It’s end-of-year list season here at Audiences Everywhere, and that means its time for my annual Almost Films post! What do I mean by that? Who knows! It’s never had a hard and fast definition. Basically, this is just the place where I talk about things I liked this year that don’t have a place on any of our official year-end lists. Usually that amounts to web creations of various mediums. It’s included everything from podcasts to video games in the past. I’ve got a good crop of stuff this year, so enjoy!
Our first entry comes to us from SB Nation video creator Jon Bois. A mixed-media sci-fi project like 17776 is an odd fit for a sports journalism website, but if I employed someone as brilliant as Bois I’d let him run wild too. The story takes place in the titular year, viewed through the eyes of a trio of deep-space satellites who have developed sentience and spend their days observing the denizens of Earth. Many thousands of years ago, humans mysteriously stopped being born, aging, or dying. There hasn’t been a new human being in ages, and technology has advanced to the point that people are even protected from fatal accidents or daredevil stunts gone awry. It’s a broad concept with tons of avenues to explore. Many writers would get lost in the potential of the premise. Rather than asking the big existential questions spurred by this idea, Bois asks a small one: What would happen to football?
The creativity of Bois’ fictional football matches is the initial draw. One game has a field that spans most of the country, where the challenge is less tackling your opponent and more finding them in the first place. Another game involves finding every football ever signed by Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Koy Detmer. There’s a centuries-long unfinished Broncos-Steelers game which has evolved its ruleset so many times that it isn’t even played anymore, as the teams split off into dozens of discreet factions and claimed parts of the field as property. Bois’ imagination runs wild. He’s as unshackled by the laws of our universe as he is the laws of sci-fi world-building.
The three satellite characters are all delightful too. Characters that could easily have been vessels for exposition (isn’t that what a satellite is, after all?) have distinct personalities and perspectives. All of this is depicted through a combination of text dialogue and Bois’ trademark Google Earth-style animations. The latter conveys a sense of the impersonally personal, reality unmoored from itself and shoddily recreated by technology. It’s charming in its roughness. I still sort of can’t believe that something like this exists at all. 17776 is one of the coolest artistic works I experienced all year.
As someone who’s been reading creepypasta for years, Petscop struck me as a work on another level from its contemporaries. Fake video game footage is nothing new for the genre—the popular “BEN Drowned” story supplemented its text with “proof” in the form of spooky videos—but Petscop leaps forward in a number of ways. For starters, Petscop is not a real game. Most “I found this haunted cartridge at a garage sale” stories focus on a pre-existing game. It’s easier to scare an audience if they’re familiar with the work you’re corrupting. Petscop’s alienness makes it all the scarier. The story is appreciably vague, resisting the temptation to over-explain itself that so many similar stories fall prey to. It’s communicated in a series of YouTube videos narrated by a player named Paul. These videos seem to be directed at a friend of Paul’s whom he makes reference to throughout. It adds an extra feeling of voyeurism to the proceedings. Paul isn’t supposed to be seeing this game, and we’re not supposed to be seeing these videos.
Petscop’s greatest achievement is how well it sells its concept. The game really does look like an unfinished Playstation 1 title, right down to its graphical glitches and cheesy UI. This helps with some of the bigger moments in the series, which may not have played as well if you were just reading about them. They seem spookier rendered in corny floating text bubbles and blurry textures. Also helpful is Paul’s believable performance. His deadpan under-reactions and occasional tunnel-vision closely resemble actual Let’s Players. He doesn’t act like someone playing a haunted video game, shrieking and gasping at every turn. When something strange happens, he usually just goes, “Huh, weird,” and moves on.
The series is a slow burn. It takes a while for Paul to discover the game’s literal dark underbelly, and longer still to find anything interesting within. It takes after actual LP videos in that way. It’s not just a highlight reel of scares. The story trafficks in some unfortunate cliches of the genre, namely some abstract implications of child abuse, but it’s all so obtuse that I’m willing to give the series the benefit of the doubt going forward. And it is going forward after all! It uploaded a new video just a few days ago, after a months-long break during which I thought it had concluded. Give this a look if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
Butterfly Soup is a visual novel about four queer Asian-American girls who play baseball. I’m not a visual novel expert, but I thought this one was phenomenal. You take on the perspectives of all four girls as they become friends and poorly try to hide their crushes on each other. It’s a fluffy story, though not a sentimental one. The game is unsparing in its excavation of their neuroses and emotional inadequacies. They feel like real people, full of tics and insights that could only come from personal experience on the part of the game’s creators. It takes place in California in 2008, when Obama was elected and Prop 8 was passed. It explores the dissonance of the time for young queer people. Obama’s election seemed to represent a wave of progressive change and abandonment of old oppressions. And yet at the exact same time, citizens of one of the most liberal states in the union voted to deny the rights of gay couples. Butterfly Soup smartly probes this contradiction through the lens of its impact on four young women who are struggling to come to terms with their identities. But its most admirable attribute is that it never comes close to cruelty or cynicism. It’s a sweet, happy, feel-good story that’s unashamed to be any of those things. I always recoil at “This Is The X We Need Right Now” hyperbole, but personally speaking, this was the game I needed in 2017.
Every so often I stumble across an internet subculture I never knew existed. This year, it was theme park enthusiasts, by way of Kevin Perjurer’s YouTube series Defunctland. Perjurer goes in depth on the backstories of various amusement park rides and attractions that are no longer in operation. His passion for the topic shines through in the series’ detailed and comprehensive scripts, as well as their friendly presentation. He’s clearly done his research for every video, and he wants you to share his fascination with these parks. I always find it fun to see how enthusiasts think about things that the rest of us take at face value. The way he dives into the themes and stories of various rides made me look at them in a whole new way. One of my favorite Defunctland episodes covers an indoor roller coaster called “Disaster Transport,” whose name ended up being apt. It’s a thorough look at how a lack of creative vision leads to a muddled and confusing ride. I never even thought a roller coaster was a thing that could be confusing. Defunctland is a breezy series, so give it a look, especially if you’re as clueless about the topic as I was.
That Video of Richard Spencer Getting Punched
No other video this year was as cathartic as this one. Watching white nationalist leader Richard Spencer get laid out in public (while explaining his Pepe the Frog pin, no less!) was the perfect tonic to the year’s ever-growing series of terrifying political developments. In a time when the hard right seemed untouchable in their ascension, this brief clip reminded us all of their mortality. For all the stupid debate it spawned from terrified milquetoast centrists, the video undeniably defined the opposition movement in 2017. People like Richard Spencer may wield tremendous influence in this country at the moment, but they are not invulnerable. They are not unbeatable. I think this video played a significant part in spurring to action people who would otherwise feel understandably defeated and hopeless. A great big punch is on its way to the face of every single one of the despicable ghouls currently rushing to enrich themselves at the cost of everyone else. The video of Richard Spencer getting punched continues to serve as a symbol of our intentions. May 2018 be a year of righteous punching.