All About Starshine_M2A2
'V was a bad monster, turned them into freaking zombie demons from outer space.'
When Nintendo unveiled the Wii U, it came as little surprise it would continue the departure from traditional console gaming considering the steps taken with motion technology and a family friendly presentation that led to the original Wii's success. With the unveiling of the Xbox One and Microsoft's own apparent departure from a gaming focused system, it seems the console market is now undergoing a kind of de-evolution. It would be fair to say Microsoft and Nintendo believe themselves to represent the pinnacle of innovation and originality if their advertising campaigns and grandiose press conferences are any evidence. But does the Xbox One actually represent a step backwards as far as gamers are concerned?
Although Sony's original Playstation brought gaming into widespread public recognition by appealing to clubbing culture with trance like visuals and pumping soundtracks, it was the Xbox that pioneered online console gaming. With the introduction of Xbox Live spearheaded by the phenomenally successful Halo, Microsoft quickly and aggressively seized early control of the online market something both Sony and Nintendo have yet to match. The genius of Microsoft's approach was not simply to create a way for gamers to play online but to turn that interaction into an entire community. With the ability to compare statistics, achievements while forming and nurturing online friendships, the widespread popularity started by Sony ended up consolidated back into a culture especially for gamers - rather than club socialites seeking a way to impress their real life friends by showing interest in what they believed to be 'the next big thing'. Essentially, Microsoft gave gaming back to the gamers.
With this in mind, it came as something of a disappointment to learn that the Xbox One would apparently be undoing some of this by catering to a more general community beyond those who play games. The console was revealed to include a Blu-Ray player, Skype support and an evolved online marketplace for movies and music, not to mention integrated Kinect a feature that has never been truly accepted by gamers as a practical method of playing games. So the name Xbox One is something of a misnomer - 'One' meaning all forms of entertainment delivered by a sole system while simultaneously splintering off from a culture of gamers that had been so expertly set up with the previous two consoles. All of this combined with the lack of backwards compatibility and we have system that appears hell bent on erasing the established gaming history of so many who had finally found a devoted community to call home.
The decision to cater for a wider demographic could very well prove fatal for Microsoft considering it already faces competition from the Wii U and is set to face the Playstation 4 on release. It can be assumed the Playstation 3 was the least popular of the current generation systems. A rocky beginning and a severe loss of credibility for Sony after the Playstation Network was hacked in mid 2011 resulting in the compromise of millions of credit card numbers means its been a difficult road for Sony of late. However, it now has a chance at redemption and reclamation of its status as the most popular console developer as proven by the Playstation 2's record of the highest selling console of all time. If you consider the departures from traditional gaming being made by Nintendo and the now risky fracturing of gamer culture by Microsoft, it leaves Sony in an interesting position to take advantage of the Playstation 4 now being the only console to still offer a traditional and dedicated gaming experience.
I've spent the last 40 days or so trying to keep a particularly severe Asperger's Syndrome ritual at bay. Like all others before it, it relates to memories I cant quite remember or trust and irrational fears stemming from uncontrolled mental images. To keep a long and boring story short, these rituals generally consist of ruminations intrusive thoughts and perceived threats similar in a lot of ways to obsessive-compulsive disorder. If I sound blasť about it its because this is nothing new. I've been dealing with rubbish like this since birth but it's been a long time since I've had to contend with one as stubborn as this. Usually my rituals fade after a few days or are replaced by a completely different one. But whenever I am faced with one as bad as this, my tactic is to try to rationalise it in my head or find some way of identifying with it. It was this tactic that led to me giving my Asperger's an identity all of its own which ended up consisting of its own personality, mental representation and eventually an online persona.
My time at school was when things were at their worst. I wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome until the final year of secondary (high) school so had no way of explaining where these obsessive rituals or communication problems were coming from whenever I got into trouble or got into a fight with someone. In my attempts to escape it, I would immerse myself in games, films and music. Never anything particularly conventional or mainstream, usually foreign art films or alternative music since the furthest away I could get from reality the more comfortable I would be. The artistic side of media tends to make this possible. Despite their success, Ive never considered the animated band Gorillaz to be mainstream which is partly why I adopted the name 'Starshine' after a song from their 2001 debut album. Gorillaz have long been known for making alternative music a strange fusion of rock and hip-hop but manages to sound like neither hence the unique and interesting sound they produce. The song Starshine is comprised of little more than the same set of guitar strings played over a synthesizer which slowly fades to an echo as the song goes on. Its lyrics are also minimal consisting of;
Starshine, they ain't gonna find me
Starshine, never gonna find me
Stand easy with myself,
Jumping up, I'm low, low, low, low
Show me down, fast now
It's very possible these five lines could be just random nonsense. On the other hand, it could be a reference to some profound philosophical text. I don't know, but what I do know is how I interpreted it. The music, combined with Damon Albarn's haunting vocals and the lyrics themselves formed the basis for my indentifying with these rituals and thoughts that were festering in my head.
The way I read into it was that there were two individuals present in the song. The first was Starshine who, thanks to Albarn's echoed and distant singing, seems to be calling out from a mysterious void as if taunting at never being found or caught. This came to represent my Asperger's Syndrome a voice from within the mind, compelling the sufferer to perform rituals or flooding their head with unwanted images. The sufferer is unable to locate or punish this voice for the damage it's done since it has no name or visual representation no identity. The second is the sufferer. The line 'stand easy with myself' in particular carried enormous resonance of someone wanting to be left alone or trying to convince themselves that they could live a life without the influence of this mysterious voice they carried around. It was something that didn't have to be part of them, something that could be fought and left behind. It immediately recalled memories of my mother as she would try to encourage me to stop listening to it and just move forward. Easier said than done of course, but it was sound advice.
The sound and imagery of a depressed world invoked by Gorillaz became a metaphor for my own mind...
This interpretation was how I came to know this voice. Before hearing this song, I was struggling to understand what it was that I was experiencing or what I could possibly do to stop it. It wasn't something I could see in my head and recognise which essentially meant that I was at its mercy. After all, how can you fight what you can't identify? But by giving it an identity, it turns into something tangible, something that can indeed be recognised which allowed me a more coherent understanding of what I was up against. So I christened it after the song - Starshine - the enemy, the evil and oppressive tyrant that was trying to take over the mind. Perhaps an evil general leading an army on a relentless mission of dominance. After that, the rituals themselves took on a new form and became battles against him with the brain becoming a mental battlefield. It wasn't long before I even gave Starshine a visual identity to help. I struggle to remember where the image came from or what inspired it but it consisted of a man dressed in black military fatigues black and white camos, boots, a black short sleeved military vest with fingerless gloves. Since he was a manifestation of my own mind I decided that he would look identical to me in terms of body type and facial features but with black spiked hair to represent his status as an evil alter ego of mine. He could be best described as an out of control rock and roller with Gulf War syndrome - the entire opposite to my outwardly nature.
After deciding on this name, I began altering my screen name to Starshine to correspond to the imagined identity that so many of us adopt whenever we go online. It became my email address, Steam ID, GameSpot ID and anywhere else that would allow me to use it. I thought that if games and online services were representative of a virtual world and that my in game avatars would be a fictional manifestation of myself entering a crowded community (something I rarely do in reality), it would make sense that it would be Starshine who would be in control of them since he also occupies a fantastical world. Indeed, he does make himself known in games. His terrible communication skills, team working and common sense all symptoms of Asperger's Syndome - have gotten him, and therefore me, into trouble countless times. It's the reason I have yet to complete a raid on World of Warcraft for example. Occasionally I would attach 'M2A2' to the end of his name which also originated from a Gorillaz song entitled 'M1A1' but was adopted more for convenience than anything else. The reason for using it was not all games allow the creation of specific characters with their own fleshed out identity created by the user - Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 being good examples, as opposed to MMOs that allow growth and development along story driven lines.
Online gaming - the mind downloads to a computer system becoming a new online persona...
So there it is. The origins of Starshine. I've been gaming since I was around four years of age but was a late bloomer to online gaming. If memory serves, I entered my first online match some time in 2002. Since then I've encountered online names of many shapes and sizes. I often find myself wandering where the origins of those names lie. I know there are many, many gamers out there who simply choose the first name that comes to mind but I like to think that screen names, more often than not, are indicative of the user's life or some event that can transcend reality and enter the virtual world. I think that's one of the few sure fire ways we have at the moment of bringing our real lives into a computer game and a powerful message for the relationship between the mind and the computer system. Appropriate as Aspies are often said to have more in common with a computer than a human being.
*Warning. This blog contains spoliers.*
'Congratulations, you are still alive. Most people are so ungreatful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore.'
When dealing with major horror film franchises, the basic rule seems to be that of diminishing returns. Virtually all of the genre's biggest named from Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th and The Exorcist to smaller but equally successful names such as The Blair Witch Project, have failed to maintain a consistent level of quality. So with this in mind, I had been extremely sceptical of the Saw franchise beyond the first two which had both been given positive reviews by Radio Times. Indeed, as the series went on there seemed to be a sharp dip in praise beginning with the third film which was all I needed to decide subsequent entries weren't worth bothering with.
But when the sixth and seventh films were released, reviews became positive again and I thought perhaps it was worth braving the middle section of the series if only to get to an ending that had been referred to as a 'Shakespearean crescendo of anguish and carnage' by Radio Times indicating both its profundity and bite. Also consider that Saw is one of the few major horror franchises that do what is so essential to keep audiences returning which is to end each film on a cliffhanger. Saw II was no different and finally I decided 'how can I possibly resist? I have to find out what happens to Eric Matthews. Does he survive the bathroom trap? And what of Amanda Young, Jigsaws new apprentice?' So, against my better judgment, I went out and bought the remaining five films and boy was it worth it!
The first thing that I need to stress about Saw is that it goes far deeper than the superficial label of 'torture-porn' that had been stamped on the series since the original film was released. While it's true that the selling point of the first three films is the inventive use of machinery, medieval torture devices and household tools to create devious traps with which to kill Jigsaw's victims, the skilful use of narrative and plotting is often overlooked. Saw I, II and III cleverly meander between multiple plots which eventually intersect and tie up into a surprise twist ending that would give Shyamalan a run for his money. Saw II in particular uses two separate events that initially appear to be unrelated but slowly reveals the connections between what is happening to those trapped in the nerve gas house and Matthews' battle of wills with Jigsaw while the ending seems to defy the very laws of time itself. So there's a great deal of intelligence behind the obviousness of the visuals that demands a more open mind that some horror fans may be used to. While the simple linear narratives of Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre may have been enough to sustain their premise, Saw is more interested in game playing and puzzle solving which showcases the ingenious potential of the horror genre beyond the modern agenda of extreme violence.
Saw often features multiple plots in each film; here police hunt one trap victim who is watching those in another.
Saw IV is by far the highlight of the series. While the inventive plotting and traps remain, the narrative itself becomes far more disturbing as the focus shifts from the plight of the victims to Jigsaw himself. The first three entries are very much centred on the victims of Jigsaw's traps and their attempts to outwit and overcome him. The original film in particular sees seemingly ordinary individuals targeted for 'taking their lives for granted' as Jigsaw puts it. The two central characters, Dr. Gordon, an adulterer and Adam, a freelance photographer would seem to be in need of a morality check but are hardly presented as evil and certainly not deserving of the violence that is inflicted on them. The audience's sympathy towards them is further encouraged by the targeting of Dr. Gordon's entirely innocent family. So here, Jigsaw is nothing more than a deranged serial killer with a warped view on human nature akin to serial killers seen in Se7en and Phone Booth.
In Saw IV, great steps are taken to provide him with a sympathetic background. It is revealed that he was once a respectable engineer with a beautiful wife with a child on the way. His wife ran a clinic for recovering drug addicts which would later for the catalyst for his games. During a series of flashbacks, it is shown that one of his wife's patients caused the death of her unborn child while frantically trying to steal medicine to fuel his addiction. This sets in motion Jigsaw's disillusionment with humanity and what he views as the ineffective methods of clinical rehabilitation. During the traps, his motto 'cherish your life' can be seen etched onto walls demonstrating his desire to encourage newfound appreciation in his subjects for their own lives. It isn't further elaborated until Saw V but his mantra is explained as rehabilitation through saving oneself from a near death experience thereby reawakening the survival instinct and creating an opposition to their self destructive lifestyles. It is a method of rehabilitation he believes to be far more effective than the conventional treatment his wife offers which he indicates by Amanda Young, a former drug addict and his first successful test subject.
Cherish your life.
So it would seem from the fourth film that the writers are attempting to justify Jigsaw's actions and demonstrating the need for his traps when more acceptable means of rehabilitation fail. Sympathy for Jigsaw is further encouraged by the increasingly heinous victims of his as the series goes on. In the first three films, his subjects consist of adulterers, voyeurs, drug addicts, prostitutes and self harmers among others - certainly not innocent individuals but who could hardly be called the devil, rather victims of their own actions. But in Saw IV, Jigsaw's 'victims' include a pimp responsible for prostituting underage girls, a serial rapist, and an abusive husband and father. The traps are designed specifically to damage them in a way that relates to their crimes such as the dismemberment of the rapist's body. Jigsaw's recordings of his voice explaining the rules of each trap seem designed specifically to provoke anger in the viewer. The tape left for the rapist in particular states;
'Hello, Ivan. As a Voyeur you have kept photos of those you have victimised. Can you see the pain you have brought them? You have torn apart their lives. You have used your body as an instrument of abuse. Now, I give you the chance to decide which is more important; your eyes which have led you blindly astray or your body which has caused those around you endless suffering.'
With that, Ivan is left to either gouge out his own eyes or allow himself to be torn limb from limb by the machine he is attached to.
Situations like this combined with Jigsaw's own tortured past all serve to encourage shifting sympathies. With the further revelations made in Saw V as well as the targeting of corrupt insurance companies in Saw VI, the filmmakers side more and more with what would be utterly unacceptable in any other context. But IV remains the most psychologically punishing, morally conflicting and therefore the most frightening of the series simply due to the dilemma it creates in the mind of the audience. After all, who are we to support; a tortured serial killer or his victim, an unrepentant rapist? Whereas my sympathy was firmly on Gordon and Adam in the first film, I had none whatsoever for subjects like Ivan which leaves a moral vacuum that can only be filled by Jigsaw himself as he ends up becoming the only viable object of sympathy that inspires the least amount of guilt within us. Can it also be argued that he is merely an embodiement of what we would all like to do to a rapist, pimp or wife beater but are stopped by our own sense of morals?
A suffering wife is forced to kill her abusive husband in order to free herself from Jigsaw's trap.
Just recently I managed to get hold of the final film and while not in the same league as past entries, the sheer insanity of Saw 3D ensures the franchise still ends with a bang. By this point in the story, Jigsaw has died and his apprentice Mark Hoffman has taken over his legacy. Unfortunately he is far more cold blooded and ruthless and the film is essentially showing what results when Jigaw's mantra is left in the hands of someone else without the twisted moral agenda to keep them in check. What follows is a climatic bloodbath bringing a definitive end to what is a severely underrated horror film franchise.
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