“The Spin Zone” – 12 lazy, petty, vindictive, lying pop culture media members with a motive

There’s a reason the media rarely is portrayed in popular culture. Where the government, the military, the police and criminals can all be portrayed as proactive forces, the media is very reactive. As such, they can be portrayed as easily manipulable, lazy, elitist, pretentions or just plain bothersome to those who actually have good honest work to do. This leads to the media taking a lot of flack in popular culture but, interestingly, most negative portrayals of the media end up saying far more about the creators and editors than the reporters they skewer.

1. Battlestar Galactica – “Final Cut”

“Battlestar Galactica” was a great show with a mess of storytelling problems, namely some of its more fascist tendencies. The show never had much tolerance for the pacifistic, meddling media but nowhere is this clearer than in the second season’s “Final Cut.” There, the Galactica excepts a well known journalist to make a newscast about the men and women who keep the battleship running. Of course, the reporter, Diana, turns out to be a Cylon, solely interested in collecting intel about the surviving humans. Its barely a twist and its a cruel one if you want to consider it that.

2. “Spider-Man”

J. Jonah Jameson doesn’t speak too much of anything but necessity. There was a desperate need for Peter Parker to have a villain that was able to hold a candle to the villains that Spider-Man routinely faced and the biased editor of The Daily Bugle served just that role. Jameson’s campaign against Spider-Man put Peter in a quandary and provided a solid enemy that was both untouchable and necessary.

3. NewsRadio – “The Real Deal”

NewsRadio had a lot too say about the vain, narcissistic, self-mythologizing and just plain mean men and women that made the news but it was always in service of humor. In one memorable episode, on-air columnist Bill McNeal, played by the late great Phil Hartman, has to nab a great interview to keep his show on the air. Naturally, his narcissism and inability to, y’know, talk to people, gets in the way of his interview with Jerry Seinfeld, so he gets creative in delivering his story.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Earshot”

By season three, Joss Whedon had ironed most of the problems out of his supernatural teen soap opera but the flaws are apparent in “Earshot.” Delayed because of the Columbine Massacre, Buffy becomes aware of someone planning a killing spree at Sunnydale High. The episode’s great red herring is the slightly goth school newspaper editor, a guy who’s writen nothing but negative, extremely pessimistic about the people and institutions of the school. Even when its revealed that he’s not behind the plot, there’s still an bitter taste left in the mouth.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Adam Jensen’s been dealing with the very worst of global corporations and espionage by the time he heads to Montreal to find some answers. There, he’s attacked by mercenaries and left to try to find newscaster Eliza Cassan who’s been manipulating satellites to hide several people Jensen thought dead.  In the world of “Deus Ex,” its not that the media is innately evil, more that they can be bought and sold by anyone with the credits or enough strength to take what they want.

6. Mr. Show with Bob and David – Scams and Flams

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross had done their fair share of parodies of the emptiness and shallow reporting that characterized the daily news. One of their best was the “Scams and Flams” sketch, focusing on a gullible local features reporter sent to investigate businesses that might be scams. He’s, however, bought off by a man running a wishing well/ice cream parlor. Mixing a parody of local news with one of gotcha journalism, its a dark and witty satire.

7. Blitz

Jason Statham vehicle, “Blitz” has a lot of incoherent things to say about police brutality, serial killers and stardom but its main message is one focused on serial killers wanting the fame that accompanies their killings. Its a popular belief, one that many conservatives have bought into as a way to assign a motive to shooters and the film makes the media complicit in the killer’s crimes, feeding his actions.

8.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling’s consistent portrayal of the Daily Prophet as a near faceless antagonist is one of the most troublesome aspects of her series. Where she turns writers such as Rita Skeeter into reporters more interested in an entertaining piece than a truthful one, she focuses most of his ire on the paper to their view on Voldemort. By “Order of the Phoenix,” the Prophet has been reduced to a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Magic. The only possible explanation for her choice was laziness. With an inability to clearly show the government’s denial of the dark lord’s return, she blamed much of the propaganda on the Prophet, even reducing them to cartoonish villains willing to run a smear campaign.

9. That Mitchell and Webb Look – What do you reckon?

As newspapers and network news gasp against user created media and online news, they’ve attempted to integrate community feedback, often to insane levels. A fantastic sketch from across the pond, Robert Mitchell and David Webb set up a news team that wants to hear whatever the viewer “reckons” about nearly anything and they’ll read it on the air just because they feel like they have to. As the sketch escalates, their boredom makes everything funnier, showing the ridiculousness of losing the professional line of separation.

10. Parks and Recreation – “The Reporter”

In the underrated first season of “Parks,” Leslie’s enthusiastic attempts to do something with the pit is thrown up against a never ending line of red tape. In “The Reporter” she faces the media as well as problems within her own team as Mark tells a reporter after sex that the pit will never be fixed. The episode affixes plenty of blame on the reporter for her unscrupulous reporting techniques and the Parks’ departments mistrust of the newspaper continues well past the episode. I mean, they still really hate the library, but they’re not in love with The Pawnee Sun.

11. Dr. Who – “The Long Game”

The problem with “The Long Game” is that the targeting of the media doesn’t quite go far enough. After Rose and the Ninth Doctor jump far into the future, they come across a media outlet that’s broadcasting programming for Earth in an attempt to keep the people of the planet complacent. Its kind of a weak plot, with a monster that isn’t intimidating enough or make enough sense making it another not quite cooked relic of the Eccleston era.

12. 24 – “9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.”

After the first season of FOX’s groundbreaking action series, viewers were left to deal with the international drama inherent in Palmer becoming president. The writers show their view of snooty, truth seeking reporters early when, after failing to bribe him, President Palmer imprisons correspondent Ron Wieland in a government facility. In the world of “24,” you either let the brave, strong, patriotic men do their work or you’re going to jail.

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“I won’t bury another Wayne” – a goodbye to Nolan’s Batman trilogy

I will always be fascinated by the attempts that “nerdy” subject material will make in order to be perceived as art. Memorably, video game fans attempted to rake Roger Ebert over the coals when he claimed (rightfully) that video games will never be art. I never questioned the logic of either side, as interesting points were often presented, but I was more intrigued by why these fans were obsessed with having one of their favorite mediums be recognized as something more than mindless entertainment.

There have been untold of thoughtless news stories focusing on the ways in which comic books have grown up, with many recent ones focusing on the financial success of darker comic book films such as 2008’s “Watchmen” adaptation and Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy. That being said, I have the same view about this as I did about the aforementioned video game discussion. Did we ever really need these movies to justify comics? Did Nolan’s movies accomplish anything in the culture at large that actually needed to be done?

For me the answer will always be a definitive no. Don’t get me wrong, I vastly enjoyed all of Nolan’s films, particularly “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” but everyone seems to be focusing on how Nolan’s work somehow legitimized something that had been missing. I just don’t think that was the case. Nolan’s films did a great job giving people exactly what they didn’t realize they wanted: a darker, excessively mature comic book movie that made non-comics fans feel like they understood comic books.

Because I’m an extremely petty and narcissistic person, I was deeply upset when people started saying that they liked Batman after the release of “The Dark Knight.” They didn’t understand the intricacies of the conflict between the Joker and Batman like I did. They didn’t understand the complex moral and ethical chess match for the soul of Harvey Dent like I did. To me, if you didn’t understand what made the film work so well under the hood, you didn’t really have the right to enjoy it like I did.

Nolan succeeded by making the labyrinthine power structures of Gotham City into something that the layman could understand. He didn’t dumb anything down, rather he introduced easily digestible nuggets of world-building that enabled anyone to understand the motivations of all the characters that made “The Dark Knight” work. People didn’t leave loving the film for what it was. They left thinking they had seen a movie that let them feel like they had it all figured out. “The Dark Knight” let viewers feel like they had just passed a test they didn’t study for.

In hindsight, I’m glad that people ended up liking Batman from “The Dark Knight.” I still think it may be the least satisfying and necessary film in the trilogy but it accomplished a very necessary end. Nolan was able to make a superhero film that used neither the structure nor the formulas of other films and was able to do something unique. It was an admirable work and an innovative one and it paved the way for the ambition of “The Dark Knight Rises” (which I will not be reviewing as to avoid spoilers).

Nolan excelled at making a trilogy of films that made its nerdy viewers feel like researchers and neophytes feel like experts. All the while, he was able to craft a brooding series focused on fear that never was bogged down into misery or undo complications. Its an admirable effort, one DC needed to learn. That being said, I still have concerns for his next work “The Man of Steel” which appears as if it could be attempting the same self-serious tone that the Batman films effortlessly attained. Hopefully, Nolan will be able to help director Zach Snyder make something that dodges the problems their other films have had. And hopefully, not feature too many slow motion bone crunches.

What if Bizarro took on Etrigan: 8 characters to bet on seeing in “Injustice: Gods Among Men”

“Mortal Kombat” developers NetherRealm Studios just showed off the first gameplay footage of their new fighting game, “Injustice: Gods Among Men,” a tournament brawler starring the heroes and villains of the DC universe. The original announcement of the game was greeted by mild excitement from fans but the recent gameplay footage has me worried. The game appears to be a bit too casual for hardcore fighting game fans like myself but does feature the heroes and villains that could make for an engaging and deep fighting game.

With only six characters announced so far, I figured it might be high time to start making some educated guesses, hopeful wishes and probably terrible jokes about which rogues and and defenders might be showing up. With those, we’ll also be giving predicted odds over whether they’ll be showing up and what their abilities could be.

1. Darkseid

The near all powerful lord of Apokalypse is certainly one of the most dangerous villains of the DC Universe and he’s had a long rivalry with Superman.  The multiverse has been a little too safe since his disappearance after “Final Crisis” and NetherRealm may cash in by bringing him back.

Vegas Odds: NetherRealm did develop a model for Darkseid for their game “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he could make a great boss character. That being said, he’s out of comic continuity and is a little on the overpowered side. Some work would definitely need done to make him work. I’ll give it 3:2 odds.

2. Grifter

One of my favorite heroes of the New 52, Grifter is the most wanted man on Earth. An ex-special ops killer turned mercenary turned criminal has aimed his trademark pistols at the invading Daemonite army. If he’s going to survive them, he’s also going to have to unleash his latent psychic powers and duel with the other heroes of the universe that want to take him down.

Vegas Odds: DC has been pretty proud of Grifter, despite the fact that the book hasn’t sold incredibly well. They are releasing a collectible bust of the character and has put a high profile but not particularly talented  writer on the title. Putting Grifter in the game may be a marketing push but his mix of gunplay and psychic powers could mirror Deadpool’s from “Marvel vs. Capcom 3.” That being said, he’s still not that well known of a character. I’ll give him a 5:1.

3. Elongated Man

The stretchiest character to ever serve on the Justice League, Ralph Dibny has always been one of the most human characters in the universe. He’s an incredibly intelligent, very humanistic hero who has mentored many others in what it takes to be a hero. His ability to stretch his body is a bit of a relic from the Silver Age but he’s an enormously fun character.

Vegas Odds: Dibny hasn’t really had much of an impact on the universe since he was one of the many innocent victims of familial homicide in “Identity Crisis.” He briefly appeared as a zombie intent on killing Hawkman in “Blackest Night” but he’s bound for a comeback. Even with that, Capcom’s intent at a stretchy character with Super Skrull in “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” was unpopular, despite being one of my favorite characters in the game. Its unlikely we’ll be seeing the poor widower so he’s getting a 10:1.

4. Deathstroke

The greatest mercenary in the universe has never come across a hero he didn’t think he could take down. He’s been at it for years and time has only sharpened his strategical genius. Deathstroke is always ready to reload, relax and get ready to draw blood from every man, woman and child who opposes him.

Vegas Odds: Things are looking pretty good that we’ll be seeing the Terminator in “Injustice.” He appeared in NetherRealm’s “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he’s still a pretty popular and dreaded enemy of the Justice League and the Teen Titans. He’s a pretty solid bet at 2:1.

5. Superboy-Prime

A Superman from a world that was never meant to have superheroes, Superboy Prime is another of the most dangerous forces the universe has ever had to deal with. He’s unleashed hell on the Teen Titans, battled Superman blow for blow and taken up the armor of the Anti-Monitor to unleash havoc on a world that didn’t understand him.

Vegas Odds: As cool as it would be to see a Superboy bereft of morals and capable of defeating nearly anyone but it is pretty unlikely that we’ll be seeing the villain. Like the Elongated Man, I’m giving him a 10:1 and hoping for more.

6. Nightwing

Dick Grayson, the former Robin and current Nightwing, has never struggled with the fact that he’s always been a hero in over his head. That’s never stopped him from doing as much good for Gotham and the world at large, joining up with Batman Inc. and serving time as the Dark Knight while Bruce Wayne struggled to return to his own time.

Vegas Odds: Nightwing is a popular character and all but I can’t imagine much of a way that NetherRealm would want to differentiate Grayson from Wayne and would just leave him off the list. We’ll give him a 5:1.

7. Atrocitus

There are few creatures as capable of rage as the Red Lanterns and only Atrocitus has the will and power to lead the group. His capacity for violence is legendary and he’s rapidly becoming one of the most prominent intergalactic forces in the DC universe.

Vegas Odds: Decently likely. The Green Lanterns have prospered under the rule of DC’s head scribe Geoff Johns and its drawn attention to the other Lantern teams. Atrocitus could serve as a useful and very neat bruiser to oppose the Emerald Knights. That’s worth a decent 3:1 spread.

8. Hank Henshaw aka Cyborg Superman

The almost-victor of the War of the Supermen, Hank Henshaw was briefly able to hold the role of Kal-El. He is also awfully contrived and terrible.

Vegas Odds: Thankfully awful. 15:1.

“Papa don’t kill Terminators” – 7 ways “Tomb Raider” could have avoided the sexual assault trap

The constant videogame news stream has nearly gotten to the point of players knowing the whole game before they even pop a disc into their console. Unfortunately, this is ending up causing a lot of controversy that may have been otherwise overlooked. Let’s take the “Tomb Raider” rape scene for instance. In an interview with Kotaku, the unreleased game’s executive producer said that the intent was to reduce and debase Lara Croft, “turning her into a caged animal.” And of course, what better way to do that than attempted sexual assault.

I’ve hated on a lot of writers, directors and artists for the use of sexual assault as a plot device but really, I don’t think its an enormous problem when its treated with respect. The problem with the Tomb Raider controversy was the way that it nearly implied that the only way to turn the character into a killer was to make her a rape victim, rather than a determined, self made treasure seeker. Of course, even that can be problematic when we look back at what Lara Croft is primarily known for.

We all know that we don’t need female characters to be defined by trauma, particularly sexual trauma. With that being said, let’s find some other pop culture examples of female heroine’s origin stories and see how they’d work out in the Tomb Raider reboot’s premise. At the end of each entry, we’ll port the character traits over to Lara, assuming that the basics of the game, namely that it takes place on an island where the prime objectives are survival and escape, hold true.

1. Sarah Connor – Terminator

Where “Terminator 2” gets a lot of credit for its still amazing special effects, the first “Terminator” film is vastly forgotten, despite the incredible characterization of Connor. Her transformation from bystander, to confused participant, to terrorist, to robot killer, to savior of the future is a joy to watch and her moment of catharsis is so well earned. We, as viewers, know just as she does, that the future can be saved.

Characterizing Croft: Lara’s time on the island is guided by another, more experienced character. They eventually die, forcing Lara to become a killer and survivor in the unforgiving environment.

2. Kate Kane – Batwoman

Kate Kane would have been a hero even without putting on the cape. After quitting an illustrious career at West Point because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” she joined with her General father to hunt down the terrorists that killed her mother. Of course, things weren’t what they seemed and Kate was forced to kill her own sister, putting her into a tailspin that turned her into the brutal but compassionate Batwoman that’s become a fan favorite.

Characterizing Croft: Whoever ended up marooning Lara on the island may have some secret motives, particularly related to the Croft fortune. She has to figure out how to survive and get back home if she’s going to protect what’s hers.

3. Hitgirl – “Kick-Ass”

I hate Mark Millar’s “Kick-Ass” so much that it physically hurts me to even mention it. But, y’know, she’s raised by her dad to kill. Its really lame and exploitative.

Characterizing Croft: Someone else on the island teaches Lara to be merciless, killing everyone in her path. Hey, its not good but at least its not attempted rape.

4. Katniss Everdeen – “The Hunger Games”

Speaking of things that I really don’t like, the protagonist of the eponymous teen series at least had a strong base for a developing character. Katniss had trained to survive in the depressed village she grew up in and her development to one of the champions of the games required her to use those same hunting skills for murder.

Characterizing Croft: Lara’s trained well with her trademark dual pistols but she’s never had to turn the barrel on an actual person. To survive the trials of the island, she’s going to have to do just that.

5. Miranda Lawson – “Mass Effect 2”

Sure, Miranda was a cybernetically augmented cloned killer, but what motivates her abilities is a single minded desire to do what’s right by her more vulnerable sister. Her dedication to protecting the one innocent is even enough to help her break from Cerberus.

Characterizing Croft: Sure, maybe she would have been able to simply stay alive on the island. That’s not going to be enough when someone close to Lara disappears and she realizes that she’ll do anything to get them back safely.

6. Talia al Ghul – “Batman Incorporated”

I mentioned last week that I adored the way Grant Morrison finally gave Talia a motivation for her attack on the dark knight, a quest to find out who she is and with the goal of getting out from under the long shadow of her father.

Characterizing Croft: The best characters are the ones that have motivations that we can associate with. Lara’s potential quest to find out more about her lineage and where she fits into the Croft family could be a deeply compelling reason to help keep her alive on the island.

7. Ripley – “Alien”

Ripley doesn’t seem as if she’s going to be the one to survive the first encounter with the Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” but she’s the only person to get out alive. How does she do it? Pretty simple really, she’s smarter, braver and more willing to make the harsh decisions than anyone else on board.

Characterizing Croft: You know what turns Lara into a killer? Necessity. She’s going to survive, going to do what she has to do to get off the island and she dares anyone to stop her.

Super villainy is hard, let’s go shopping!: 9 questionable representations of women in “geek culture”

One thing the internet has done that is great is bringing fans of niche programming together. In years past, we’d all have to meet up at conventions, send letters or read specialty magazines for the information that is now available in seconds. The not so great thing this has led to is what I call “geek elitism.” As fans of science fiction, comics, videogames, anime and all sorts of nerdy content, we’ve now thought that we can band together in lording over anyone who can’t quote chapter and verse in nerdery.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in slut shaming and judging of women. Just because Joss Whedon put a whole bunch of powerful women in his shows, his acolytes view said content as intrinsically superior to any show that has, say, a sexual woman who appears in a clothing that flaunts her body. One of my favorite blogs, recently did an entire post based on the picture posted above and the phenomenon of geek culture celebrating itself which sums up the issue much better than I can but it got me thinking about the ways in which pop culture hasn’t always given us the greatest of role models, even in content that has been targeted at for lack of a better word, geeks. So, let’s do the exceedingly lazy list thing.

1. Seven of Nine – “Star Trek Voyager”

Voyager has a lot of problems. There’s no doubt about that. That being said, so many of those problems begin and end with Seven of Nine, a freed Borg that aids the crew in their many dealings with the Queen and her minions. The unfortunate thing about her wasn’t so much what the brought to the crew or the storytelling problems but more about he way she was viewed on screen. She was always in a skin tight jump suit, even after she wore a Starfleet uniform and was often shot to accentuate her body. Even worse, many characters on the ship seemed to value her more for her looks than anything else. I don’t blame Jeri Ryan or the character really, it’s more in how the writers portrayed her as little more than a sex object and not a particularly willing one at that.

2. Yeoman Rand – “Star Trek”

That being said, the original series had many more problems with women but none stand out as much or as significantly as the ship’s most prominent yeoman and Kirk’s implied love interest Rand. Rand was another case of being more of an object than character, often targeted by enemies interested in sexually assaulting her. When she was given lines, most of them were focused on how scared she was or how she needed protection. Blame it on the writers, blame it on the time period, whatever.

3. Molotov Cocktease – “The Venture Bros.”

Yes, Molotov is supposed to be an over the top parody of James Bond-esque female spies with a dash of Black Widow thrown in and the show goes to elaborate and hysterical lengths to make her more than a sex object. That being said, you maybe wouldn’t want to buy her action figure for your daughter.

4. Harley Quinn – “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman” and “Suicide Squad”

Like pretty much everyone, I adore Harley as a character. She’s gleefully evil, unbelievably focused on creating chaos and sowing discontent and is a great partner in crime with the Joker and Poison Ivy. That being said, she’s pretty much been defined by her relationship with the Joker, often to her own detriment. In the episode “Mad Love,” Quinn is routinely beaten and abused by her lover yet goes back like a kicked dog. Her inclusion in the New 52’s Suicide Squad seemed like it could be a neat place for her before the book’s release but her costume redesign wasn’t meant to showcase her character.

5-6. Silk Spectre I and Silk Spectre II – “Watchmen” and “Before Watchmen”

When Alan Moore gets up in the morning, cracks his knuckles, sits down in front of his typewriter as he eats breakfast, fires off a couple of quick letters to movie studios calling everyone a bastard and finally starts writing comics, the first thing on his mind is how he can write more rape and sexual assault into his stories. Look, I like Moore’s work but it is hard to find a female character he’s written that isn’t defined by sexual assault. Their motivations, their powers and even their strength is tied directly to the trauma they’ve suffered. In “Watchmen,” Silk Spectre is raped by The Comedian, causing her to become a paranoid and controlling mother to Silk Spectre II, who is further defined by the knowledge of her father and the evil that men do. Not helping matters, it looks like the trend is continuing in “Before Watchmen,” where the original Silk Spectre is still a wreck although her daughter is given great definition. We’ll have to wait and see if her character is defined better by mini-series end.

7. Kara Thrace – “Battlestar Galactica”

Its a shame to put Starbuck on this list. For the first two seasons of the show, she’s the epitome of a well written character. She’s personally strong, does what she wants, has a powerful moral compass and she’s an inspiration to the rest of the Galactica. That all turns around in the last two seasons of the show, where she becomes a messianic figure who used to have mommy and daddy issues. That is, only when she’s not drinking herself to death, fucking everyone she comes across for no real reason. The failing of Starbuck was simply a writer problem but its one of the most unfortunate ones of the show.

8. Wonder Woman – David E. Kelley’s “Wonder Woman”

When a Wonder Woman TV show was announced last year, I was legitimately pretty excited. Diana is my favorite character of the DC universe and I figured everything could have worked out. Then we found out it was a David E. Kelley who was turning one of the most powerful super heroines and an icon of womanhood into a corporate attorney by day while fighting crime and just looking for the perfect guy. It was such a hackneyed take on the character and the leaked script of the pilot didn’t make her into much of a character. Even after the rewrite, it still seemed like Kelley was more interested in making a superpowered “Ally McBeal” rather than writing a character that was worth of Wonder Woman’s legacy.

9. Starfire – “Teen Titans” and “Red Hood and the Outlaws”

Like Kara Thrace, having Starfire on the list is a shame. Pre-New 52, she was a sexually liberated very well developed character with motivations, love interests and a deep rich backstory that made her a fan favorite. All of that changed when she teamed up with Jason Todd in the New 52’s “Red Hood and the Outlaws.” Suddenly, she was requisitioning everyone she came across for sex and not in a way that made her a character wanting intimacy. She was strictly an object of wish fulfillment. This rightfully caused a stir amongst critics, many putting their focus on schlocky writer Scott Lobdell. Some were gentle, others were really not so much. Comics Alliance focused on how the character was little more than a surrogate girlfriend for horny nerds, Andy Hunsaker said that the character had been reduced to little more than a “highly advanced Real Doll” and Matthew Peterson said the character’s sexual appetites reduced her to a walking punch-line, hurting a book that had such a small cast. The only thing I can say is that there’s a difference between a well written character who is interested in sex and a poorly written one who is little more than a willing wish fulfillment vessel.

Tossing Controllers: 8 Obscene Difficulty Spikes

I can do many things but keeping up with modern videogames is not one of them. That’s why the Playstation Network is a god send for me. Having the chance to download HD remakes of some of my favorite 16-bit games and replay my favorite JRPGs.

That being said, there is one thing that I’ve forgotten about classic games: designer expectations for players. With little time to know how people would play the game and little thought for the diversity of different players that would play their games, many classic 8 and 16-bit games featured moments when games went from playable to almost unbelievably difficult. Let’s count some of the most memorable of these moments.

1. Earthworm Jim – For Pete’s Sake!

Don’t let the video fool you, “For Pete’s Sake” is one of the most frustrating levels of the 16-bit era. Whether you’re getting crushed by asteroids, knocked into almost unbelievably small pits by ferocious plants, having to perform pixel perfect whipping feats or being mauled by the dog you’re meant to be escorting, this level is an endurance round and it heralds the infinitely less fun levels you’re about to have to deal with.

2. Donkey Kong Country – Snow Barrel Blast

You’d be excused if you thought the first Donkey Kong Country was easy after the first three worlds. That becomes infinitely less true after the first level of World 4, which requires insane reflexes as you blast from barrel to barrel trying to reach the end across slippery slopes. Making the whole thing worse, there’s a shortcut that’s almost impossible to find that makes the whole level a joke. It adds insult to your self-inflicted injury.

3. Ninja Gaiden – Act III

I’m not saying Ninja Gaiden is easy. The first two acts are certainly a challenge but Act III is where the game earns its notoriety for legendary difficulty. After passing through a fairly easy level on the docks, players are thrown into the mountains where they’re attacked by hawks, snow leopards, soldiers with rocket launchers and some challenging jumps that need to be made without a second thought. Its a challenging level that demands that players be at the top of their game.

4. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes – Spider Ball Guardian

This is the moment where pretty much everyone quit playing Metroid Prime 2. The fight is just so frustrating. You’re either constantly taking super heavy damage, hoping that the Ing will sort of fall into the next section of the fight or just struggling to figure out what to do in this fight that’s so hard that even the game’s director said that he couldn’t finish the fight. That being said, Nintendo made this fight, and the rest of Echoes for that matter, considerably easier.

5. Battletoads – Speeder Bikes

The difficulty on this one is legendary and part of what makes the fight so memorable is the fact that the levels leading up to it are all just fairly standard, if a little tricky, beat-em up stages. The bikes, however, are where things get crazy and make the game almost impossible. I’ve played this thing for almost 15 years and I still can’t get get past the speeder bikes which require not only lightening fast reflexes but also that players memorize the different jumps, turns and ramps that populate the extremely long track.

6. Illusion of Gaia – Mu

In one of the first, and most difficult, action RPGs on the Super Nintendo, the little played Illusion of Gaia goes from a challenging game to a downright insanely difficult one when the protagonist, a psychic named Will, wakes up on the fabled mystical island of Mu. Things get even worse when you’re asked to track down a pair of vampires who have kidnapped your friend, all without being able to transform into your more powerful alter ego until damn near the end of the level. Its insanely difficult and features almost no healing items to help players against the insane threat of tougher monsters and the hardest boss in the game.

7. Batman: Arkham City – Return to the Steel Mill

Sure, it comes fairly late in the game, but attempting to reenter the Steel Mill toward the end of Arkham City is where the game finally pulls off the training wheels. Suddenly, the whole city is against you. Thugs armed with sniper rifles, armored guards and difficult to reach areas make it feel like the Joker’s plan is finally coming together. Players can’t be blamed if they just start flying by the snipers or taking an occasional bullet instead of sneaking through the area.

8. Wolfenstein 3D – Episode 6

Another example of when one of the first examples of the genre is also one of the hardest, Wolfenstein 3D suddenly goes from an intense, fun to explore adventure shooter into a game that suddenly needs to be played at a snail’s pace. Whether its the endless, difficult to navigate mazes, enemies that take more bullets and harder to find guns, ammo and health packs, its a tough fight and that’s just when things start to get intense.

“We’re Going to Have to Operate:” 10 Great Pop Culture Surgeries

Putting a character under the knife is a guaranteed way to raise the tension in your movie. “Alien” features one of the great moments in accidental/impromptu chest surgery in the classic bursting scene and in a salute to the original film, “Prometheus,” which opened Friday, features a wonderfully gory, tense and vile surgery. Walking out of the theater, my mind went back to that scene and others that explored how disgusting, gory and downright strange our own bodies can be.

1. Rape, Pills, Mormons and Power Tools – “Heavy Rain”

In the most harrowing scene in a thoroughly harrowing game, the photojournalist Madison chases down a lead to a drug dealing ex-doctor. Depending on player choice, she can end up chained up in the basement, where the doctor plans on sexually assaulting her, as well as performing a variety of experimental surgeries on her. Its a stressful scene and one that forced me to put the game down for almost a week after finishing it.

2. It was a baby! – “The Fly”

As Geena Davis continues to fret over her relationship with Jeff Goldblum’s increasingly mutated self, she has a panicked dream about giving birth to a mutated, fleshy, wormlike child. Its a disgusting moment and one that makes the ultimate horror of Goldblum’s wish for a family into a true threat.

3. He’s just getting started – “Crank 2”

“Crank 2” is probably one of the most kinetic, fast paced and intense action movies ever and the opening sets up exactly what you’re in for. As Jason Statham is revived by an Asian cartel, the doctors attempt to remove his penis. Comatose Statham isn’t having that and he lays out an epic amount of ass kicking in the first four minutes of the film.

5. “He died of old age.” – Fringe: “The Same Old Story” 

In the second episode of Fox’s sci-fi procedural, a man has sex with a hooker in the cold open, only for her to begin to rapidly expand. He drops her off in front of a hospital, where she gives birth to a child who ages 80 years in a matter of minutes. Its a tense cold open, moving very quickly and ratcheting up the tension with louder background noise and the panic of doctors. Its a great opening for the show’s first great episode.

6. Cancer for the cure… – The X-Files: “Leonard Betts”

The big surgery episode of “The X-Files” is also one of the show’s worst. Instead, we’re going with the homemade surgery of the classic episode “Leonard Betts.” Its not only one of the best episodes of the show but also one of the episodes that secured the show’s place as a stone cold hit. In one particularly memorable moment, the eponymous character submerges himself in iodine in order to regenerate his cancer dominated body. It is disgusting, memorable and wonderfully symbolic of the rebirth he goes through and the changes he’s about to bring to Agent Scully’s life.

7.  A very bad bluff – “Inglorious Basterds”

After all the shit goes down, the Bastereds are left with one turncoat German and a room full of dead Nazis and Brits. As Brad Pitt struggles to come up with a plan, he goads the captured German actress into helping while they remove the bullets from her legs. Its a rough scene and Tarantino manages to milk the scene for as much drama and pain as possible as they pick the shrapnel out.

8. “I want the other doctor.” – Arrested Development: “Sword of Destiny”

Hurray, I finally got an “Arrested Development” reference in here. As Michael’s order for houses is cut back, he struggles to not cause a panic. Unfortunately, the stress gets to him and he ends up in the hospital, where his respect for authority sticks him with an incompetent doctor who’s either losing scissors inside of him or performing experimental surgeries. This is also the episode that introduced us to “dong tea.” I’d say its pretty great.

9. “Take off your ghost clothes!” – Children’s Hospital: “No One Can Replace Her”

The pleasure of “Children’s Hospital” has always been the way the show subverts the expectations of the audience, even an audience that’s in on the parody. They’ll build to a climactic moment only to tear it down in a dramatically ridiculous fashion. Nowhere is this done as memorably as when Cat prepares to give birth.

10. “I lost my lunch box and I’m having a baby” – Mad Men: “The Fog”

In the dreamy, ephemeral “The Fog,” everyone in Sterling, Cooper, Pryce is on edge while courting London Fog but Betty is struggling with giving birth as well as struggling with her father’s death and Don’s infidelities. Put on pain killers as she gives birth, she alternatively imagines herself as something of an earth mother and a child, lost in the decade. Its a little heavy handed but also one of the most well shot and well done sequences of the show’s third season. That being said, I’m sure Bert would have something to say about the whole thing.

Summer Classes – The Final: “Symphony of the Night”

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, we finish playing “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.”

I’ve only killed Dracula two times. Over the course of one summer, I ruthlessly played through the first “Castlevania,” defeating Death, getting through the infamous Medusa/Knight hallway and firebombing the shit out of the king of all vampires. My freshman year of college, I played through “Castlevania IV,” constantly reentering passcodes to start at the last level, relentlessly trying to get to Dracula and finish the job.

“Symphony of the Night” has players fight Dracula not once, but twice and both times are disappointments. The first match is little more than a gimmick to set up the backstory and the second battle is a joke. For a game designed to challenge players every step of the way, “Symphony of the Night” begins and ends on a whimper and it ultimately ended up poisoning one of the best games I’ve played in a long time.

Initially, I was really pleased with the way the Inverted Castle managed to balance the increased difficulty with slightly changed dungeon layouts that refreshed the game. However, it ended up being entirely too easy. By that time in the game, I had so many ways to overcome and avoid challenge that there wasn’t any reason to put myself in danger. The only time I died was when I put myself in no win situations. I could easily avoid every difficult fight or turn to mist as I approached the next save point. That’s not fun or challenging. It just sort of feels like cheating.

Even the bosses at this point weren’t hard based solely on how many options were available to me as a player at any given moment. I had a bevy of weapons that could deal differing damages as needed. I had armor that could stop petrification, prevent poisoning, heal me when I was struck by lightning or increase my speed. If I was stumped, I was one clothing choice away from being able to best my opponents. I didn’t feel powerful as a player or avatar, I felt as if I was cheating the game.

That’s not always a bad thing. In one of my favorite RPGs of this generation, “Deus Ex: Human Revolution,” the thrill of the experience is using your bionic abilities to work around the challenges that the game presents you with. You’re never punished for your decisions and always given a route to success based on what you choose. On my first playthrough, my invisible sniper would creep through cities and offices, using his tranquilizer rifle, his bare hands and his ability to slip out of site to destroy his enemies silently. My second trip through the game featured a hacking expert who was more likely to turn the enemy’s robotics against them rather than get his hands dirty. Both times, I felt like I was a badass and as if the game wanted me to succeed, even when I broke the rules the game already had set up.

I never had that same sense playing through the final half of “Symphony of The Night.” The abilities that I had didn’t make the rest of the game more challenging or interesting. If the Inverted Castle would have featured boss fights, encounters or platforming sections that kept in mind the fact that I was capable of nearly any action at any time. Other games have managed to keep these different factors in mind. The Elder Scrolls games have allowed players to overcome the obstacles they face, regardless of individual points placed in certain skills. Likewise, Fallout has managed to balance the player’s character choices in the quest progression. If you don’t have experience in lockpicking, you can hack a computer or maybe search the area for a password. The game balances the choices you have with the increased power your character gains as you play the game.

“Symphony of the Night” just throws more and more monsters at you, hoping that you’re challenged more and more. It doesn’t take into consideration the fact that you can fly and be invincible, shoot fireballs and use spells to heal yourself at will. That isn’t a scaling difficulty. Its just lazy, thoughtless design.

That’s the true failing of “Symphony of the Night.” It never considers the way that the game develops after the well designed first half and never really challenges you after that. Sure, enemies are stronger, bosses are bigger and items are still hidden but little consideration is given to the way in which the player’s avatar strength has been raised and how that meshes with the design choices.

I finished “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” with the good ending, killing Shaft and the final form of Dracula. Despite the 12 hours I spent with it, I didn’t have a sense of accomplishment like I had when I finished the first game or “Castlevania IV.” I felt relief and when you’re watching the castle crumble after banishing evil, that’s never the right emotion to have.

Next class: The J-horror genre made a big splash in America with “The Grudge” and “The Ring” but one entry never made it to our shores. Next time, we check out the quintessential film of the form, “Pulse.”

Summer Classes: “Castlevania Symphony of the Night”

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, we continue our exploration of  “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.”

I think there are few mediums that let people have a moment where everything suddenly clicks. Videogames are probably the best example of this phenomenon. There’s usually a moment, sometimes about halfway through the game where the style, control and challenges all begin to match up to the player’s expectations and abilities. The challenges no longer seem unbeatable, the avatar suddenly feels unstoppable and death seems unlikely.

As Alucard rushed through the catacombs of the castle, I finally came across a fire spewing priest. I summoned a holy symbol, equipped my best sword and repeatedly blocked his attacks, inching closer and closer to him so that I could land blow after blow. As he dropped, the priest changed into a huge green skeletal monster, towering over Alucard and shooting fire. I changed into a bat, set my familiar to give me potions every time my health dropped dangerously and began to heave battle-axes at my enemy. Whatever happened, I was going to walk away victorious. And I did.

Of course, it only took me a couple more hours to get here. After scouring the castle, finding only a few more items, I discovered Dracula’s room, found Richter, killed him and watched the credits roll. It was strange. I knew this couldn’t be the end of the game so I leapt back in, searching for anything that could possibly lead me to the true ending of the game.

It took me a whole two hours of aimless wandering through the castle to find anything. In an overlooked section of the waterlogged chasm, I discovered an artifact that let me swim. From there, I carefully began exploring every nook and cranny of the castle. If there was a tiny chimney, I was going to turn into a bat and fly up it. If there was an odd looking wall, I was going to smash it with my sword until I was sure that nothing was coming out. Wide open areas were scoured by me in both human and bat form, looking  for anything that could possibly lead to a new relic, a new weapon or a new area to explore.

The reward was these new areas. It was a chance to fight new enemies, find even more treasures, challenges and above all, boss fights. I adored finding more and more of these difficult encounters. After having played more and more of the game, I wasn’t being challenged in the moment to moment battles or platforming of the game. Everything was streamlined to encourage players to search every part of the game so the normal encounters were pretty easy. The only thing that could possibly be very difficult would be the parts that players wouldn’t play again, the boss fights.

This was something I’d forgotten I’d missed since the beginning of the modern age of gaming. In a world where everything is leaked online, every necessary area that needs to be explored is pointed to explicitly, where every enemy has a glowing weak spot, it can be hard to find this sense of exploration and discovery in a game world. I loved following these rabbit holes, even if it meant near endless grinding battles with unfathomably easy enemies.

That being said, eventually, I had done everything, found every item and bought up so many items from the Master Librarian that there were no excuses left. I equipped the Holy Glasses, ended Shaft’s spell and freed Richter, beginning the second half of the quest. Shit was suddenly very, very real.

In the inverted castle, the rooms had been flipped, forcing me to depend on the bat and mist form, engaging with much more powerful enemies and forced to duel with even more powerful bosses. This was the return of the challenge I faced when I began the game. Brutal difficulty marked every hallway as I slew minotaurs as I forced my way to every save point without much in the way of support items. If the platforming was any better, it would feel much more like the old Castlevania I knew and loved.

The things that felt frustrating no longer felt insurmountable. In especially straining fights. In the Inverted Coliseum, I turned to mist in a room that was filled with minotaurs and werewolves, I moved through the horde without taking a blow. Was it a slight cheat? Definitely, but a necessary one.

I ended my session with a battle with Beelzebub, the demonic lord of flies. I hurled axes at his legs, dodging poisonous maggots and cutting down giant evil bugs as I cut off chunks of the beast’s body. That being said, he repeatedly killed me. Instead of grinding through enemies, I reloaded and went back in every time, ready to kill my enemy with a brand new strategy. I didn’t need to get better. I needed to get even.