. Five Nights at Freddy’s has none of that. It’s about immersing yourself in an emotional experience. Some nicknamed it Stress Simulator 2014.

Five Nights at Freddy’s will probably not cause any change, other than perhaps give more power to indie developers. It has a unique structure, but it’s also a minimalist one that leaves very little to built upon. Nevertheless, it’s nothing short of brilliant. Once in a blue moon, the popular opinion is right, although I doubt how many thought beyond “man this game is scary”. That said, stay away from YouTube. One of the best games ever produced one of the worst internet phenomenons ever. Nothing is perfect.