Gaming

The Highs And Lows Of Geek Culture 2014

For the most part, 2014 was a good year to be somebody inclined towards geekiness, nerdiness or general poindextery. Geek culture continued to explode into every corner of mainstream society this year, while the source material, the comics, video games and other nerd ephemera that started it all, benefited from an infusion of new, more diverse creative talent.

Of course, 2014 wasn’t entirely a geek paradise – as always, there were the embarrassing outbursts from the community and very legitimate reasons for nerdrage. Here are the highs, and a few of the lows of geek culture in 2014…

High: B-Team Superheroes Shine on the Silver Screen

Comic fans have been able to watch the giants of the superhero genre on movie screens for some time, and that’s great, but most true comic nerds have a personal list of obscure heroes they want to see in movies even more than the Batmans and Spider-Mans of the world. 2014 was the first year the B-team really got to step up, and they took advantage of the opportunity with Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Hero 6 scoring big at the box office and with critics, and names like John Constantine making solid debuts on TV. The trend doesn’t look to end anytime soon either, with Marvel and Warner Bros. announcing Suicide Squad, Inhumans, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and more semi-obscure characters and teams will be getting movies in the coming years.

Low: A-Team Superheroes Wear Out Their Welcome

Unfortunately, while the scrappy, lesser known heroes have been kicking ass, the old standbys have been starting to look a bit creaky. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a convoluted mess, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a Batman & Robin-esque clown show and the less said about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the better. Things don’t look to be getting any better in the future either, as movies like The Fantastic Four and Superman V Batman: Dawn of Justice sound iffy at best. Hollywood just doesn’t seem to be able to make a good superhero movie that isn’t an origin story.

High: Batman Eternal Pulls Off The Weekly Comics Thing

I’ve never been a big fan of the weekly comics thing. The series always end up feeling like so much filler, and never end up having the promised impact. The exception to this has been this year’s Batman Eternal, which has gradually been transforming the Bat-universe in some pretty significant ways. The Gotham that’s emerged from Batman Eternal feels fresher, younger and full of new possibilities, which is not an easy thing to do when you’re working with a 75-year-old franchise. Aside from all that, Batman Eternal may be the first 52-style comic to really tell a cohesive entertaining story on a week-to-week basis. Another in a series of huge accomplishments for Scott Snyder as lead Batman writer.

Low: Gotham Makes Batman’s Hometown Boring

I think we all knew Gotham wouldn’t be the gritty, live-action Batman TV show we’ve been waiting for all our lives, but man, it still fell well short of my very curtailed expectations. Stupid characters, a wildly inconsistent tone, constant “these characters will totally do something interesting someday” winks and general lack of purpose hobble what wasn’t a great idea in the first place. Granted, Alfred is pretty badass, because Alfred is always pretty badass, and the show is doing well in the ratings, but then a lot of crap does well in the ratings. Gotham somehow manages to make me embarrassed to like Batman without actually containing Batman.

High: FPS Mania is Dead

For most of the past generation it seemed like the gaming industry was unwilling or incapable of making a triple-A game that wasn’t a first-person shooter. That was fine for a certain subset of gamers, but if you weren’t particularly into grey-brown shooters, the trend quickly became tiresome. Thankfully it looks like the transition to a new generation of gaming has brought with it a much greater diversity of genres. Scan 2014’s top games and you’ll find a refreshingly varied slate, including third-person open world adventures (Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, InFamous: Second Son), RPGs (Dark Souls II, Dragon Age: Inquisition) horror games (Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within), fighters (Super Smash Bros, Ultra Street Fighter IV), racing games (Mario Kart 8) and a wealth of quirky indies. FPSes haven’t died out – they’re still going strong with games like Destiny and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but they’re now just one option on a much more disparate gaming buffet.

Low: The Gaming Press’ Sins Come Home To Roost

“Actually, it’s about ethics in games journalism”.

Earlier this year, the hashtag #GamerGate popped up out of nowhere to take the gaming community, and eventually the world, by storm. Supporters claimed Gamergate was about calling out the gaming media for corrupt practices and disrespecting their own audience in gamer-bashing editorials, and a large portion of the people using the hashtag truly believed that’s what it was about. Unfortunately it would later be revealed that the hashtag was intentionally manufactured to act as a smokescreen while certain fringe forces within the gaming community attacked and harassed certain (mostly female) developers and writers.

Once the real source of Gamergate was revealed, the gaming media largely washed their hands of whole debacle. The very idea that games journalism could have been even partially to blame for Gamergate was downright meme-worthy. It’s about ethics in games journalism? Hah!

The uncomfortable fact is the gaming media is more to blame for Gamergate than they’d like to admit. Nerds not wanting to open their clubhouses to women and others they see as not having “earned” membership is nothing new, but the gatekeeping hasn’t been nearly as nasty or angry in, say, the world of comic books or sci-fi. Why are gamers in particular so riled up about “outsiders”? It’s partially because gaming media has spent years maintaining a clubhouse, Us vs. Them approach in their coverage – for ages websites like IGN and Gamespot were aggressively bro-ish and dismissive of any gamers not in their targeted 18 – 34 white male demographic, rejecting any games that might appeal to people outside of that demographic as casual garbage. Most games journalists may be backing away from Gamergate with their hands raised, but those hands aren’t as clean as they’d like the world to believe. Hopefully us folks that write about games own up to our mistakes and work to head off any Gamergate-style embarrassments in 2015.

High: Scarlett Johansson

Over the past couple years Scarlett Johansson has staged a career renaissance by playing a series of computer AIs, aliens and genius demigods – you could accuse Johansson of sticking to roles that don’t exactly stress out her somewhat limited acting range, but the fact remains all of her recent sci-fi movies have all been pretty goddamn great. This year gave us Lucy, one the most delightfully demented action spectacles I’ve seen in a long time, and Under the Skin, perhaps the best movie of the year, period. Ms. Johansson has become the undisputed queen of sci-fi, and I can’t wait to see her in more genre movies, particularly if they feature as much glorious Scarjo backside as Under the Skin did.

High: Image Comics Continues to Knock it Out of the Park

The days of Image comics being all about bulging, pouch-coated, cannon-toting heroes designed exclusively to appeal to sweaty 13-year-olds are long over – today Image Comics is the most creatively diverse, cutting edge publisher in comics and they continued to absolutely kill it in 2014. The publisher launched an array of great new series in 2014 including Sex Criminals, Nailbiter and The Wicked + The Divine and of course they continued to publish dependably great stuff like Saga and The Walking Dead. If DC and Marvel are getting you down, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check out Image’s slate.

Low: DC Comics Ruins Wonder Woman

2014 has generally been a good year for comics starring and created by women. Marvel in particular has moved female characters to the forefront in a pretty major way in the pages of Thor and Captain Marvel and tons of female creators like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Fiona Staples and Beck Cloonan continue to produce great, unique work. So, it’s kind of disappointing that this was also the year that DC kneecapped the most iconic female superhero of them all.

Under the guidance of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, Wonder Woman has consistently been DC’s second best title post New 52 reboot (next to Batman) but the run unfortunately had to come to an end with WW #35. For Wonder Woman #36 DC decided to hand the series over to mediocre artist and even worse writer David Finch, and the result was the biggest drop in quality from one issue to a next of 2014. Finch and his co-creator and wife Meredith toss characterization and subtlety straight out in the window in favor of a childish Diana drawn in the most stereotypically sexy ’90s-style possible. If you’re still planning to do that Wonder Woman movie, DC, you may want to get yourself sorted.

High: The Middle 90-Minutes of Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was easily the most hyped sci-fi event of the year, and in the end the movie mostly lived up to that hype. Mostly. The middle part of the movie was a tense, heartbreaking, satisfyingly hard sci-fi story about the unforeseen realities of interstellar travel. Unfortunately that creamy center was sandwiched between a clunky, terrible dialogue-laden first 40-minutes, and a hippie-dippy, “the true power of the universe is love” ending. But man, those middle 90-minutes.

Low: Waiting for the Patch

Apparently 2014 was the year that it became okay to release games that straight up don’t work. A truly shocking percentage of this year’s top games such as Assassin’s Creed Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection or Driveclub have been released in a laughably buggy state or with broken online functionality. Oh, and heaven help you if you’re still playing on a last-gen console – patches will eventually come for most PS4 and Xbox One games, but gamers are just expected to put up with barely worth it last-gen versions of games like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and WWE 2K15. Buyer beware.

High: Episode VII Seems to be on the Right Track

Back when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2014, the future of the Star Wars franchise seemed very much in doubt. Sure, George Lucas’ grubby mitts were no longer around the franchise’s throat, but would Disney strip the last vestiges of its soul? And J.J. Abrams was going to be the series’ new guiding force? Man, out of the frying pan and into the fire, amirite?

Thankfully, we’ve learned much more about Star Wars: Episode VII since 2012, and most of what we know feels positive. Abrams and crew are taking a refreshingly low-fi, practical approach to the movie’s effects and it seems like the cast will be a good mix of familiar and new, dynamic faces. Also, that first trailer was pretty damn hot. Cross lightsaber man – soooo rad!

So there you have it – a few highlights and lowlights of geek life in 2014. What are your thoughts on the past year and its movies, comics and games? Think it was a good one for geek culture, or one best forgotten? Hit the comments and discuss.

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