2013 was a good year for nerds, with plenty of cool new movies, games, comics and more to keep us occupied. But it also had its disappointments, and I’m not just talking about Luke taking over Topless Robot. Let’s take a moment to remember these letdowns so we can learn from them, and maybe one day correct them through time travel.
8. The Ouya
The Ouya was supposed to be indie gaming’s answer to the next generation of consoles. Its 2012 Kickstarter shattered several records on its way to raising nearly 8.6 million dollars (second only to the money raised by the Pebble smartwatch, which could probably hold its own spot on this list). By the time the Ouya’s June launch date rolled around, the Wii U was being lambasted for poor sales and the announcement of the Xbox One had been bungled with unwanted, invasive features – it was the perfect time to capitalize on disillusionment with the console market. High profile developers and major companies were pledging their support. For just 99 dollars, it seemed like a solid gaming investment.
Then it came out.
Reviews were tepid, to put it politely. Connectivity issues and a controller that felt like a cheap third party knockoff produced a poor first impression, but the real problem was simply that it didn’t have very many good games. The supposed appeal of the Ouya is that it has access to the entire Android gaming library, but most of those games are A. designed for smartphones and tablets with touchscreens, and B. terrible. To make matters worse, many of them had technical problems, stuttering and struggling on the Ouya while functioning fine on phones. If a phone is more powerful than the console, what’s the point of buying one?
It does look nice, I guess.
Gamers patient enough to wade through all the crap discovered a few gems, but none that justified even the modest price of investment. With its poor sales, the idea that the Ouya will get future exclusives worth playing is laughable – it seems destined to be the home of ports, rejects from Steam, the Xbox Live Arcade and their ilk, and a handful of fun games that can easily be played elsewhere.
We all wanted the Ouya to succeed. A slick, affordable console designed by gamers, for gamers? A chance to stick it to the corporations that had been ignoring our pleas to let us enjoy games on our terms? It was too good to be true – all the Ouya did was remind us why we have these big, soulless companies in the first place.
7. Kickstarter and Indiegogo Scams
Despite the Ouya’s flaws, its developers at least managed to deliver a functional product. That’s more than can be said for many Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. Google “Kickstarter scams” and you’ll discover all sorts of fun stories that’ll make you question whatever faith you still hold in the Internet. Some of them are clever, some are lazy and some are so obvious you wonder how anyone could fall for them. But for all the promised blockbuster video games that never went beyond drunkenly doodled design documents, the technological miracles that were pure snake oil, the supposedly orgasmic beef jerky we never got to eat, and the dudes who just spent all the money on moving expenses and then fucked off, no crowdfunding story was stranger and sadder than the saga of Chloe Sagal.
It began when Sagal, an indie game developer, posted an Indiegogo campaign to raise 35,000 dollars for a lifesaving operation. A near fatal car crash years ago had left shrapnel in her body, and that shrapnel was suddenly causing problems. If she didn’t get it out she would die.
The gaming community rallied to her cause and, in a heartwarming story, raised the money. Then the fundraiser vanished from Indiegogo without explanation – emails to the site brought only vague comments on their policy regarding suspicious activity. Sagal reacted by attempting suicide on her TwitchTV stream. Thankfully, viewers were able to get emergency services to her house almost immediately, and she survived.
Then the full story came out. There had never been a car crash – Sagal was transgendered and raising money for sexual reassignment surgeries. Important? Yes. Lifesaving? No. It was a scam. She had confided the truth in a journalist who reported her false story, but threatened to commit suicide if he told anyone. With that off the table, the journalist, Allistair Pinsof, explained the whole affair… and was promptly suspended, and later fired, because by outing the scam he had also outed a transgendered person against their will.
Chloe’s game, Homesick, is about surviving in a house with a killer, presumably by tricking him into giving you his weapon.
Sagal came up with the fake story because she feared that the gaming community was too transphobic to accept her, and based on the awful comments she received she’s not wrong. But then again, how many of those people were just upset that she had tried to fleece them for 35 grand? The affair cost a man his job and nearly cost a woman her life, and in a story that highlighted both the flaws of crowdfunding and the hateful phobias that still lurk on the Internet, it’s hard to feel anything but miserable about the whole ordeal.
Sagal is now trying to raise the money for her surgeries honestly. It’s not going well. I can’t imagine why.
6. Nerd Movies Bomb and Disappoint
As I write this, the Keanu Reeves samurai flick 47 Ronin is bombing at the box office after being savaged by critics. It’s the perfect microcosm for 2013’s movie scene. Some letdown after 2012 was inevitable–not every year can bring us The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. But no year should bring us as much disappointment as 2013.
Nerd darling Pacific Rim was entertainingly dumb, but mixed reviews and a poor box office return in North America were disappointing for studio execs and fans alike – only a strong overseas showing saved it from failure. Ender’s Game was a solid adaptation of the classic novel, but either backlash at creator Orson Scott Card’s homophobic comments or simple public disinterest prevented it from making a return on its investment, although it’s yet to hit every market. Regardless, it was a disappointing reception for a movie that fans had been anticipating for years.
Meanwhile, the big commercial successes were loud, tedious disappointments. Star Trek Into Darkness remade The Wrath of Khan by replacing everything good about the original with pointless spectacle, The Desolation of Smaug decided that what the classic story of The Hobbit needed more of was elven love triangles and bad CGI, and Elysium was an ugly allegory told with all the subtlety of an axe to the face.
In the first draft of Elysium, Jodie Foster’s villain wore a label that said “RICH PEOPLE.”
Let’s not forget Man of Steel which, even if you could get past the questionable 9/11 imagery and the decision to fundamentally alter Superman’s character by making him a killer, was a joyless slog. And then of course there’s the biggest flop of the year, The Lone Ranger. I would say that our own Luke Thompson was the only person who liked The Lone Ranger, but I think it may be more accurate to say that he was the only person who saw it. It was a staggering miscalculation that saw studio heads roll – watching the fallout turned out to be more interesting than the movie itself.
Even successes like Gravity, a film that benefited more from anemic competition than its own quality, were decent but overrated. The best nerd movies of the year were mostly sequels, with Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and the prequel Monsters University being notable highlights. The fact that established franchises shone while new ones struggled was a troubling result that hopefully won’t become a trend.
Sharknado gets its own dedicated entry, because its failures aren’t merely critical or commercial. Its very existence is a failure, because its very existence suggests that we, as a society, have no concept of taste. In a perfect world, Sharknado would have been ignored and quickly forgotten by all but a few hardcore fans of schlock. It should have been doomed to appear only on B-movie channels in the dead of night, its name whispered like the killer’s in a ghost story. It should have been shunned like a pariah, like a man who betrayed his country and his God. Instead it became a phenomenon that spread across the land like a Biblical pestilence.
Sharknado is also proof that we have no sense of pattern recognition. We’ve been down this road before. Remember Snakes on a Plane? It was hyped for months, t-shirts and other memorabilia now found buried deep in the dark corners of garage sales were sold and everyone you knew thought they were hilarious and hip for telling tired jokes about it. Then it came out and no one saw it because, brace yourself for a mighty shock, it was fucking terrible.
But it’s getting worse. People watched Sharknado and, God help us all, they liked it. Its first television airing scored 1.37 million viewers and positive Twitter publicity encouraged encores, a phrase that should never again be uttered in human history. Wil Wheaton tweeted about it. Olivia Wilde tweeted about it. It was the last thing Cory Monteith tweeted about before he died, possibly from shame. The third airing brought in 2.1 million viewers; a record for original movies from Syfy, the luminaries that have previously brought us auteur classics like Chupacabras vs. The Alamo and Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators.
Wes Anderson proudly presents…
A limited theatrical release followed, and showings actually had to be added to meet customer demand. Worst of all, the critics liked it. To quote Mary McNamara of the LA Times…
Oh sure, it’s easy to pick holes in a story about a weather system that makes it possible for sharks to fly and take to the streets, but that’s the whole point of movies like this: fabulous in-home commentary.
No, Mary, that’s not the point. That’s the point of watching bad movies that aspired to be good, because there’s a delicious schadenfreude in mocking people whose artistic visions couldn’t be matched by their budget or talent. But Sharknado was coldly, cynically calculated to be bad. In a twisted way it’s actually the perfect example of a well-made movie. Making fun of it is like making fun of a clown. The joke’s on you.
If Sharknado had been a blip on the radar maybe we wouldn’t have to call it out. But there’s a sequel coming, and those of us against it are starting to feel like the last survivors in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Only instead of our loved ones being replaced by people without their sense of humanity, they’re being replaced by people without their sense of irony. The tagline for the first film was “Enough Said!” If only that was true.
4. Fake Geek Girls
Nerds struggle with being more inclusive. All hobbyists do, really. You want your weird little pastimes to gain mainstream acceptance, but at the same time it feels like you’ve lost something special if the whole world is doing it. You’ve obsessed over comic books or video games or anime body pillows for years and are ostracised for your devotion, but then all of a sudden they become chic. You’re finally cool – but no cooler than the people who picked up your hobby last week and are stealing your thunder. You think you’re hot shit for snuggling up with a giant stuffed Sailor Moon? Where was my parade when I was sleeping with Motoko Kusanagi all this time?
I’d like to think that’s how the complaints against “fake geek girls” started, but whatever the cause it didn’t take long for them to descend into a spiral of ugly misogyny. It’s an issue that predates 2013, but this is the year when it came to an embarrassing climax by reaching the mainstream media and making everyone involved look dumb.
And then just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the meme generator images appeared.
For those of you who are blissfully ignorant, a fake geek girl is supposedly an attractive woman who claims to be interested in nerdy hobbies for the benefit of getting attention lavished on them by awkward guys. They’re especially prominent at conventions, we’re told, where they prance around in skimpy Princess Zelda costumes despite having the audacity to not even know where in the timeline A Link to the Past is situated. Those attention seeking whores.
Whether or not these women actually exist is irrelevant, and also, I think, a false question. Nerdiness is relative – I know more about video games than any healthy human being should, yet my comic book knowledge is almost non-existent. So if I rip off my shirt to reveal my chiseled physique, put on a Bane mask and talk about how totally cool he was in The Dark Knight Rises, am I a fake? Am I taking advantage of my rugged good looks to attract hordes of desperate Bane fangirls?
Here’s a self-portrait. Ladies.
Smarter people than me have explained why these accusations are both ignorant and damaging, so I just want to emphasize that the longer they’re made, the stupider we all look. In an era where the word “geek” had almost lost all meaning, it’s growing increasingly ridiculous for people to anoint themselves gatekeepers so they can protect the supposed integrity of their hobby for the benefit of no one, including themselves. If I meet someone who shares my interests but knows less about them than I do, I’m excited for the chance to help them expand their horizons. I would hope that anyone who talks to me about Batman would feel the same way. If you don’t, you’re perpetuating a problem that needs to end if we ever want our hobbies to finally and truly gain mainstream acceptance, and if you ever want yourself to stop being a bitter, unlikeable person.
3. Reddit Accuses Innocent People of Terrorism
It would be simplistic to say that a community as massive as Reddit had a bad year. But any site of its size is going to run into controversy sooner or later, and Reddit had more than its fair share in 2013. It may not have reached the nadir of 2012 when users passionately argued for their constitutional right to view child pornography, but it came close.
Reddit users bullied the suicidal, harassed women with rape threats and traded racist and misogynistic beliefs, but that’s business as usual. It was in a moment of crisis where Reddit really shone. In the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombing, a subreddit dedicated to analysing videos and photos of the crime was established. Users leapt into action and heroically identified innocent people as potential perpetrators, subjecting them and their families to harassment. Some users did call for restraint, but I imagine that provided little comfort to the guy who was afraid to leave his house or the family whose Facebook page that was meant to help them locate their missing son was bombarded with awful messages.
International Business Times
“Notice how he doesn’t look white in either photo. Totally our guy.”
You can call it crowdsourcing gone wrong or simply a bunch of overenthusiastic idiots ruining innocent people’s lives with their ham-handed, painfully misguided attempts at heroism – either way, Reddit learned its lesson and quickly shut down a subreddit that was “investigating” the Washington Navy Yard shooting. It’s tempting to write the whole thing off as an isolated incident.
But we can’t, because just when you think Reddit has gotten over its controversy something new pops up. We recently learned that CarlH, a popular user in charge of a programming subreddit, was arrested for allegedly torturing and raping his 9 year old son as part of a child pornography ring. While we can’t judge the entire site by the actions of one user – after all, I post anti-Semitic rants in the comments section of this site under another name, but otherwise the community is great – it makes you wonder what sort of people lurk behind the names you interact with on the Internet’s front page.
2. Everybody’s Heard of These Sites. But You’ll Be Surprised By How Much They Suck.
You may not be familiar with Upworthy, but you’ve probably seen their headlines. Emotionally manipulative linkbait titles like “I Dare You To Sit Through This Whole Video. It’s Short. But I Hope You’ll Learn Something New” beg and guilt you into clicking on them without even telling you what they’re about. Headlines like “If You’re Living In A Developed Country But You’re Not Happy, What Are You Doing Wrong?” give you a condescending promise about a life changing experience that can’t possibly be delivered in a three and a half minute video. If the entry on fake geek girls had been written by Upworthy it would be called “Some Geek Boys Called These Geek Girls ‘Fake.’ They Certainly Won’t Be Making That Mistake Again,” and I’m not making that up.
Upworthy isn’t the only site to use this strategy – they’re just the latest and most annoying. They are of course inspired by BuzzFeed, a site that feels the need to restore our faith in humanity and remind us that the ’90s existed so frequently they seem to believe that their audience is made up entirely of amnesiac misanthropes.
This is the new “Who, What, When and Where.”
BuzzFeed has been around for a while, but they reached a new low in 2013 with “The Story Of Egypt’s Revolution In “Jurassic Park” Gifs.” Not only was this “article” an insulting, condescending simplification of a country’s painful struggle for human rights, it made absolutely no fucking sense. The only thing BuzzFeed and the Egyptian political crisis have in common is that they both involve crimes against humanity – in Egypt unarmed protestors have been shot, while at BuzzFeed someone wrote “They found a democracy DNA strand frozen in amber” and was given money instead of a pink slip. If you don’t see the problem, imagine how people would react if a Middle Eastern website ran “The Story of 9/11 In Aladdin Clips.”
This is end result of the word “viral” losing all meaning. This is the end result of an Internet that encourages clicks over content and nostalgia over knowledge. BuzzFeed and Upworthy are the first two horsemen of the Internet apocalypse, spreading OMGs and FAILs from atop their feline steeds. And we need to stop them before our social media feeds become nothing more than pictures of puppies and comments about tamagotchis being a thing.
1. Grumpy Cat
Pope Francis was Time Magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year, but with all due respect to His Holiness, I believe that title belongs to Grumpy Cat. No person, no being, cast a wider shadow on the Internet, and possibly human civilization, than Tardar Sauce, a cat with feline dwarfism.
If BuzzFeed and Upworthy are Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Grumpy Cat is the Antichrist. She’s been on the cover of New York Magazine and the Wallstreet Journal. MSNBC named her 2012’s Most Influential Cat, BuzzFeed named her 2013’s Meme of the Year and she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Friskies, the most prestigious award Friskies gives out.
Friskies, incidentally, also gave Grumpy Cat and her owners a first class flight, a private hotel room, a personal assistant, a chauffeur and free food during her trip to New York to take part in their promotional YouTube videos. That may sound excessive, and that’s because it very much is, but you’d give a star that kind of treatment too if her parent company were worth over a million dollars.
Here’s a major star pictured with some random mammal you probably don’t recognize.
Her owners themselves have made a “low six-figure” amount, which means that simply by cleaning the litter box of their feline master they’re making more money than I and many of you do from slaving away at the office. In fairness they seem like good people, limiting media exposure and handling by strangers so Grumpy Cat can have a normal youth and not grow up to be one of those former kitten stars that overdoses on catnip like you read about on TMZ. Believe me, she needs the time to herself. Grumpy Cat’s New York car? It had tinted windows because dozens of people swarmed it.
And let’s be honest – if my cat got famous I’d milk that for every penny it was worth, and so would you. That’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that we’ve given a cat a media empire complete with endless merchandise, a New York Time Bestseller, an agent and a movie deal that will no doubt produce a film on par with the classic Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, the Casablanca of movies about cats with a single personality trait. You can even buy a “Grumpuccino,” because when you think cats the next words to pop into your head are inevitably “iced coffee.”
The Internet has always had a thing for cats, and I get that. I’ve loved the cats that have been in my life as much as I’ve loved the people. But it’s gone too far. 2013 was the year we took the Internet, with its near infinite content and potential, and decided to declare a frowning cat its God. When Grumpy Cat appeared at SXSW this year she drew a bigger crowd than some of the finest creative minds of our age. Does that worry you? Because it damn well should.
Previously by Mark Hill: