‘April is the cruellest month’, lamented T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, but I think I might have to politely disagree. Targaryans, Lannisters and Starks are back on our screens stabbing each other in the back and getting their boobs out, Irrational Games have just released the latest instalment of Bioshock and Japanese school girls have been busy taking photographs of themselves performing invisible Dragon Ball Z/Street Fighter fireballs. It’s a good month for geeks.
And this is a good thing for adland, which is already a pretty nerdy place to be. After all, there’s the rise of digital and, with it, the evolution of agencies and production companies into multi-disciplinary, tech hubs. TED and SXSW are bigger than the Beatles… and they were bigger than Jesus (according to John Lennon that is). And then there’s all this Big Data – today’s Don Drapers are more likely to be talking analytics than getting paralytic. That’s all kinda cool and kinda interesting, but it’s easy to forget that beyond the technology, geek culture has much to offer in terms of good old fashioned story-telling.
I spent a good two days with ‘him indoors’ over the weekend, melding with the sofa as we made our way through BioShock Infinite, a game that combines turn of the century American Exceptionalism with quantum confusion. And then I spent the next two days of my four-day weekend on forums and blogs trying to figure out exactly what it was I had just experienced. It’s not a perfect game – but it’s a damned clever one. The story is never spoon-fed, it’s built into the geography of the game, hidden in snippets of diary, woven into the music and artwork and constructed by the player, who can choose to invest hours investigating or blast straight through shooting the bad guys. This sort of storytelling is tricky enough at the best of times, and it’s not unusual for gaming, but it takes a brave architect to deal with meaty topics like redemption, quantum theory, choice and inevitability. For it to work, you need to engage people and create a world that they actually want to explore. The team at Irrational, led by Ken Levine, have had a pretty good stab at it if the volume of online chat by post-game brain melt-ees is anything to go by. There are missteps when major plot points are lost amidst gunfire and gameplay, but even the flaws are useful lessons.
Talking of flaws, for me, they’re also the most interesting part of HBO’s Game of Thrones series. As I doubt you’re surprised to learn, I’ve read all of the existing books in G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice. They’re easy to read, and fun, but the more recent volumes have become pretty unwieldy and, in my opinion, in need of a ruthless editor. Watching the World of Westeros transferred onto the small screen, where scenes and characters have been tweaked, added or removed entirely has been an instructive lesson on the power of the redraft. I sometimes wonder if creatives come in two flavours – those who have trouble knowing when to stop and those who just want to dump and run.
Elsewhere, one of my favourite things about the series is the way it plays with archetypes, lulls us into a false sense of security with clichéd, recognisable fantasy characters (the vain blonde hero, the naïve virgin, the noble father) before taking them in entirely unexpected directions and slowly deconstructing them. Advertising at its best is incisive and simple – but at its worst it’s simplistic and sterotyped. If ol’ George had opted for the stressed-out-mums-at-Christmas approach, we’d have never have got a character like Tyrion.
Anyway, the final geek phenomenon that has got me all fired up are the aforementioned fireballing Japanese schoolgirls. Makankosappo, I believe is the technical term. I’ve already spotted a few agencies getting in on the meme which looks set to be this month’s Harlem Shake. It looks fun and I am really digging the fact that it’s girl geeks who have kicked off this particular trend. There’s been a lot of debate over the last few months about attitudes towards women in comics and games circles, which I won’t go into here, so I can’t help but interpret this as a big middle finger to those who can’t accept nerdy ladies. They’re not trying to be sexy – they’re being silly and, by the looks of it, having loads of fun.
I know I’m not the only person here who gets overly-into this stuff – there are cells of comics-obsessives and pop culture dweebs scattered throughout the industry (you know who you are). So I want to sign off this week’s Laura’s Word with a simple invitation. If you’re out and about at an industry shin dig and you’re on the hunt for someone to talk about non-advertising geekery with, please, come over and talk to me. Live long and prosper. x