Recommendations, 9/13

This week, we like old movies, new videogames, stone fruit, and extraordinary journalism.



Since I moved to New York and started working in publishing, I’ve found it harder to find friends that care about videogames. I play and write pretty regularly about videogames. It’s a medium that interests me, and one that would interest literary types if they would just give games a chance. A couple weeks back, Full Stop published a piece by Eric Van Hoose called “The Case for Writers to Play Video Games.” From its headline, I thought, Aha, finally, the article I can forward to my skeptical bookish friends to convince them that videogames are worth their while! But while I agreed with the piece in spirit — that the immersive qualities of games could inspire a powerful, engaging forms of storytelling — I don’t think it will convince anyone that doesn’t already agree, mostly because Van Hoose is light on examples (he mentions only two games by name, almost in passing).

But then I discovered Forest Ambassador (such a good name!), a blog by Merritt Kopas that hopes to introduce games to a broader audience. To qualify, games must be “free, demand relatively little investment of time, require little familiarity with game conventions, [and] no specialized equipment.” It’s an entirely novel approach to making games accessible. Most publications will argue why a big, important game is big and important, but the chances of you going out and experiencing, say, The Last of Us, would require that you own a TV, a Playstation 3, and the game itself. Kopas is more interested in piquing readers interests with bite-size interactions that can be experienced immediately. Most of the games Forest Ambassador features are quick, art-y flash games, perfect for whetting one’s appetite in the world of games. (My favorite posted recently is Covetous, a hyper-simple horror game that is surprisingly scary.) Even as someone who plays a fair amount of games, Kopas covers mostly things I’d never heard of and probably would never have heard of if it wasn’t for her.

Videogames are, by definition, interactive. Forest Ambassador wants play to be as easy as possible. Show don’t tell, right?


Warner Bros., presumably after reading that thing about the “long tail,” has decided to slap much of its back catalog onto the Warner Archive Instant. There must be an audience somewhere , they thought, who clamors to see the acting stylings of “Broadway” Joe Namath in 1979’s Avalanche Express. But you can’t reach that thin slice of audience salami via the budget DVD bin at the grocery store. No, the ideal way to get the viewers who want to watch the cast-offs, also-rans, magnificent failures, and buried treasures of those movies WB currently has the rights to is to put the flicks online for a monthly fee ($10) where viewers can sample a few minutes of a title before committing to watching the entirety of, say, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse or Clarence: The Cross-Eyed Lion.

Warner Archive Instant includes a rando potpourri of films from the 1920s to the 1990s. These include a few classics such as Blow-Up and Lust for Life and a big heaping bowl of stuff you have never heard of unless you worked at an independent video store in the late ’80s with Quentin Tarantino constantly yabbering in your ear.

I highly recommend taking Warner Archive Instant up on their free trial offer. Beyond that, it’s hard to recommend unless movie ephemera is already your thing. To keep me paying my monthly fee, Warner would have to stream some of those context-enhancing DVD extras along with the film. Heck, even a trailer would be nice. On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to go into a viewing with no expectations. For instance my innocent streaming of the Busby Berkeley musical Babes on Broadway. I hate to spoil it, but everything that happens in Babes on Broadway after Judy Garland says “Let’s make it a minstrel show!” is as uncomfortable as, well, watching a minstrel show.


Last night I saw a Kmart ad that mentioned Christmas. Later, a Werther’s Original ad used “Jingle Bells” and a bit more subtly referenced Christmas. It is September 13th now. There should not be Christmas ads coming on until at least Halloween. This is “seasonal creep” gone amok.

It is still summer, and therefore it is still stone fruit season. Eat all the plums, peaches, and apricots you can, before they get replaced by their sad, warehouse-ripened cousins that came in on a cargo ship from another hemisphere. Grilling with these isn’t a bad idea, either. Let me help:

Put them on your cereal! Puree them into a smoothie! Have them raw! Only don’t let the next six weeks pass you by without eating some. Winter is coming.


So many aspects of the Chelsea Manning story seem essentially modern and even unprecedented, so it’s fitting that the most interesting post I’ve read on the topic features a kind of journalism that feels just as new. In “Something Rotten at the Sausage Factory: How Wikipedia Embraced Transphobia for Chelsea Manning,” Philip Sandifer gives us an up-close and in-depth look at how Wikipedia’s convoluted editorial structure caused its users to re-title Manning’s page to her former name. It’s a fascinating and depressing look into the machinations of one of the world’s most important websites, but like so much good journalism, larger themes emerge from the finest details.

What I find most striking about the piece is how starkly it lays bare the mechanics of institutional bigotry. Sandifer shows us exactly how selective rules lawyering and ostensible good will produced an act of utter intolerance, and then how the silence of more authoritative voices allowed it to continue. Sandifer universalizes these patterns in a brilliant, passionate conclusion, but by then it’s hardly necessary. This example is so clear that it’s impossible not to recognize its likeness elsewhere.

And that’s the rub with any piece that evokes injustice as well as this one does. I want to sing its praises like a giddy geek — it’s fact-based without being stodgily journalistic, Sandifer’s judicious use of personal perspective makes a wall of text breeze by, and there are even a few moments of dark humor. But ultimately, the subject itself leaves the lasting impression, which sure as shit isn’t giddiness. It’s the kind of story that would make me excited to live in a time that feels like the future, if only it didn’t say so many ugly things about the present.