Sunday, 1 September 2013

Theakerly thoughts #3: female avatars, Abrams, worst son ever

Thought 1. The new MGMT single “Your Life Is a Lie” has taken a little while to grow on me, but now I’m loving it, and singing it till my family begs me not to, albeit with slightly altered lyrics (”Your life is a lie / I like to eat pie / Aeroplanes fly / You’re making me cry”). It must be hard when your first big single is such a definitive rock statement. Where do you go from that? Well, I think they’ve found some interesting places.

Thought 2. Apparently it’s a thing that lots of men don’t like playing games with female avatars, to the point that the female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect and its sequels has acquired a separate label: FemShep. Supposedly only a small proportion of men play as her. This baffles me, and not for feminist reasons. Quite the opposite: lecherous reasons! If I’m going to spend thirty hours in a third-person game staring at a character’s bottom, I’d rather it was a female bottom! And ideally my wife’s! In pretty much every game where I could choose a customized character (Mass Effect, Oblivion, Skyrim, Saints Row the Third, etc), I’ve created one that looks an awful lot like Mrs Theaker. Okay, so sometimes I give her green skin, or blue hair, but that makes her easier to spot in the thick of battle. So I find it really weird that dudes are so adamant about playing as blokes. Perhaps they need to identify more closely with the player character than I do. Maybe they play online more than I do, and prefer an online avatar that will closely resemble them. Or maybe it’s a variety of homosexual panic: playing as a female character means you tend to attract romantic interest from male characters. Well, whatever. Doesn’t matter what those guys think of Commander Ranjna Shepard, they still owe their lives to her bravery!

Thought 3. An old thought, this. A review begun a long time ago but out of date before it was published. My thoughts from last year on watching the first few episodes of Person of Interest:
     Long-time readers will probably have guessed that I disagreed with Howard Watts’ scathing assessment of J.J. Abrams’ television productions in his review of Alcatraz, in particular when it came to Lost, which I’d rank among the very best programmes I’ve seen. Many people have an inflated idea of how many mysteries in Lost were left unanswered, possibly because they were answered as the programme went along with little fanfare, and so the masses who turned up for just the last episode thought they hadn’t been answered at all. In fact, there’s an irritatingly stubborn and just plain irritating idea abroad that the last episode revealed the whole programme to have been set in purgatory, which of course it didn’t. (The “purgatory” bits were a sequel to the events of the island, not an explanation for them. Their main purpose, I felt, was to show us the characters in different situations, letting us distinguish which of their characteristics were the result of circumstances, which were innate.) Alias and Fringe were brilliant at times, and even Felicity had its moments!
     I didn’t get around to watching Alcatraz (it was still piling up on the TiVo when it was cancelled), so I’ll defer to Howard’s opinion on that one, but I have been watching Person of Interest, Season 1, executive produced by Abrams, but created and written by Jonathan Nolan, co-writer of the Batman film trilogy.
     John Reese (Jim Cavaziel) is a war veteran living on the streets recruited by mysterious, wealthy Finch (Michael Emerson) to intercede in situations where someone is going to die, the twist being that he doesn’t know if the name he’s got is the victim or the murderer. It’s been excellent so far, the premise a successful cross between The Equalizer and Quantum Leap, with potential for one-off stories and longer arcs. Maybe it’s just my knowledge of the programme’s writer talking, but it’s not at all far off a Batman television series, albeit with the money transferred from Batman to Alfred, as Reese monitors each situation from the shadows before unleashing his violence skills at the crucial moment. He has some marvellous dialogue, my favourite from episode one being the warning he gives a crooked police officer: “I don’t particularly like killing people, but I’m very good at it.” One to check out, even if subsequent episodes tended more to the procedural than the exceptional.

Thought 4. Because the person who writes an FAQ has to write down the question as well as their answer, FAQs can sometimes provide an interesting opportunity to consider the difference between the questions that are being asked, and the questions someone thinks they are being asked.

Thought 5. Another old thought. Two hundred words on the subject of Once Upon a Time, that I decided weren’t suitable for publication as a review, given that I’d only half-watched the half of it that I watched:
     Once Upon a Time, Season 1 (Five) hasn’t been essential viewing for me, but the three female quarters of our family love it, and each casting announcement for season two (Mulan, the Little Mermaid, Captain Hook, and so on) has been a big deal for them. Superficially very similar in concept to the comic Fables, with fairytale characters living in our world (in this case in the town of Storybrook), it has played out very differently, with much of the focus being on events back in fairyland, which has the odd consequence that the programme’s lead character (Emma Swan, daughter of Snow White, sent to grow up in our world Superman-style) only appears in its best bits as a baby. Structurally it’s very similar to Lost, with the flashbacks focusing on a character at the heart of that episode’s current-day story, with revelations about that character’s history toying with your expectations of how that story will resolve. My favourite episode so far featured Grumpy the dwarf, born from a giant egg, and his doomed romance with a fairy (played by Amy Acker). The present day stories were at first a bit ordinary and repetitive when contrasted with the invention and magic of the fairytale stories, but as memories of that other world return it’s all becoming more interesting overall. Worth a look.

Thought 6. I’ve bought a wired Xbox 360 controller and the Xpadder software to let me use the controller on my PC. Not to play games, though maybe I will eventually, but more for when I want to lean back (or stand up) and read something on the PC screen without being tied to the keyboard and mouse. It’s taken a bit of customization, but it’s working quite nicely now. As with many of my previous brilliant office innovations (battle board, laboratory coat, daily scores out of ten), the family have mocked me for it.

Thought 7. Noticing that today was the first day of September, I realised that meant last month was August. Then thought, hang on, isn’t my mum’s birthday in August? No!!! I’m the worst son of all time. But every item on her Amazon wishlist is now on the way to her. And now I need to pluck up the courage to phone her.


  1. I have done that before (forgotten my mum's birthday). And I didn't even remember I'd forgotten, until she told me, several months later. I was at university at the time, so didn't even have the excuse of having been too busy.

  2. My mum seemed to be excited enough by all the presents to forgive me. She is used to my uselessness - remember all the things I have forgotten over the years? Tentpegs for the Reading Festival, sending in my student grant application, even my suitcase one term at university... Thank goodness I have a computer to remember things nowadays.

  3. Person of Interest is superb, I must say! I've not missed an episode.
    Abrams by name, but certainly not by nature.

  4. If you could boil away the crimes of the week and leave just the arc elements - if it just had twelve episode seasons, say - I'd love Person of Interest too. Jim Cavaziel's understated style really grew on me.