Saturday, November 7, 2015

Jurassic World, Part 2: Is the Game Better Than the Movie? and I-Rex VS Mewtwo.

“…here we are, hunter-gatherers wandering among the wreckage of our own making, and evolved to play with evolution.” - George Gessert, “Why I Breed Plants.”

So, I mentioned last section that I’ve been playing Jurassic World: the Game. I love this game to death, and actually think it’s better than the movie. 

I know, I know: I speak madness, this is Sparta, GET REKT. Hear me out. 

One of the things I really hated about the movie was how forced a lot of the things felt. For a few examples: “FAMILY IS THE BEST THING EVER EVEN THOUGH I’M AT A DIVORCE HEARING,” “Remember that one time we made out? Yeah, we’re a couple, now,” “WE’RE KIDS LET’S BE REBELLIOUS AND STUPID!” (more on this later), “weaponize all the things” (more on this later, too), and, most importantly, “TAKE THAT, YOU GENETIC FREAK! Whaddya mean, ‘I’m just as spliced?!’” 

That last one is not only the main point of this article, but also one of the main points of Jurassic Park as a whole: how far can science go before its wax wings melt? 

This is where the game really stands out. Aside from more character development and more dinosaurs overall, I have to mention how the designs really made the whole point about wax wings better than the movie. It did that mostly by having more dinosaurs, allowing us to interact with said dinosaurs, and doing slightly different things with them. 

For example, in the movie, we see raptor training. Vic Hoskins, a person working with both InGen and the military, mentions weaponizing the raptors, suggesting them as mine-sniffing dogs with talons among other things. Hoskins also suggests selectively breeding raptors for loyal strains. In the end, the training/conditioning wins out, but here’s the kicker: there is nothing wrong with selective breeding, especially for loyalty/docility. What’s wrong, really, is the military’s intent for such a thing. 

You do realize he was selectively-bred, right? 

Get this: the domestication of the dog predates the invention of the wheel. Dogs have been confirmed man’s best friend since 15,000 BCE; the wheel was invented around 3,500 BCE. It has been proven, multiple times, that not only are dogs and wolves the same species, but that all you have to do to make a wolf into a dog is select the brood for tameness. In foxes, this took only four generations; in wolves, with how similar their social structure is to that of humans, it may have taken even fewer than that. For the record, feral dogs have reverted almost entirely into wolves, yes. They’re called dingoes

Imagine doing that with raptors. Wouldn’t that be AWESOME? Since this type of breeding also creates new patterns (specifically piebaldism - irregular white patches on a creature’s coat), we could have a variety of raptors tailored to the demands of anybody with the time and money for a pet raptor! Want one with a nifty stripe like Blue? You got it. An all-white one? Doable. Orange? Sure, why not! 

And y’know what? The game actually encourages this. 

Image from the JW Wikia, but I have one, too. 

JW the Game has an arena function. In order to get stronger dinos, you have to fuse two of them together. The results lead to cleaner patterns and brighter colors, similar to the selectively-bred Okeetee corn snakes (they are not a heritable morph - they are “cleaned” wild-colored corn snakes). The tradeoff is camouflage for a pattern that rakes in the dough. All you have to do is mate/evolve your dinosaurs. It’s no worse than trying to select for, say, deeper purple in albino reticulated pythons, along with a good temperament. Always go for temperament. 

“But that’s unnatural!” 

No, no it isn’t. Allow me to elaborate on why it is perfectly fine using “fuck” in every sentence with several different meanings. 

Nature does not fucking care what humans do to its creatures. As long as things are fucking and their offspring continue to fuck, the species survives. Mother Nature is a fucking bitch; as long as you fuck and your offspring can fuck, you win. It doesn’t matter if a fucking wolf does it with a fucking dog- humans are the ones who care. As far as the wolfdog is concerned, it is still Canis fucking lupus, and can still fuck either of its parents while producing offspring that can fuck. That is how animals fucking win. That is all that fucking matters to nature: fucking. 

What is unnatural is that male dinosaurs aren’t fucking acknowledged. We don’t even know if there’s a fucking stud, who, by the way, must be doing a lot of fucking if he exists. If anything, preventing the dinosaurs from fucking naturally like that is more unnatural than selectively breeding them. At least with selective breeding, there is fucking going on. 

I’m done with the F-bombs, now. Hopefully, they make the point. Your move, Catcher in the Rye. 

The problem: even selective breeding, an art as old as humankind, has very bad connotations, nowadays. PETA has made sure that selective breeding is linked with puppy mills, cross-eyed white tigers, and generally illegal activities. This is not to say that such things don’t happen at all with inbreeding, or that puppy mills are A-OK, but it is still an art almost as old as humanity itself, and will not go away. Generally speaking, humans move forward with their inventions, not backwards. This applies to breeding, too; for example, Siamese cats have had the exact same issues with crossed eyes as white tigers in the past (it’s the same type of albinism, even), but selective breeding, including outcrosses, overcame that hurdle. We’re generally pretty good at picking out traits we like and accentuating them without causing too much damage - i.e. making it so that the organisms can’t fuck. 

Refer back to the quote we opened with: we have evolved to play with evolution. Selective breeding is selecting for traits we like, rather than being stronger or faster. Considering that humans can be treated as their own extinction event, perhaps it’s about time we looked at selective breeding as its own, bizarre adaptation: a genetic response to a new environment. In this case, that new environment is us. 

So, again, let’s loop back to something I said in the beginning: part of the point of Jurassic Park is a sort of “wax wings of Icarus - don’t fly too close to the sun/play God” analogue. While we could argue that Indominus rex makes the point pretty clear by herself, might the game actually make it better? 

A liger, bred for its skills in AWESOME. 

Hybrids, in general, are a sort of breaking point for humans as far as science is concerned. You can mate a lion and a tiger, for example, making a liger, but the liger is going to have a few problems. For one, they suffer a lot of the same issues as large dog breeds; because the growth inhibition gene in lionesses is not at all present in ligers, they grow huge, to the point where their hearts literally cannot support them. Female ligers can indeed reproduce, but males are almost certainly sterile. Sterility happens rather frequently in hybrids, and remember our golden rule: Fuck. Once you can’t reproduce well, Nature herself flips you off as a species. This isn’t even touching sci-fi splicing; sometimes, crossing two things is enough to make Nature go “yeah, NO.” (Also, to preemptively cut off any anti-gay stuff? This has to happen to an entire species, and nature always has a few individuals that won't pass on their genes.) 

Before I go into how JW: the Game shows this better than the movie, I’d like to talk about Mewtwo. 

Scan from Bulbapedia. Should've just used mine. 

For those of you who do not know who or what Mewtwo is, you’re either really old or are not from this planet. I will nonetheless explain. 

Mewtwo is a Pokemon created from a single bit of DNA from Mew, said to be the progenitor of all Pokemon-kind, and Arceus knows what else. In its PokeDex entries, it is said to have been created by a scientist “after years of horrific gene splicing and DNA-engineering experiments.” Things like having the “most savage heart among Pokemon” and thinking only of combat also come up repeatedly. And yet…

…there are a few reasons that people are not piss-shit terrified of Mewtwo. No, if anything, Mewtwo is regarded as the only 100% badass Pokemon - even by people who are not fans of Pokemon. A lot of this has to do with how Mewtwo was softened as a character for the first Pokemon movie; watch the Japanese movie and/or the dubbed “Birth of Mewtwo,” and see exactly how anthropomorphized and softened the “most savage heart” became. 

Mewtwo was designed, from an artistic standpoint, to be a freak; like, seriously, that neck tube looks wrong. So was Indominus rex. Both are intelligent, cold-hearted, ruthless in battle, and meant to look like bastardizations of nature. They nonetheless are marketable badasses. 

Is it any wonder that this thing got the most merch? 

(Also, you aren’t marketing the hell out of something being a blend of T-Rex and raptor…why? “Part T-Rex. Part raptor. ALL AWESOME.” Also also, no, albinos are not scary; if anything, white and melanistic animals make things even more of an attraction! (See also: white tigers, black “panthers,” and NOLA’s white alligator.) Now fire your entire marketing department and anyone who kept THOSE TWO GENES a secret. The rest…people won’t care after that, trust me.) 

What the movie didn’t tell us was that there were more fused dinosaurs besides Indominus. Some of them, like the Stegoceratops, also got toys, despite not being in the movie. Others, though… 

This is Koolasaurus, the only fused amphibian in the game, but I'm pretty sure Pepe the frog has more reasons to live. 

I’m gonna throw it out there that the JW game doesn’t do enough with pterosaurs (or amphibians, for that matter). No long-tailed pterosaurs until the Dimorphodon update really stunted the potential for a giant, beaky wyvern-splicer. The fused monster (yes, only one fused pterosaur) for them simply looks like…nothing compared to the phoenixian Lv. 40’s until it fully evolves. All splicers start out with this pink-grey mush color to them, while the selectively-bred parent species look like something out of Avatar. It’s a kinda-dinosaur molded out of clay versus a living work of modern art. 

But oh, no. You look at the other two crosses of what should be badass dinosaurs, and things start looking so much worse. 

I'll give you the crack, okay? By the way, I don't own any of these caps because I'm not cool enough. 

I am, of course, talking about the Spinoraptor and Carnoraptor. One of these barely has feathers and has huge, pink, bulging eyes with tiny pupils, like some sort of dinosaur drug addict. The other has the cool horns of a Carnotaurus…stunted into little demonic nubs, along with wrinkly skin like on a shrunken head and black, beady eyes. If Indominus was not enough of an indication that insane splicing was not the answer, oh my gods, look at her creepy as hell siblings. 

Indominus kinda beat us over the head with “this is WRONG” while looking completely badass - just like Mewtwo. Her possessed siblings do so in a much more subtle and chilling manner. That is art. 

Now that's more like it! 

Granted, the evolved hybrids look a lot cooler. The gray mush of Tropeogopterus becomes just as bold as any other pterosaur, and even if Carnoraptor and Koolasaurus look just as freaky as before, it’s an improvement over the color gray. Evolve anything but Indominus, and it looks decent (red stripes and spikes...yawn). So, what else does the game do that the movie doesn’t? 

Pretty much just generic kids in the movie. Not so in the game. 

At this point, I’m going to bring up the two kids. Zach, the older brother, is a techie; he reminds me a lot of my (younger) nephew in that he’s concerned about things regarding technology, and is the type of kid who freaks when a place has no cell phone reception (which I think he got from his mom, but I digress). Gray, the younger kid, is into things like science and math, and is just giddy to see dinosaurs and be out in nature. Although these sides of these characters were probably in the movie on some level, I think one exchange really hammers in the key difference between the two: 

Zach: This is awful! There’s no cell phone reception! 

Gray: I know, isn’t it great? 

That bit, right there, cements these two as characters. (It also proves that the people who made Gray’s character really don’t know anything about how modern kids act, but more on that later.)  It’s not verbatim, but the exchange really stuck out. Zach’s character is consistently tech-oriented, while Gray is an absolute geek about the natural world. The movie focuses on the sibling relationship between these two, which, while realistic, feels cheap and forced in places (“Y U NO BOND WITH CLAIRE?!”). They could’ve had something more interesting and insightful if they had given the two more traits (or emphasized extant traits) beyond “they’re brothers; the younger kid likes dinosaurs, older brother is borderline stupid and generally a rebellious teenager.” 

I would like to note that the Wikia says absolutely nothing about Zach’s character and a lot about Gray’s character. I’ll get into why this matters in a bit. 

While it wasn’t necessarily crystalline in the movie, in the game, these kids are really, really symbolic in a way that doesn’t beat you over the head…as much as the movie did in spots with different characters. Look at that dialogue I pasted up there, and the purpose of these two siblings suddenly becomes clear: Zach is obsessed with technology and would probably die without his phone, while Gray is a junior paleontologist. These two are extreme representations of nature VS technology, with Gray being nature boy and Zach being glued to his phone. Even their names hint at this if you squint. 

Now, mind, they are still characters. They are also still older and younger siblings. For example, the Wikia describes Gray as a little bit hyper, and getting on Zach’s nerves from time to time. Zach nonetheless tries to keep a reign on his little brother, even if he has a rebellious side himself. 

Um, question: why not switch these two? I don’t really object to the younger sibling being aligned with nature and the elder being concerned with his iPhone, but symbolism aside, which is more realistic? Drawing from my own relatives, I know the opposite from experience: the older brother is more concerned with math and science and is a Boy Scout, and the younger one wants his tablet PC, his dad’s phone, or really, any screen to stare at and tap on. Kids these days are growing up with devices that their older siblings never encountered; it would make a lot of sense for a kid in that day and age to be tired of dinosaurs, which have been “normal” for much of his life, while the older sibling is more concerned with not only the names, but the processes that created them to begin with, as well as the older Jurassic Park. It would also make more sense for the younger sibling to be more hyperactive not just because he's a little kid, but because he’s grown up in a world that encourages technological ADD (which I have STRONGLY experienced with a friend’s little brother). 

Now, here’s why they didn’t do that: Gray is not only symbolic of nature, but also of the Jurassic Park fanbase. Really into dinosaurs? Check. Kinda knows when things are about to go wrong, sort of like an animal sense? Check. Knows stuff about the old park? Oho, checkaroonie. Again, though - wouldn’t this make more sense on the older brother? 

The world as most humans know it. 

Maybe, maybe not. It’s a sad fact of American culture that adults usually aren’t into nature. The mature world of man is not a world of wild animals  - it’s a world of metal and people on their phones on a constant basis. In the adult mind, humans have exceeded nature already, and don’t really see it as a threat. People who really like animals tend to be more in-tune with their inner child, so I can see why the writers did what they did with these characters. 

In short: while I don’t entirely agree with the positions of younger and elder siblings, I respect the creators’ choices. It just could have been more powerful if this had been fleshed out, and maybe switched. I do mean “fleshed out” and not “beaten into our skulls,” the latter of which ironically makes things less effective. 

In the end, the two siblings have to settle their differences and work things out in order to avoid being eaten by Mewtwosaurus. The humans eventually sic the natural (but still very spliced) dinosaurs on the freak they have created, and win out by playing off of both conditioning and natural behavior. In other words, a compromise between tech and nature was reached. We've evolved to play with evolution, but that doesn't mean we control it entirely, nor does it mean that we won't make icky-looking mistakes. 

While the movie does make the point of wax wings on its own, it feels like the game does it better. It doesn’t beat you over the head, lets you interact more with the dinosaurs than humans we are supposed to like (even then, Blue the raptor is the best character in the movie), and actually teaches you, the player, more things than the movie ever did without you realizing it. Nostalgia Critic was completely right in that the movie should maybe have been more about cool dinosaurs doing cool dinosaur things than about forced stereotypes, whether girls can ever have it all or not, and not-at-all subtle callbacks to the first movie (Jaws was very cleverly inserted, though). It’s still worth seeing, so go ahead and give it a watch - and then go play the game on your tablet or phone. If nothing else, it’s a fitting complement to a decent flick.