While coronavirus threatens our lives and livelihoods, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine have become the new norm. Suddenly, our nation is filled with people asked to stay home and cut off most casual interactions with the world outside. In this environment, the art, hobbies, rituals, and entertainments we love have become ever more vital to our mental wellbeing. As a new, and (hopefully) limited new series on Lewton Bus, Isolation Nation aims to give our editors and contributors space to talk about the things that are giving them a little comfort in this isolated world, for your social distancing entertainment.
David Hoh – Gumshoes Griffin and Deputy Russ in L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files
A binge of familiar YouTube videos is my go-to de-stressor, distractor, and background noise. It insulates my attention so my thoughts don’t wander into any dark corners, and the familiarity permits me to pay attention to other tasks if I so please, and of course there’s always comfort in the familiar. Now, I’ve been working to fill this time with movies or TV shows I haven’t seen yet, and I’ve been fairly successful at watching something new. But sometimes I just gotta see what’s old on YouTube.
The other day I stumbled upon something that was a bit of both: Griffin McElroy and Russ Frushtick of Polygon made three videos in which they play L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files back in early 2018. I watched them before, but it’s been at least a full year, so they were essentially fresh. I’d kinda forgotten about them, and I’d also forgotten just how damn funny they are.
A big part of what makes these different from other gaming videos, even by a McElroy, is that, when you’re in a typical video game and you’re making goofy commentary in-character, pretending like you’re talking smack about an NPC you’re right in front of…you can only really walk into them or rotate your avatar, maybe jump in place. In the amazing fantasy of virtual reality, Griffin’s hands can move in great detail in sync with anything he’s saying; a simple miming act that elevates all the comedy. So instead of just pretending like you’re yelling at an NPC, you can also shove your hand in their face, or try to snatch the cigarette from their fingers, or throw something at their head. And still they barely react to this outlandish physical behavior. It’s delightfully absurd.
Will Hyland – Spider-Man (PS4)
So I’m a bit late to the party on this one, admittedly, but the added free time has renewed my interest in gaming, and since some of the biggest Spider-Man fans I know were crazy about this one, I decided to dust off the PS4 and start here. And while the game does admittedly pilfer its mechanics from a number of existing superhero and open world games (the Batman Arkham games and the Infamous series more than anybody), what really makes it ultimately sing is the story. To put it plainly, if Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse didn’t exist this would be the best mass media Spider-Man story since Spider-Man 2. It presents a slightly older, slightly more confident, but still constantly luckless and struggling Peter Parker who deals with not being able to pay his rent, uncertainty in his job and girl troubles with Mary Jane (here both his ex and smartly reconfigured as a go-getting Lois Lane type, easily one of the best incarnations of the character ever, if not the best). The psychology/relationships of this Peter Parker and his friends and family are simple, yes, but also dramatized so well, including Peter’s mentor-student relationship with Otto Octavius (Who I’m presuming uh, transforms later) and his loving but burdensome back-and-forth with his Aunt May. Additionally, its vision of Marvel Comics’ New York is so satisfying, replete with fun Easter eggs and great appearances from minor characters in the canon (the Shocker is a real hoot in this one). I’ve still got a ways to go in the game, but from the first time Spidey jumps out his window and you get to bask in the glory of web slinging through the Manhattan skyscrapers for the first time, my expectations have been well and truly surpassed.
And yes, I’m playing with the Sam Raimi suit, as the photo above indicates. As if I’d ever play the game with anything else.
Jared Eves – Devs
(Mild spoilers within)
“You know the thing about messiahs? They’re false prophets.”
This bit of dialogue occurs near the end of Devs, Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina, Annihilation) limited series about, well, a lot of things, including eccentric tech billionaires and the common eagerness of the rich and powerful to huff their own farts.
While the plot of the show involves a fairly straightforward “rabbit hole” narrative kicked off by a murder/staged suicide, the story of the show is largely about the messiah complex that often afflicts the über successful1 – whether it is in business, tech, government, or entertainment – imbuing them with the self-proclaimed “insight” to believe that they know where humanity should go, and that we should be grateful for their leadership. That we should just follow the script and do as we are told. That they know best, after all.
It’s not an uncommon idea in film and literature (and Internet conspiracy theories), this idea that the rich and powerful are attempting to control us. But I think it’s less about control, per se, and more about the idea of worship. That they are the ones with the answers, and we cannot understand or handle the truth. It is not unlike the generations before printing presses and wide-spread literacy when only the clergy could read and comprehend the word of god, who would translate it in a way that was digestible.
It is a mindset that allows us to divorce ourselves from accountability. We can blame the world or our nature or fate or God or the “other” for the ills of society. It was always meant to be. It is unavoidable.
The show is, as you might guess from Garland’s other work, defined by a controlled style and somewhat overbearing tone. The music and sound design can be almost oppressive in their deployment. The narrative can feel, at times, superfluous. The performances, affected. There is a formal coldness throughout that might make you miss the incredible beating heart at the centre of the show, held out to you in the final moments like an answer, or an offering.
But your mileage may vary.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the show has no small amount of hope to give. There are moments in the final episode that bring the true themes of the show into focus, and we see that choice is the ultimate action we can take. That not allowing ourselves to simply follow the program we have been fed is the only way to assert ourselves, and the only way to change the world. It may lead to heaven, or it may lead to hell, but it will at least be a life we chose (as much as that is actually possible, anyway).
And aside from all of the aesthetic choices and directorial ticks that I respond to in the show, it is this idea – that we have choice, but that it has cost and consequence, but also opportunity for great reward – that will stick in my mind for a long time. Especially as I see it reflected in the world around me.
That’s it for this week’s edition! Sorry for the delay on this entry. We hope you enjoyed it and found some new direction to point that endlessly turning cranium of yours. We also hope you’ll check back as we publish new pieces in this regular column, and give some inspiration back to us in the comments!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.