Welcome back to AVQ&A (Gameological edition), where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
Today’s question comes from Gameological contributor Danny Gallagher: What piece of in-game pop culture—movie, TV show, etc.—would you like to see made into a full standalone work?
I want to see a staged performance of The Lusty Argonian Maid, a play in the Elder Scrolls world that consists of nothing but amusingly clumsy innuendo. The only two characters—at least judging by the snippets that you can pick up in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim—are a lecherous homeowner named Crantius Colto and his maid, an Argonian lizard-person with the unfortunate moniker Lifts-Her-Tail. “My goodness, that’s quite a loaf!” says Lifts-Her-Tail during one exchange. “But how ever shall it fit in my oven?” Colto replies, “This loaf isn’t ready for baking, my sweet. It has yet to rise.” And so on. Given that this back-and-forth comes from a page labeled “Act VII, Scene II,” there’s apparently much more where that came from. The moronic goofiness of the play would wear off before long, so I’d be happy to get an abridged production, perhaps with a scene from The Sultry Argonian Bard as an opener.
I’ve been watching way too many kaiju movies in the middle of the night lately. It’s the only explanation for why my delirious mind drifted from this question immediately to Jet Baby, the action movie series that has been featured in every iteration of the bizarre rhythm game Parappa The Rapper. Every Jet Baby follows a strict formula—there is always a giant green monster (there’s the kaiju connection), and it is always terrorizing something that is probably a bear. The carnage is always preempted by Jet Baby, a normal human baby that has traded the innocence of childhood for rocket shoes. The series has had its ups and downs over the years. The original Jet Baby is a classic, but Jet Baby 2 has more juice and is the superior film. Jet Baby 3 was probably just a nightmare the game’s hero had during a food coma, but it’s still considered canon. It’s about time we had a real, full-length Jet Baby 4, though. I’m running out of rubber-monster movies, and I need something else I can watch and then later wonder what parts I hallucinated.
What sets the Fallout series apart from the usual post-apocalyptic video games is its sense of humor. It’s a series of dark comedies that have fun with the darkest of dark subjects: the disintegration of civilization at the hands of nuclear war. Its vast wastelands hide uncountable tragic tales—many of which are left for you to stumble into and feel gross about—but they’re juxtaposed with colorful characters, cartoonish violence, and the wholesome iconography of 1950s America. This bizarre combination is on full display in The Adventures Of Herbert “Daring” Dashwood (and his stalwart ghoul manservant, Argyle), a radio drama broadcast throughout the wastes of Fallout 3. The show recreates the past exploits of the retired adventurer Herbert Dashwood and his zombified buddy Argyle. It’s a standard buddy-action-comedy set up: Dashwood is a squeaky-clean 1950s hero and gets all the glory despite being the most naïve, bumbling traveler around (a characterization that the real Herbert Dashwood contests). Meanwhile, Argyle is the one doing all the hero stuff and saving their hides time and time again. You know, heroic feats like using his “Eagle Claw” technique to rip out a slaver’s heart or deploying “the ol’ Shady Sands Shuffle” to stealthily drop some explosives into the pockets of a hulking super mutant. In the game, we’re only treated to one story split across four short parts (a dramatization of Dashwood and Argyle’s final adventure, in fact), but I would pay any number of bottlecaps for, say, a podcast series dedicated to bringing more of Dashwood and Argyle’s goofy adventures to life.
The Phatt Island Library in Monkey Island 2 is a treasure trove of prospective literary delights. With over 200 card catalog entries covering every conceivable subject, it’s the closest thing video games have to a Library Of Alexandria. There’s Breakfast At Meathook’s, My Mother The Cart: Strange But True Tales, Keelhauling: Methodology & Practice, and The Little Organ That Could: Pop-Up Book Of Kidney Functions. The most intriguing title, though, is The Yak Is Slow But the Earth Is Patient. The majestic yak, or Bos grunniens, is native to the higher altitudes of the Himalayas. Quick to laugh, slow to anger, the yak is a herd animal not totally dissimilar from our American bison, at least in terms of its being a large and hairy land mammal whose scats are bigger than a human child. Not known to be aggressive toward humans, yaks have the potential to be bosom human companions. I picture this book as the fictional account of a plucky Mongolian shepherd with big dreams who one day saves a young yak separated from his yak-people. The shepherd helps raise Yak, and they become fast friends, herding snow leopards and getting into all kinds of high jinks on the steppe. One day, though, the shepherd is caught out in the open tundra, in danger of freezing to death. Yak, using their telepathic inter-species connection, tells the shepherd to cut him open and sleep inside. The shepherd refuses, saying he’d rather die than sleep in the guts of his best friend. Just when it looks like they’re about to die in each other’s arms, Ernest Shackleton shows up and saves the day. Monkey Island’s hero Guybrush Threepwood spends the game looking for the greatest treasure in history, but it seems to me he’s already found it.
The first time I heard the developers at Remedy describe Alan Wake, their psychological-horror shooter, I knew I had to play it. Regardless of the game’s quality, the concept—a writers’-blocked Stephen King stand-in and his wife take a trip to a sleepy town in the Pacific Northwest, and then spooky things happen—was the rare example of a horror game that strayed beyond the usual safe array of messy alien gore-fests or dark traverses down spooky, digital hallways. It didn’t live up to all of my expectations, but it’s a fun diversion with a tight, supernatural story that would feel more at home on a bookshelf or as a standalone Twilight Zone episode. When Alan isn’t busy taking down hostile shadowy figures with his flashlight and boomstick, he can seek out the town’s handful of working TVs that play random episodes of a show called Night Springs. Clearly an homage to The Twilight Zone, Springs is a black-and-white psychological-thriller series, some episodes of which were written by the game’s hero. Each clip constructs a short story with a unique twist in just a few minutes, and Springs has a darker edge than the game itself. Every time I found one, it captured my attention and brought back memories of the first time my Dad let me watch a whole episode of The Twilight Zone (“The After Hours”) past my bedtime. The writers did so much with these snippets that I still wonder what they could do if they had the budget and time to write full-length episodes.
After the recent controversy over a variant cover for the Powerpuff Girls comic book that was deemed “sexy” and later pulled, I’ve been reflecting on Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly, the animated series within the world of Suda 51’s No More Heroes. Bizarre Jelly, or BJ as hardcore fans call it, comes from the same mold as The Powerpuff Girls. It is not, from what we see at least, overtly sexual. It features girls, they are friends, they are sometimes ditzy, and they occasionally team up to fight monsters. So far, sounds like Sailor Moon. And while Sailor Moon had an air of romance, mild sexual undertones, and fleeting panty shots, it too was never overtly sexual. The problem for Jelly is fans like No More Heroes star Travis Touchdown—i.e., the people who sexualized Sailor Moon cosplayers just as they sexualized the charming Mimi Yoon Powerpuff Girls illustration I mentioned. So let’s have Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly. Let’s have the same inspirational stories of sisterhood and compassion as Sailor Moon and The Powerpuff Girls, but with enough jiggle to sate the Travis Touchdowns of the world into backing off our My Little Ponys and Powerpuffs. Gratuitous butt shots are a small price to pay to get our all-ages cartoons back.
Thanks to an unconventional work schedule, I’ve recently embraced the numbing glow of daytime TV. Turns out, I love watching a chipper Michael Strahan chat emptily about the day’s pop culture gossip. This might explain my love for the endless daytime TV of Pokémon X and Y. The game squirrels away TV sets across its world, giving you access to a few Poké-soap operas and a handful of mindless shows that delve into the details of Pokémon’s world in a text-only format. Shows like What’s That? explain what your items do with all the panache of a textbook. I like to imagine that the real version of What's That? show would involve a beautiful host and an electric rat monster expounding the benefits of the King’s Rock to an eager crowd of suburban moms. Just add three bowls of cereal and sweatpants, and you’ve got my morning routine. There’s also The Pokémon Whisperer, where a grown man tracks down deficient Pokémon, à la Cesar Millan, and cures their ailments through a combination of love and physical abuse. The snippets are brief but enough to paint the picture of a middle-aged man tangling with a giant bug. I say out with the mindless Pokémon cartoon to the we have, and in with the strange, boring daytime world of What’s That?
Relatively early in Final Fantasy VI, one of your party members turns into a flying banshee and spreads her terrifying magical energy throughout the land. Later, you’ll go undercover to infiltrate a corrupt government. But in between those two exciting plot points, is…opera time! Yes, even this fantasy land has citizens that demand to be entertained by singers exploring the extremes of their vocal registers. This opera, titled Maria And Draco, is a love story in which one of your characters, Celes, must perform as a princess trapped alone atop a castle, pining for her hero. The game simply asks that you remember her lines, making for a less-than-thrilling stretch of action—but when the opera is sabotaged by a huge wily octopus, your team heads up to the rafters, knocks octo-guy down, and beats him to a squishy pulp onstage. Big finish. Imagine being one of the unsuspecting operagoers, in the mood for some sappy love story and instead getting a band of maniacs stabbing monsters for everyone to watch. I’d pay to see that.
Anthony John Agnello
Weird anthology television is great. Tales From The Crypt, The Outer Limits—hell, even Unsolved Mysteries. Anything where a charismatic host guides us through short stories about the surreal, the strange, the funny, the desperate, and the sexy is awesome in my book. Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is the grandpappy of them all, and its successors never quite lived up to the legacy. The Golden Playhouse, the televised theater of the absurd that acts as a framing device for Atlus’ Catherine, could possibly sit on the Serling throne if it were real. Mixing the supernatural theatrics of Zone with the bathing smut of The Red Shoe Diaries, The Golden Playhouse trades in particularly sweet nightmares. Take Catherine as a model for an episode: A 30-something guy struggles with commitment, accidentally sleeps with a succubus whose name is almost identical to his fiancée's, and dreams of climbing precarious towers while getting chased by giant butt demons. And the same dream is killing all kinds of shady dudes that hang out at our hero's favorite bar. The show’s host is Trisha, an acrobatic lady with a flame-red afro that would make the members of Parliament blanche with jealousy. Were Playhouse a weekly program, it probably wouldn’t last that long. It’s just too weird, and the era of the strange anthology is long over. But Trisha’s tales would be worth watching every time if Catherine is the standard.