Premature Evaluation: Gynophobia

For a much more provocative and intelligent look at the phenomena of gynophobia, one might turn to Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist. I love Lars von Trier’s films partly because I always know that I will find something violently objectionable in them - but unlike the many shallow attempts at purposeless offence that various right-wing bores attempt to parade as examples of free speech, von Trier’s films are masterworks of trolling which entangle the middleclass arthouse fan in their own hypocrisies and complacencies. I sometimes leave the cinema absolutely furious, and yet somehow delighted, because this fury is a joke at my own expense. It’s a really strange concoction of emotion and meaning, and unlike the work of any other director.

Each week, Marsh Davies roots through the underwear drawer of Early Access and beholds with a mixture of fear and arousal the strange contraptions he finds within. This week, he’s played Gynophobia, a short game about shooting things and being afraid of tits and spiders. There’s even a spider with tits – a lamentable mainstay of monster design that not even Dark Souls could redeem.

Sing with me now:

♫ SpiderTit, SpiderTit, ♫
♫ Let’s be honest, it’s always shit. ♫

And his films sometimes have talking animals in them too! “Chaos reigns!” says a fox in Antichrist. The fox has just eaten out its own womb, so I guess it knows what it's talking about. It’s a film in which the virtues of therapy are tossed on the grill to sizzle alongside womanly sin, Satanism, lust, Bacchic worship, bereavement and an assortment of self-consciously symbolic woodland animals. It would be quite the barbeque even without the Reggae Reggae Sauce of graphic copulation and dick-shrivelling sexual violence.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Unity prefabs on fire in a single untextured cube. I’ve watched broken walk-cycles jitter in the dark near an invisible wall. All those moments will be lost in time, like piss… in… rain. Which is to say that, compared to a lot of the Early Access drek I play in preparation for this column, but then opt not to write about, Gynophobia is a triumph. It’s operational. It’s content complete, albeit at a running time of 85 minutes, some of which was spent alt-tabbed on Twitter. It costs less than a coffee. It’s not a swindle in the way that some Early Access games are: a bunch of Unity Asset Store purchases dolloped into an inert, height-mapped desolation, sustained only by airy promises of distant development goals.

Instead, it’s a bunch of Unity Asset Store purchases dolloped into duff-looking, but at-least-cursorily designed run-and-gun environs, trammelled by a laughably thin yarn about overcoming a fear of vaginas by killing zombies and giant spiders.

In the film, an arrogant, controlling therapist attempts to chaperone his glib academic wife through the grief of losing their own son by travelling to an isolated woodland shack (of course!) where her fears culminate and their relationship takes on a new, and entirely hideous meaning. He's Willem Dafoe – or at least something that might have been Willem Dafoe prior to centuries of preservation in a peat bog, compressing his wizened face into a yet more stoically creased Dafoe omelette. She, meanwhile, is a sinewy, waif-like golem of passing resemblance to Charlotte Gainsbourg. It's hard to enjoy these gristly forms rutting with each other, as they so often do throughout the film – their bestiality compounding the film's assertion that there is something grotesque and noxious about the animal, natural world.

It is in ur momma’s bedroom where we lay our scene. I know it to be such because there are some pink knickers on the duvet and a book of potions by the bedside table, which, when used, prompts brief textual musing from the player-character about dear mama’s chosen reading matter. That’s environmental storytelling, that is. There’s also a broom which twangs off through the wall when agitated. I press F to use the knickers but nothing happens, so I wander out into the hall where the presence of a spider causes the screen to judder uncontrollably and bars all approach. In fairness, it does appear to be the size of a shoe, which, while small in comparison to many of its videogame brethren, is still not the sort of thing I’d happily approach without a shovel.

My options so limited, I head into what I take to be my bedroom. There’s a computer here, apparently primed with a game called Dead Hunger. Playing it transports me into the world of the game: a simple zombie shooter of no immediate charm. Monstrously lo-poly deadopaths shamble towards me through a sewer system, exhibiting a variety of jolly run-cycles, before falling beneath my blazing pistol and then sinking slowly through the floor. Headshots cut them down quickly, but I once make the mistake of letting them get close and I suffer only a few flails before I’m slain. Luckily, the pathfinding obliges by funnelling the zombies into a conga-line, making bullets to the brain a cinch. A few minutes later and I’m making my way up a ladder to street level.

I speak only for myself, of course. Such qualms were not for the man five feet to my right, who was, with ineffectual furtiveness, tugging one out right there in the cinema, belt buckle jangling. Bath is such a genteel city.

This next section is a little more interesting: I must scour a small number of streets for the means to repair a van, while remurderising the unliving and avoiding one single, gargantuan zombie who slowly trundles after me wherever I go. The gunplay continues to lack subtlety or dynamism, and the whole thing looks ghastly – but the lack of a save system does leave my palms sweaty at the prospect of having to play more of it.

After tussling briefly with the finicky physics to ensure all the wheels are plugged in appropriately, I scoot off in the van. I have won the game within the game! Now returned to the reality of my flat, I receive a text message from my in-game father, who is apparently delighted to hear that I suffer from gynophobia rather than homosexuality, “something that they don’t cure nowadays”. (I leave the reader to decide what level of self-awareness this narrative operates at – I honestly can’t tell.) Moments later, the doorbell rings, and, though I can’t open it, I can peer through the peep-hole. A plasticky-looking female character model with giant round breasts stands outside, and my camera judders with what I take to be a phobic response to glass-eyed, stiff-limbed Unity Store mannequins.

It’s a tad flabby, stagey and a little infatuated with its own sense of portent, oozing with over-egged unheimlich. You might mistake these as flaws of the film, but Antichrist is using a pitch perfect parody of pseudish film stodge to ensnare the goatee-beard crowd watching it. But the joke’s not just on the audience: in a weird, self-effacing way, it seems to be on von Trier as well. A sufferer of chronic, paralysing bouts of depression, von Trier has publicly endorsed the methods of therapy that here seem so ineffectual, laughable. Willem Dafoe's infuriatingly placid attempts to get his near-rabid wife to map out her “fear pyramid” seem just as daft as the dictums so solemnly held by the disability-faking Idiots of von Trier's earlier film.

My other nemesis, the spider, however, has seemingly scuttled elsewhere, allowing me entrance to the kitchen. Therein a draught of some potion sits, appended by an encouraging note from mother. I slug it back, promptly fall asleep, and, in so doing, pass into a violent dreamworld in which I gun down bikini-clad zombabes, evil sexy nurses, chefs and gigantic spiders for approximately half an hour. I won’t spoil exactly what happens when you wake up, but it suggests this whole process has been somehow cathartic. I’m not quite feeling it.

As to the overt theme of lady-killing: having thought about it for some time, I’m genuinely none-the-wiser as to whether offence or misogynistic pleasure is intended, or whether the game is meant to be a comment on these things. I suspect the last, actually, but I would venture that it is simply too crude to be successful at any of the above. But as crude as it is, there are the rudiments of design here: the pacing of resources, the placement of monster closets, scripted climaxes, events that resolve themselves with a bathetic deflation that prompt genuine laughter, be that intended or not.

And then there's the aborted thesis written by Gainsbourg's character – 'Gynocide', a dissertation on the persecution of women as witches that begins as a rationalist, feminist indictment and then derails with the epiphany that maybe women really are touched by some terrible original sin. It's a pattern mimicked by the film as a whole: what sets out to be an artfully shot, beret-wearing examination of grief through the lens of therapy, suddenly devolves into a bonkers slasher flick of toe-curling extremity in its last half, and ultimately posits that women and nature are indeed the tools of Satan. That's true corruption for you: going from arthouse to Eli Roth in just over one hundred minutes.

Gynophobia just doesn’t have the apparatus to deploy these elements to any overall positive effect – it looks dismal, movement is stodgy, collision fussy and its combat lacks any tactical depth or kinetic pleasure. But of the many games and would-be games out there, wrangled from prefab’d assets by amateurs, incompetents or fantasists, and given the facsimile of life by WYSIWYG game-making tools – this at least stands as a complete thing, made poorly, but offered honestly.

It’s weird to say this about a game in which I joylessly spammed bullets at jerky polygonal horror-women for dubious psycho-political motives, but I feel it deserves to exist, and the developer deserves to set a price for it, even if it’s not one I’d happily pay. Thanks to Steam’s new refund policy, of course, whatever price tag this game has can be tugged straight off again: you can claim back your cash for any reason – including, explicitly, that you simply didn’t like the game – as long as it’s within 14 days of the purchase and you’ve played the game for less than two hours.

So yeah, it’s not really a date movie. Nor is his film Nyphomaniac, which arrived in cinemas in two volumes, and is no less provocative, sexually explicit and cruelly insincere. In the film, sex addict Charlotte Gainsbourg is rescued from an alleyway beating by a man obsessed with fishing analogies. She decides to tell him her torrid life story via flashback. As with Antichrist, it's not always clear exactly what parts of the film are deployed as a deadpan satire of film convention and the preening arthouse audience that gobbles it down - but I'm pretty sure Stellan Skarsgard's interruptions about how a blowjob is like catching trout are intended to tip us the wink. Or indeed wank the tip.

This is bad news for bad games of less than two hours in length. Or even, as many indie devs fear, bad news for any game of less than two hours in length. Valve say they’ll crack down on users who appear to habitually exploit refunds to snag under-two-hour-long games for free, but that doesn’t necessarily answer the question of whether it is ever just for customers to demand money back for a game after having consumed its entirety, just because they felt it didn’t meet their expectations.

I don’t mean to be hard on Valve or customers: there are great reasons for having such a generous returns policy (not least because it is mandated by law in some European countries) and I don’t see many easy solutions. The nature of Early Access means that there a lot of opportunities to mis-sell dreams as games, and the ability to plunder prefab asset stores for professional-tier trappings makes it easy for Walter Mitty types to disguise their no-hoper status in screenshots. It seems fair that, before investing in the ongoing development of a game, you get a chance to kick its tyres first (and, possibly, clip through the tyre to fall forever through a void).

That continual smirk prevents this from being as emotive or meaningful exploration of sex or intimacy as the similarly-themed Shame, a film which never laboured its gratuity in the false belief that it was being cheekily taboo. But there are some seemingly earnest and marvellously orchestrated scenes here - particularly excellent is the appearance of Uma Thurman as a betrayed spouse. And yet they are undercut, possibly purposefully, by absurdity elsewhere. What or who is being mocked? Shia LaBeouf's appalling London accent, perhaps? The bildungsroman as a form? The intentional artifice of its framing narrative? Maybe Christian Slater's cloying fatherly wisdom is in fact a precise jab at the pseudish narrow-focus wiffling of Terrence Malick.

Though many indie devs are currently losing their shit over this policy, there are reasons they might welcome this, too: as a means of releasing them from any moral obligation to fix every fringe-case showstopper bug. But there’s a certain sort of game, and I’d say Gynophobia is one, which is probably doomed by this policy. It isn’t making any promises to evolve into an open-world survival MMO with seamless space-to-planet transition and procedural dinosaur combat. It’s just a short game that’s, well, kind of gash – and by the time you’ve decided that, you’ve already consumed a large chunk of it. What’s that worth? Maybe not much, admittedly – but nothing is even less than that.

Valve’s refund policy may reshape Steam’s ecosystem, making the sale of such games – and perhaps subsequently their development – untenable. It’ll push out Early Access scammers and fantasists, certainly, but it also threatens amateur game devs making their first clumsy forays into commerce, and – perhaps of more concern – short experimental games whose charms may not be immediately apparent, or deemed too trivial. Maybe Valve are saying that Steam just isn’t the place for them (or see them as an acceptable sacrifice) and feel that other services like itch.io will accommodate them better.

The answers don’t seem to lie in volume two, alas, which largely manages only to be eye-wateringly unpleasant. But in its final moments it delivers an arch twist so bleakly ironic that I spent the credits laughing at what a wonderfully malevolent prick von Trier is - and maybe what a prick I am for enjoying his mockery and manipulation of me. Despite his films’ unwelcome taste, it turns out I find them surprisingly easy to swallow. Gobble gobble.

I certainly don’t think Valve owe anyone a space on their storefront and they are free to shape their service as they see fit. And it would make this column a lot easier if there were fewer Early Access games of questionable prospect to wade through. But, even though I can’t say I like Gynophobia, and would probably swap the experience I’ve had for a coffee of equivalent value, I sort of regret a marketplace in which it can’t exist, SpiderTits et al.

Sort of.

Gynophobia is available from Steam for £2.79. I played the version with Build ID: 637278 on 05/06/2015.

63 Comments

  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    My understanding of the game: vaginas are scary and suddenly zombies

    • MrFinnishDude says:

      Wait, would that be a good name for an album?

      • Blad the impaler says:

        Vaginas are scary – Vandals album. Suddenly Zombies…. maybe Hilary Duff’?

        • Jackablade says:

          “My understanding of the game: vaginas are scary and suddenly zombies” sounds like a good post-rock album.

          • bonuswavepilot says:

            Part of the ‘My Understanding of the Game’ multi-disc set. The next one is “My Understanding of the Game: Talking to the Monsters.”

  2. spacevagrant says:

    I saw a play through of this by Jim Sterling, he played through the whole game in less then a half hour. I find it interesting that the author feels that this game should be protected from a consumer friendly return policy but has no problem basically detailing the entirety of the game in the article. No reason to buy this game at all now that you know everything that happens in it scene by scene. This type of garbage is exactly why we need the return policy.

    • Yglorba says:

      I mean, the thing is… if this game is garbage, it’s not really unexpected garbage, is it? That’s the thrust of the review. It’s exactly what you would expect it to be based on the name, screenshots and description, no more and no less. It doesn’t have any outstanding bugs or any other nasty surprises, nor does it do anything unexpectedly well.

      So I don’t see how it’s an argument for return policies, in general. Yes, it’s ridiculous and doesn’t look very good, but all that was obvious before you bought it, wasn’t it?

      • jacobvandy says:

        Except for none of that being relevant to a consumer-friendly return policy. You’re allowed to refund any game for any reason within the time limits. As Valve state themselves:

        “maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it.”

        • RobF says:

          Yeah but you don’t accidentally buy a game called “Gynophobia” which looks like this and expect to be getting anything super great, right?

          So sure, you can get a refund if you don’t like it but if you buy it expecting it to be great somehow, I don’t know what to say. But I will absolutely defend its right to be sold for cash money and allowed to find its audience (no matter how small the audience for slightly naff tit spider shooting videogame is) but really, I think worrying that a refund policy will effect that is, well, a refund policy is always going to be the least of any fringe work’s problems.

          • jacobvandy says:

            Still, does not matter. I don’t know how to state that in any simpler terms. There is no stipulation that you need to feel like you were tricked. Valve doesn’t care, and I certainly don’t feel the need to rationalize it to myself in any way, so why not? Every game comes with a risk-free trial now. :p

            Maybe I’m just a bored and horny teenager and bought it thinking I’d see some virtual tits (I don’t know whether there are any or not, honestly haven’t bothered reading the whole review or looking into it otherwise). Whether I’m disappointed there are none or I get to the good part and have my wank, I can then proceed to get my refund if I kept it under 2 hours. Afterward, I can move on to trying something else. Nothing is stopping me from micro-renting every game in the Steam catalog. Hurrah for consumer rights!

          • RobF says:

            It’s hardly risk free when Valve will revoke your rights to any and all future refunds if you attempt to use Steam as a rental service.

            But that’s sort of missing the point of what we’re saying anyway so.

          • typographie says:

            Nothing was stopping that hypothetical dirty rotten customer from simply pirating the game instead. It’s not like that person was just sitting on their hands waiting for an exploitable refunds policy to appear.

  3. Tukuturi says:

    A scene group first released a build of this about eight months ago. It has been available on the most popular torrent sites from trusted uploaders since.

    Also, I think there’s an important difference between saying this game has a right to exist artistically and saying it has a right to exist within the market.

    • pepperfez says:

      It would be nice if gaming culture had more room for non-commercial work. It’s a shame the indie sphere ate itself and folks like Anna Anthropy (brilliant as she is) have been pushed even farther from the mainstream

    • Badgercommander says:

      “Also, I think there’s an important difference between saying this game has a right to exist artistically and saying it has a right to exist within the market.”

      No there really isn’t. Everyone has the *right* to charge for their work, whether they *should* or not is an entirely different matter.

      • Tukuturi says:

        Are you arguing that there is no way to distinguish between the right to sell something and the right for a creative work to exist, that they are in fact one and the same, which would be the counter to my point, or are you making an unrelated claim in response to my own?

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here, but it sounds interesting. Are you saying that some things are worth so little that they should never be sold, or that it’s actually offensive and so should be censored commercially but not artistically?

      • Tukuturi says:

        Neither, really. I just think we need to separate artistic value from market value wholly, whereas this piece seems to confuse the two.

  4. Ashrand says:

    Regarding the early access stuff i heard it discussed in a way i quite like actually, which is that the type of person who might be interested in Proteus isn’t going to get a refund because of it’s length (because they will tend to have more of an attachment to the creator in general) but the presenceof a refund system might encourage people to suck it and see where they might not otherwise have done

    • Geebs says:

      I’d like to get a refund for Proteus on the basis that it’s broken, janky, boring and, above all, shit; unfortunately I bought it more than 14 days ago.

  5. OmNomNom says:

    But vaginas ARE scary.

  6. iambecomex says:

    I was going to read this, but then I read the alt-review instead, seemed much more interesting.

    Also, I think I had my fill of gynophobia back in Prey. Once you’ve experienced aliens pouring out of giant vaginas on the ceiling, you’ve kind of seen it all.

    • LionsPhil says:

      “In the film, sex addict Charlotte Gainsbourg is rescued from an alleyway beating by a man obsessed with fishing analogies.”

      Am I reading TVGoHome again? Have I woken up in Charlie Brooker’s imagination?

      • Ross Angus says:

        One of the reasons Brooker gave up TV Go Home was that it was no longer possible to parody reality: there was no significant difference. See also: Lars von Trier.

        Having said that, I thought Melancholia was excellent and full of interesting ideas. The only middle-class bating idea in that is “weddings are really boring”, which is often true. He also did that film (pre-Dogma 95) about the American helping to rebuild the German rail system, after WWII. I liked that one too.

        • Geebs says:

          What’s middle class about weddings? The main baiting in Melancholia is that it’s a jerkish, boring film about boring jerks.

          • Chorltonwheelie says:

            Middle class art wankers can’t even conceive other kinds of folk prefer arthouse to Hollywood.
            I’d probably prefer to sit to the enthusiastically onanistic gentleman in a cinema.

        • malkav11 says:

          I love Lars von Trier for his (alas, never completed) TV series Riget, aka The Kingdom, later loosely adapted with the participation of Stephen King into the American show Kingdom Hospital. It’s very low-fi, shot with handheld cameras and such, and is an astonishing mix of weirdness and humor and straight up horror, though never quite as overt and obvious as the US adaptation. Most of the cast are terrible people and there’s this weird sense of decay and lowering doom. And then there’s a woman giving birth to Udo Kier. So, yeah. But like I say, there’s two seasons of a planned three and then season 3 never got made and at this point probably never will be made as several key actors have since died.

          I’ve never seen any of his movies, though. Anytime someone describes one I just go “mmm, that doesn’t sound like something I want to have in my brain”.

  7. machineageproductions says:

    I hate being that guy; usually I’m against saying, “Why do you guys keep doing this thing you do?”

    But frankly, can we get a little more focus on games that might be good, and might be enjoyable for reasonable people, and less focus on shitty games by awful people that drum up controversy because they hate women/minorities/whatever?

    There’s a ton of great indie games going around. I get the point of saying, “We played it. It’s bad.” But ultimately this comes at the detriment of reviewing games that could use the visibility. I used to go to RPS to hear about games I might want to play. I wish that brutalising women wasn’t a better path to public attention than designing a quality game. RPS is better than that.

    • Nanth says:

      I kind of agree with this. Usually I’m quite interested in what RPS has to say on such subjects, but this is just nastiness without cause or argument. The pseudo-review of Lars Von Trier’s nonsense felt even more objectionable than the main article to me – all the faults that RPS would (rightfully) point out in a game are apparently excused if you work in a traditional medium.

    • Zankman says:

      Writing a piece/making a video on a “shitty” game (or whatever else) often leads to fun content, where the author of the piece/video pokes fun at the lack of quality of the game in question.

      However, in terms of “we bring you gaming news and tell you about the best new games you may or may not have heard of”, yes, wasting your time on a game that everyone and their grandma can see is bad (“from a mile away!”) is really, really unnecessary.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      While I see when you’re coming from look at it this way; Marsh has says he plays a bunch of Early Access he just doesn’t end up reviewing because its even worse than this and I assume this column isn’t the only thing he works on in the week – so, if you’ve got to put in a column and all you have is some notes and screenshots from five or six rubbish games what do you do? Its all very well to say they should be publicising hidden gems but they have to find those gems first.

    • RobF says:

      Well, two things on this really:

      Given this column goes in depth on a wide spectrum of early access stuff, from the very good to the promising to the not there yet to this, it seems a bit unfair to start crapping on it for covering something that isn’t too hot and tyijg it into current concerns that may effect what titles can enter early access, y’know?

      But more than that I don’t just want to read about good games, a lot of the time there’s interesting stuff to pull apart from bad games. It’s not like this piece is like some of the {popular youtuber} stuff where he’s got nothing to say about it and sits there complaining whilst bored off his skull, it does have something to say and asks some good questions around how we treat smaller fringe works.

      It doesn’t steal coverage from a better game, y’know? And really, I’d love it if more sites talked about weird stuff on the fringes more. It’d be so much healthier for one thing. Weirdo fringe workers need love too.

      • Niko says:

        Yeah. I’m not that interested in RPS as a consumer, because I simply don’t have time to play even all the good games. But as a super amateur wannabe game designer, I’m interested in what’s going on with games in general, especially indie ones.

        • bonuswavepilot says:

          This! I always appreciate hearing about good stuff coming out, particularly when it is a bit unusual, but RPS’ content is just as valuable for it’s critique (in the literary sense, I mean, not just bashing stuff) and perspective. (And in some cases, simply silliness.)

    • kament says:

      That’s right. When was the last time they wrote about something that could turn out to be even remotely good, eh? This has to stop!

  8. Spacewalk says:

    I’ve had my cooties shots. This game is worthless to me.

  9. Greggh says:

    You know what marketplace was RIPE with games like this, SpiderTatas et al.?
    Desura.

    Yep. That one whose owners filed for bankruptcy.

    Wonderful articles and the musings on the gaming e-commerce future was TOP NOTCH!

  10. Jackablade says:

    I’m slightly disappointed that the spider with tits is a spider centaur typed thing and not a regular spider that inexplicably has bosoms. Like that OGLAF comic. Can I post an OGLAF comic here? It has a lot of bosoms – seal bosoms, crab bosoms, tree bosoms…

  11. KDR_11k says:

    I don’t think completing a game is a reason to not refund it if the game was too short. Especially making that a store policy would be bad, shitty devs would just make their games end after 5 minutes and call that completion so you cannot get a refund anymore.

    This game for example seemed absurdly short when Jim Sterling played it. And it was a shit experience. I don’t see why a refund would not be appropriate.

  12. DrollRemark says:

    Though many indie devs are currently losing their shit over this policy

    I find this a little bit crazy. If someone wants to play your indie game without paying for it, there are other ways of doing it. I don’t see how denying everyone a fair refund system based on hypothetical scenarios is the answer.

    This is one of those times where we need to remember that the large majority of people are actually alright, and unlikely to claim back a few quid on a game they actually enjoyed.

    • DrollRemark says:

      My blockquote went bad and your pesky lack of edit button costs me again, RPS!

    • Dawngreeter says:

      I’d say we are, in a sense, back to square one. Everyone was trying their damnedest to see draconian DRM systems retired because, clearly, it makes no sense for a pirated product to be of higher quality than the one you bought. And it would only hurt bad games, not games in general. But, no, big publishers insisted that we are all scum who care about nothing but getting a game for free.

      It’s interesting to see indie developers taking that position now.

      • manny says:

        We aren’t back to square one, it’s the next level. DRM matured to such a degree it became Steam providing effective DRM for everyone.

        Now the DRM company, Steam is calling the shots and throwing it’s indie games under the bus in favour of it’s more expensive AAA titles.

  13. tumbleworld says:

    Interesting article on Von Trier’s recent output. The level at which he is laughing at the viewer is one of those nigh-ineffable things. How much is mockery, how much subversion, and how much pure lunacy? Is boredom a valid emotion to seek from your art in the first place? (Yes). The spider-boob filler text was a bit dry, but you can’t have everything.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I don’t get the sense he’s laughing at the viewer. I think Von Trier gets accused of being a troll and trickster way more than merited. Some of his films do have elements of that, but I think most of his best stuff is achingly sincere, almost to the point of playing like silent films. It’s just that people are no longer equipped to deal with that sort of sincerity so they tend to immediately read it as ironic (in the same way that silent melodramas, when viewed through modern sensibilities, tends to provoke laughter more often than any seriousness), a reading which is furthered by Von Trier’s tendency to undercut his narratives with more unconventional, stylized, or (in the case of Dogme 95) often deliberately ugly aesthetic presentation.

      “Breaking the Waves” (which is my second favorite movie ever…..it’s one of the best films about faith ever made I think) often gets accused of irony or cynicism, especially its ending, but I think it’s one of the most unabashedly sincere films ever made (and the main character, whose sincerity ultimately becomes pathological is a pretty good stand in for Von Trier himself as a director, I think, whose films I think all sort of represent a “perverse sincerity” in a way, in that their sincerity is so insistent and often taken to such extremes that they come off as strange and provocative). Same thing with “Dancer in the Dark,” which basically wouldn’t have been out of place were it made in 1922, directed by DW Grifith, and starred Lillian Gish, rather than Bjork (only thing modern about it is its aesthetic and music). Also Dogville, which conveys its political outrage in a fairly simple and unadorned manner (recalling early 20th century socialist stuff like “Cradle will Rock”), despite its deliberately theatrical presentation (which I’ve always thought was waaaaay more indebted to “Our Town” than Brecht).

      I’d even say the same thing about “AntiChrist” and, especially, “Melancholia” too, both of which are very much a man working through his own demons and crises of faith in a manner that, despite the former’s allegory and strangeness, is as sincere about it as either Bergman or Dryer ever were. Although Nymphomaniac is a harder nut to crack (it’s just such an odd Frankensteinian mish-mash of a film, that I’d have to see it a few more times before sticking it in the same vein).

      Of course, extreme avoidance of irony could itself be an odd form of irony, or, in otherwords, one could maybe argue Von Trier’s “sincerity” is just a cynical means of pushing arthouse audience’s buttons. I definitely do think his films are meant to be deliberately provocative, but I don’t think they are cynical or insincere in the ways that they provoke (this is the man that drafted the Dogme 95 manifesto, afterall, which was idealistic to the point of being almost romantic).

    • RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

      Is this alt-text for supporters only? I don’t see anything of the type and I want to read it because I recently saw my first von Trier, Nymphomaniac, and I quite liked it.

      • Juan Carlo says:

        Mouse over the photos. RPS often puts secret text in the photo captions. Often it’s the most amusing part of the articles.

        • RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

          Wow, thanks, I didn’t even know this was a thing. I’ve got a 1080p Melancholia release torrented, I just need to buy an HDMI cable so I can watch it

  14. Zallgrin says:

    I highly enjoyed the alt-text.

  15. bonuswavepilot says:

    Good article! Also, I particularly enjoyed ‘deadopaths’. That is all.

  16. pepperfez says:

    The troubling thing about refunds for a game that’s “too short” is that we’d never expect them for any other cultural object. Even Steam doesn’t extend their refund policy to movies they sell, which surprises no one, because watching a movie and then demanding your money back because you didn’t like it is absurd. I’m not entirely comfortable with games being treated more like toasters than like movies.

    • Niko says:

      Yeah, the industry does seem to have a certain answer to “are games art” here.

    • Just Endless says:

      the vast majority of short films though, are released for free.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      You can take DvDs back to a shop. This is no different.

  17. Smoky_the_Bear says:

    So another RPS writer siding with their indie dev buddies on the refund policy and presenting it in a bad light? I wish I was surprised.

    Focus always seems to go onto the consumer as those who might abuse the system blah blah blah (because we know gamers are all immoral thieves who can’t be trusted, right?). What about all of the developers out there trying to sell broken, unworthy for sale crap and conning customers. Why don’t you ever write something about those people? Afraid you might piss off too many people in the process? More fun to just bash your reader base constantly?
    I dunno about others but I’m getting utterly sick of games media presenting the fact that we FINALLY get decent consumer protection in an entirely negative way because “think of the devs making 2 hour games”.

    “that doesn’t necessarily answer the question of whether it is ever just for customers to demand money back for a game after having consumed its entirety”
    If I bought a game and I’m done with it in less than 2 hours played time after loading up the game, sorting out options, blah blah blah. Then I think a refund is justified, your game probably did not present value for money to me (yeah, value for money, that thing you guys never seem to consider because you get given all these games for free).
    Maybe they could put some rule in place exempting games under £5. I mean take Dear Esther as an example, it was £15 at release, I picked it up in a bundle, but had I payed £15 for it, after walking around for an hour and the game ended, I would have been mad at how much of a waste of money that game was.
    It’s an equally valid argument as “This game didn’t run properly” and “This game was buggy”.

    If developers of under 2 hour long games are going to be affected by Steam refunds, tough shit, it’s not the majority of games anyway, maybe they have to make their games a bit longer (a bizarre thought I know, people actually having to put a reasonable amount of content in their games now). It’s no reason to decry your readerbase finally getting decent consumer protection because you found some fringe cases where the system may not be perfect and that might affect some of your buddies.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Honestly I hope it makes some developers rethink the value of their product. DLC falls in line with this too. If I pay £3 for something, like this game, and get an hours gameplay out of it, I’m not too likely to refund it. If they priced it at £15 “just because they can”, I’m DEFINITELY getting a refund, there is a big difference. Same with all the overpriced DLC being pumped out for games. Maybe companies have to start pricing their stuff accordingly.

      • manny says:

        I’m amazed how tightass gamers are, me included. If I order a coffee and it tastes not very good, I don’t ask for my money back. It’s called being petty.

        Refunds for games, should only apply to games that cost a substantial amount of money, not $5. When I was a teen I bought a Turok n64 game for $99 dollars, and I hated it so much I sold it to a neighbour for $20. From that point on I hated PCGAMER for giving the game a 95/100 review. I was ripped off and lied to. But I learned my lesson. Never again would I pay so much for a game unless I was nigh certain it was a great game.

        They should make it more l like 20 minutes, with a little pop-up notification, since the refund should be aimed primarily at people who buy games that don’t run on their computers, not disappointed gamers. And of course for cheap games below $15 or $10, you shouldn’t be able to get a refund.

        • Dcruize says:

          If I ordered a coffee and it wasn’t very good I wouldn’t ask for a refund. If I ordered a coffee that didn’t even taste like coffee I would ask for a refund and I’m pretty sure everyone else would. As for refunds not offered on cheap games, ‘cheap’ is entirely subjective.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          The system should PRIMARILY be for disappointed gamers, games these days are promising x,y and z and delivering none of it. They feel the need to use dishonest marketing strategies that involve flat out lying to their customers. Until they stop doing that, we deserve full refunds for no reason other than “this game sucks”.

    • Marsh Davies says:

      Calm down, mate.