Westworld is Fan Culture Going Awry.

No really. Glasses down nose= robot I kid you not

Some of these aren’t even made up.

I’ve been sort of reminded of the Flobots There’s a War Going On For Your Mind as of late, but not because of silly unimportant things such as government propaganda or the corruption of news media, no more important than that: TV show subreddits!

Reddit is the place to be for TV show discussion. The perfect example is the two mammoth subreddits just for Game of Thrones. Both are jammed full of weird fan theories, book and TV news, artwork and of course very, very angry posts about the new book not being out yet. When the shows are on air, the subreddits churn out vast quantities of content: Pre-episode predictions, live episode reactions, post-episode discussions, post-post-episode discussions. They are weapons of mass discussion, tearing apart each moment of every episode and extrapolating each line, promotional image and vague tweet that may hint towards the future giant game-changing spoilers that many commenters are also, paradoxically, desperate to avoid. Game of Thrones isn’t alone, though- you’ll find a subreddit for every show you could imagine. Even Firefly, a show that finished years before reddit was even coded still has an active, lively subreddit that exists in a state constant mourning, populated with people clinging to the false hope that one day the show will return (with Wash alive of course).

Most recent lamb to the slaughter HBO’s Westworld and boy oh boy is it a doozy! The show, for the record, is great and I’d highly recommend giving it a watch. Typical of HBO, it has incredible production quality, an interesting concept, and some compelling storylines to keep you coming back each week. All things that made me love LOST all those years ago, but I know saying that can be a turn-off for as many people as it is an endorsement. Incidentally, the problem with Westworld, or more specifically the fandom emerging around it, has a lot to do with LOST though and the environment and culture that it created (or at least helped fuel). Specifically, I can trace the beginnings of this back to one of the earliest examples of fan obsession run amok: LOST’s fan-run wiki, Lostpedia.

LOST aired from 2004 to 2010, starting during my first year of high school and finishing a few weeks before I left. I followed that show religiously through school and despite its many, many faults it holds a special place in my heart all these jaded years later. I would spend hours trawling through message boards, forums and of course LOSTpedia, reading theories and looking for answers to near stream of questions and mysteries being introduced in every episode. Looking back, I really should have realised that the writers were never going to be able to (or probably ever intended to) flesh out and answer the mountain of questions introduced over the years. Even up until the last few minutes of the very last episode I was still naively clinging to the hope that Jack or someone was just going to suddenly get some Matrix-esque injection of knowledge regarding every unanswered question on LOSTpedia and end the episode explaining where that glass eye came from, or why the Smoke Monster can’t cross lines of ash? Or perhaps most importantly, who was the all-important Waving Figure on the DVD menu screen!? As you may know, that never happened. In the end, Jack had a decent fight with Not-Locke, he died and a dog found him, everyone kind of went to heaven and Hurley became the islands sloppy-seconds ruler in a kind of “oh I guess you’ll do” selection process.  But what LOSTpedia came to represent was a popularisation of online mass discussion, collaboration, and fan theory culture, of meta-analysis and the ‘picking apart’ of modern shows that is now the norm. For every hour-long weekly Game of Thrones episode, I probably read, watch and listen to ten times that in analysis and discussion, podcasts, reviews and discussion threads before the next Monday morning fix. Is this a problem? As much as I disliked at first the Netflix practice of simply “dumping” new series all at once to binge on for a couple days straight, I do find myself judging these shows a little less and enjoying them more without as much pressure and expectation on each individual episode. I very much doubt I would have liked Luke Cage, Jessica Jones or Daredevil nearly as much as I did if they were subjected to the intensive scrutiny, reviewing and nit picking that follow more conventional weekly TV series nowadays. Case in point: The War of the (West)Worlds.

You see, Westworld‘s subreddit is currently in a state of open combat. Dividing lines are being drawn between the radical ‘Timerliners’ and conservative’Linears’. It’s a messy civil war between super fans: brother versus brother, persecution and passive aggressiveness in every corner, screencaps and misquotes abound as two sides fight to decree their side as right and answer the ultimate question of the moment: does Westworld take place in multiple timeframes or not?! 

Whoever wins the Fan Theory War, we all lose.

Whoever wins the great Fan Theory War, we all lose.

Well, of course, the answer is really who cares, it doesn’t matter and we’ll probably find out sooner or later so just enjoy the damn show, but that doesn’t really fly when it comes to online discussion. There are dozens of posts now arguing back and forth about who is right AND which characters or events interact to prove or disprove the various theories. The problem here is that the rabid way the argument is taking over discussion of the show can only lead to toxicity within the community- there is never now going to be a resolution to this plotline that people are going to be satisfied with. Personally, I think we might be seeing parts of Westworld take place in the past and in the present (or… future? Sci-fi and all), but I’m not really holding it to much other than the way certain scenes have been constructed and a general feeling. Now if this turns out to be true (and there’s no guarantee that it will) can you imagine the impassioned fans who have sworn up and down that this cannot be, that have made graphs and videos and charts disproving it, will simply roll over, throw up their hands and admit a mistake? Oh no, it’s going to be the shows fault- be it bad writing, misleading editing, sloppy directing or a host of other complaints to justify the insane idea that they could get something wrong. I’m not just pulling this out of the air- it’s only because we’ve seen this so many times before, be it on Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Arrow, Mr. Robot or countless other shows under the scrutiny of the fanatic magnifying glass. And we’re just going to see it again (hint hint Ricky and Morty season 3)

Theories are fun, Tv show discussion is fun and having a central online hub to share jokes and observations with other fans can be one of the best things about modern TV and the internet in general. But there’s a danger of getting too far down the rabbit hole here. There’s never going to be a way to please everybody, but the churning out of theories, ideas and analysis of TV shows only sets expectations far too high and the potential for disappointment far too likely. And the shows suffer for it too. I’ve long suspected Mr Robot’s lackluster second series and Sherlock’s piss poor third series partly a result of the dangerous influence of ‘fandom’- pandering to a fanbase and veering away from what people loved about a show in the first place. When we have ‘fans’ furious at a writer for not rushing out his magnum opus, or arguing over theories and madcap ideas and getting disappointed when they don’t pan out, or trawling through trailers, production leaks and casting calls for every last dreg of information before becoming somehow disappointed with the final product, you need to take a step back. I think LOST changed the face of TV, but I think it was LOSTpedia and the fandom that changed the face of how we consume TV shows, and I don’t think it was necessarily for the better.

If you’re still in the mood for reading, here a great article along the same lines (and probably put much better): Why trying to guess every plot twist in Westworld before it happens is the worst way to watch TV

And here’s the end to LOST, because it’s incredible. Please go watch LOST.

Tears in my eyes, man. Everytime.

On Battlefield 1, Player Characters and Ethnicities

So in October the newest entry in the Battlefield video game series comes out- Battlefield 1 set, for the first time, during World War 1. I’ve had a few chances to play the Multiplayer Open Beta on PC and I’ve really enjoyed it for the most part. Generally I kind of struggle keeping up interest in multiplayer shooters nowadays because I get to the point where I feel there’s nowhere left for me to go- Another round of death, explosions and Gas? Fine, I guess. More endlessly capturing and losing points? Eh, whatever. It all feels a bit… pointless (Which seems somewhat accurate to WW1, I guess?). The last big multiplayer games that really gripped me were Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 1943, but whether I’d still enjoy them if I went back remains to be seen. Maybe I’m just growing out of mulitplayer games for the most part. Still though compared to other multiplayer experiences, Battlefield as a series still offers some engaging, exciting and atmospheric moments that do genuinely make me feel like the small part in a larger conflict.

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Something that’s coming up a lot online when discussing this game and a lot of games like it though is the age-old problem of revisionism. Now Battlefield 1 has, to its credit, done well in avoiding these tropes but not everyone agrees. Many feel that the inclusion of so many player ethnicities (you an essential chose your players race/skin colour etc in the loadout menu) is inaccurate or anachronistic. Many forum posts and comments have bemoaned the idea of such a diverse battlefield, and especially to anyone other than ‘white’ serving on the Western Front. It’s partly a problem that I think stems from looking at WW1 as what David Reynolds called the “Literary War”. There’s been much written before about annoying tropes surrounding the perception of WW1– such myths as the ‘ignorance of tactics’, the ‘unmoving and pointlessness of the conflict’, the ‘Donkeys leading Lions‘, and perhaps worst, the intense focus on the Western Front only, disregarding the often pivotal theatres outside of France and even Europe. These all surfaced again when Battlefield 1 was revealed, and something that has increasingly bothered me is the pervasive idea amongst some that including people of colour in the conflict (especially on the Western Front) is somehow historically inaccurate or (to use their own words) “pandering”. Character models in the game from only what I have experienced have been all ranges of ethnicities, colours and creeds on both sides, something that is certainly not outside the range of believability. Apparently though, to the denizens of gaming communities across the internet, this is inaccurate and unacceptable.

In a reddit thread (that I’m using as an example- it’s merely one of dozens that I’ve seen crop up in the past on the subject, of which many are put in a lot less moderate terms) that I guess is attempting to highlight how ridiculous it is to include people of colour in various armies, you will find numerous comments that purport that the Western Front was somehow a “white front”, only populated and fought by white Europeans. For example-

Most countries did use some colonial regiments, but the European part of the conflict back then had mostly white Europeans. Even in WW2 in the European theatre that was still the case for the most part. I understand people like their ethnicity being represented in a game, but you cannot make history more diverse, it just doesn’t work that way.

As someone pointed out in another thread, while the comment in question said ‘mostly’, what they were actually arguing, and what many posters in the thread are saying, is closer to ‘wholly’, which is, in my eyes, both uninformed and ignorant to just how many nationalities and ethnicities were involved and stationed on the Western Front. Here’s another comment on why the inclusion of black characters is somehow an insult to the Harlem Hellfighters-

Because the Hellfighters actually fought in the European theatre… Dice is just finding random groups of Black soldiers and making them the mainstay of the Europe conflict..

As well as-

Yeah, no. Use Google to look up photos of the trenches sometime and count how many non-white faces you see.

To set the record straight, Colonial troops made up large and significant parts of the British and French Army in WW1, specifically on the Western Front. At the same time the BEF fielded 70,000 men, The Indian Army represented the largest volunteer army in the world, with 150,000 of its 240,000 men ready for immediate service. By November 1914 Indian troops were holding positions around the Ypres. Alongside them were thirty-seven battalions of French troops from Senegal, Africa, Algeria and Morocco. It was many of these men that would later bear the brunt of the initial gas attacks in Flanders in April 1915. As historian David Olusoga puts it-

“By the time the maneuverings of 1914 had fizzled out and the Western Front had stabilised, the fantasy of the “White Mans War” had, like other assurances of the war, been exposed as naive.”

Indian cavalry from the Deccan Horse during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge

Indian cavalry from the Deccan Horse during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge

I think it also it’s important to recognise that front line troops (the ones you may find ‘while googling to look up photos of the trenches’) were only a tiny proportion of the huge machine that operated in the theatre. While the French were more than keen to pour, as Charles Mangin put it, “Reservoirs of [colonial troops]” into the front lines (Some 500,000 wore the uniform of the French army and manned the trenches of the Western Front), most black British troops (with the exception of a small few, see Walter Tull) were used as mass labour behind the lines.

Ironically, the Western Front during those four years of conflict was possibly the most ethnically diverse place on Earth at that time. Muslim prayers were held in the Fields of Flanders, Indian Soldiers observed the Eid Prayers before sitting down to share celebratory meals with their Indian Comrades of other faiths. Ramadan was observed in trenches, troops from the Punjab marked the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi. In British Barracks and hospitals Chinese labourers (Over 100,000 men served in the Chinese Labour Corps) entertained troops and their own countrymen, marking Chinese New Years and Dragon Festivals. French troops were particularly entertained by displays of Tai chi and Martial Arts.

To quote The Worlds War

“The Great European War- as it was then still called- became the greatest employment opportunity in history, and hundreds of thousands of men, from some of the most beautiful lands and islands on earth descended upon Flanders and Northern France. They came from Bermuda, Macedonia, Malta, Greece, Arabia, Palestine, Singapore, Mauritius, Madagascar, Vietnam, Fiji, the Cook Island, the Seychelles.”

To put it in perspective, take the Halbmondlager. This German prisoner of war camp is one of the most bizarre and overlooked parts of the war on the Western Front. It housed almost 5,000 Muslim prisoners who had fought for the Allied side. The intended purpose of the camp was to convince detainees to wage jihad against the United Kingdom and France. Living in relative luxury, the camp included the first ever mosque built on German soil, all intended as part of a “Jihad Experiment” which the Germans thought would help turn the colonies against British and French rule.

Halbmondlager, Germany's First Mosque.

Halbmondlager, Germany’s First Mosque.

This problem is really bigger than a video games portrayal of soldier diversity. At the end of the day Battlefield has included ethnicities to represent more of its player base, but the reaction or veiled excuse to the inclusion of non-white non-Europeans in the conflict as somehow “inaccurate” is further examples of the pervasive and very real white-washing that occurred after WW1. Call me a cynic, but I feel many of these critics aren’t so much disliking the inclusion if black characters in Battlefield purely out of ‘historical accuracy‘. I think this is best exemplified in the strange division between ‘black’ and ‘white’ characters, as if they somehow represent two distinct groups. Even forgetting the British and French, the German army wasnt some homogeneous ‘blob’. To quote again The Worlds War, we’re talking about “30000 Danes, 3 million Poles, other minorities like Serbs, French, Luxembourgers. Even Germany was a patchwork of 5 dutchies, 25 federal states, 4 kingdoms, principalities, annexed provinces, The Hanseatic League… Germany was less than 50 years old and the extent to which each of its nationalities considered itself “German” varied massively”. It’s just for some reason when it comes to debates like this, it boils down to simply the difference between ‘white’ & ‘black’, which I imagine comes a lot from the influence and predominantly American audience. For some reason in a video game with respawning, point control and magically fixable vehicles and planes, the most unbelievable and unacceptable thing is to include a bit more diversity in character models for the games audience to (optionally) enjoy. To quote one commenter-

They’re not even complaining about inaccuracies. They’re fine with the abundance of tanks that work like modern vehicles and the fact that almost everybody is carrying a prototype weapon that probably never saw actual use. Nonwhite soldiers though? Completely unbelievable.

Highlanders and Indian Dogras sitting in a trench, 1915.

Highlanders and Indian Dogras sitting in a trench, 1915.

If you’re interested, here’s a fascinating book called “Our enemies: 96 character heads from German prisoner of war camps“, a propaganda book published by Germany to show the public the faces of various “exotic” or “Alien” soldiers from around the world Germany was fighting against.

 

Sources-

The World’s War– David Olusoga

The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire– BBC

British Library Website

Race and War in France: Colonial Subjects in the French Army, 1914-1918

Germany’s grand First World War jihad experiment– Telegraph

Tales from the H(ebrides)ood

Drawing islands #notebooks #sketchbookproject #drawing

A photo posted by Calum (@litzippo) on

Guess what I’m a famous writer now. Forget the bloody art, videos, games, vans, history blogs, podcasts, Let’s plays, notebooks in fact just FORGET IT ALL: I’m now legitimately Stephen bloody King. What’s more amazing is how I’m so humble and modest and also a genius.

Nah, but seriously I’ve written stories in the past, some of which have made it here. I always fancied writing a full-blown book, and I’ve been writing this plan/concept for a horror story set on a fictional Scottish Island. I’ve talked in the past how one of my favourite games in recent years was Dear Esther, and in a similar vein how books such as The Wasp Factory and films like the original Wicker Man have been making me want to write and create the history of a fictional island that I can explore and develop through an actual short story or novel. I’ve been sitting on concepts for a while, and I’ve written histories and locations, diary entries and fake Wikipedia pages all about the place. All that was left was to try and form a  story around it.

And so we come to the Post I made in reddit’s NoSleep community. It’s a subreddit where people post creepy stories and possible “Supernatural” goings on. All stories are (often obviously) works of fiction but the conceit of the subreddit is that all stories must be taken at face value. It makes for a fun role play experience when comments posit theories and ideas and the poster/writer can respond “in character”. I had this idea to post my story in the form of a journal, found on a flash drive, and recounting the bizarre experiences on the island. What amazed me though is the incredible reaction I got towards it- people loved it! Somehow, through my awful spelling and grammar people picked up the thread of the story and it’s been read thousands of times! Last night I posted a part 2 which was similarly well received. Is it the perfect version of the story? Definitely not, my intention has always been to do it as a third/first person story told periodically with diary entries, but as a test to see how people enjoy the concept, it’s been really awesome. I’ve never been very confident in my writing so to see such a  great reaction has been a bit of a shock.

In the future, I hope to turn this into a full-blown novel, but for now you can follow the story at nosleep, or carry on below to find part 1 & 2 together (hopefully with some corrected formatting and spelling).

Enjoy!

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Fixin’ a van

Have I told you guys I got a sweet new van?! Well, I say new… for about 3 months now I’ve been in possession of my childhood dream vehicle. It’s called Bamse, and oh man is it awesome.

 

BAM!(se)

BAM!(se)

This is Bamse, my bloody wonderful adventuremobile. It’s a 1988 Suzuki Super Carry, a ‘microbus’ more commonly found and popularised in Asia. It’s an absolutely minuscule little 970cc van that I’ve been obsessed with since I was a wee boy. Also yes it;’s the van Richard Hammond flipped over in that van challenge on Top Gear.

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Project: The Cut

I’m back! Phew, what a delay, eh? Last time I posted was those rushed few days before I had to hand in my university project and pray that I could at least get to the summer without stress-related madness. And I did! Passed, in fact. Got a degree, in fact! Keep forgetting about that.

I’ve been up to a lot that I really need to update this place on, from artwork and videos and my new bloomin’ van (more on that in the future though), but for now?  Haircuts! I resent to you The Cut

More info about the production/shooting/extras after the cut!

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14 Common Phrases and their Nautical Origins

In case you guys missed it, I started a new channel! It’s all bout history videos and the like, and this week is 14 common phrases and their nautical origins, all in time for the anniversary of a first in American Naval history! The video is below, as is the full script and lovely links to all the sources! Enjoy!


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A New Channel and A New Series!

Well it’s been a long time coming, but here finally is the first episode of my new History Series! I’ve been busy adapting not only some of my older history articles, but some brand new content that I hope to release on a new channel that I’ve set up specifically for history videos, documentary shorts and other video-essay style content.  Seanachas is still pretty basic until I finish my artwork, headers and consistent thumbnails, but it’s a start! You can see my first video- The First Smoking Ban in History below!

For this the pilot I figured I would try to adapt an existing article I had already written, namely Pope Urban VII: The Shortest Smoking Ban in History as I felt the content and was pretty strong and would make a good 5-7 minute video. You can definitely expect ‘original’ content not featured on the site in the future, but certainly the next episodes will be based on another in my history series that I’ve previously written. This episode was made on a shorter timescale and with more limited resources (namely my laptop tablet rather than PC & Drawing tablet) so I’m hoping future videos will feature a lot more original drawings and content, but I still think it worked out pretty damn well!

Why Seanachas? Well I was playing around with possible channel names for months for something good that covered everything I wanted to do, but the problem was that I didn’t want to limit my channel to just history videos- I hope to feature everything from essays and videos on games, movies, books and other things that interest me, so I needed something that didn’t conform to just history. I picked Seanachas because 1. it’s a Gaelic word for someone who pretty much talks a lot, and 2. I like the sound of it, which is pretty neat.

Now, in the past I’ve mentioned a podcast, rather than videos or content specifically written for a video format, and that is coming! Basically, I have two plans- a podcast series that runs anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and these short, fast paced videos that are much lighter on in-depth content in more ‘trivia’ based. When the podcast will be ready… I can’t say. It takes much longer to script and record, but I think I’ll judge it based on the reception of these videos first. Either way, I hope you enjoy the video and please, let me know what you think!