Weekly Update: Kingdom Two Crowns, Red Green Show, The Tragedy of Macbeth

What I’m Playing: Kingdom Two Crowns

I’m going to go a bit hipster here, because I actually played this before it was a purchasable Steam game and when it was just an even simpler draft on Kongregate Flash games. Then as now, it was elegant in its simplicity–you’re a king on a horse who rides back and forth and collects coins from some subjects to hire other subjects, equip them with bows and hammers, and use them to create barriers to fend off the zombies who will attack nightly and try to steal your coins/crown. However, because the number of zombies got progressively greater every night, and you could only build a limited number of defenses, inevitably your kingdom would collapse. It was just a matter of time.

I purchased the game when I found it on Steam. Now you could hire farmers and knights, which you could send to attack the portals the zombies came out of. Zombie giants and flying zombies could attack, but you could get upgrades for your archers and buildings to last longer. But still, inevitably, the kingdom would fall–even if you destroyed the great portals at either end of the playing field, they would rebuild themselves and you would face an even larger horde of zombies. (EDIT: I have since read that you could, in fact, win the game by surviving the final, huge wave of zombies, and that sort of ruins that early game for me now).

Kingdom New Lands changed this. Now, you could use your resources to build a boat and launch off for a new island. There were only four (procedurally generated) islands, but you could also hire genius hermits to create new advanced towers, and get new kinds of horses to ride. You could even get a dog, who was useless but still fun to have around. But for once, it was possible to escape the zombies and leave your subjects to their doomed fate while you skipped off to another island. It was even theoretically possible to defeat the zombies entirely by beating the unlockable “Skull Island,” but I was never good enough to do that.

In that context, Kingdom Two Crowns is almost… disappointing. Because you can not only defeat the zombies, but it’s really almost comparatively easy to do so. Sure, it’s a great sequence where you get to enter the zombie portal and encounter the great monster who’s been sending them, but the fall of your kingdom is no longer inevitable.

At the same time, maybe that reflects a human desire for a definitive end–a definitive happy end, moreover. We as people realize that life doesn’t constantly go on, that the world simply keeps spinning and people keep dying. We know there is a final battle and a final victory. And as Lewis says, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Still, I wish the Dead Lands and Shogun expansions on Two Crowns were more than blank reskins. They barely change anything about the game.

What I’m Watching: The Red Green Show

I legitimately am not sure how I got back to watching this. I still haven’t finished Deep Space Nine, or the second season of Ted Lasso, or caught up, even, on My Hero Academia, but do I watch any of those? No! I start looking up Youtube videos of a Canadian comedian lampooning stereotypes of mountain-men rednecks.

I haven’t watched this show in over twenty years. When I was a kid, it was the height of comedy. It came on on Saturdays on PBS and we only rarely had the opportunity to watch it in more than passing, as generally our parents felt the show was too risque for children.

Rewatching it, a number of things come to mind. First, the show basically predicted the trend of crazy DIY Youtube videos where people make duck blinds out of old cars or boats out of pop cans. Interestingly, the “Handyman’s Corner” starts out as purely slapstick, but in the later years moves to genuinely workable, if bizarre, git-r-done creations. Red Green could very well be a viral Youtube star if he’d gotten his start in the internet age.

Second, the show is surprisingly… wholesome? in parts? Like again, this feels like a gradual move; the early seasons have the usual gags about “what women want” and so on, but by the later ones, Red Green is offering advice about marriage and men vs. women that feels genuinely useful and hearfelt. Red’s jokes about his wife are largely self-effacing–not jabs about his wife being fat or ugly, but simply about himself forgetting things or making classic male blunders. I wonder, sometimes, about the modern presentation of love and marriage being too idealized and perfect–Red’s presentation shows it more as something messy, full of mistakes and apologies, occasionally unhappy but ultimately comfortable.

Third, not only did I not understand the jokes as a kid, I didn’t even understand the words, sometimes. This is true even of jokes I remember repeating ad infinitum to my parents and laughing loudly over (sometimes I wonder how I made it through childhood without being strangled by one of my family members.). It makes me wonder why. I think I just had a sense that people thought the jokes were funny, and that the best way to gain approval was to also be funny, or to at least repeat things that I understood from context to be jokes. This might not even be a me thing, it’s could be a Dutch thing, as this one comedian puts it (warning for language).

I wonder, often, if much of our emotions are based not on personal visceral responses, but on what we understand from social context to be humorous. It certainly would explain why things viewed as funny by one time and place are not only not funny, but actually quite offensive in another time and place. I have a general reluctance, when shown something “funny,” to actually laugh, until I’ve decided whether it was immoral/offensive. But again, apparently my sense of humor is a bit bizarre. Hard to be sure what everyone else’s is like.

What I’m Also Watching: The Tragedy of Macbeth

I was really excited to hear about this one. I like Denzel Washington, I like Macbeth, and while I haven’t made a great study of Joel Coen, a director who’s turned in greats like The Great Lebowski and True Grit surely knows a few things about putting together a good film. It was a bit disappointing to see the faux-medieval stylism, since I’d been hoping for something with an African warlord or a a crime boss setting, but still a lot of stuff seemed to line up.

Visually, the film seems to take its cues from the Orson Welles’ adaptation, with sets and props that are vaguely medievalistic but more a stylized theatrical form of them–bare concrete hallways and arches, vaguely wooden doors, ribbed leather cloaks that don’t come from any medieval era yet seem to fit a timeless theatrical setting.

With minimalist props, obviously everything is on the performances and… that’s where I was disappointed. Given how talented everyone involved is, I can only imagine that the choice for muted, unemotional performances was deliberate and that Denzel Washington’s almost casual Macbeth was as practiced as Frances McDomarand’s calculating Lady Macbeth. Maybe the idea was to draw attention to the words themselves, and not distract with acting or props.

Whatever the goal was, it didn’t work. Macbeth didn’t seem conflicted; lines like “I am afraid to think what I have done” fell flat, and his “Is this a dagger I see before me” speech an utterly mundane walk down a hallway toward a glittering door handle. There’s little of the witchcraft, little of the madness, little even of the moral conflicts that define the play. It was boring–and for a story with witches, regicide, and insanity, that takes some serious doing.

It’s such a pity. You hope, as a teacher, for good adaptations that you can show to students, and a Denzel Washington Macbeth would have been a great one to show to inner-city students skeptical of the bard. Perhaps a later adaptation will hit the target.

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