Most approachable? A dialectical review of Elden Ring

Dark Souls and other games made by FromSoft are legendary for their fans’ elitism. The phrase, “git gud”, archetypically spoken to the souls newb who asks for advice on game forums, resonates throughout gaming discourse. “Souls-like” and “The Dark Souls of” are practically synonymous with video game difficulty, and the conversation around it.

But when FromSoft released Elden Ring this year, I loosely followed the fan subreddit, and found that elitism was not nearly as common as reputed. The phrase “git gud” was rarely used, and only then as a joke–and not a funny joke either, but the kind everyone else would groan at. Perhaps I’m looking at the wrong fan-sites, but my impression is that the fans have moved beyond elitism. They have come to recognize that, actually, it would be great if more people enjoyed this series, so that they could make more of it.

It’s possible that fans and critics and have overcorrected for past elitism, now declaring that Elden Ring is FromSoft’s “most approachable game yet.” Other critics have pushed back, highlighting how the game can still be unfriendly to newcomers. To explore this issue, I present two reviews from different perspectives.

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Talking about media you haven’t seen

Among people who are close to me, I am renowned for not liking movies or TV. If you’ve ever read my reviews of TV/movies, you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, as I generally do not like things enough to watch them in the first place. I think it’s great living this way, I can only imagine how many lifetimes I have saved by not watching all that stuff. It’s a shame that I waste that extra time by watching media criticism instead.

That’s right, I enjoy video essays that analyze media that I have never watched, and do not have any intention of ever watching. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In the past six years, YouTube media criticism has emerged as a popular genre—as well as an influential source of progressive commentary.

What’s incredible about these videos, is that they appear to have solved one of my lifelong struggles. How do we have a discussion about unshared media—media that not everyone in the audience has experienced?

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Is queerness wholesome now?

A couple weeks ago, I was following the Summer Games Fest and other video game presentations. And because I’m so interested in queer media, I asked myself, of all these different presentations, which is the queerest of them all? It’s hardly a question, because the answer is so obviously the Wholesome Games Direct.

The next day, I read a story about proud boys creating a disturbance at a Drag Queen Story Hour, and I thought, of course. Of course the queers would be doing something so wholesome as reading stories to children, and of course the edgy fascists would hate that.

Is this a thing? Is queer wholesomeness a thing?

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ywibaysfb and webcomic criticism

Your Webcomic Is Bad and You Should Feel Bad (YWIBaYSFB) was a blog active in the years 2007-2008. The title, based on a dated Futurama meme, is an accurate reflection of its content: insulting, mocking, and booing webcomics that the author, John Solomon, deemed bad.

I did not actively read YWIBaYSFB at the time, but one did not need to read the blog to be aware of it. It made a lot of waves in webcomic circles, and everyone came to watch the train wreck. Whether the train wreck was the blog itself or the webcomics it mocked was, I suppose, the subject of some disagreement.

For context, 2007 is the year I started blogging. I was feebly trying to attract readers, and making barely any headway at all. In contrast, YWISaYSFB instantly got huge amounts of attention, thousands of comments, and even a parody blog it inspired acquired some renown. Within a year it stopped, and its legacy is now inherited by the Bad Webcomics Wiki. I think this flash in the pan says something about the challenges of criticism.

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Netflix’s algorithmic queerbaiting

Netflix’s algorithm engages in queerbaiting. Whenever we browse movies and TV shows, Netflix has a clear preference for showing promo images with attractive men looking meaningfully into each others’ eyes.

I think many of these shows actually do have some sort of same-sex relationship, but they’re incidental or on the margins. Others, I have a suspicion that they actually don’t have any queer content at all! And then there are some that I thought must be a trick, with hardly any queer content to speak of, but after some research, I think are actually fairly queer. Netflix’s tendency to show the most homoerotic marketing material regardless of actual content sure makes it difficult to distinguish.

I’m very sorry but I’m going to have to show you some homoerotic imagery. Purely for scientific purposes, of course.

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Heartstopper double review

This is a review of both the TV series, and the webcomic.  The reader should be aware that I greatly favor the critical review, so it should come as no shock that that’s what this is.  However, this is a space where we are free to like or dislike things–or both, as the case may be.

Heartstopper (TV series, 1st season)

Heartstopper is a Netflix TV series based on the free online graphic novel (that is to say, webcomic) of the same name. The first season released to critical acclaim, and people have been talking about it as the hot new thing. I recently watched the series with my husband, and we both had the same reaction: The series is sweet and well-done, but extremely cookie-cutter.

Many viewers found the show to be novel and refreshing, but we found it to be very much the opposite. Why is that? It must have something to do with the sort of media we consume. My husband and I both watch a lot of gay movies, and I’ve read a lot of BL webcomics—including the original Heartstopper. Within that space, the high school coming out slash romance genre is extremely common, and Heartstopper is practically a tour of the most well-worn tropes.

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