Gone Home

Most of the console games that I play are by recommendation. Gone Home was no different.

In this little adventure game, you play Katie Greenbriar, who has returned home from a year long holiday in Europe. Her family’s house is empty. There is a note from her younger sister, Sam; she has left and doesn’t want you to follow her.

What has happened? That is what you must find out as you go from room to room finding various objects and reading letters and notes. Not everything that you find will give you information but it will still tell you a story.

Sam’s fate is at the heart of Gone Home, but Mr. and Mrs. Greenbriar are not neglected. The game even has time for the now deceased previous occupant of the house who may have been a rather murky character.

As I mention in my tweets, Gone Home felt like it went on just a tad too long for what it was giving but I really recommend the game to you – especially if, like me, you are very partial to the Grand Theft Autos of the world. It was good to play a slower, more thoughtful, adventure game.

To read my Storifyfied tweets, just click here.

Credit Where It’s Due
Gone Home poster: Wikipedia

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Episode 1)

There are games that you play, enjoy, then move on from, never to think about again.

And then there are games that don’t just get under your skin but into your heart where they claim a piece of it for themselves. It hurts but my goodness you would not have it any other way. For the hurt teaches you, enriches you, makes you a fuller person ever than you were before.

In my post on The Wolf Among Us Pt. 2 (here), I mentioned my top five games. Of them, none affected me more than the original series of Life is Strange. I remember how I gasped at the end of Episode 3 when – in the alternative time line – Chloë appeared at the door in her wheelchair, paralysed from the neck down, and the turmoil that I felt at the end of the fifth and last episode when I decided to save Chloë’s life rather than the lives of Arcadia Bay’s residents.

So, Life is Strange: Before the Storm had a lot to live up to. One episode in, it isn’t doing too badly. Chloë’s broken heart following the death of her father, her love for Rachel Amber, Rachel’s agony over her father’s deceit and all the poignancy that comes from knowing what will ultimately happen to her are making for a meaningful and bittersweet game.

I can’t wait for Part 2, which is being released on 19th October. As I write this post I am playing Uncharted: Lost Legacy but will be pausing it to return to Arcadia Bay.

If you would like to read my thoughts about Before the Storm Episode 1 as I played it, you can read my Storyfied tweets here.

Credit Where It’s Due
Chloë and Archer Amber ride the train: Polygon

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The Wolf Among Us Pt. 2

So, back in August I played The Wolf Among Us to a finish.

Looking back, I have fond memories of the game. It will never become one of my all time favourites* but if I would recommend it. I like what they did with the old fairy tales and the story was neatly told.

What did I think about the game (Episodes 3 to 5) as I played them? You can find out by reading my Storyfied tweets here.

For my first post on The Wolf Among Us, click here.

* Which at the time of writing are – Grand Theft Auto IV, Mass Effect 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Life is Strange, The Last of Us.

Credit Where It’s Due
The picture of Bigby smoking yet another cigarette comes from Trusted Reviews

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The Bell Tolls For Thee

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was most of all a rebel.

She was a rebel against the idea that women wouldn’t learn.

She was a rebel against the idea that a woman couldn’t travel alone – across the desert.

She was, most of all, a rebel against the fact that her world belonged to men.

If you would like to know more about Bell, the New Yorker has published a short article about here here. I thoroughly recommend both it and Letters from Baghdad.

Bell was an explorer, writer, Arabist, and archaeologist. After the First World War, she joined the British colonial administration of Iraq. We did not do so well in our treatment of the Middle-east after the Great War but some individuals, Bell among them, bucked the trend. She is well worth spending with.

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A Simple Offering

We Catholics who grew up straddling the cusp of the conciliar divide may have a vague memory of the phrase “offer it up.” It was advice frequently given by the sisters who taught us our catechisms: “when you are in pain, when you are disappointed, when your feelings have been hurt, offer these things up to the Lord and ask him to use your suffering — that He join it to His own pain on the cross, for the good of others. Offer it as penance for your own sins, or the sins of those who cannot or will not do penance for themselves; offer it for the sick, the lonely, or for their intentions.”
(Elizabeth Scalia The Secret Privilege of Offering It Up)

As it happens, it is not only ‘Catholics who grew up straddling the cusp of the conciliar divide’ who were taught this. I was taught it to by my parish priest when I became seriously interested in the Catholic Church in 1995-6.

Actually, I wasn’t really taught it, at least, not by him. I think I just said I was sore in one way or another and he told me, very naturally, because he was a pre-Vatican II Catholic, to offer it up.

A very wise and holy person gave me instruction before I was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil in 1997 and so it was probably them who taught me what the phrase really meant.

And in the ups and downs of my (Catholic) life since then, I have never forgotten it. Sure, I have left the phrase and act behind sometimes but the knowledge that one can offer up one’s pains and sufferings has never left me. It is a very comforting thought.

That last clause, by the way – ‘it is a very comforting thought’ – is (if memory serves) a paraphrase of something Tolkien once wrote. If I remember correctly, Gandalf says something like it to Frodo when they discuss how the ring came to Bag End. It was meant to, Gandalf, says, and that’s a comforting thought.

Anyway, I’m keen to mention the article here in case it helps anyone visiting this blog but also, I have to admit, for my own sake. It’s one thing to read and be reminded; it’s another to read, and then write about – doing this can help X stick in the mind for longer. And as I grow older and more prone to pain, the idea that I can offer it up is certainly something I need to remember better

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Bombs Away

Atomic Blonde is the kind of film for which the term ‘high octane’ was invented. However, it is not the gun fights, car chases, fist fights or flights from danger that define the film. What does? The clue is in the title. The protagonist is a woman. Charlize Theron plays the Blonde, whose name is Lorraine Broughton, and does so with a great deal of skill and even more cool.

Atomic Blonde is well written, which is more than can be said for Broughton herself. Throughout the film she remains a mystery in terms of who she is, her motivation for behaving in the way she does, her true feelings towards other people – even a lover – and so forth.

This can partly be explained by the film’s desire to keep the audience guessing as to what will happen next, but it also means that the film, as well made as it is, remains a shallow one. It is comparable, in this respect, to most of the James Bond films (Casino Royale excepted).

Speaking of Bond, while he is surely a source of inspiration for Atomic Blonde the film’s spiritual father has to be the Jason Bourne pictures. This is particularly the case in its stylised fighting sequences.

And it builds upon Bourne in how it shows the consequences of those fights. Jason Bourne fights and we see something of his injuries afterwards (e.g. the opening sequence to The Bourne Ultimatum). Broughton, fights and not only do we see all her cuts and bruises afterwards but even during the fight we see her (and her opponent) wheezing and barely able to get to their feet. This is the most impressive aspect of the picture and – despite its narrative shallowness – elevates the film from being standard action fare to something different, perhaps special.

I hope Atomic Blonde is a success. It’s good to see a female lead in this kind of picture. May it continue until it becomes not worth mentioning. And I hope the will be a sequel. We have unfinished business with Lorraine Broughton. A film that told her story would provide a context for this film and deepen our understanding of her character, adding depth to the two films as a whole.

Atomic Blonde poster: Coming Soon
Broughton battered and bruised: Esquire

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The Story of a People

If I was a creative writing teacher I would tell my students that in order to be successful, their stories must have a plot and characters that exist in harmony.

If one is stronger at the other’s expense then the story will fail.

As you can see, I would be a very bad teacher because there is only rule in creative writing that really counts and that is the one that says ‘all rules are there to be broken’.

As with books, so with films. And Dunkirk is the proof.

Since its release a few weeks ago, I have seen the film three times, and have enjoyed it each and every time.

If I followed my own rule, however, I should have hated it – the film prioritises plot over character. Why then do I like it? Why do I believe it is a narrative success?

The answer lies with the characters. In terms of their representation as real people, they are very weak – throughout the film we are barely told their names let alone their story. As types, however, they are strong. Dunkirk is Everyman updated. We see this in the lead character’s name – Tommy; that is a personal name but was also the nickname of British soldiers as a whole during this period. We follow, therefore, not only the individual Tommy’s journey, but through him, the journey of all the soldiers on the beach.

The same applies to the other characters. Even when we know their names, the lack of information given about them, calls us to see them as representatives of whichever part of the British army – or civilian life – they belong to.

The film goes further still. The lack of character back story and dialogue strips away the main barriers to feeling their emotions as our own. Tommy and co are not just Everymen but in their fear and hope, mistakes and successes, are you and I if we were on that beach.

Everyman was last popular in the Middle Ages so Dunkirk is a pretty brave piece of story telling. Credit has to go not only to Christopher Nolan for writing it but Warner Brothers for paying for it. Dunkirk is Hollywood at its most creative and therefore best.

Fionn Whitehead The Independent
Kenneth Branagh Variety

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