RSS Feed

Bad Movies: Pixels

Bad Movies: Pixels

Daenerys Targaryen: “I’m not going to kill you.”

Tyrion Lannister: “No? Banish me?”

Daenerys Targaryen: “No.”

Tyrion Lannister: “So if I’m not going to be murdered and I’m not going to be banished…”

Daenerys Targaryen: “You’re going to play a supporting role in an Adam Sandler movie.”

Movies based on and around video games have existed in Hollywood now for over 20 years, and so far, popular consensus has judged only one of them to be worthy of true greatness. That movie was Wreck-it Ralph, which came out just a few years ago and was well-received by just about everyone, tipped a top hat and winked to those who love video games. Although Wreck-it Ralph featured popular characters from the video game universe, it did so clearly as reference points to watching gamers and spoke to us rather than blatantly pry our wallets open. It understood the appeal of gaming. If I was going to try to deduce a second-place winner, it would be Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but that’s only arguably a video game movie. Maybe Mortal Kombat if you’re in that school of thought, but Mortal Kombat sucked, and in any case this is only a very distant second anyway.

Even though gaming jumped into a mainstream hobby and art form in the last couple of console generations, gamers still have to contend with the old juvenile delinquent stereotypes that resulted in atomic wedgies and wet willies back in the day. Whenever we think we’re making progress in the anti-stereotype march, though, something like Gamergate walks in and decides to reinforce all the anti-social, woman-hating bullshit we still have to contend with whenever we tell people our hobbies include playing video games. The latest offender is Adam Sandler’s latest movie, Pixels, and gamers aren’t the only ones who are going to be dragged down with it. Dan Aykroyd makes a short feed-me cameo. Martha Stewart and Serena Williams are in here too. Toru Iwatani – the creator of Pac-Man – has both a cameo and an actor who plays a fictionalized version of him. Hall and Oates, Dan Patrick, Robert Smigel, and Steve Koren all cameo while Billy West has a short voice role. Jane Krakowski, Sean Bean, and Brian Cox all play small supporting roles while Michelle Monaghan and Peter Dinklage are both in large, important roles. That’s a hell of an impressive talent heist, and you have to wonder who lost what bets to end up appearing in a Happy Madison movie.

While you could make the argument that Pixels could potentially damage the whole Gamergate thing by virtue of portraying the avatars of what most of its followers probably are, that damage is easily nullified by the movie’s attitude toward women: There are three characters without a Y, excluding the cameos, and all of them are basically used as prizes for the men. Yes, even Monaghan, who plays a military Colonel that loves to create and toy around with weird weapons. It’s so bad that one of the characters – a hopeless, socially stunted dweeb named Ludlow – has a shrine built to Lady Lisa, a warrior woman from a fictional game. When Lady Lisa pops out as one of the pixelated bad guys, Ludlow is able to make a grandiose speech to her which results in her immediately switching sides.

Adam Sandler hates his audiences. That much has been clear for some time. Maybe the Sandler who broke through in the mid-90’s could have made Pixels into something worthwhile, but current Sandler is badly out of touch with everyone old enough to remember when he was making good movies. Sandler used to play to the better parts of humanity, but lately he’s begun to morph into an odd comedy version of Robert Altman. If you’re anything close to the film aficionado that I am, that might seem like a bit of a distance, but hear me out: Altman is the patriarch godfather of the mosaic drama movie, but that’s about the only split between him and Sandler. Other than that, both Altman and Sandler’s movies are driven by stereotypes highlighting all the worst aspects of their characters. Plot takes a backseat in both their movies – both of them basically wrote out their plots on their coffee break napkins because they wanted characters to drive the movies. Then they went about creating their characters by writing out the worst archtypes they could think of and drawing them out of a hat. Both catered movies about low-class people at their worst. Ask some pretentious film asshole about Altman, though, and you’re likely to hear farfetched explanations about the great web of humanity, or looks at the worst of… And I always block them out right there because these people are dicks who are lying to everyone, including themselves, and sometimes well enough to even believe their lies. No. Anyone who likes Robert Altman – or at least thinks of him as a great filmmaker – simply hates poor people and is looking for justification to avoid them.

Fortunately, Sandler hasn’t been allowed to get away with this. This is perhaps because Sandler is more straightforward and honest about his hatred. It took all of five minutes for him to establish his character, Sam Brenner, as an antisocial slob who couldn’t get a handle on his life because he lost a video game competition as a teenager. If you make it through the first five minutes of adult Sam’s introduction without feeling a gut urge to punch him, check your pulse. He is working as an installer for a team like the Geek Squad. Sam’s buddy Ludlow is a different kind of antisocial, with his basement shrine to a video game character and his conspiracy theories. Eddie Plant, a gaming champion who gave himself the nickname “Fire Blaster,” the appropriate soul brother of real-world gaming champion Billy Mitchell here. Only Will Cooper managed to detach himself from the contest that ruined everyone’s lives, but Will is played by Kevin James, and Will is also the President of the United States. Most critics have been complaining that James isn’t believable as the Prez, but I don’t think of it as playing the Prez. I think of it as James playing his usual role as an incompetent boob, which he does as well here as anywhere.

During the big 1982 competition that brought these four together for the first time, the government took footage of the games and sent it out to some random grouping of stars in space, hoping to make contact with an alien race. It worked a little too well. See, the aliens did stumble into the footage, and they sort of took it the wrong way. Instead of “let’s be friends,” the message the aliens took from the probe was interpreted as “let’s have a pissing contest for keepsies.” So they found their way to Earth, in the form of late-’70’s and early-’80’s-era video game characters, rudely issued their challenge, and started knocking down everything in sight. The Army has been preparing odd weapons which could be used to ward off such an invasion, of course, and what those weapons were originally going to be used for is never explained.

Explanations are perhaps not the point, though. Maybe I’m just thinking too hard about Pixels. But I did find the inconsistency of the video game scenes a little odd. During one attack, the aliens are attacking in the form of the bad guys from Centipede while the good guys stand on the ground, firing away. The next attack revolves around Pac-Man, and Pac-Man is the bad guy. The good guys drive cars based off the four ghosts that chase Pac-Man through the maze. The final act is a splurge of references that director Chris Columbus places onscreen but can’t seem to quite be able to field marshall.

That brings me to one of the major problems: The video game references are nothing but references. This is Sandler directly lifting pages right out of The Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer Book of Filmmaking: References don’t have to be anything but references! All they have to do is get the audience to say “hey, look what it is!” The game references don’t do much that’s creative or original with the material. To reference my favorite video game movie again, look at Wreck-It Ralph. It turned the classic video game Root Beer Tapper into a bar where video game characters met and chatted after hours. Tapper’s bar came complete with a lost and found which contained a mushroom from the Mario series, a warning exclamation point from the Metal Gear Solid games, and a pair of Zangief’s briefs. Ralph met up with a group of popular video game villains who were having trouble dealing with being the fall guy all the damn time. The contrast is used perfectly with Q*Bert: In Wreck-It Ralph, Q*Bert was a sympathetic character whose game got taken away from the arcade. We felt for him because he got placed into a bad situation, but later he was the one who clued Felix in to what Ralph was up to. In Pixels, Q*Bert is given away by the aliens as a prize. He’s more or less a MacGuffin, and Pixels movie laws can’t figure out what to do with him. He gives the good guys some useful information after the bad guys give him away, only for the bad guys to refer to him as a traitor after he does so. Um, hey aliens, you do realize Q*Bert was simply playing by your own rules, right? Then he turns into a permanent version of Lady Lisa for Ludlow at the end, a creepy turn of events which even the movie calls itself out for!

This isn’t to denounce Pixels completely. By any measure, the special effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen. They rank right up there with Tron Legacy, Transformers, and those all-time barometers of movie special effects, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Star Wars trilogy. They become the star in the final leg of the movie, and for a few brief shining moments, Pixels becomes tolerable. And despite my opening mocking Peter Dinklage’s casting, Dinklage is one of the few actors in Pixels who really throws himself into his part as Eddie Plant. Dinklage is delightfully over the top, and his performance – which channels the charismatic egomaniacism of the real Billy Mitchell – is such a joy to watch that it’s almost enough to rescue Pixels from being unwatchable. More moments with him and Pixels could have been elevated from bad bad into fun bad. Also, Sandler’s buddy, the insufferable Nick Swardson, isn’t in here to obliterate it. Unfortunately, it’s too little, and you’ll get more out of the two-minute short from Patrick Jean.

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

In March of last year, Time Out Chicago published a list of particular sentences and thoughts which people who had lived in Chicago for awhile could use to identify you as not being from Chicago. People loved the damn thing, and I dropped into a few other city blogs to check if other places followed suit. New Orleans did, and Portland tried, although no one ever published a full list for that city. Now, its been about a year and a half since Time Out Chicago published it, and after giving it some thought, I’ve decided its time for a Buffalo booster to punch up a list of 51. True to Buffalo’s form, though, no one here seems to have found out about Time Out Chicago’s idea. Buffalo is, of course, always three decades behind the times and current trends, so although it took me a years and a half to create my own list in response, I’m actually well ahead of the curve in Buffalo time. Note that if you’re stupid enough to say some of these things in public here – like number six – the people in this city are legally obligated to kill you.

1 – “Buffalo wings.”

2 – “Let’s be honest: The Bills never stood a chance against the Giants in that Super Bowl anyway.”

3 – “Main Place Mall is obviously the best hangout spot. There’s always a lot to see there.”

4 – “Don’t worry about having beer if you get snowed in. Tea is a fine substitute.”

5 – “Why go all the way to Mighty Taco? Taco Bell is closer. It’s just as good.”

6 – “I’m glad Buffalo Wild Wings is in the area. They know how it’s done!”

7 – “Why go to Canada to drink underage? You can buy a perfectly good fake ID here.”

8 – “The NFTA is working exactly like it’s supposed to. It’s doing a great job.”

9 – “I got caught in a traffic jam on the skyway during rush hour.”

10 – “Dolphins are mammals, not fish!”

11 – “Buffalo ’66 needs a sequel.”

12 – “Call the ballpark by its proper name: Coca-Cola Field.”

13 – “Nobody gives a crap about Irish lineage!”

14 – “I’m sensing an impending boom in heavy industry.”

15 – “I just don’t understand the logic of carving a chunk of butter into a lamb shape.”

16 – “Look, I don’t know my neighbors, so I don’t see why I should dig them out of five feet of snow just because.”

17 – “The Convention Center really adds to the aesthetic of the city.”

18 – “UB’s North Campus is easy to get to. You just can’t miss it.”

19 – “Tim Horton may be a hockey legend, but his donuts suck.”

20 – “I would prefer the pleasant natural smells of a typical city downtown area to the Cheerio smell infesting our downtown.”

21 – “All those one-way streets make navigation downtown a snap!”

22 – “Albany really sticks its neck out for us. We’re lucky to have them.”

23 – “Why does everyone like Rob Ray so much? He was a thug who never did anything for the community!”

24 – “Not having salt potatoes for the Fourth of July barbeque isn’t the end of the world.”

25 – “Ani DiFranco? That name doesn’t ring any bells.”

26 – “Who could possibly go running in this snow?”

27 – “The people in University Heights are so quiet and well-mannered.”

28 – “Summer here is gross. An average high of 80 degrees? Way too high.”

29 – “The view from the American side is just as good.”

30 – “I wish we had more New York City-style pizza joints. They do the best pizza downstate.”

31 – “The Albright-Knox doesn’t have anything interesting.”

32 – “All those Wrights and Sullivans need to be razed for more modern steel buildings.”

33 – “The Skylon is perfect for a first date.”

34 – “The Taste of Buffalo is just a low-budget version of the Taste of Chicago.”

35 – “Coffee? Starbucks, of course!”

36 – “I’m glad Niagara Falls axed the Festival of Lights.”

37 – “The city’s 4 AM Closing Time is absurd and needs to be cut back a couple of hours.”

38 – “What’s a weck?”

39 – “No, I don’t think my relatives would be interested in seeing The Falls.”

40 – “You know, it wouldn’t kill anyone to hold the annual pond hockey tournament at an indoor rink for once.”

41 – “William McKinley had it coming.”

42 – “$700 for a single-bedroom apartment is a steal. If you get that price, jump on it.”

43 – “Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer? Overrated. Now The Buffalo News – there’s a shining beacon of great journalism!”

44 – “Three words when it comes to grocery shopping: Anywhere but Wegman’s.”

45 – “I wish Buffalo was more like New York City.”

46 – “The 1999 Stanley Cup Final was a long time ago and Brett Hull scored a good goal. Get over it!”

47 – “Another parking lot downtown would really improve the view.”

48 – “Don’t worry about potholes. They don’t exist here.”

49 – “Why would you move to North Carolina?”

50 – “I don’t see why this city thinks it’s so tough.”

51 – “I’m still waiting for Brian Higgins to run for President.”

No Cycling Allowed

No Cycling Allowed

I took to trudging across the Transit Road bridge recently and picked up six nails. SIX. This is one of the major quirks I developed after I turned into a cyclist: Every time I’m out just walking, I stop and pick up every nail and screw I see discarded along the side of a road. I certainly wouldn’t want anything sharp puncturing my tire, especially if I’m far from either my house or a bicycle shop where I can get a quick fix.

I don’t think I’m making some far-out, absurd request by wanting a road shoulder free of debris so I can ride my bicycle without worrying about anything. Finding nails and screws on the side of a bridge is a very special kind of weird, though, because it isn’t like anyone has their houses or garages set up along the shoulder of the bridge. Most of these dangerous video game spikey points aren’t old and worn out bits which fell off the back of an old pickup truck, either – they’re new and ready to make their first stabbin’. This begs the question of how these pieces of debris manage to find their way out onto a bridge which is suspended a hundred feet in the air and which takes five minutes to walk across on foot. This bridge is dangerous enough as it is; the shoulder is maybe 18 inches, and that’s a generous estimate. There’s no sidewalk, which I guess is natural of a spot designed to keep people away from civilization at every possible cost. The section of road the bridge is placed on is essentially a freeway, and the only other way to cross the creek at this section of it is to walk over a mile along a twisting road to a whole other bridge which also lacks a shoulder, but is elevated much lower and is much shorter.

When I pick up the screws and nails, I just throw them out. What I would like to do is throw them out in the middle of the street in the hopes that they start popping tires in endless succession. Maybe they could cause a pileup.

Okay, I’m just ranting right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that debris-filled road shoulders present one of those great frying-pan-or-fire dilemmas for cyclists: Do we risk getting run over in the main road, or risk the debris on the shoulder? The dilemma itself doesn’t exactly stand on its own, but is instead a symptom of a larger problem: The city’s problem with bicycling. This is something Buffalo like to pretend doesn’t exist, and the city’s boosters love to hold up the shiny Bronze-level award given to it by the League of American Bicyclists to say “look at how great we are to bicyclists!” The Bronze-level award, though, is basically a door prize. Here’s the uncomfortable truth regarding the bicycle-friendliness awards handed out by the League of American Bicyclists: That Bronze-level award is the lowest of five tiers of bicycle-friendly awards. To be fair, I’m assuming the requirements to meet the League’s top-level statuses are pretty demanding. The Diamond-level award, which is the top level, was handed to precisely zero cities. Platinum-level is the second-highest, and it was given out to only four cities: Boulder, Colorado; Davis, California; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon. My thoughts on that selection go like this: First, you knew Portland was going to be there. Second, of those four cities, the places people would actually visit are Portland and maybe Boulder.

The further you get down the awards list, the more the League loves handing them out. The Silver-level tier has a whopping 75 cities on it. There are at least a couple hundred sitting on top of the Bronze-level seats. It’s clear the League is giving out its Bronze-level awards to any city that isn’t actively outlawing bicycling. The Bronze-level list also includes suburbs: Batavia and Naperville, relatively close suburbs of Chicago, both have Bronze-level awards. North Little Rock is pretty much exactly what and where is written on its tin, and is similarly honored even though the real Little Rock didn’t make the cut.

This begs the question: What creates a bicycle-friendly community? Although the League of American Bicyclists claims it decides for “providing safe accommodation and facilities for bicyclists and encouraging residents to bike for transportation and recreation,” it seems to be flying solely by infrastructure, which is a mistake. A few miles of bicycle paths doesn’t make a city bicycle-friendly, and let’s be honest: A few miles of bicycle paths don’t necessarily mean the city added bicycle paths, either. They mean the city painted a few arbitrary lines on a road which is sometimes a little too narrow, which can endanger the cyclists. One website recently called out a popular bicycle publication because the publication placed New York City at the top of its list of best cycling cities, even though the argument for the city’s bicycle scene consisted almost solely of bicycle paths.

A quick Google search pops up a single result for bicycle tours in Buffalo: Buffalo Pedal Tours. Buffalo Pedal Tours offers bicycle tours at a price that’s a steal… For Buffalo Pedal Tours. The privilege of having a professional guide show you the pedal-view of Buffalo is close to $150 per hour. In the meantime, Chicago has Free Tours by Foot, which is a misleading name that offers bicycle tours and still has a name-your-price option. Their website brags about tours which cost about $40 per person. Bobby’s Bike Hike’s most expensive tour is $60. Looking for bicycle rentals in Buffalo brings up five results, all of which are primarily dealers or mechanics. Chicago has nine or ten places where you can rent. Although most of them are also shops and mechanics, there are at least three that deal exclusively with rentals.

Let’s talk about the one factor no one wants to mention: Peoples’ attitudes toward bicycling. Attitude is the angry elephant. It’s the difference between an onlooker asking a few curious questions or assaulting you, and whether or not your assailant gets away with it. Buffalo’s attitude toward cycling is to basically liken it to a form of witchcraft. Even if those little nuts and bolts I mentioned in the opening were removed, cars in Buffalo are still mistaken for weapons when a cyclist is spotted on the side of the road. Those while lines which are supposed to designate the bicycle lanes are more or less suggestions, and if a motorist is approaching while particularly close to the side of the road, the chances of them moving or give or take, even if they have all the space in the world on the other side. Some of these people have the gall to honk or even scream at you on the way by. I ride my bicycle to visit my bank which, despite being several miles down the road, is only a half hour away on the pedal. The distance gets treated like some insurmountable obstacle course involving several canyons and volcanoes, even by people who know I once worked as a bicycle messenger and have therefore lost all concept of the term “cycling distance.”

You would think Buffalo would have a little more understanding of how useful bicycles are. They’re cheap, you don’t have to buy gas for them, they’re accessible to places you can’t get cars into, and the suburban infrastructure is basically laid out in a lot of places so the people have to cross the furthest possible distances to get to civilization. Then again, we’re up against gas and automobile companies which view anything less than living in your car as a blowout loss.

Buffalo isn’t anything close to an ideal bicycling city. For it to improve, we need to see a mass influx of better cycling services, more bicycle rental and tour places, trails that aren’t painted on, and a friendlier infrastructure. But for that to happen, the people also need to start looking at bicycling as something greater than a game they learned as kids.

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

When I first moved to Chicago, I knew instantly that I was going to become a Blackhawks and Bulls fan. They played my favorite sports, and I wanted to fit in with the community, so my adoption of my new teams complimented my longtime fandom of the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia 76ers perfectly. In hockey, everything came easy for me. For basketball… Well, when I took off for Chicago, I had been a Sixers fan only since 2002, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay one. The player I wanted to support wasn’t with them anymore, and he may have been out of the NBA completely by then. So, sick of explaining my loyalty to the Sixers, I started trying on new teams, seeing how they fit. Although I did eventually find my way back to the Sixers, in 2007 an unexpected run to the playoffs by a virtually unseen team called the Golden State Warriors caught my attention. They traded several of their lynchpins, won only a couple more games than they lost, squeezed into the eighth playoff spot on a technicality… And totally upended the Dallas Mavericks – the best team in the league – in the first round. While that upset wasn’t the shocker everyone acts like it was – the Warriors were actually undefeated against the Mavericks in the regular season – I still thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The Warriors were immediately placed onto my watch list, and I’ve been cheering for them ever since. Something about the Golden State Warriors just felt right.

This last season in both leagues, there was an odd synchronicity between four of the five teams I like. The Sabres found a place in history by literally being a worse hockey team than any since the 1930’s, while the Sixers – who hold the distinction of fielding the worst team in NBA history for a season in the 1970’s – were just as awful, and probably would have been the worst team in the NBA this year had the New York Knicks not started making an effort to tank during the middle of the season. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks and Warriors were both favorites to win their leagues. The Warriors, in fact, were historically good; they played on the level of the 1983 Sixers, 1996 Bulls, or 1986 Boston Celtics. The Blackhawks had an unusual season. For a month, they couldn’t find the net; their star player was badly injured around the halfway point; and they limped into the playoffs on a losing streak. Both teams, though, pulled through and won their titles, and I followed my teams the whole way through, screaming like a lunatic. I also started asking myself, with the season similarities between the NHL and NBA, which league did its playoffs better. So let’s do this! The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs. One day, I’ll learn.

Big Prize
The NBA has the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. It has a 24-karat gold overlay, but is made of 14.5 pounds of sterling silver and vermeil. It’s two feet tall and designed to be a very basic cup with a quixotic little detail: There’s a sphere attached to the rim of the cup, so the Larry O’Brien Trophy looks like a basketball falling into a net. The team that wins it gets its name engraved onto the side along with the year, and the team gets to keep the trophy until it rots. The trophy has also undergone something of an identity crisis: The original NBA Championship Trophy was a more traditional cup design which was named after Walter A. Brown – the original owner of the Boston Celtics and a man who was instrumental in merging the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) – starting in 1964. The original design was junked in 1977, but Brown’s name was attached to it until 1984, when it was renamed. The NHL offers its Champions the Stanley Cup, which was originally bought by Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892 and named the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup. Like the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it evolved slowly into the form everyone knows and loves today. Starting as a glorified punch bowl that was seven inches tall and 11 inches wide, that first punch bowl design is now what caps off an iconic trophy which is 35 inches tall and 34 pounds. There’s no copy of it made for the winners every year, either – the names of the players for the winning team are engraved on the side, and the team keeps it for a year, or however long it takes for them to lose it. The Stanley Cup even acknowledges the lockout of the 2004-2005 season, by simply stating “season not played.”
Winner

The NHL and the Stanley Cup! The Larry O’Brien Trophy is a nice thing to win, and the quirky design certainly stands out. Design, however, will only win so many points against a trophy with an entire mythology surrounding it that Zeus would be proud of. The Larry O’Brien Trophy is handed to a handful of players on the team, then given to the owner, at least during the public presentation. The Stanley Cup is handed to every member of the team to skate around with for a minute, then everyone pauses and surrounds it for a team picture. During the locker room celebration, players drink beer out of it! Every player then gets to spend a day with the Cup. As you can imagine, this has resulted in some anecdotes which add to the Cup’s mythos. The Stanley Cup has made its way into a swimming pool; one player from the Chicago Blackhawks was pushed around The Loop in a wheelbarrow with it; and people have found uses for the Cup including a baptismal font, flower pot, dog food dish, and paper incinerator. It has marched in the Gay Pride Parade. Even the misspelled engraving on the Cup are legends. The most telling aspect of the trophy contest, however, is the fact that the NBA is adopting publicity techniques used by the NHL and the Stanley Cup in order to gain more popular recognition for the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

Star Power
Every sports league has a shortlist of galactic superstars, and every team has a face. The NBA has nationally known names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, and Carmelo Anthony headlining it. The NHL has familiar players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, and John Tavares in its ranks. The NHL, though, sees games as team efforts, and so, of a 60-minute game, your favorite players will average somewhere between 20-24 minutes on the ice in a single game, all sparsed out in shifts of a couple of minutes. This means unknown players will get chances to play hero, and some unknown but prominent players will have a chance to shine. How could anyone forget the manic, possessed performance of Anaheim Ducks (still known then as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere during the 2003 playoffs? Or Cam Ward outdueling Ryan Miller during the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals? Okay, they’re cheating a little, because they’re goalies, but there are plenty of other instances: The May Day goal, a series-winner scored by Sabres enforcer Brad May in 1993; Chicago’s Bryan Bickell emerging as a playoff monster in 2013, putting 17 points on the board during the playoffs, including the equalizer in game six with 76 seconds to go in regulation; and Daniel Briere – an All-Star during his time in Buffalo, but otherwise a write-off expense everywhere else – leading all playoff scoring with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. NBA games are shorter – they run for 48 minutes, divided into four 12-minute quarters. The average starter on an NBA team can easily be on the court for around a half hour, while the team’s superstars can be out for 40 minutes. While a lot of sportswriters like to huff on breathlessly about how stars in the NBA keep stepping up in the playoffs, you don’t see very many of them mentioning the fact that NBA coaches run their teams in a way that allows their stars to accumulate thousands of points per game. That makes the NBA more of an individualistic showcase for its best players, who are expected to stay on the hardwood doing everything in two directions. Game plans and gambling lines are drawn up with an NBA team’s stars in mind, and more often than not, the stars deliver, and most of them turn in laudable efforts even when their teams lose. When we attack NBA stars for choking, that comes with context – most of them actually do just fine, and we’re tearing them down for a singular aspect of their games that just happened to be off at a bad time.
Winner
The NBA. Basketball is a high-scoring sport in which players can put points on the board in bunches. While I do give hockey’s team mentality all the credit in the world, the short shifts, short overall playtime, and low scoring mean stars can disappear in the playoffs more easily than we care to acknowledge. You can see the difference in the way the playoffs are advertised: The NHL tends to emphasize the cities, while the NBA can get away with placing more emphasis on individual players. You don’t see “Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks take on Steve Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning;” it’s just the Blackhawks against the Lightning. You do see a lot of that in the NBA. Everyone knows LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and that HIS Finals opponent, Stephen Curry, was voted the league MVP. Their respective teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, were only mentioned by sportswriters when they wrote first about how the Warriors had better players and would inevitably crush the Cavaliers in four games, then later about how the Cavaliers were overcoming their lack of talent to turn it into a series. In the light of NBA history, this is even more prominent: Everyone knows about the rivalry between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, but who besides NBA fans can name their teams? Later, it became Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rescuing the league from oblivion and turning it into a juggernaut. To a casual fan, this is an important distinction. After all, a casual fan looking to see what the hype is about can easily miss great plays by star hockey players; if they’re looking to see what the NBA is about, a star can put on a hell of a show every night.

Game Flow
The flow of a game is important. It can make or break the memorability and entertainment value of a playoff game. Both basketball and hockey are known as very fast sports, but both the NHL and NBA have had major issues with teams exploiting dumb rules to create championship defenses: The NBA has the San Antonio Spurs, and the NHL has the New Jersey Devils. Both of them exploited loopholes and created slow, boring versions of their sports which required the leagues to take action. Other than them, both sports have rules that stop play for ridiculous reasons. The NBA seems more prone to them, because it has so many more, but the NHL’s play stoppages take more time to sort out. In the NBA, the ball is merely handed to a player on the other team for a quick inbounds pass, while NHL stoppages require an entire face-off. The NBA also has shorter between-period intermissions and a single real halftime, compared to two halftimes in hockey games. Both sports also have very different ways of settling close games in the final minutes – the NHL has the empty net, in which the goalie is removed in favor of an extra attacker, while the NBA starts using intentional fouls.
Winner
The NHL. Even hardcore NBA fans will admit basketball is a sport in which close games are only entertaining if one team starts to pull away during the final few minutes. Otherwise, everything becomes a pattern of free throws, intentional fouling, strategic inbounding, and timeouts; it’s not unusual for a close NBA playoff game to take 15 minutes to play the final minute. In the meantime, there’s hockey, taking the goalie out of the net, and then speeding up as the team that’s down and which removed their goalie fights frantically to score the goal that forces overtime. If you’re a fan of one of the teams in a hockey playoff game, I’ll grant that last minute can feel like an eternity. But the NHL wins here because in the NBA, that final minute can be a true eternity, not to mention a joyless bore to watch.

Storylines
A casual fan can get caught up in a good storyline revolving around the playoffs, and so the narratives tend to get pushed by the leagues. Good storylines are why the baseball playoffs still have pull, even though the sport has now sucked beyond belief for three years and the measures being taken to speed it up are fairly half-assed (although, to MLB’s credit, they do seem to be working). Sometimes the stories are rich in history and tradition: In 2008 and 2010, the NBA saw the renewal of its oldest and fiercest rivalry: The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers played against each other in the Finals, with Boston winning the former and Los Angeles taking the latter. In 2010, the NHL got a juicy Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, two of its oldest teams, neither of which had much to brag about lately; Chicago was fighting against a curse which was about to hit the wrong side of 50, and the generally excellent Flyers had been choking in the Final since their most recent Cup in 1975. Then again, they can go the other way as well: The 2003 Stanley Cup Final was between the Devils and Ducks; or, to put it in terms the fans looked at it in, the team everyone hated for ruining hockey against the team everyone hated because its name evoked a popular Disney movie. The NBA frequently ends up turning to its marquee stars to sell the matchup, but they can get away with it: Magic vs. Bird always meant compelling basketball. When that rivalry petered out, the league turned to asking if Michael Jordan could ever be a winner, and was lucky to be able to add the double whopper when Jordan’s first Finals opponent was Magic. When Jordan left, there was the New York Knicks finally getting past Chicago, but could they win the title everyone wanted and expected them to win? The Finals this year has the best story in eons: LeBron James returns to his original team to make up for his past sins, but can he lead the Cavaliers to their first-ever title in their 45 years of existence? Can the Warriors win the Finals for the first time since 1975? You would think the NHL had a bigger problem in selling stories, since nearly half its teams were created in the 90’s, but not really: 1994 gave us the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, one team 54 years without a Cup and the other Cup-less since its 1970 creation. 2001 asked if Ray Bourque could finally win that Cup everyone thought he so richly deserved. The expansions have worked surprisingly well for the NHL in terms of playoff storylines because since the Original Six finally began its resurgence in 1993, fans have been able to enjoy a respectable combination of the old powerhouses and their new usurpers, and the unpredictability of the playoffs meant new faces and new possible upsets, forever vaulting newer teams into the Final. In that respect, even the teams we all hate have given fans good stories, whether the teams we hate are old powers looking to return to their thrones (the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs) or new teams trying to carve a niche for themselves and saying they deserve the respect traditionalists all have saved for the old teams (the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and even the Phoenix Coyotes a couple of years back). The greater possibility of upsets in the NHL also lends a hand, because it ensures a unique Cinderella story every year – the 2003 Western Conference Finals might have been one-sided, but you can’t say the series between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Minnesota Wild didn’t begin with an interesting premise.
Winner
The NHL. The random aspect of the NHL playoffs allow for the creation of more unexpected stories on the fly. Meanwhile, the old teams and new teams in the NHL ensure that a lot of fans will be watching – they’ll be snagged by the possibility of the new teams going down in flames. The biggest decider, though, is the fact that the NBA still runs on a hierarchy. While the NBA can get away with promoting individual stories over team stories, this hierarchy doesn’t leave it with much of a choice. There are some upsets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but but generally, the teams in the Finals are going to be the best teams in the league. This season has been an exception, and if the San Antonio Spurs had beaten the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, it wouldn’t have been much of an exception. The NBA seems to like the hierarchy because it makes marketing easier, and it can concentrate on the popular teams instead of odd teams like the Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, or Oklahoma City Thunder. More on this later.

Parity
Every team has to have a decent chance of winning a title once or twice. If they don’t, a sports league becomes a secondary plot to one or two teams which dominate every season, and what fun is that? Why would anyone cheer for a team unless they believed the team had at least an outside shot at a title every now and then? The NHL is good at delivering new teams to the playoffs; it probably helps that it introduced a million different new teams to the league in the 90’s. Given the frequently-close nature of hockey games, unexpected teams have been able to make deep playoff runs. Although the NHL playoffs are known as a gauntlet, they’re usually pretty good at weeding out teams that aren’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup, although there have been a few notable exceptions: The 1938 Blackhawks somehow won the damn thing, despite having a putrid 14-25-9 record, scoring fewer goals than anyone, any allowing more than all but one team – before the Original Six era. The 2006 Edmonton Oilers were also a very pedestrian team, and the 1996 Florida Panthers – who were in just their third year of existence – made it to the Final with bits and pieces still fresh from being cobbled together from the expansion draft. In hockey, a lot is reliant on lucky bounces and good goaltending – the late 90’s-era Buffalo Sabres were notorious for making deep playoff runs because they had the greatest goalie in the world and no one else. (Okay, Miroslav Satan if we’re being nice.) In basketball, things are much different – the teams with the best athletes usually turn out to be the best teams, and so any and all teams that managed to squeak into the playoffs by a hair will be out before the Finals. Yes, we sometimes see great players carrying teams on deep runs, but teams without some sort of superstar power generally don’t stand a chance in hell. The Detroit Pistons’ 2004 Championship was a shocker at the time, but they were helmed by a superstar coach, Larry Brown. The 2007 Golden State Warriors hadn’t lost a game against the Dallas Mavericks all during the regular season, so their famous upset wasn’t as incredible as everyone thinks. (It was still pretty cool, though, so much that I started following the Warriors afterward.) The seeding and regular season records usually make things predictable in the NBA playoffs. There’s a lot of writing about NBA teams that had no business being in the Finals, but there have only been four Finals teams below a third seed: The 1978 Seattle Supersonics; the 1981 Houston Rockets (who had a losing record); the 1995 Houston Rockets (who managed to win the whole damn thing); the 1999 New York Knicks (in a lockout-shortened year during which every team fell out of shape); and the 2006 Dallas Mavericks.
Winner
The NHL. Much as I respect great athleticism, I want my team to have a reasonable shot in the playoffs, even if they do rely on their goalie getting hot at the right time. The random puck physics and streakiness of hockey teams have prevented the rise of a true hierarchy in the NHL. Meanwhile, the question in the NBA is usually more “how” and less “who.” The result is that, with the exception of the 70’s – when eight different teams won Championships – the NBA can be easily divided up into eras, with only sporadic aberrations like the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers or 2011 Mavericks. Even the Pistons and Rockets won their Championships in two-year spurts during eras where they were great but others were simply better. Since my birth in 1981, we’ve had the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics dominate the 80’s; the Chicago Bulls owned the 90’s; the Millennium was all about the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers again; and this decade is shaping up to be more random, but we still had the Miami Heat in the Finals for four straight years, as well as a Western Conference so dominant that there are constant calls for realignment. I’ll grant that the NHL was the same way for a long time, but that hasn’t been the case in awhile. The Original Six era was one of NCAA-level corruption, and we can safely assume that when the NHL finally gave in to expansion, it was done by the original owners in the hopes that the other teams would just be carpets for the Original Six. Then the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 – beating the Buffalo Sabres in 1975, who came from the 1969 expansion – and the Original Six probably shrugged those off as bones thrown to fans. They didn’t realize their years were over until the New York Islanders and Oilers won everything in sight during the 80’s, and since then the Original Six have been occasional winners against random teams from the Expansion Eras. And every member of the Original Six that won went through an extensive drought.

Show of Athleticism
The NBA and NHL both give us fluid and spectacular athleticism, although they are also both prone to bad stereotypes; basketball is frequently viewed as a long slog played by lazy players which any tall person can dominate, while hockey is seen as a glorified boxing match played on ice. Hockey, though, has the ability to turn its players into human battering rams. To play hockey at the highest level, a player has to have a certain awareness of where his body is going and what it’s capable of. Hockey players aren’t just fighting against other hockey players – they’re also competing with the surface. While performing a group of difficult-to-learn athletic skills, the hockey player has to also be playing a whole other sport, and the skills to stop, change direction without slowing down too much, and control a small rubber disc which is ruled by its own laws of physics. Basketball offers more what-you-see-is-what-you-get athleticism. Basketball players punch the laws of physics in the face. There’s no extra insider understanding of human movement, physics, kinesiology, or the sport necessary for people to understand what they’re seeing. When Chris Paul throws a perfectly-timed layup pass to Blake Griffin while Griffin is two and a half feet off the ground, which Griffin slams into the net, everyone who sees it understands they’ve just seen something superhuman.
Winner
The NBA. The athleticism and skill you can see in the NHL is a lot more subtle, and it tends to be lost on casual viewers if it’s a dump and chase game; or if a team is using the Neutral Zone Trap; or when four guys are trying to dig the puck out of the corner. Meanwhile, if a sports fan from Europe visited the United States and asked what our sports offer to match the spectacular athletes we see in European Soccer, the NBA is what you would show them.

The NBA has its merits, but there’s nothing like a white-knuckle playoff hockey game which goes into multiple overtimes. Unless you’re a fan of one of the teams playing. Then it’s just torturous.

The Newfound Sexism of Atheism

The Newfound Sexism of Atheism

Recently, one of my favorite websites, Cracked, posted an article about the various problems with the current wave of atheism. Someone posted a link to it in a Facebook group for atheists that I’m a part of, and the bombardment of usual commentary bullshit began. The author of the article, according to commenters, didn’t understand atheism. Or he wasn’t a real atheist. Or he hasn’t read the work and philosophies of the people he wrote the article to take down. Things of that nature.

Unfortunately, this has been a recurring problem I’ve had with atheism ever since I declared my own atheism back in 2005. Atheism is a single belief: There is no god. Yes, it’s really that easy. You don’t believe in any gods, and you’re therefore not bound to any weird rules about dieting and thought crimes or caught going against a moral which is more common sense and human decency than morality. When I started reaching out to other atheists, though, I ran into one of those odd contradictions that we so frequently see in life. Instead of a group of people devoted to rational thought and discussion, many of the atheists I spoke to were devoted to a weird theocracy of their very own. The author of the Cracked article had a point which I’ve now spent ten years trying to make: Atheism has become enslaved to a hardcore ideology. Hell, prominent atheists are even campaigning for atheists to be renamed “Brights,” and in some places, local atheist organizations are offering de-baptism ceremonies. My mind is boggled and I’m wondering if the Center for Inquiry is going to start offering people the opportunity to visit and pray to a random cloud.

I find it pretty damn incredible that a group of people that prides itself on not having to follow silly religious pageantry is unable to spot the hypocrisy in this. And no, I’m not going to mince words or gussy it up into something pretty in order to hand-wave it: Hypocrisy is exactly what it is. The whole thing about living and letting live apparently only applies if you’ve renounced all beliefs. It’s one thing to talk about rationality and reason and science to a religious person with an open mind who asked and is truly interested. Even if this religious person accepts the logic offered by the atheist, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to renounce their god, and personally, I’m okay with that. If the logical outlets are rejected in favor of mocking and joking the belief system away, then you’ve turned into a missionary, and it’s time for you to break out the crusader sword and smallpox blanket, because you’re just a short step away from that.

My biggest concern about atheism, though, is that it now seems to be turning into exactly the kind of thing I predicted ten years ago: An exclusivist Old Boys’ Club. Atheism is more like a religion than ever, thanks to an apparent influx of so-called mens’ rights “activists.” Richard Dawkins, who first seemed like a real rallying figure for atheists upon his publication of The God Delusion in 2008, stated a few years later that some rapes are better than others, claiming that date rape is better than knifepoint rape and writing off people with whom that statement didn’t sit well by telling them to learn how to think, and blaming women for bringing rape onto themselves. Michael Shermer is a rapist – he got a woman drunk to the point of defenselessness and blackout at a religious conference and forced her to have sex. That’s rape, and all Shermer had to offer was an apology on his website. He should be rotting in a jail cell.

Of course, a lot of people are lining up to defend this sexism. After decrying a lot of the world’s oldest religions as sexist by antiquated beliefs and laws because women always seem to get the short end of the stick, there’s seems to be a disturbing number of atheists who are quite happy with women getting the short end of the stick. Atheists are on the downward spiral when it comes to being inclusive towards those without the Y chromosome.

The irony is that atheism has such a storied history that goes hand-in-hand with feminism. One of the original suffragists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was famously critical of religion to such a point that she published a book in 1895 called The Woman’s Bible. Although her critique came off as harsh back in those days, they’re now pretty much universally accepted. American Atheists was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who fought for the separation of church and state. A civil rights campaigner and female atheist from the 19th Century, Ernestine Rose, got her start by rebelling against her arranged marriage when she was 16. Today we have Malala Yousafzai, who took a bullet to the head for wanting to go to school, an event the atheist community points at as evidence of its moral superiority. One of the blogs I’m connected to is called Skepchick, a community of skeptical bloggers who are women – and one, I should probably mention, that formed its own convention after every other convention it tried to attend and report on got a little too fresh with its writers.

You’d think atheists would have some kind of respect for that, but nope! Atheism has two major problems: One is with feminism itself, and the other is with its staunch refusal to acknowledge its problem with feminism. What we have instead are Mens’ Clubbers like Sam Harris offhandedly talking about womens’ problem with atheism comes from its lack of a nurturing worldview, then defending that by engaging in more sexism, then defending that by attempting the “if it’s true, it ain’t sexist” defense. There’s a certain Youtube commentator, The Amazing Atheist, whose nutjob takes on feminists reel in millions of viewers. I’d love to dismiss him as some outlier, but if you misread the statement “millions of viewers,” well, then you should also understand that most videos on Youtube are lucky to get a few hundred, so The Amazing Atheist seems to have quite a bit of pull. Even Penn Jillette is in on the anti-feminism train, although I can’t rule out giving him a pass because Jillette’s whole career revolves around offending people, and he can be seen defending certain rights for women sometimes.

Atheism is starting to reek of the same bullshit that festers in the whole Gamergate movement. Gamergate is widely claimed – pretty much exclusively by its own members, but widely claimed nonetheless – to have started out of concern for ethics in video game journalism. That’s not true. While it probably does have a few people who are legitimately in it because they’ve been burned by bad reporting, Gamergate gets its jollies by mocking and threatening women who had the nerve to enjoy a hobby once thought strictly to be man’s territory. Now we have a sick form of atheism starting to stink of this same sexist philosophy. Atheism is actually performing a worse disservice, in fact, because so many women who are put off by the outpouring of conservative religious beliefs in the superiority of men look for solace in atheism.

Atheists are spending too much time trying to act as though atheism and feminism are two different things. They’re not. A lot of people have bitched that Cracked, as well as other, more respectable journalism and scholarly sources which have also pointed this out, don’t know what they’re talking about. They only wish they didn’t. And if atheism thinks it can win a battle against feminism for my own soul – or whatever passes for a soul in your personal belief system – well, let me put it this way: I’ve been a feminist for 34 years. I’ve been an atheist for ten, and my belief that women are people served as a major impetus for walking away from two religions because their followers failed to justify their scriptural drivel.

The Tom Brady White-Out: Sports and the Intelligentsia

The Tom Brady White-Out: Sports and the Intelligentsia

It’s a pretty common thing for people to watch sports when they get bored. Or to go outside and play sports when they get bored. Or to maybe read and write about sports. What isn’t quite as common is someone getting bored and randomly writing about sports when he doesn’t have the faintest clue of anything that happens in the sports world. Maybe you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Well, what happened was that upon the recent NFL deflated football scandal, some clueless intellectual in search of a way to spin a racial angle into the whole sad episode decided to make Tom Brady’s suspension the point of reference for a rant against white privilege. Not as a guy who hasn’t been the recipient of it, but as a person whose punishment for maybe deflating a few footballs has received it.

Now, I’m not trying to deny that white privilege exists. It does, and even though I’ve lost out on certain options in my lifetime because of my deformed arm and my atheism, I’m not trying to argue that I’ve never been the recipient of white privilege. If you’re a white American male, you have access to certain luxuries and opportunities which you will probably never be aware of, and as a white American male, I’ll never know what it’s like to be followed through a department store for no reason or pulled over for driving through a good neighborhood. I’m not even trying to argue that Tom Brady has never received white privilege. He came from a fairly well-off family in a California suburb, after all, and if anything, he’s probably received more of it than I ever will. But trying to convince a knowledgeable sports fan that Tom Brady’s white privilege is suddenly symbolized through a four-game suspension for tampering with footballs – or, in fact, not even tampering with footballs, but simply on the suspicion of ball-tampering because he refused to turn in some evidence in the league’s investigation – requires total, abject ignorance of context and a willingness to take everything about what happened at face value. And even if you’re capable of doing that, it requires stretching to the breaking point. Anyone who knows anything more than that about all matters NFL-related knows this suspension-as-privilege bullshit is incapable of holding cement, let alone water.

There is a surprising number of observers knowledgeable about the NFL who have been able to recognize Brady’s suspension for what it really is: Another stunt punishment meted down from Roger Goodell calculated to preserve his league’s bleeding image which is, if anything, a little heavy-handed. I’m not endorsing cheating and I hate Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots, but they just got their skulls cracked for a form of cheating so old that sports leagues are picking and choosing cases of it to come down on. Ball-tampering is not a highly-enforced rule. Just during November, the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers were both caught placing balls next to heaters during a game. When the NFL saw it during the broadcast, it basically wagged its finger. In 2012, the San Diego Chargers tried coating their towels in a sticky substance which would have made the ball easier to handle, and the incident was basically laughed off. Jerry Rice, the legendary wideout – who is black – confessed to using stickum during games just a couple of days before the deflation scandal broke, and no one removed him from the league’s all-time team. If you want to bring other sports into it, Gaylord Perry had to chutzpah to name his damned autobiography after the illegal pitch he spent his career using. In basketball, the New York Knicks dynasty of the early 70’s is praised for their smart passing, but not the underinflated balls which enabled their particular brand of small ball. In the 80’s, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legendary Showtime dynasty overinflated their balls to create a more lively and unpredictable ball which was suited to their up-tempo offense – and when the Chicago Bulls defeated the Lakers to win their first Championship, coach Phil Jackson had them carrying paper clips in their shorts to stick in the valve to deflate the ball whenever the refs weren’t looking!

Here’s a little context about Brady’s white privilege for the intelligentsia to lap up: Ray Rice, black, beat up his wife in an elevator and was suspended for two games. When public court demanded a stiffer punishment, Roger Goodell first tried hand-waving the case on account of there being a lack of evidence. He didn’t do much of anything about it until TMZ released the video of the actual assault and threw Goodell’s back against the wall. Adrian Peterson, also black, beat his kid and the NFL did jack shit – and the Vikings suspended him for a single game. Some 70 players were arrested in the last season and no one breathed a word. Brady, who didn’t do anything that endangered the welfare of another human, was suspended for more games than any of them, and his team was docked draft picks and fined a million dollars – which, by the way, is twice the stated maximum NFL fine. The deflation scandal was exactly the kind of thing Goodell was hoping and praying for – a nice distraction which the Commissioner could use to reassert his authority, come off like a zero-tolerance good guy, and use to make people forget about the year the NFL just had. You don’t get to pull the white privilege card in a case that would have gone away had the NFL handled it the way it normally handles ball-tampering cases; slap the offending team with a $25,000 fine immediately after the game, tell them not to do it again, and kick back while everyone forgets it.

This attempt to paint Brady as the new poster boy of white privilege is resulting in the most incredible avalanche of intellectual dishonesty I’ve ever seen from critical theorists. This isn’t social criticism. It’s crying for attention. It seems everyone doing it is aware of that on some level. In an attempt to paint Brady as some great villain who gets away with everything, some writers – like Dan O’Sullivan of Vice Sports – are even diving into his past and cherry-picking facts. O’Sullivan’s piece is a real howler for how much he either didn’t know or willingly omitted to push his narrative. He mentions, for example, that Brady had a mediocre high school career which resulted in a full scholarship from the University of Michigan anyway. Now, this may or may not be true, but what I know is that even if he was a bad athlete in high school, “mediocre” is a strictly relative term. Brady attended Junipero Serra High School, a nationally famous athlete factory which also produced Jim Fregosi, Lynn Swann, and Barry Bonds, and he played baseball and basketball as well as football there. Sucking at a place like Serra wouldn’t be the same as sucking at, say, Seneca Vocational. O’Sullivan says Brady was a bad college quarterback, which simply isn’t true. Brady once owned the single-season record for completions at Michigan. O’Sullivan does mention that Brady was inserted as the fourth-string quarterback after getting drafted, and that it was an unusual move. He’s half-right. Brady WAS originally the fourth-string guy. That’s kind of the par for a sixth round draft pick, especially when the team’s main guy is cannon-armed Drew Bledsoe, a multiple-time all-star with borderline Hall of Fame credentials. Brady worked his way up to second string, then was automatically given the starter job when Bledsoe was sidelined with a serious injury.

I’ve seen the idea raised that if it was Marshawn Lynch in Brady’s position, he would have been given a much worse punishment. And yeah, that’s true. But the problem with that narrative is that Brady has always been the pitch-perfect All-American Golden Boy. He’s never been in trouble or said anything controversial. Most importantly in the league’s eyes, he’s never done anything to endanger the bottom line or the clean, family image. Lynch has at least one illegal weapons charge under his belt, another hit and run charge, and was caught driving drunk during his time in Buffalo. Since his trade to Seattle, he appears to have mostly cleaned up his criminal side, but he also found a way to subvert the NFL’s ridiculous laws about media availability without actually breaking them. He shows up, uses subtle ways to show his contempt for the league for making him show up, never answers any questions, and leaves. Journalists are frustrated by him and several have called for the league to just fine him and suspend him anyway. The NFL already suspended him once for the weapons charge. That ran for three games. The fact that he hasn’t been suspended again either shows the league is being uncharacteristically lenient with him, or that he has a legal team comprised of wizards, Jedi, and Time Lords. I promise you Roger Goodell is looking for a reason to suspend him again, for the same reason he just suspended Brady – endangering the bottom line and the image. I also promise that if Lynch cheats and gives Goodell that reason, the ensuing suspension won’t have anything to do with cheating, and anyone who argues otherwise is a fucking idiot.

There are two reasons why using Tom Brady to symbolize white privilege is killing me. The first is because so many valid instances of white privilege are all over sports. Hell, if it was so imperative to attack the Patriots specifically, one needs to look no further than at Tom Brady’s favorite and most effective target, the adolescent-minded frat megadouchebro Rob Gronkowski. The picture the media paints of Gronk is appalling. Gronk is white, and he’s been spending most of his time engaging in the same vein of off-field hijinks this same media repeatedly slammed Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens for. Yet, rather than hover over him and call him an embarrassment to whatever code it’s peddling this week, the media continues to glorify Gronk as a lovable galoot having fun in the prime of his youth. And speaking of codes, there’s also enough material in baseball’s stodgy and suspiciously pale Code to attack the entire baseball establishment – players, owners, representatives, and even fans – for years. The players sometimes attack each other over antiquated ideas of respect which come from an idealistic past which was never real; or even if it was, would be rooted in a time period in which baseball was whites-only. The 7.8 percent of black ballplayers are stuck adhering to traditionalist values of the white majority, and any sign of personality or excitement gets them drilled on their next at-bat. Chris Rock just released an impressive seven-minute rant on the whole subject. For something that isn’t quite so far out of the intellectual comfort zone, attacks against team owners who demand to build new stadiums in places that would drive minority populations out of their homes hits a trifecta: It’s a civic issue, a race issue, and a sports issue. The intelligentsia knows race and infrastructure issues well, and sticking to them when attacking sports stadiums makes white privilege in sports a sort of default target.

The other reason is because there’s a veiled insult in it. Sports are a major social institution. The way sports influence and are influenced by society are subjects sociologists and psychologists study. There is even a full-fledged organization, The North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, which was created to observe the impact of sports on humanity. Murray State University Professor Daniel Wann basically created his entire name and reputation studying the psychology and sociology of sports, and dedicating multiple books to the subject. Yet, the average intellectual can’t seem to shed the mindset that sports are strictly a neanderthal endeavor. This is a crowd that is not only ignorant about all things related to sports, but thunderously trumpets that very ignorance from the mountaintops, making no effort to conceal its contempt or condescension. Now they’re trying to wedge themselves into the national conversation about this deflation scandal by trying to inject it with a racial angle that doesn’t exist, and they’ve apparently chosen the method “use a national scandal we’ve ignored but which the entire sports-following world could school us in and apply it to a white athlete we’ve heard of.” It’s the same form of ignorant punditry Fox News runs on.

I love sports, and I’m capable of expending many happy hours keeping up with them the same way I keep up with my bicycling, exercises, video games, writing, and various other interests. Sports mean a lot to me because they’re something that brings out my better qualities. I credit baseball’s New York Yankees in part for rescuing me from social oblivion. Sports helped inspire me to try for certification in physical therapy, and hopefully exercise science in a further future. I’ve been following hockey’s Buffalo Sabres for 30 years. I once wrote a blog dedicated to baseball literature – which I’m now looking to revive – that professional authors have noticed and sent me compliments for. One of my final projects for my sociology class this last semester was on the sociology of sports fandom. I put a ton of time and effort into learning about sports and their quirks and intricacies to make sure I have the most accurate angles possible on everything I say regarding them. The insult here is that I can pick up the very same grasp on the necessary nuance and context with no effort whatsoever. I can stick my head in the ground whenever the subject comes up, pull it out when I hear a muffled word from a 22nd-hand source, and already know everything about the situation that I need to in order to make an accurate sociological assessment of it.

The lure of sports is so strong that some experts have even likened them to religion, and favored teams become indistinguishable from the “totems” that legendary sociologist Emile Durkheim described when he referred to religion as a cultural symbol. Intellectuals seem to have trouble grasping that, and train themselves to not take sports seriously. And so when some of them do try to come out and treat sports in a serious context, we get glorified trolling like talk about how Tom Brady’s color is the only thing preventing the NFL from taking the Patriots’ latest title away. (It might interest an intellectual to know that, while they’re beating up Brady, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is trying to pull some actual privilege: He’s demanding an apology from Roger Goodell and the overturn of the suspension. In the meantime, Brady himself is making an appeal to the commissioner. If he gets his suspension reduced, THEN you can play the white privilege card.) I’m sick of seeing a legitimate social institution that I spend my free time studying get reduced to sound bites by proud ignoramuses. If the average intellectual wants to throw their social commentary into sports, they need to either start putting some time into learning about them or just back the hell off.

Playing with Ultimate Power: Super NES vs. Genesis

Playing with Ultimate Power: Super NES vs. Genesis

This is another one of those great 90’s arguments. It seems a moot point right now, sure; today’s kids will never have the pleasure of growing up standing by their favorite video game console, warding off its attackers. In the 90’s, console ownership was like being a fan of a sports team: You picked, you stood by it no matter what, because it was YOURS. If someone attacked, you took it personally, and gunned for the attacker with a barrage of Your Mother insults and shots at the console itself which frequently included the words “crap” and “suck” as well as a bunch of other, much more creative things you could think up that involved more explicit terms. You didn’t care what the objective truth was – all you knew is that an attack on your chosen console was an attack on you, your family, your lifestyle, your religion, and whatever else you held close to your heart.

Time marched on, though, and multi-console homes began becoming the norm. Those of the 16-bit Golden Era shook hands and called our uneasy truce. However, the objective question at hand was never properly answered: Which console, exactly, was the superior console? While others might like to throw in bids for personal favorites like the TurboGrafx-16, Neo Geo, 3DO, CD-I, and Jaguar, those are all being thrown into the wind these days because we all know it was really about two consoles waging a fierce war against each other: In the first corner was that eternal Goliath of video games, Nintendo, which brought what is still arguably its crowning console achievement: The Super NES. In the other corner was Sega and its trailblazing Genesis, which was able to successfully play the David for a couple of years and make itself into a household name. So let’s do this! The Super NES vs. the Genesis. One day, I’ll learn.

Hardware
The Genesis came along a couple of years sooner, and when it did, it was the most powerful console the discerning gamer could buy. After all, its only real competition was NEC and its TurboGrafx-16, which critics kept accusing of being nothing more than basically a pair of eight-bit consoles duct-taped together to emulate 16 bits. The Genesis was released in Japan in October 1988 before being dropped into North America ten months later to capitalize on Nintendo’s apparent laziness and/or inability to admit they probably needed to evolve their hardware in order to keep up in the video game market – after all, Sega was able to get by for awhile on a marketing campaign which showed the Genesis as the embodiment of cool while showing the original NES as a console which kids played. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Nintendo got the point; when they released the Super NES in Japan in 1990 (North America in 1991), they had created a monster bigger and badder than anything the video game demographic had ever seen. The Genesis had a faster CPU speed (7.67 MHz as opposed to 3.58 on the Super NES), a better internal ROM (One compared to a nonexistent ROM on the Super NES), and a synthesizer. The Genesis One had a headphone output and the Genesis in general had backward compatibility with an adaptor. In every other respect, the Super NES swamped it: More colors, better resolution, could show more sprites at once and in higher resolution, and twice as much RAM. They tied in sound processor bits – eight – and in CPU bits – 16.
Winner
Super NES. Yes, the Genesis had a two-year head start, but the problem with a big head start is that the competition quits worrying about timing if it has a machine developing in the wings which is capable of kicking your ass. You can make the argument that it’s not about the equipment so much as how the equipment is used, but this argument is entirely about the equipment. When used to its full potential, the Super NES could do more than the Genesis, and that’s not even bringing the controllers into the debate. The Super NES wins this round.

Mascots
When Nintendo released the NES in 1985, the idea of video game characters was fairly new – Pac-Man had been a massive hit with a song and a Saturday morning cartoon, but he was more or less a novelty which no one thought would ever come along again in a fad industry which, courtesy of Atari, was on life support. Nintendo introduced a certain plumber by the name of Mario, packed his game in with the console, and within five years more American schoolkids were familiar with Mario than Mickey Mouse. After that, Nintendo did it again by introducing Link, Samus Aran, Mega Man, and eventually, Kirby. Thanks in large part to those characters, video games became a cultural force which could no longer be ignored, and lord knows other developers tried to follow Nintendo’s lead. NEC introduced the wildly underrated Bonk on the TurboGrafx-16 while Sega found some success on the Master System with Alex Kidd and Shinobi. NEC bowed out, and Sega carried Alex Kidd and Shinobi to the Genesis while also bringing a memorable duo of hip hop aliens, Toejam and Earl, into their first party line. But it was in 1991 that Sega found a winning formula when it introduced a zippy little blue hedgehog by the name of Sonic, and the console war became a real console war. Nintendo’s mascots were so good that they were able to keep going on their strength, especially when placing them in new 16-bit games like Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. They also created another new character to add to their pantheon, Star Fox, and reinvented Donkey Kong as a good guy. Meanwhile, with no familiar names, Sega got to work finding their own exclusive characters which could help propel the Genesis along: Ecco, a dolphin in search of his lost pod who fights aliens that are endangering the time/space continuum; Vectorman, a robot made entirely of orbs; and Ristar, another underrated mascot developed by Sonic Team whose appearance served as the curtain call for the Genesis.
Winner
Super NES. The fact that Sonic was the character that introduced, embodied, and influenced the entire idea of in-you-face XTREME!!! ATTITUDE!!! in the 90’s can’t be understated, and the games in Sonic’s core series in those days are some of the best ever made. That, however, can’t hold a candle to Mario, who basically created the template to an entire genre of video games which is still very popular; another character – Link – who served as the template to the pseudo-3D action/RPG’s which were popular throughout the 16-bit era; and Star Fox, which turned Mode 7 shooters into viable commodities instead of interesting novelties. And while most people blame Sega’s advertising department for their eventual fall out of hardware development, their first party developers certainly didn’t do the company any favors, either. Toejam and Earl were given two popular games, released to sensational reviews, and never seen again until they showed up on the Xbox; Vectorman had a similar fate, but without the next-gen console update. Shinobi and Ecco were placed on ill-fated consoles before disappearing completely. Ristar was never seen again. Ecco and Sonic both suffered severe quality downgrades when their gameplay mechanics didn’t translate very well into 3D. Nintendo’s mascots have all suffered too, but the Mario and Legend of Zelda series continue to churn out regular Game of the Year material, and Nintendo will always be just fine as long as that’s the case. If you can get away with pitting your first party characters against each other in an acclaimed series of fighting games (Super Smash Bros.), you’re good no matter what.

Controllers
When it comes to actually being able to control your games, both Sega and Nintendo acted on a startling realization which others hadn’t yet envisioned: They were both aware of the fact that video games were evolving, and the standard one-button-to-jump-and-one-button-to-shoot format would soon be outdated. Sega countered by adding an extra action button, so they ended up with three instead of two. Nintendo placed six on the Super NES controller, which was unnecessary and incredible at the time, but it proved to be a great long-term move. Soon after the release of the Super NES, two-dimensional fighting games reached their apex, and the Super NES was better equipped to handle the wide range of moves. Developers struggled to work six-button schemes into Sega’s three-button layout, and after awhile, they just stopped trying altogether. The Genesis adaptation of Mortal Kombat II was missing an entire move, and Streets of Rage 3 had a couple of non-essential attacks cut. Sega rectified the situation by releasing six-button versions of their standard controllers, but the three-button controllers continued to be prevalent until the Genesis went defunct. I’m not sure if it ever became the default pack-in controller. But while the Super NES controller was the more functional, it was also much harder to hold; the Genesis had a nice pair of grips that stuck out on the bottom ends and said, “Grab me!” The Super NES controller had the look and feel of an oversized pill, and it introduced an innovation that became a bane: The shoulder buttons, which felt weird and misplaced. It was very difficult to get at the shoulder buttons because it never felt like my hands were at the proper angle, and how good is a controller anyway if you can’t play a game for more than ten minutes without your hand cramping up?
Winner
I’m going with the Genesis. Maybe you don’t share my opinion of the shoulder buttons, but those poorly-placed innovations made it too difficult to play games. You’ve only forgotten that, or maybe you’re looking at them through nostalgia goggles, but the things were a hassle that never got fixed until an entire console generation later, when Sony’s Dual Shock introduced the pistol grip. I don’t know why people raved about the thing so much. Maybe they were fooled into thinking that boxy old controller with the original NES was still the greatest controller ever, or something. Also, the Genesis had disc-shaped d-pad while the Super NES had no diagonals. There’s some consideration of the gamer for you.

Innovative Games
Part of the reason the Super NES and Gensis are considered the infallible Kings of the Golden Era is because developers started getting bold, and we started seeing them take gaming risks they never would have taken before. Innovation of both consoles ended up challenging all gamers and unleashing their imaginations as they were encouraged to think outside the box. The Genesis had games like Shining in the Darkness, a turn-based RPG played in the first person; Ecco the Dolphin, and exploratory puzzle-based game which boasted digitized graphics motion-captured from footage of real dolphins and immense gameplay rewards to those who stuck it out; and Comix Zone, literally a panel-by-panel brawler set in a comic book. The Super NES brought Star Fox, with its Super FX chip and nonlinear level paths; Chrono Trigger, the legendary RPG which gave us the tech system; and Uniracers, a 2D racing game where you raced unicycles around roller coaster courses. Nintendo introduced pre-rendered 3D graphics with Donkey Kong Country; the Genesis countered later with Vectorman. The Super NES could use scaling and rotation and the Genesis was capable of animated cutscenes. Both of these consoles had a lot going for them in this department.
Winner
Genesis. Yes, the Super NES certainly had a huge share of innovative games that worked, but it also had the option of falling back on established characters. While the Genesis may have spent its early years adapting the invincible game library Sega had in American arcades, Sega had ran out of them by the time the Super NES hit stateside, and after that, they were forced to take chances because they had nothing to ride. The Genesis used celebrity licensing – Michael Jackson and Joe Montana were noteworthy signings – and had to make the Genesis appeal to people who weren’t kids or the parents of kids who needed video games to be safe. So we saw games like Mutant League Hockey, Phantasy Star II, and the blood code version of Mortal Kombat. Retro Gamer said this about the Genesis: “It was a system where the allure was born not only of the hardware and games, but the magazines, playground arguments, climate, and politics of the time.” Exactly. It was born, in other words, of the things that necessitate innovation and invention.

Action/Adventure/Platform Games
Um… Wow. It’s tough to figure out just where to begin with this one. These genres produced so many games and overlapped so much that it almost doesn’t seem worth debating. Mario against Sonic is a fight to the death. Both had access to third party attempts at new characters, like Earthworm Jim and Rocket Knight Adventures. Sometimes, the Genesis versions were better and the Super NES owned better versions of other games.
Winner
Look, there’s nothing that can be said about one console’s collection of these genres that can’t be said for the other. Certainly Nintendo can harass Sega people about having The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but the Genesis was fully capable of taking on that challenge: Sega released a pair of outstanding adventure games, Landstalker and Beyond Oasis, which were as deep and rewarding as any Zelda adventures. Nintendo could throw Contra and Castlevania at Sega, but the Genesis was given mid- and late-life games in both series: Castlevania: Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps hold up as well as any of their namesake games on the Super NES. Nintendo threw Donkey Kong Country – with its new-fangled graphics technique – at Sega, only for Sega to counter with Vectorman which, today, is almost universally considered the better game for miles. Mega Man had to contend with Gunstar Heroes. In other words, if you’re not willing to write this off as a draw, it’s time to get off your fanboy throne.

Role-Playing Games
You would have thought Sega would be just fine wandering into the 16-bit era in the role-playing department. After all, they had released the classic Phantasy Star on the Master System, which had a first-person view through the dungeons and was considered one of the most unique games available back then. With the introduction of the Genesis, Sega fleshed out the idea of a first-person RPG when it introduced Shining in the Darkness, the first game – and still the game many gamers consider the best – in a loose series of games affectionately termed the Shining series. Shining in the Darkness eventually paved the way for a pair of sequels, Shining Force and Shining Force II, both of which are more traditional RPGs with serious elements of strategy. A bunch of other great RPGs also popped up: Light Crusader, Landstalker, Beyond Oasis, Sword of Vermillion, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and Shadowrun all stood out. Likewise, when Nintendo entered the 16-bit world, they were coming in on RPG strength too: They had a successful series on the NES called Dragon Warrior, which proved to be another template series, so with that alone Nintendo looked all set to go up against the juggernaut Sega had become. And then Dragon Warrior’s developer, Enix… Stopped exporting the series, which in Japan was called Dragon Quest. That didn’t mean Nintendo was down for the count, though; they went about releasing a new Zelda game, and they also had this second party developer called Squaresoft which had released an amazing little RPG on the NES called Final Fantasy. Although the full compliment of available Final Fantasy games didn’t make it to the United States, the Super NES did get Final Fantasy IV – which was Final Fantasy II here – and FFVI, which was FFIII here. Both were considered groundbreakers, and Final Fantasy spent the Golden Era going toe-to-toe with Phantasy Star. Beyond that, Nintendo really got to work churning out classic after classic: Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, Earthbound, Breath of Fire… Hell, Nintendo even teamed up with Squaresoft to make Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
Winner
Super NES. Let’s face it: Sega gets royally stomped in this category. I know this is the second time in a row I brought up The Legend of Zelda and pit it against certain Genesis games, but that was for two reasons: One is because the RPG elements of them are toned down to the extent that you can make a case for them all being either adventure games or RPGs, and the other is because I wanted Sega to have a fighting chance here. I was a Sega person during those days, but even I can admit this: Outside of Phantasy Star, Shining Force, and the action RPGs, there weren’t a lot of RPGs that buffs of the genre got excited about. Most of them are best remembered these days as excellent cult games: There were some damn fine games in the Might and Magic series, and the collection also includes The Faery Tale Adventure, Exile, and Warsong; but if you brought any of those games into a room to throw at the likes of Actraiser or Chrono Trigger – which is in the discussion for the greatest RPG ever, an opinion I tend to concur with – you’ll be laughed out. The entire genre is basically one of Sega’s legendary missteps, especially seeing as how Sega pretty much outsourced its RPGs to the Sega CD after that came out. And no, I’m not awarding points to the Genesis here for the Sega CD or 32X because their games weren’t compatible with the Genesis; therefore, I’m not giving any points for the introduction of the Lunar series, harsh as that is. The cancellation of a Genesis version of Lufia and the Fortress of Doom doesn’t help either. If you like RPGs, you’re a Super NES person, and that’s that.

Sports Games
Although it’s barely brought up today, the 16-bit era was a golden age of endorsement deals from real professional athletes for sports video games. Joe Montana had Sports Talk Football. Jerry Glanville (!) had Pigskin Footbrawl. Evander Holyfield had Real Deal Boxing. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Deion Sanders (who endorsed games for two different sports), Troy Aikman, Ken Griffey Jr., Pete Sampras, Jack Nicklaus, and so many other professional sports people had so many game endorsements that it’s impossible to list them all. Hell, things got so out of hand that Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal both managed to sign endorsement deals for games that had virtually nothing to do with basketball – Jordan signed his name to an action/adventure game called Chaos in the Windy City and O’Neal went down in history for one of the most notorious gaming blunders in history, a fighting game called Shaq-Fu. This resulted in a massive market for sports games; so much so that sports games became game series which released new versions every year. Of course, the NES had started out giving gamers a handful of classic sports games, including Tecmo Bowl, so Nintendo had momentum going into the Golden Era. Then Tecmo suddenly started producing games for both the Super NES and the Genesis. Nintendo also had Punch-Out, which their fans could brag about for years before Toughman Contest appeared on the Genesis and arguably was the better game (the reasoning was because its boxers were real and didn’t use patterns to let gamers know when and how they would strike). The 16-bit years saw the comic sports game genre reach its apex with Mutant League Football and Mutant League Hockey for the Genesis, while Electronic Arts emerged as a go-to giant in simulations. More arcade-oriented sports games also came out – NBA Jam was very popular. The emergence of sports gaming makes sense – after all, sports has been an eternal theme in gaming, from the time of the first-ever video game – Tennis for Two – to the first hit video game in an arcade, which was Pong. The Golden Era allowed deeper and bigger games than ever before, and the licensing created a sense of realism which didn’t previously exist.
Winner
This is where the Genesis truly shined. Yes, the Super NES had many of the same sports games as the Genesis, but it was never quite able to one-up the Genesis the way Nintendo would have liked. Hell, the Genesis versions of EA Sports’s popular NHL series are considered to be the outright superior – especially in the case of the iconic NHL ’94, for which the Genesis version is the defining hockey game of all time. As if that wasn’t enough, Sega had an entire wing of first party developers right in their own offices simply called Sega Sports, and those guys weren’t just trying to ride the tide to the bank; they produced a series of NFL games capable of holding their own against EA Sports’s mighty Madden series. They also produced World Series Baseball, the defining baseball series of the time, with its groundbreaking, dramatic plate view. The greatest testament to how good Sega Sports was is in their legacy. When Sega went third party, Sega Sports was turned into 2K Sports, and in 2004, they released ESPN NFL 2K5, which is still considered the greatest football game ever made and which scared EA Sports shitless to such a point that Electronic Arts had to run out and snatch up the NFL license for itself. 2K Sports’s basketball games are considered the best available today. (And frankly, Madden football was never that good in the first place. Had sports gamers not been brand loyalty sheep to it, 2K Sports could have fleshed out its potential and Electronic Arts wouldn’t be playing Monopoly.) Furthermore, Nintendo’s attempt to stay on their kiddie image is what probably kept the Mutant League series off the Super NES, and there’s a distinct possibility it kept them from trying to get certain athletes licensed, although that’s just my own hypothesis.

Fighting Games
Ah, a category you were all waiting for because it covers another one of those great 90’s debates: Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat! So, everybody already knows both consoles were homes to some stellar ports of Street Fighter II and, to a lesser extent, Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat has kind of an odd track record on home consoles: The Genesis version of the first game was better, and the Super NES had the better version of the second game before they leveled out at the third and fourth games. But what about the fighters that didn’t have those names? Well, both consoles had very good renditions of the Fatal Fury series which, in the grand pyramid of fighting games, ranks just below Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Both had renditions of the criminally underrated Samurai Shodown, but while the Super NES had all of the original characters, they were compromised by small sizes. The Genesis version axed the least popular character, Earthquake, but made the sprites a lot bigger while making the final boss a playable character in the two-player mode. Both had notable exclusives of popular arcade games: The Genesis introduced a fine conversion of Virtua Fighter 2 in its twilight, and the Super NES got an awesome version of Killer Instinct. Both also had several fighting games which are largely unheard of, and both had home exclusives like Clay Fighter, Weaponlord, and Brutal. Of course, they also both had to contend with the atrocity that was Shaq-Fu blighting their reputations too.
Winner
I really wanted to pick a winner for this one, but I can’t. As with the Action/Adventure/Platform category, the respective output of both consoles is too similar. It’s even more similar that that, in fact, because so many fighting games were made by third party developers, and the exclusives flat out sucked half the time. I know there will be people whining about how I should give this one to the Genesis because it had Eternal Champions and the bloody version of the original Mortal Kombat, but here’s the thing: Eternal Champions was a lousy game. As for the bloody version of Mortal Kombat, don’t give me that shit. The Genesis version was every bit as bloodless as the Super NES version. The inclusion of a code that inserted blood into it doesn’t count, because the thing about video game codes is that they’re not meant to be discovered! There’s a difference between a bloody version of the game and a version which had a blood code; even though everyone knew the fucking code, it still required a set of actions not mentioned in the manuel or alluded to anywhere in the game. I know people want me to give this to the Super NES because its controller had twice as many buttons, but that doesn’t work either because both consoles offered the same range of alternative controllers, and all but about two of Sega’s alternates had six buttons, plus that disc-shaped d-pad the Super NES controller lacked.

Shooting Games
There’s little in gaming more fun than hopping on a spaceship and blowing everything in sight to Kingdom Come, and once again, both consoles had whole sets of shooters created strictly to oblige you. As far as the more multidirectional overhead shooters go, both consoles had Electronic Art’s great Strike series and the whacked-out bit of comic genius that was Zombies Ate My Neighbors. As far as exclusives went, the Super NES had the Pocky and Rocky series while the Genesis had the innovative Red Zone. When it comes to rail shooters, though, the selection couldn’t be more different, and this is a big deal because rail shooters were one of the most dominant genres of video games in the early 16-bit era; they were so popular that even the TurboGrafx-16 built an army of rail shooters which included several all-time greats. Once again, the Super NES was stacked with a list of name games; its list included games from the Gradius, Raiden, and R-Type series. The Genesis had to rely on innovative development, and so it had a list of shooters that included games like Sub-Terrania, MUSHA, and Steel Empire. Both had great shooting games with behind-the-player viewpoints: The Super NES, of course, had Star Fox while the Genesis had Space Harrier II and After Burner.
Winner
I’m giving this to the Super NES. Konami made third party games for both consoles, but they clearly seemed to prefer Nintendo. After all, it was Nintendo that got the Gradius games and a sequel to Zombies Ate My Neighbors – called Ghoul Patrol – which never came out for the Genesis. After Burner and Spare Harrier II were great games, but Star Fox introduced the idea that a shooter didn’t necessarily have to be linear. Although the Genesis did get a Raiden game, had a solid shooter lineup, and introduced Sub-Terrania, it’s very difficult to persuade me that its general quality wasn’t more hit-or-miss than it was on the Super NES. The problem with shooters is that they exemplify a particular ethos about game design: The way shooters are done is so stupidly, insultingly simple that everyone knows exactly what to do and how to do it; but on the other hand, doing it well takes time and practice, and even with that, it’s still very, very easy to suck at it. Although innovation is normally a wonderful thing, in shooting games, you usually want to stick with name brands because doing it well is automatic for them at a certain point, and you want something you know will be good rather than taking a risk on something which, even if it’s not bad, still has a huge chance of feeling like a worse version of something you’ve played before.

Arcade Conversions
It’s hard to believe these days, but once upon a time, the arcade was the place where you could play the newest, biggest, most advanced game available. Arcade games weren’t limited by console technology, so programmers went nuts. If an arcade game made a lot of money, it would inevitably find its way to the Super NES and Genesis, where it was up to the developer to try and cram all the advanced circuitry in those mammoth machines into a 24-meg, 16-bit cartridge. Naturally, conversions could be hit or miss. This was most obvious in fighting games: Street Fighter II carried over pretty well to both. Mortal Kombat Genesis mopped the floor with the Super NES version, and Mortal Kombat II Super NES returned the favor. The Super NES got the superior version of Art of Fighting, and Samurai Shodown was better on the Genesis. NBA Jam survived almost fully intact on both. Sometimes, developers did weird and unnecessary things to arcade conversions: When Capcom brought Final Fight to the Super NES, it axed the most popular character, Guy, the two-player mode, and a whole level. Later, Capcom basically retracted by creating a version with Guy, but it was still a single-player game with two selectable characters and a missing level. Acclaim cut the ducking punch from the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat II. Both consoles also tried to adapt games which were way out of their league: The Super NES gave it a go with Killer Instinct, while the Genesis used Sega’s acclaimed Virtua Fighter series, and they both turned out well – they kept the fundamental aspects of the games while scaling back the technology.
Winner
Genesis. I give Nintendo all the credit in the world for how the Super NES debuted – it started out by giving people Super Mario World straight off, and that proved to be a sign of the times because it meant that Nintendo was, after years of holding out, recognizing and adapting to the changing nature of video games. They showed that by presenting gamers with an epic specifically tailored to their new console. This isn’t about epics or what’s suited to do what, though – it’s recognition of how good developers did in bringing the arcade experience home. And in that respect, Sega is the undisputed King, albeit on the strength of the early Genesis library. It’s not a coincidence that Sega first advertised the Genesis by playing up adaptations of its arcade library, or that the first pack-in game for the Genesis was Altered Beast; Altered Beast was a weak game, but it was popular and people liked it. Sega then set off on an arcade conversion streak which also included Strider, Golden Axe, Gain Ground, Atomic Runner, and Air Buster. Sega also created a whole new version of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Shadow Dancer. In the early days, if you wanted a certain arcade game to bring home, you bought a Genesis, because if Sega made it, you knew it would show up on the Genesis, and frequently be damn good.

Well, holy shit: My second tie. Oh well. My loyalty was with Sega throughout the era, but this just shows that in the Golden Era, there were no losers in the Super NES/Genesis war. It doesn’t matter by now, though. This fight has been over almost 20 years now, and nearly every serious gamer who was a member of the 16er Generation has – no matter which console they prefer – conceded that both were excellent.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 78 other followers