Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Creator of the Pokéball Reveals His Invention to His Colleagues

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues, thank you for joining me today. Since the dawn of civilisation humanity and Pokémon have worked together for mutual benefit, and yet despite our long history there is still much we don’t know about our friends. While we have domesticated and bonded with many type of Pokémon, the violent, volatile and often downright bizarre nature of hundreds of wild species makes researching them difficult and dangerous, if not outright impossible.

But no more. I have invented a device I call the “Pokéball,” which will allow us to capture and befriend even the most hostile of Pokémon. The Pokéball, when thrown at a wild Pokémon weakened through battle, will convert and store the Pokémon as a form of energy. The Pokémon will live in comfort inside the ball until it is brought out by its trainer, and it will return to the ball on command.

The implications of my invention are, as I’m sure you realise, ground-breaking. We will have access to Pokémon at a level unheard of in human history. We will be able to capture Pokémon once thought untouchable, and study and bond with them in ways never before imagined. But with so many wild Pokémon now able to be captured, how can we in the scientific community avoid being overwhelmed by new knowledge? I can give you the answer in one word: children.

I’m seeing a lot of blank looks in the audience. Allow me to explain. I propose we take children of grade school age, give them Pokéballs, a Pokédex and a weak Pokémon to call their own, and task them with wandering the globe in search of wild Pokémon. The data they could acquire would be invaluable to our research.

I admit that this sounds unorthodox. “Shouldn’t children stay in school to get a proper education?” you ask. Well, I say there’s nothing school can teach you that you won’t learn from nearly being roasted alive by a Charizard’s fire spin. What good is being able to read and write beyond a fourth grade level if you can’t defend yourself from a swarm of angry Beedrills? Will books keep you safe when you’re being chased by sentient swords?

I see concern in your eyes. Well, let me be the first to say that yes, there will be dangers associated with sending untrained, inexperienced children into the wilderness alone. They will get lost in forests and caves and abandoned power plants. They will encounter agents of the criminal gangs that run rampant across the world. Many will, to be blunt, die.

But those that survive will learn. Learn, not just how to survive in the wild, but to live as an adult. To balance a budget and make responsible fiscal choices and to not get murdered by sexual predators that prey on naïve, unaccompanied children. They will learn so much.

I mentioned money. Where, you’re no doubt wondering, will these children even get money? How will they not starve to death or die of exposure within a week? It’s simple—we encourage the general population to compete in Pokémon battles where the loser must surrender half of their cash. And we’ll make it illegal to refuse or flee battles. We can’t run from cancer or loneliness or the other battles life throws at us. Why should Pokémon battles be any different?

You ask what good could come from legalising bloodsports. The answer is character. A 10 year old that strolls down the road unmolested is a child. A 10 year old that’s forced to fight a series of brutal battles, a 10 year old that, just when he thinks he’s managed to scrape through the gauntlet unscathed is forced to watch his precious Capterpie be ripped to shreds by a Houndoom, is a man.

Pokémon mastery is everything in this world. Our children don’t need state capitals and long division—they need vengeful ghosts and colossal whales that will obey their every whim. Nobody will make fun of a child’s functional illiteracy when that child could unleash a Blastoise capable of breaking every bone in their body with a spray of highly pressurised water.

Lesser minds will doubt the wisdom of putting Pokémon that could destroy buildings or commit mass murder with ease in the hands of a child. “Can we trust a kid to properly raise an Alakazam, a Pokémon whose incredible mental acumen makes our human minds look like primitive adding machines?” Absolutely. For with great power comes great responsibility, and our children will quickly learn just how great this responsibility is. Yes, mistakes will be made. But we all know the old saying, “When you fall off a Ponyta, you remember to put on Kevlar pants before you get back on.” We live in an age where organised criminals that dress like background dancers from a 1980s music video are trying to destroy the world. How could our children do any worse?

Now, what of us? The educated professors, the intelligentsia? Our role will be to encourage these future Pokémon masters, to guide them from the comfort of our laboratories. We’re the greatest minds of our generation. Why should we risk our lives in the field when willing and eager youth could do it for us? I’m not about to try to avoid being trampled to death by wild Taurus that keep popping out of tall grass. That’s a young man’s game.

I believe that the Pokéball will herald a new dawn of knowledge and understanding between human and Pokémon. And I believe that sending uneducated children into the wilderness without any training or supplies on a mission to capture the most dangerous creatures known to man will lead to better life lessons than anything a “school” could teach. Our children and their Pokémon are the inheritors of Earth. Do we want any but the strongest amongst them to lead humanity forward? Geometry class isn’t going anywhere. But the wild dragon that shoots lasers from its eyes could be caught by another trainer. Would you rather your children master chemistry, or master Pokémon that can control the primal forces of the universe?

Thank you for your time. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go give three of my Pokémon away to aspiring young trainers. I will then encourage the child that chooses the fire Pokémon to battle the child that chooses the water Pokémon. Watching your new best friend immediately be beaten to a pulp is just another way of learning to grow up.

4 Ways Grand Theft Auto V Shows Off Every Flaw of Modern Gaming

This piece is a column I sold to Cracked that never ran because of a scheduling conflict. While I generally try to keep to my own style on this site, I didn’t want to let this one go to waste. 

Grand Theft Auto V is the entertainment event of the year. It raked in over a billion dollars in just three days, a record for every form of media. By the time sales start to slow the developers at Rockstar will have enough money to make Scrooge McDuck’s fortune look like chump change. If they make it rain in the club, everyone will drown. They’ll need to hire a maid whose only job is to clean up after their money fights. The game’s a big success, is what I’m trying to say here.

But while GTAV is certainly fun, it’s not without its flaws. And that’s worrying, because these flaws aren’t just little bugs—they’re examples of everything that’s wrong with modern gaming. So in-between taking prostitutes for rides in helicopters that you then crash into other, less fortunate prostitutes, see if you notice that…

4. The Industry Still Has No Idea how to Connect Story with Gameplay

Everyone, I’d like you to meet Michael.



Michael, one of GTAV’s three playable characters, is a retired criminal who’s drawn back into the lifestyle by boredom, family problems and the fact that playing a game where you do nothing but watch a guy drink scotch and reminisce about the old days would be called Sim Visit Grandpa. Since he robs banks for a living he’s obviously no boy scout, but he’s still an affable guy that tries to keep his criminal acts clean.

In the game’s first mission, Michael and I killed 26 cops.

Every single one was a week from retirement.

Every single one was a week from retirement.

To put that in perspective, only two police officers were killed in California (the state GTAV is set in) in all of 2012. I’ve killed more than two cops in GTAV by accidentally backing over them.

The bodies pile up like they’re in a Rambo movie because having more people to shoot is more fun. It wouldn’t be an exciting bank robbery if you only had to tie up a couple of underpaid, apathetic guards who are just trying to work their way through night school. You can’t ramp an exploding motorcycle onto the jerk who stole your parking spot in reality, so why should a virtual robbery be any more realistic?

“You can park in the handicapped spot from now on! Except I… I probably murdered you.”

“You can park in the handicapped spot from now on! Except I… I probably murdered you.”

But think about this in terms of storytelling. I don’t care if you’re the bastard child of Jeffrey Dahmer and Cobra Commander; killing 26 people is going to mess with your head. Michael shouldn’t be kicking back in a sundrenched mansion, he should be a depressed, PTSD-riddled alcoholic.

And that was just the prologue. By now I’ve single-handedly lead the funeral industry into a golden age, but there’s no indication that Michael is bothered by it. He never even mentions that he’s created enough widows to form a weirdly themed baseball league, because if he did he’d be drawing attention to how fundamentally ridiculous the game’s violence is. But his indifference makes this likeable guy I’m supposed to care about look like a murderous sociopath.

Unless… was everyone I killed secretly a rich, puppy kicking neo-Nazi?

Unless… was everyone I killed secretly a rich, puppy kicking neo-Nazi?

As long as video games fail to weave gameplay and story together every character is going to come across as schizophrenic. In an early mission with a different character, Franklin, he gives his buddy shit for always getting them in trouble while he’s trying to keep a low profile. This is after I arrived at the end of a 10 minute police chase in a stolen car, during which I accidentally mowed down at least three pedestrians. Triple vehicular homicide is generally frowned upon, but Franklin and the game treated it as if it had never happened.

GTAV is far from the only game to suffer from this absurd disconnect (BioShock Infinite, for example, is the tale of a man who rescues a girl by murdering an entire city), but its wild success and rave reviews means that this is what the mainstream media and casual gamers will associate with good storytelling. And if we let this be the standard, the video game industry isn’t getting its Citizen Kane anytime soon.

Although one of these ladies is named Rosebud in the fanfic I’m writing.

Although one of these ladies is named Rosebud in the fanfic I’m writing.

3. The Industry Still Doesn’t Know how to Portray Women

When you boot up GTAV the first loading screen doesn’t show you the main characters or a sweet ride. It shows you this:

Although one of these ladies is named Rosebud in the fanfic I’m writing.

Now, I’m no prude. I masturbate to my video games just like you do. But that image sums up the role of basically every single female character in the game. They’re either strippers, hookers or sluts, or nags and adulterers keeping men down with their buzzkilling vaginas. I haven’t finished the game yet, so maybe I haven’t met the happily married mother of two who works in marketing and volunteers at the soup kitchen in her spare time, but I’m pretty sure if that happens it will turn out she’s a sex worker who caters to clients with an oddly specific fetish.

“Yeah, baby. Oooh, tell me more about how you’re helping to eliminate the crippling stigmatisation the homeless face.”

“Yeah, baby. Oooh, tell me more about how you’re helping to eliminate the crippling stigmatisation the homeless face.”

The gaming community has gotten better (okay, less awful) at discussing gender, and GTA games are known for their sharp social satire. And yet they’re tone deaf when it comes to women, and few reviews have mentioned the massive gender gap. That sends an uncomfortable message: it’s all well and good to debate the portrayal of women in dinky little games, but when a blockbuster comes out you should run along with your cute little concerns and let the manly bro dudes ogle virtual tits.

And man, there are tits to be had. I’m pretty sure they spent more time working on boob physics than they did on their shitty cover system. Now, as the women I make uncomfortable on the bus know, I have nothing against looking at boobs. But if the best you can think to do with women in your game is to take their tops off and expect me to giggle because ha ha, breasts, I’m going to be insulted. I’m not 12 years old, you’re not blowing my mind. I’m looking for good characterisation—if I wanted to see breasts I’d use the webcam I hid in my neighbour’s shower.

To be fair, you also get to see this dude’s balls. Try to control yourselves, ladies.

To be fair, you also get to see this dude’s balls. Try to control yourselves, ladies.

It’s a frustrating problem because it’s so easy to fix. You don’t necessarily need a female protagonist—one of the bigwigs at Rockstar said GTAV has no leading ladies because “the concept of being masculine was so key to this story,” and that’s fair. But how hard would it be to throw in a woman or two that’s not awful?

At the very, very least, the topic of strip clubs and prostitutes is ripe for comedy. GTAV pokes fun at almost every subject you can think of, and yet anything sex related is played oddly straight. Players are watching virtual pole dance routines, and I haven’t received this many pretend blowjobs since I first became old enough to fantasise about sex instead of owning a robot that made cotton candy and helped me solve mysteries. We deserve to be mocked.

Maybe include a feature that makes my mom come visit and express her disappointment in me whenever this is on screen?

Maybe include a feature that makes my mom come visit and express her disappointment in me whenever this is on screen?

2. Game Journalists Still Don’t Know What Journalism Means

Gaming journalists have always been a little too buddy-buddy with developers. You may remember the scandal where a Gamespot editor was fired for giving a bad review to a game that had paid for lots of ads. If you thought things have improved since then, you haven’t read IGN’s “10 Crazy, Awesome Things I Saw and Did in Grand Theft Auto Online.”

Previews are important—they let journalists tell gamers if all the amazing claims developers are making are true or full of more shit than my OKCupid profile.

“Oops, stock market was a typo. I work in the stalk market. Celery doesn’t sell itself!”

“Oops, stock market was a typo. I work in the stalk market. Celery doesn’t sell itself!”

Unless you’re IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey, in which case the definition of journalism is apparently “take your subject’s word for everything without investigating for yourself.” McCaffrey’s piece read like an advertisement written by Don Draper on mescaline. His GTAV experience was supposedly so “wild,” “breathtaking” and “stunning” I’m amazed the guy didn’t have a heart attack. Look, I don’t care how big of an erection a game gives you—your job as a gaming journalist is to set realistic expectations for gamers. It’s fine to be enthusiastic, but if you don’t have a single word of criticism or tempered realism you’re writing a press release, not a preview.

“GTAV will lead you to the true meaning of life! Also, I totally get laid whenever someone sees me playing it!”

“GTAV will lead you to the true meaning of life! Also, I totally get laid whenever someone sees me playing it!”

That’s doubly true if you’re just making shit up. Let’s take the number seven crazy thing Ryan saw and did, which was go to the movies. He hypes it up, but he also says…

Sadly, I wasn’t able to visit a theater during my hands-on time, nor would Rockstar provide any additional details, besides confirming that 16 of you can pack the theater.

So you couldn’t go to the movies, and Rockstar wouldn’t give you any details. So it wasn’t exactly a crazy awesome thing you saw or did, was it? But it’s cool, Rockstar told him it would be great. Well, writing previews just got a whole lot easier! The company said it would be awesome, so it totes will be! Don’t even worry, guys! It’s not like they might lie or exaggerate the quality of their own game to encourage sales!

Was this an isolated incident? I don’t know, and that’s the problem. Reviews of GTAV went on about how cool the elaborate heist missions are, but most failed to mention that 90% of the game in-between heists is driving from destination to destination to perform menial bullshit. In one mission I spent over 20 minutes doing nothing but drive, move fragile shipping containers with industrial equipment and wonder why I had spent 60 dollars on a simulation of a job I could be paid to actually perform in real life.

“Finally! Operating a sensitive crane with terrible controls is why I bought GTAV,” said nobody ever.

Finally! Operating a sensitive crane with terrible controls is why I bought GTAV,” said nobody ever.

Maybe they just didn’t think it was worth mentioning, or maybe they were encouraged not to. Either way, annoyances like that are the entire reason people read reviews. If you’re not going to point out a game’s flaws you’re at best a lousy critic and at worst an ad-man in disguise. Or you’re one of those ad-lizardmen that run the government, but that’s a topic for another day.

1. Gamers Still Care About Technology More Than Gameplay

Spend any length of time reading about GTAV and you’re likely to come across the phrase “technical achievement” (or some variation of it) more often than you’ll find it in articles about the moon landing. And indeed, the game is an amazing technical achievement—Rockstar has created a living, breathing city that’s arguably the most detailed setting in gaming history. But everyone’s so caught up in talking about how your flip-flops actually flip and flop they forget to mention if the game is, you know, fun.

Now, don’t get me wrong—GTAV is fun. I only stopped taking days off work to play it because I ran out of grandmas I could claim had died. But in-between all the sweet motorcycle chases there’s enough frustration and idiocy to bring the experience down a notch.

“If you’re going to use me as an excuse you damn well better let me beat up a few coppers.”

“If you’re going to use me as an excuse you damn well better let me beat up a few coppers.”

For starters, a major plot point is preceded by a yoga mini-game, I guess to cater to GTA’s core fanbase of white suburban soccer moms. I failed a recon mission of a jewelry store because I had the audacity to walk behind the sales counter, despite being given absolutely no indication that this would immediately ruin my criminal career. Then there’s an entire series of missions based on driving a tow truck, after which I’m surprised I didn’t have to fill out tax forms to document the income.

When I tried to land a plane for the first time I crashed into a mountain because I was distracted by crazy camera angles and instructional text written in size 0.5 font, forcing me to redo the entire approach while listening to the exact same dialogue. After several tries I finally managed to land the stupid thing, and my reward was unlocking the flight school. Well, shit, that would have been handy about a dozen new curse words ago. I guess none of the femurfucks at Rockstar thought that one through.

“To land the plane just, you know, whatever.”

“To land the plane just, you know, whatever.”

These are flaws that would be easy to correct, but Rockstar has no incentive to. Review after review gave GTAV a perfect or near-perfect score on the basis of how amazing the technology is. Go to a forum and you’ll see gamers talking about how seeing shadows filtering through tree branches blew their minds. That’s great, but I didn’t buy GTAV to marvel at the beauty of delicate leaves caught in the soft evening sunlight. I bought it to make exploding things slam into other exploding things to create explosions that make more things explode. It’s like Rockstar built the coolest sandbox in the world, but for 50 minutes out of every hour the only thing kids are allowed to do in it is clean out clumps of cat piss.

It’s already easier to make a good looking game than it is to make a good game. That will only get worse with the next generation of consoles. But as long we continue to give blockbusters like GTAV a pass on their flaws because of how pretty they are, developers will have no motivation to improve on tried and true mediocrity. Which means in GTAVI we’ll all be amazed at how we can see every individual blade of grass get caught in the wind as we complete the mandatory two hour lawn mowing mission.

An Open Letter to the Elderly Couple That Keeps Sending me Politically Inaccurate and Openly Racist Chain Emails

Dear Joyce and Dale,

We’ve never met, but you seem like nice folks. You first came to my attention when you sent me an email entitled “WOW! This is Graphic!,” a chain message filled with political “facts” that ranged from technically true but misleading to outright false. Pretty typical chain email stuff. For future reference, John McAfee should not be considered an expert on Obamacare. He is a crazy person.

Despite not having the slightest idea who you two were, this was not unusual. As someone with both a common name and a simple email address I am often the source of mistaken identity. At least half a dozen Mark Hills around the world, not to mention a couple of Megan Hills, a Margaret Hill and many, many more, have no doubt wondered why emails they were expecting were arriving late. I am the reason.

What was unusual is that even after I informed you of your error you continued to contact me. I assumed there was still a misunderstanding about my identity, as you seemed to think I was your Mark Hill with a new email address. Your very polite response to my second email confirmed my hunch. I considered the matter closed.

Then more emails came. They came in groups of four to seven, and were always a mix of sappy inspirational messages, dubious political commentary and messages that were openly and embarrassingly racist. I strongly doubt surveys proved that while white Americans’ greatest fears are terrorist attacks and the death of a spouse, what black Americans fear most are ghosts and registered mail. That you believe this demonstrates a “vast difference” between the races is what’s really “pathetic” and “scary sad.”

Finding a racist on the Internet is about as a remarkable as finding grass on my lawn. But unlike the YouTube and CNN commenters who complain about “negro fagg0ts!!1” destroying the American way of life I can’t simply dismiss the two of you as angry, lonely people. You strike me as anything but angry and lonely. The messages that precede your emails make it clear you come from a loving family and have many dear friends. Joyce, you mentioned that you’re a retired grade school teacher who volunteers at your local hospital. That’s awesome. When I tried to clarify that you had the wrong Mark Hill you replied “Sorry ‘wrong Mark Hill’………just kidding.  I am sure you are a ‘very right Mark Hill’ to your mom & many others.” That’s one of the most adorable things anyone’s ever said to me.

That’s why, even though I barely know you, it pains me to see you forwarding such vile emails. You’re not hateful. You seem like wonderful people. You remind me of the distant American relatives I once visited who kept a lovely home, made the best damn meal I have ever eaten, and politely asked me if my university was home to many of “the gays.”

I don’t know much about you, Joyce and Dale. It appears that you live in the country, or at least embrace country values. You’re getting up there in the years but enjoying retirement. I’d say that you’re stuck in your ways after being raised with backwards views, but then I’d be making as many assumptions as you are. I only had one grandparent who lived long enough for me to see them as a human being with beliefs and opinions rather than as a cookie and cash dispenser, and I can’t imagine her passing along a hateful word about anyone.

With that in mind, I’d like to ask you to please reconsider sending these emails. Not just to me, but to everyone. Your political beliefs are of course yours and yours alone, and while I’m concerned by the number of misleading and flat-out wrong claims you espouse, to debunk them would go well beyond the scope of a simple letter. I fear it would also come across as patronising, which is the complete opposite of my intention. I do hope that you can find the time to look into these issues for yourselves.

What I can tell you is that black Americans are not lazy subhumans trying to live off the sweat and tears of hardworking white people. I can tell you that Muslim Americans are not trying to replace the Constitution with sharia law, and that the goal of Islam as a whole is not to kill or enslave all of the world’s non-believers. I can tell you that they are average people just like you and me. I bet some of them would love the cutesy chain emails you send.

I can tell you this because the black, Muslim and other minority students I went to school with had better things to do than think of ways to steal from or destroy the government. They were busy trying out for the soccer team or worrying about their upcoming math exam or working up the nerve to ask out the cute girl in English class. I suppose it’s possible that the black guy I knew who went off to law school now lives in fear of ghosts and certain categories of mail when he’s not busy stealing my tax dollars at the hospital, but I doubt it.

I use this example, Joyce, because as a former teacher (a profession I greatly admire) you should understand better than anyone the power of education and experience in defeating ignorance. I hope you remember that the next time you’re about to hit Send. You and your husband no doubt worked hard to earn your retirement—please don’t waste a second of your golden years spreading hate.

Respectfully yours,
-The Wrong Mark Hill