The Other Use, Part Two

Yesterday, I talked about playing games in an alternate way from how they were meant to be played.  Today, I will talk about games that generate non-game forms of entertainment.

Perhaps you are familiar with the RPG soap opera and the RPG fanfic.  The RPG soap opera is when you play an RPG (or any game that allows the character to travel multiple possible paths and return to previous locations) and make up your own story.  To heck with in-game quests, levelling up, time, or kills.  You’re just a character freestyling around, wandering from place to place and making up stories.  It’s like a LARP, only you don’t have to get up off your butt.

This can be fun in and of itself, and it can also lead to ideas for original fiction or RPG fanfics.  When you’re done playing the “game,” or whatever it can be called at that point, there’s the whole other prospect of writing a story about it.  In fact, there is a genre of fanfiction that does not even require the author to make up a new story.  There are some stories that are just dramatic retellings of the game creator’s intended quests.  Because, I guess, when Aerith died, we didn’t angst enough.  Hey, any story is entertaining if it’s told well.

And while we’re on the subject of fun non-game things that can be derived from games, how about game music?  Who doesn’t love a good Overclocked remix?  Whether your passion is making and mixing music, or just listening to it, games have given us a lot.  Background music is, well, it’s in the background.  It’s often overlooked and underrated, but when we take notice and engage with game music, there’s a lot more to it than meets the ear.

Finally, there are games that are used to create visual art.  The most recent example of this is Minecraft.  In case you ever wanted a giagantic blocky image of Twilight Sparkle, you can use Minecraft to create the Nazca lines of My Little Pony.  This isn’t limited to Minecraft though.  Any game that gives the user a chance to design something block by block offers the opportunity to recreate any image (however pixelly it may be).

So, then, is this just about using games for The Other Use?  No.  It extends beyond games, as we’ll discuss tomorrow.


Beyond Gangnam Style

Heyyyyyy, Geeky Ladies…and Geeky Dudes.  Perhaps, after hearing PSY’s international hit, “Gangnam Style,” you were wondering what other musical magic Korea has to offer.  Consider this your K-pop 101.

K-pop has a lot in common with North American pop music.  The style is pop with influences of rap, R&B, and a bit of club/dance music.  Personally, I find K-pop rather nostalgic, because it reminds me of what was cool in North America back in the 90s before all this autotuning began.  That’s right.  K-popular hardly uses autotuning.  If you prefer music wherein you can hear the singers’ actual voices, give K-pop a listen.

K-pop idols are usually trained singers AND dancers (and sometimes actors as well), and the release of a new music video is treated as a major event.  Perhaps this is just the biased opinion of a K-pop fan, but I think K-pop videos are just better than the North American ones.  The videos have a story to them, whereas North American music videos tend to be more like “I am walking in slow motion while things go on fire” and “I am standing in a desert, and I am walking in a night club, and I am surrounded by young alcoholics.”  K-pop videos are more like little movies, interspersed with highly choreographed dances.  But don’t take my word for it.  Have a look at some of these major K-pop bands.

Wonder Girls
You might already know this band, since they recently did a song with Akon.  It’s called “Like Money,” and it doesn’t have much to do with their general style of music.  Their music in Korea tends to have a funkier, “brighter” sound to it.  They kind of remind me a bit of Destiny’s Child, if each singer had her own chance to shine instead of there being one Beyonce and a handful of backup singers.

Last summer, they released a song called “Nobody” wherein you can better hear their talents.

Here’s a band that’s got a good balance of “club” sound and highlighting the lead singer’s talent.  I find that most club music sounds overly robotized or washed out entirely, but 4Minute avoids that pitfall.  The lead singer, Hyuna, has also released singles on her own and done duets with other K-pop idols.  She’s kind of the Beyonce, if you’ll excuse the second consecutive reference to Destiny’s Child.

Here’s one of their more recent songs, “Volume Up.”

I consider these guys to be the N*SYNC of the K-pop world – except you won’t get sick of them because they’re not horribly overplayed (or played at all) outside Korea.  SHINee (pronounced “shiny”) has the quintessential pop image when it comes to singing and dancing.  You could compare them to any 90s boy band, really, except that their image is presented as a unified group.  That is, their dances are meant for the five members to perform together, instead of just having five guys onstage who happen to be doing the same thing.  They also don’t break off into “the cute one,” “the shy one,” and so on.

Here’s their big hit from earlier this year, “Sherlock.”

SNSD or Girls Generation
First, before there is any confusion, this band goes by a few names.  They are called So Nyeo Shi Dae.  So Nyeo = Girls.  Shi Dae = Generation.   Sometimes they are called by their acronym, SNSD, or their translated name, Girls Generation.  Because they are popular in Japan as well, they are sometimes referred to as Shoju Jidai or ShoShi as well, but whatever you call them, they are adorable.

Their sound is poppy and electronic-sounding and their image is a cuteness overload.  SNSD is a bit like the Spice Girls in that each one gets a chance to sing and they take turns being backup for one another.  Their dances mostly consist of stepping in unison and making cute poses one by one, but for them, it kinda works.

The band has nine members, three of whom have released singles as a sub-group.

Here’s a song by the whole band, called “Oh.”

And here’s a song by the sub-group, TTS, called “Twinkle.”

Orange Caramel
Is K-pop not hideously cute enough for you yet?  Okay, have some Orange Caramel.  This band’s sound and image are a style called “aegyo,” which is what would happen if every Spice Girl were Baby Spice.  I could describe Orange Caramel as three young women dressing up as a little girl’s dream and doing a cute cheerleading-style dance in what appears to be a giant dollhouse, or I could just show you this:

Warning: Orange Caramel’s “Magic Girl” is not for those with sensitivity to extreme cuteness.

Are you tired of cuteness?  Have some BIGBANG.  This is one of my favourite K-pop bands.  They have a “tougher” sound than the previous bands mentioned here.  BIGBANG is influenced by hip hop and rap music.  They also differ from the other bands in that each of the five members focuses on having an individual persona and meshing them after the fact, rather than going for the unified look.  They all have an awesome blend of glamour and toughness – “street glam,” if you will – and it comes together beautifully.  Not to mention, Daesung and Seungri have exceptionally awesome voices.  Okay, they ALL have completely awesome voices but… must… stop… fangirling.

This is their totally awesome video, “Fantastic Baby.”

If you like BIGBANG’s urban sound, take it a step further with BAP.  BAP (which stands for Best. Absolute. Perfect, and I’m sure that makes sense before translation) has a gritty sound and makes gritty videos to match.  There’s no innocent cuteness to be found here; just rough rap, powerful singing, and aggressive (yet beautifully choreographed) urban dance.

Have a look, with their song “Warrior.”

Here we are: another one of my favourite K-pop bands.  While most K-pop bands – the girl bands, especially – go for an ultra-cute image, 2NE1 is a bit rougher and has a lot more variation in their songs.  They’ve got a musical style like TLC and a lyrical message like P!nk’s.  Their songs say “screw you, I don’t care what you think of me,” but are tempered with “we are all emotionally vulnerable inside.”  The subject matter of their songs also reaches beyond the usual “I have a crush on you.”  Instead, they sing about passion, confidence, insecurity, and rebellion.  Compare “I Love You” and “Hate You,” or “Ugly” and “I Am The Best.”  Yes, those are all songs by the same group.  And their voices!  So gorgeous!

While their videos usually consist of them posing, dancing, and then destroying the set with lots of smashing and firepower, I will show you their animated video instead.  This video looks like a full-fledged cartoon just by itself.

Without further ado, “Hate You” by 2NE1.

Let’s go back to the sugary side of K-pop with B1A4.  They’re rather “Mickey Mouse club” for my taste, but oodles of fans can’t be wrong.  Perhaps B1A4’s imaginative videos, playful dances, and innocent cute songs are what appeals to younger fans.  Come to think of it, they kind of remind me of Hanson.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Judge for yourself, with “Baby Goodnight.”

Girl’s Day
I’m ending this little intro to K-pop with a band that’s not super famous but has a really great song and video.  Words can’t really do it justice, so I’m just going to show it to you.

This is Girl’s Day’s “Oh My God.”

Review of Monkeyman Productions’ Simian Showcase

Last Saturday, I went to see the “Simian Showcase,” an evening of plays and music that can be summed up as “geek theatre.”  Monkeyman Productions is a pioneer of geek theatre, putting on stage plays that centre around gaming, fandom, monster movies, superheroes, and LARPing.  Nerdy jokes and obscure references fly fast, but don’t worry if you don’t catch ‘em all.  Their plays are, at the same time, universally relatable, carrying themes of friendship, responsibility, insecurity, and passion.  These are plays that anyone can enjoy – but geeks will enjoy them a whole lot more.

I’ve seen some of Monkeyman’s shows before, and so I went to last Saturday’s “Simian Showcase” with high hopes.  It did not disappoint.  The showcase contained four short plays: an argument between a graphic novelist and his co-creator about the originality of their comic, an exploration of what happens when a superhero reveals his true identity to his girlfriend, a battle between two long-time friends when one of them falls out of love with Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” and a discussion between con-goers of how much fandom is too much.  Each play had a lot of laughs and a lot of heart.

The showcase also included two musical performances by Geek* musicians Debs & Errol.  These two are awesome – okay, so I’m a little bit biased because they’re my friends from NaNoWriMo, but really, can you say “no” to a band entirely dedicated to nerdy music?  Their songs include parodies like the Star Wars-themed “TIE after TIE,” covers of classics like “Rainbow Connection,” and original music like “BSG,” in which Debs feels betrayed that Errol never watched the ending of Battlestar Galactica.

All in all, it’s a great show, so if you’re in the Toronto area, go see it.  You’ll have a great time, and you’ll be supporting Geek theatre.**

*They cite “Geek” as their musical genre.
**We have our own genre now.  Isn’t that awesome?