Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sturm + Drang = Storm Drain

Today the depressing realization hit me: football is over. I'm not sure when the next NFL season begins, but it's 7ish months to go without. Brutal. The season always takes forever to arrive and then it's over before you know it and your team is out of the playoffs with an embarassing home defeat to a mediocre team and...well, I'll stop. Or rather, I'll stop so long as the world agrees to formally retire the phrase "Who Dat." See how I said "the world" and not "the people of New Orleans" because I'm still being nice to those people. In that spirit, I pretend you are not the originators of one of the worst, most bandwagony phrases I've heard in my life.

"Who Dat?" First, I shouldn't have to look your cliche up to understand what the hell it means beyond "I enjoy following the travails and pursuits of the New Orleans Saints, who I would prefer won all of their contests regardless of opponent." This is a fine sentiment. But it turns out that "Who Dat" is in fact short for "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" So not only is this phrase gibberish, it is a gibberish shorthand for gibberish. I just spent five minutes trying to conjure up a nonsense-squared saying to rep the Patriots, but the Boston accent is mostly manifested in vowel sounds and it's just that...an accent. In Boston, they don't make up new words for commonplace articles. Just milkshakes, which become frappes. And sandwiches, which become grinders. My point is, these are not the same kind of core language building blocks as the words "who" and "that."

Upon doing some research (we will define "research" as "typing something into the Wikipedia search field"), it seems that the phrase has a longer history. Of course people have been saying the words "Who dat" with that pronunciation since goofy Southern drawls were cooked up in a government language laboratory. They did it to help us tell who we should be listening to. Goofy southern drawl? I don't need to take you seriously any more! Thanks for saving us all some time. But it looks like people have been using this particular phrase to root for bad Southern sports teams for decades. The Jaguars and Saints apparently both have claims, but here's my proposal: because it's a ridiculous eye-rolling thing to say, the Jaguars can keep it and the Saints have to give it up. I understand, Saints fans. You were in the wilderness for a long time. Your team was a joke and "Who dat" made sense under the circumstances. I mean, the list of teams dat gon' beat dem Saints was pretty goddamn long for the majority of your franchise's existence. The "overall rating" for the Saints in my copy of Madden 2010 is 73. It just wasn't a good team. But now you have a Lombardi Trophy, one you captured in awesome and memorable fashion. You're big-time. To quote Matthew Lillard in the seminal Hackers, "when I became a man, I put away childish things!" Retire this and let the stupid Jaguars have it. Their fans can roar it to the rafters as Tim Tebow sidearms his way around the field for the next couple years. It'll be grand.

Finally, all I can think of when I hear "who dat" is those obnoxious Boost Mobile commercials. I know their catchphrase was "where you at," but it's not that big a jump from one meaningless ethnic outburst to another. I actually worked in connection with Boost a few years back when I actually got paid for being creative (the word "paid" in that sentence should be taken as hyperbole), and they were white as driven snow. "Where you at" got cooked up in some boardroom as part of a giant list on a dry-erase board of "Things Black People Say on the Phone." You like how I called it a dry-erase board? They can make it any color they want to! Doesn't have to be white. You're racist.


The reviews for Dante's Inferno are in, and they are not particularly favorable. The consensus seems to be that it's not a genuinely bad game. It's just lame and derivative and some parts are bad. That's what you want to see from your please-please-please-save-our-company title, right? The silver lining for the folks at Visceral is this: EA was gonna lay your asses off anyway, sooner or later. You had a good run and made a good game (Dead Space, one of the most underballyhooed titles last year.

It warms my heart to think of a brief conversation I had with an Inferno producer, where all of my questions and comments were answered with "we tried to make it just like God of War. God of War was awesome so that's what we went for." Resting the creative and financial hopes of your company/studio/self on a self-conscious facsimile of something else that was good is not something you should be doing. Doubly so when the next installment in said patron-deity-of-armed-conflict franchise is due out this fucking year. Why would I buy Inferno when I can wait a few months and play an actually good game? Simple answer: because Nick still works at EA and can use his employee discount on my behalf. Your mileage may vary.

The reviews I've read haven't castigated the story or characters or dialogue. They've just neglected to mention them at all. Success! In a similar vein, the title I'm working on at Namco is a sequel to a relatively popular RPG. It's a pretty fun game--honestly, the most conventionally "fun" title I've worked on. But the story is a goddamn high-fantasy Mad Lib: "The (Paladin) goes into the (Tower) to defeat an ancient evil called (Jareth the Goblin King). Along the way he battles (Goblins) and (Elves) and (Orcs) and Skeletons." Skeletons isn't a field you can fill in. There are always fucking skeletons. Point is, the story is totally lame and half of it has obviously been written by programmers or producers who can barely assemble a complete sentence. They struggle with the distinction between "its" and "it's." They use "their" when they mean "they're." Homonyms are difficult. To be fair, I bet if I were actually making a living wage and getting health insurance I'd go soft too. Guys lose their lean fighter's form when it comes to writing coherently in their own native language. You hate to see it.

Anyway, I went back and read the reviews for the original, and they were pretty uniform: game is fun, story is eyeroll. I'm glad to see they took that criticism to heart. This is why I'm trying my damndest to get out of this industry: the people already making games are such fucking geniuses that jobs are impossible to get. How am I supposed to compete with these titans, who blatantly plagiarize popular lines from Star Wars in their dialogue? It's downright discouraging. I realize this is unfair and borne of frustration; after all, things are the way they are for a reason. I just haven't worked in the industry long enough to understand why it's a great idea to have programmers with no interest in the English language writing your dialogue. The game industry, more and more, resembles the real world around it: everything is fucked. It is so thoroughly fucked that the only way to solve problems is to immerse yourself so thoroughly in the fuckery that you actually understand it. At which point you are so invested in the status quo that you will fight to the death to defend it. So you can fix it.

I'm moving to Australia.

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