Game and… is a series of articles in various media focusing on evaluating the mechanics of games, how they are created, how they affect us, and how we can apply them to the world outside of games.
Games and Failure
I die a lot while playing games.
That’s less self-deprecation about my skill in such games and more just due to the nature of many games. Death, and failure in general, in many games is just a set back. You come back at your respawn point, whether the beginning of the level or your last save or your team’s base, and now you can try again with the hindsight of knowing at least some of what you need to do, and where you might have gone wrong last time. Even in games where failure sends you back to the main menu, the option is always there to start again. Even how much of a setback that is decreasing over time; compare Super Mario 64’s removing a life from your stock to the most recent Mario game, Mario Odyssey, which just removes 10 coins in a game where collecting 1,000 coins basically happens by accident as you hunt for the various power moons, the goal of the game .
Games are actually really forgiving of failure. I mean, sure, there are degrees of setback they apply to you; you might get sent back to the beginning of the level, to your last save (which can admittedly be a while back), or have a penalty applied to you until you are able to recover what was lost when you died . In some games, usually strategy or 4X games , you will be made to restart the entire campaign, unless you reload your last save and are able to work around whatever made you fail. But even with all of that, the point is not to say “you lost, look how bad you are at this!” but “You lost. Wanna try again, this time having a better idea of what you need to do?”
Some of this is just necessary. A game aims to keep you playing, particularly when they are using models like games as service or arcade machines  which aim to monitise themselves by having players make small payments over a long period of time, but this has spread out to basically all games, to the extent that having a failure state has been suggested by some as a fundamental property of games; i.e. something may be an interactive experience but if you cannot fail, it is not a game. I don’t want to discuss the definition of a game here. Instead, I want to focus on how the way we can learn from and indeed, use the way games encourage you to continue on, to move past failures and eventually succeed to help us handle other situations.
Games being used in learning is nothing new of course, and nor are interactive experiences, whether on a computer or more traditional “analogue” games, but we tend to classify them as childish, and indeed these games can be patronising. I have fond memories of the Adi and Adiboo games, but I wouldn’t recommend them to an adult who’s maths is at the kind of level Adi covers (partially because I haven’t looked at those games for years; maybe I should get hold of them and have a look) . They are still used however, with the cartoony visuals removed, particularly in subjects like maths and language vocabulary that computers are far better at being able to handle than, say, marking a piece of literary criticism. While I do think that there is a space for Educational Games, particular because the interactive nature of games allows you to learn by actively doing, rather than passively learning, I want to make it clear that this isn’t what I am suggesting here. Nor am I talking about the gamification of learning, where the concept of experience and levels are used to provide a reward for effort and learning successfully. That’s definitely an interesting topic, and it’s on the list to cover in a Games and… article, but it isn’t this one. Rather, I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum; how do we handle failure?
Learning from your mistakes isn’t a new concept, but we can still ask the best way to encourage and assist people in doing so, a question that the field of pedagogy (the science of teaching) has been trying to answer for a while now. Before we continue, it is important to acknowledge that methods of learning are not universal. The following section will discuss a number of mindsets towards and techniques of learning. These may not be directly relevant to you the reader, or indeed techniques shown with a positive lens here may, for whatever reason, not be useful for you personally. However, I think they hold up in enough cases and are underused enough (that is, people who might benefit from them haven’t encountered them) that they are worth exploring here.
One of the most important factors in whether people feel able to learn from mistakes is the surrounding culture and particularly the response of whoever the learner views as a teacher, whether an actual teacher, a supervisor or just someone the learner looks up to. Fischer et al. (2006), a study detailing the self-reported responses of medical trainees to a survey on how they learn from failure, notes that when they feel able to report the failure they learn more from it. Furthermore, they note that there is a culture of covering up mistakes in many hospitals, and as they spend more time working in medicine they find themselves defending individual cover ups while acknowledging that ethically they really shouldn’t . This is fairly common in professions where mistakes can have grave consequences; indeed, some industries use a concept called a blameless culture, where mistakes are not punished so that people don’t feel they cannot come forward to admit that they have made them (Dekker, 2016). This, while a fascinating topic by itself, is slightly off the topic of this essay, particularly as, as I noted above, one of the big benefits of games is that they remove the real life rewards and consequences for the player, allowing them to simply focus on what they can learn from the situation. Now, obviously on a practical level making mistakes with consequences can be an excellent, if, depending on the situation, traumatic, learning experience, but we are discussing using the premise of treating learning spaces as a game and the benefits of doing so, not trying to create a universal system of learning.
Another issue to discuss is why people want to learn. What is their underlying goal ? Two common reasons are to demonstrate how competent you are at something, or performative goals, and learning to improve your own abilities, which we might refer to either improvement or mastery goals. Now, this is one of those awkward situations where I would wager that most people would say they want to learn for the sense of mastery; performative goals tend to be more specifically about showing a particular person or group of people what you are capable of (Wolters 2004). However, it is far easier to encourage performative goals, simply because they are based around demonstrating what you know. Performative goals aren’t inherently bad, but like the negative consequences they often encourage not learning from mistakes but instead avoiding the people you are trying to perform to, while mastery goals tend to encourage using mistakes as a learning experience (Wolters 2004, Turner and Patrick 2004).
Games I think have mechanisms by which they can encourage the player to try to improve their abilities, rather than demonstrating their skill. One is something we will find difficult to transfer to a learning setting, which is the greater ability for the creator to control the learning curve of the game compared to the learning curve of most real life topics. I want to discuss this in another G& essay , so I won’t go into it here, but essentially games are far easier to control and can make you feel like you are improving far more quickly than you are actually learning about the game because you are gaining new tools and powers in a far more controlled environment. However, there are two other ways they encourage you to learn. First of all they are very good at informing you what you are aiming for, giving you a motivation to work out how to overcome the obstacles in-between you and that solution, and secondly games don’t treat failure as a problem. They provide temporary rewards for success, not permanent consequences, and that sequence of short bursts of rewards, even if it is just a pat on the back. This, I think is something we can take over from games. Rewarding people for the entire journey, not just the final destination, and giving them clear reasons to motivate them in the short term; not just a long term goal like “I will be able to communicate in French” but “I will be able to say this thing I want to say in French”. Meanwhile, the games either not responding to your failure outside of a short death animation or, if they do respond, then showing it as a challenge and encouraging you to continue to overcome it. Probably the best example of this is from Toby Fox’s Undertale, which tells you “STAY DETERMINED!”. As I said, failure treated as a chance to try again with new knowledge and experience.
For a concrete example, I do quite a lot of maths in my everyday life, both in my work and my free time. I enjoy maths, and I can do it to a reasonably high level, and I am aware that this makes me fairly unusual. When I try to teach maths and explain the concepts to people who struggle with it, one of the big issues I face is overcoming their fear . Not of mathematics (although for some people that is in there as well), but fear of failing at mathematics, and a corresponding fear of being mocked and mistreated because of that failure. The fear that a single mistake that will hang over you, or worse that you will never be able to move beyond those failures.
Often, the students I am teaching are students doing a scientific subject at a university level, and there’s basically no field of science where maths is not a vital and major part of the research toolkit; even in fields such as sociology statistical analysis is essential. Even knowing this however, for some the anxiety of failing at maths, and being mocked or treated as stupid because of that failure, however temporary, makes actually doing the maths really difficult. This is within a classroom setting, not an exam or, worse, research or designs that might influence the real world. It is in a setting specifically created to give a space to learn without incorrect results causing problems. It is a space where incorrect results should be responded to with “You got that wrong. Wanna try again, this time having a better idea of what you need to do?”
In other words, I am saying that classrooms are gaming platforms, the lessons are the levels and we are all Mario…Okay, I’m not actually saying that, but I think the similarity of both being environments where failure is essentially devoid of external consequences and is simply an indication you need to go back and do some additional work is important. It allows learners to focus entirely on learning, so that when there are consequences, they already have all the tools they need to handle it.
 Given that lives are basically meaningless in a lot of Mario games, a hold over from the days of arcade machines , you could argue that losing one is actually less of a set back than losing coins; really the biggest set back is you do get a Game Over screen when you run out of lives, which sets you back to the start of the level.
 This is a mechanic codified by the Souls games, and other games like Hollow Knight, which make you drop your in-game currency and have a mechanical penalty, usually a drop in maximum health, applied to you. This makes failure, and continuing on despite it, a core mechanic of these games.
 For anyone not versed in gaming terminology, 4X games are a genre of games where the player(s) control a full faction, rather than a single character, and scout throughout the world, build new settlements and technologies, gain resources and battle opposing factions. 4X stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate, and was coined by the game writer Alan Emrich in 1993.
 See “Games and the First Age of Microtransaction” – TBC
 Upon trying to track them down, I discovered the Adi and Adiboo series were created by the french Coktel Vision, which usually focused on adventure games. The games were sold in various languages, with Adiboo (or Adibou in french) seeming to be more well known and spread around than the older Adi. I kind of want to track them down and give them another look; we’ll see how that goes.
 Rationalisations for bad behaviour of individuals of groups you are a member is is a very important topic I’d like to explore. If I ever do I will link it here.
 See “Games and Goals” – TBC
 See “Games and Skill” – TBC
 For more discussion on how I think we might be able to improve maths teaching, see 9 of Hearts: An Introduction to Mathematics.
Wolters, C. A. (2004). Advancing Achievement Goal Theory: Using Goal Structures and Goal Orientations to Predict Students’ Motivation, Cognition, and Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(2), 236-250.
Note: This is a repost from a tumblr blog I ran with a friend called Blue Sky Self Help. I’ve basically moved on from tumblr now, but I want to move some of my better posts over here, and given I’ve been having depression issues this week I thought this would be a good first repost. The original post can be found here.
One of the problems I find with depression and other illnesses is working out when I am having a bad mental health day and when I am simply being lazy. To make matters worse, during a bad mental health day it is easy to convince yourself that you are being lazy when in fact you are being ill.
I try to overcome this using a system of levels. I try to classify activities as being on a scale between 0 and 4.
Level 0 activities are your default activities, the ones you can do regardless of your current state. Obviously staying in bed is one, but for me they include playing Overwatch badly and watching Midsomer Murders.
Level 1 activities are ones you can easily normally bring yourself to do. These include both things you are motivated to do because you like them and things you know you really need to do. Often simple food, like frozen pizzas fall into this.
Level 2 activities that on a healthy day, you can do without any real problems. For me this includes my PhD work and writing things like this.
Level 3 activities would normally be difficult to do, so for me it would be doing particularly hard maths for my course or making a phone call I really don’t want to do.
Level 4 activities are the kind that wipe you out completely after doing them.
Try and categorise your activities on a good day, and be honest about where you put them, so you know that on a bad day you can trust your categories.
The way I use this system is that if I can manage level 0 activities and maybe some level 1 activities, usually the ones I NEED to do such as basic food, then I am having a bad day, and the question then becomes “what can I do to recover?”. If I can do level 1 activities easily, and I can do level 2s but I just don’t want to, then I am probably just being lazy.
As usual, if this system doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, don’t use it, but I hope it can be useful for at least someone.
I do a lot of mathematics in my everyday life. Some of that is due to me doing a climate science PhD, which requires me to be able to handle lots of data, some of it is due to me doing programming and maths problems in my spare time, but a lot of it I think is just part of living in the modern world. Finances are an obvious example, particularly things like taxes and interest that require an understanding of percentages. Another is the constant barrage of statistics and studies that we are surrounded with. Being able to, if not carry out the statistical analysis itself, but at least understand how one would do it can help you navigate the data and hopefully avoid those trying to pull one over on you using manipulated statistical data.
Maths pops up everywhere, but I encounter a lot of adults who are either convinced they can’t do it, or are even afraid of maths. Lots of people have that one bit of mathematics, perhaps percentages or algebra or probability that they could never understand, and that is often caught up in childhood memories of feeling humiliated by not being able to do maths, or not having it explained in a way they can understand, or memories of trying to learn times tables by rote. There’s a lot of different ways that maths as taught in early years can not stick. To make matters worse, maths is cumulative, that is, more advanced concepts use and combine earlier tools and ideas, so if you struggle with those, then later concepts will be an even harder struggle.
Given this, I was thinking about how you might go about explaining basic maths in a comprehensive and non-judgemental manner, trying to take into account common issues with learning maths.
First of all, I think the most important thing to do is to remove as many of the psychological issues with learning maths as possible. A big factor here is the fear of failure, of being judged for not understanding maths, and feeling that “well, I’m not ever going to get it”. Like a video game, where a failure just results in a “Continue?” screen, this would need to be a place where you can get things wrong without feeling terrible about yourself. This also includes avoiding certain stress causers such as high speed mental maths and rote learning multiplication tables, or at least finding a way to make these less unpleasant, whether that’s by encouraging learning through repeated practice or just acknowledging that we live in the modern age and if you do understand how to do them, you can just use a calculator.
Another factor here is giving reasons for why we’d want to do this piece of mathematics, linking it into contexts that people will already understand. If a piece of maths doesn’t directly tie into a real world context, then we need to explain why we are looking at it, and what it leads into.
I think also making this connectivity between different areas of maths clear is important as well. For practical reasons, we are taught maths in discreet sections; here is algebra, here is shape and space, here are numbers. Explaining how all of these can be linked together can often be a key for understanding them, since it lets you address a confusing problem through the lens of something you might already understand.
On a practical level, there are two ways to go about a course aiming for this. One is to be extremely specific; reaching out to individuals with particular problems about maths and working with them. While this is a very good way to handle it for those individuals it would be very work intensive, and I think for an internet based course we’d want to go to the complete opposite end of the scale, at least at first. This is what I mean by comprehensive: it would need to cover as many different ways of learning and understanding maths as possible, essentially trying to solve problems that individuals have by solving every problem we can at once. Of course, the range of issues people may have is pretty wide: some people may only struggle with say, division (a common problem I’ve heard when discussing mathematics with people), while others might find the entire subject just a slippery mess, numbers jumping around the place, so it would need to be navigable enough for the first group to get to the part they need, while complete enough to cover all the ground the second group may want, and it must do this without condescending to or dropping the morale of either group.
Furthermore, particularly for the most basic parts, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, we’d want to cover all the different methods. People often have one particular method of solving these, so explaining how all the different methods come to the same answer and might have different uses is important. Finally, if you are a parent of a young child learning this stuff, they might be being taught a very different method to how you were, so helping those parents understand what their children are being taught is vital.
For this project, I am picturing a systematic series of articles and/or youtube videos, explaining concepts of mathematics with an underlying structure between the articles/videos so we can show how it all links together, and with frequent real world examples of the mathematics, would fit this.
Who would the target audience be? Not young children learning this for the first time I think; the practical examples would be created with things like taxes in mind, that kids learning them for the first time wouldn’t get. I am aware that creating a series defined as being “Mathematics for adults who hate mathematics” isn’t a killer pitch, but I think there are enough people who struggle with a particular part of maths, but want to improve, that such a creation would be worth it.
Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done here. Creating curriculum for mathematics is, of course, a full time job. But I think it this is something I can do, collecting resources and creating lessons that will hopefully help at least someone with that bit of mathematics that has slipping through their fingers for years.
If you have a particular issue you’d want covered, please comment below and discuss whatever issues you may have, or if you have ideas on how to go about doing this, I’d love to hear them!
The time in the title is accurate as of when I start typing this.
I suffer from depression and anxiety, and tonight I’m awake at a silly time in the morning in no state to try to sleep, so I guess, given that at least here in the UK April’s Fools day has come and gone, I might look at the various ways that bits of media I’ve followed have decided to celebrate it this year.
There’s two major trends I think are worth looking at. The first is simply the existence of Patreon, a site that encourages a monthly release schedule by it’s very nature. A lot of creators drop their work at the end of one month and the start of another because that’s the deadline if you are using a monthly payment model. Patreon as a site is interesting for me partially because it’s an alternative to the standard method of monitization online, advertising, and partially because it has become another example of a business model that is highly sustainable but not one that’s going to enjoy repeated massive growth which is being torn apart by the demands for constant, exponential growth in the market, but that’s for a time that isn’t stupid o’clock in the morning. For our purposes, the position of April Fools at the beginning of the month simply fits in neatly with this existing timeline, encouraging material that is not simply a prank but is also worthy content in and of itself.
The second trend is the pushbacks against cruel pranks. Online content creators often rely on their own brand, and being unpleasant, even for a temporary joke, will reflect on that brand. Furthermore, the existence of this brand allows for an easy April Fool’s joke by pretending to massively change your brand, using it as a way to explore a style or a topic that you wouldn’t usually touch.
Anyway here’s a top…whatever list of April Fool’s for this year. I’m not even gonna edit that once I’ve finished and know how many there are.
1.) “Folding Ideas Pivots To Fortnite”, on Folding Ideas, Dan Olsen’s youtube channel, isn’t really an April Fool’s video. It sort of dabbles with it at the start, but that only really goes as far as the first five to ten minutes, which is a set up for the final idea about the use of Fortnite as a creative platform, and how it doesn’t really work. I don’t know whether I’d describe it as a pretend April Fools joke, or an April Fools joke where the joke is that you expect an April Fools joke and get instead a discussion on the game Fortnite and how it manipulates players to make money.
2.) A lot of larger corporations and brands go for the “Here’s a product we’d never actually create” April Fools. A stand out this year is probably a tweet from the official Doom account, crossing the violent demon killing shooter with Bob Ross’ Joy of Painting, a program that like Mr Rogers I have never seen but that a lot of American internet users tell me is super wholesome. Ross’ aesthetic, though simple, is iconic enough that even I got it immediately, but this one kind of sticks out because Bob Ross famously became the chill, laid back painter in the show because he was fed up of being a drill Sargent in the military, a job that involves shouting and being unpleasant, making the use of the aesthetic here either be a wink to his history, a humorous juxtaposition between Doom the ultra violent game and the laid back show (probably the intended reading), or kind of an awkward joke dragging the aesthetic of the show back towards the militarisation that Ross created it to escape from. I’m too sleepy to say which.
3.) There’s one advert that I saw which appeared to actually be a product that just happened to come out on April First, so it had to make clear “no this is real, we just had to do it now”. But I can’t remember what it is and Facebook isn’t showing me that specific ad again.
4.) In the “Jokes that aren’t really jokes” category, the insect loving Bogleech wrote a review of creatures called Squisherz, in a similar vein to his reviews of Pokemon and Digimon. The framing of the essay is that Squisherz is a forgotten ‘mon franchise contemporaneous of the former two, and the blog post makes repeated references to the show and more specifically the fandom reaction to it. Halfway through I was getting into it as a parody of pokemon in particular, assuming that Bogleech himself had designed the creatures. I was enjoying it, but some of the gushing about the bits of the designs he loves got a bit weird assuming he made them. Like how the book of the Never Ending Story takes a detour to talk about how fantastic the main character, and thus the author’s, imagination is once he starts to remake the world, it was getting tiresome.
Then at the end, he reveals that the joke was actually entirely different. Squisherz was designed by an artist friend of his for a game called Hyperspace Outlaw, and the piece ends with shout outs slash advertisements for the original creator. It kind of feels like the opposite to Folding Idea’s video; rather that examining how a piece of work is advertised and monitized, it is an advert itself, although yes there is a difference between an indie game on itch.io and what Fortnite has become.
5.) The most depressing April Fool’s joke this year comes from the webcomic Whomp!. The main character, a somewhat parody version of the writer Ronnie, is shown to have lost weight, changed out his colourful shirts for a simple beige pair, and now has a sunny, optimistic outlook on life.
Somehow, despite Whomp being regularly depressing, this is the most upsetting portrayl of Ronnie for me. I should probably ask why.
EDIT: So the next strip after that is the same but with thin Ronnie bleeding from the eyes and covered with glitches. So…make this a multi-part joke, getting steadily darker?
Anyway, that’s my list. If I remember I’ll come back when I’m awake and edit in some links. Happy April Wise day everyone.
((Note: X card pick up posts are collections of points I didn’t feel I could, or didn’t want to work into a full article. These tend to just be added as I think of the points, and are not usually edited. I may revisit some of these points later, but for now, this is where they live.))
1.) Somehow I didn’t realise that Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu is actually a remake of Pokemon Yellow, not just Gen 1 in general, with a partner who is constantly out of their ball, Pokemon following you, different distributions of Pokemon habitats ect.
2.) Let’s Go Eevee would appear to be logical, given that Blue’s starter in Yellow was Eevee, but according to this interview another choice was Let’s Go Psyduck.
3.) Let’s Go Psyduck would have been absolutely amazing.
4.) Coming back to the rival, I actually really like Trace, the new rival. He’s the same “friendly rival” character we’ve had for a while, but I just found him really pleasant. When I first played it, Blue tended to annoy me because I felt like he kept popping up right when my team was damaged. He didn’t feel like a rival so much as a bully who waited for me to be weakened. Trace just seems genuinely excited to see me and see how much I’d grown every time, and I liked how he adopted Cubone too. He felt like a rival in the sense of actually wanting me to get stronger, not just seeing me as an obstacle.
5.) Blue is here too! And I also really liked how he was written. He felt very much like a teenager talking to kids who they genuinely like. He was snarky, but I liked how he was handled a lot.
6.) GREEN! GREEN IS HERE! I got really excited when she sent out a Clefairy and then Blastoise, since I thought she might be using her Pokemon Adventures team, but alas no. Still great to see her, and great to see her being super cheeky. *gets hit in the face by a Pokeball).
7.) I haven’t encountered Red yet. I think I haven’t beaten enough Master Trainers.
8.) Speaking of Master Trainers, I was disappointed that you only got a title from beating them. Raising a pokemon to beat theirs is hard and I at least wanted some Pokemon specific candies.
9.) I haven’t beaten one multiple times so I dunno if we get more rewards then.
10.) I like being able to battle the Gym Leaders once a day. I don’t like re-navigating Sabrina’s gym. Please just make the teleporter directly to her active?
11.) I’d forgotten how limited the range of Pokemon in a lot of the areas were with just the gen 1 Pokemon available, and this was after they got rid of the safari zone.
12.) I like that they got rid of the safari zone, it gives more variety elsewhere, and the catching mechanics are basically just the safari zone anyway.
13.) The controls are a bit awkward. My hands are a bit too big for the joy cons by themselves so I use them attached to the Switch, but moving the whole thing around to catch mons is tedious and I feel that it would be really bad for people with less range of movement in their arms.
14.) I haven’t become a Sandslash Master yet despite using two of them in my team (one Kanto, one Alolan). I feel like this is an issue.
15.) I love both my Sandslash.
16.) I was amazed at how quickly I got the Pokedex together compared to other games and the last times I played Kanto based games. I think that’s a mix of the game putting way more focus on catching, me being better at the game, and it not repeatedly only having one way to get a pokemon
17.) I love that Farfetch’d was an only one per game in the original gen 1 games. Farfetch’d. That ultra powerful monster.
18.) YOU CAN RIDE A RAPIDASH
19.) I have a Rapidash on my main team.
20.) YOU CAN ALSO RIDE STARMIE
21.) I traded out my Primape for a Starmie around Fushia City, since Primape was just…not doing enough on the team.
22.) I’d be really curious to see a Pokemon Let’s Go competitive meta. It has the pokedex and sort of the move limitations of the original generation, but with a lot of the particular oddities about Gen 1 removed. I bet Tauros wouldn’t be the top Pokemon, and I wonder if fighting types might get a look in with more anti-psychic moves.
23.) I haven’t been able to find any fishing rods in the game, so I feel that water types, other than Krabbys and the Squirtle you get in Vermillion, come in really late in the game.
24.) Post-game the Pokemon in Cerulean cave lean heavily towards giving defence and special defence candies. I’m finding it difficult to get smart candies for my Venomoth’s special attack.
25.) I LOVE MY VENOMOTH
26.) I’m not really fond of the secret technique ideas. I get the point, but I think it’s a bit like the riding pokemon in Sun/Moon. I kind of feel like my favourite way of handling it would be to return HMs as a way to teach Pokemon any secret technique they can learn, but not have them count as actual moves. They’d be like, extra abilities.
27.) I think I just don’t like how secret techniques are supposed to be learnt by humans? I’ve always really liked the idea of exploring with Pokemon and having all the exploration techniques you used to teach Pokemon being supposed to be learnt by humans feels like it’s removing the magic somehow. I dunno.
28.) I do really love my Pikachu partner though.
29.) Overall, I really enjoy Let’s Go. It streamlines a lot of the extra bits, puts more emphasising on catching, and it is nice to return to Kanto again and really feel like Game Freak has learnt something from the last two decades and more.
30.) And of course, it is great to see Jessie and James back in a game, though I do wish Meowth talked.
31.) This isn’t so much an actual point, I just forgot to link back to my earlier post on the games and wanted to do it here.
32.) I STILL FEEL ROBBED BY THE LACK OF POKEMON LET’S GO PSYDUCK.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (henceforth TTGL) is a 2007 anime created by the studio Gainax, most well known for the earlier anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Having written this piece I realise that most of it kind of assumes you have already seen Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, hence why this is a discussion not a review. Honestly I could just link to or paraphrase the Wikipedia article on the series to describe the plot but I’ve already put the 4 of Hearts up there and I don’t wanna spend that much more effort on this piece.
One of the things I have always enjoyed is stories willing to just take their premises and run with it, and TTGL is definitely in that category. It is a series that is willing to just keep accelerating, relying on the vague notion of “spiral power” to just bypass the audience’s suspension of disbelief. It is a anime that relies heavily on spectacle and bombast, and that has enough moments in which that works wonderfully that I could fairly easily just list them here as “THE TOP 5 MOST OVER THE TOP MOMENTS IN GURREN LAGANN”, but I don’t think that would be fair. These are not the only good moments of the series, and, since we’re being fair in the sense that means honest and complete, there are plenty of things in the series that just don’t work.
That being said, the bombastic scenes are an important part of the series and it wouldn’t be fair to not mention them here. Kamina stealing a mecha by just climbing into the cockpit and kicking out the pilot, the capture of the giant battleship mecha Dai-Gurren, the defeat of Guama, the siege of Teppelin and the subsequent duel with Lordgenome that is the finale of the first act. Then in the second arc we have Yoko’s defeat of two mecha while on foot, the spontaneous creation of a wormhole to punch a guy out of shooting himself, the formation of Arc Gurren Lagann, Super Galaxy Gurren Lagann and the titular Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the latter leading into a finale that involves mechas so large they use galaxies as throwing stars against each other. That is quite a lot of iconic moments for a series only 27 episodes long. The animation and the soundtrack carry these well; special shout-outs to the tracks “Pierce the Heavens with Your XXXX” (No I don’t know why it is called that, considering that the XXXX in question is a drill) and “Libera Me From Hell”, a song that takes the most over the top elements of opera and rap and slams them together.
The series also has excellent main villains in the form of Lordgenome and the Anti-spiral. Both have very understandable motives and are powerful enough to enable the ridiculous, fantastic spectacles I mention above.
The final bit of the series that work for me is the emotional core of Simon and Kamina. Kamina in particular is used wonderfully in the short time he remains in the story, and is a surprisingly deep character. While he is most recognised for his massively over the top personality and impulsive actions, my favourite moment for him is the quiet moment he has with Yoko where he explains that he views himself as essentially a cheerleader and source of courage for the far more reliable Simon. Simon’s character arc after his death is essentially Simon coming to realise this for himself, and moving on from his need for Kamina to motivate him, culminating in a very understated moment in one of the final episodes where Kamina’s ghost notes that Simon has finally grown taller than him.
That’s quite a lot of good stuff to write about. If I felt like it I could probably go off on a thousand word tangent discussing how the universe in TTGL, via the mechanic of Spiral Power, responds to depression and feelings of hopelessness verses determination on a level that is literally built into the world, and linking that to the earlier series Evangelion and my own mental health problems.
(Actually, I would like to do that, but I feel that setting the ground work of how I feel about Gurren Lagann is kind of needed for it, but not something I’d want to actually write in that piece.)
The problem is however, despite all of these excellent moments to the series…there’s just so much not particularly good stuff around them that my feelings on the show altogether are kind of neutral, if not negative. TTGL has a very large cast, and it really isn’t sure how to use them, best summed up during the lull that dominates the first part of the second act, when a large portion of the male supporting cast sacrifice themselves en mass in a pointless and not particularly engaging scene.
The female cast members get off even worse; out of the seven female characters, one is a mechanic who at least gets to help out by fixing and over-charging the mechas (a role that could have been used to match with Simon’s arc about how you need both motivation and reliability, but isn’t), three are first defined as being “Kittan’s sisters” and do almost nothing in the second act other than being love interests and one is a member of a pair of twin pilots who end up piloting the titular Gurren Lagann in the epilogue despite doing basically nothing in the series proper. The last two are Nia, who is introduced literally as a throwaway character (she was thrown away by her father Lordgenome), then gets possessed by the anti-spiral, becomes a damsel in distress, and then dies. It is only the last one Yoko who really gets anything to do, and even then the majority of the time she’s being used for fanservice.
It’s much harder to put the failings of TTGL into words than it is to put down the ways it succeeds. It’s just a mess of wasted characters, long boring moments, and tedious moments of perversion. It isn’t that there’s nothing good about it, but rather that they are like choice cuts of meat floating in gruel. If you can rescue them they are great, but I wouldn’t advise eating the whole dish.
On a final note, I think this is part of what made it so popular. TTGL came out right at the same time that video hosting, particular youtube, became popular online. It is a series almost tailor made for youtube; lots of great moments you can cut out of the series itself and just upload on their own. And honestly, I think that might be the best way to watch it. Find some clips of the best moments and enjoy them, divorced of the rather tedious context they are surrounded with.