Share your toys

Michela reflects on Ghostbusters, immersion and interactivity.

The recent fuss over Ghostbusters doesn’t show humanity at its finest but anthropologists will have a field day. Minor spoilers ahead. The reboot of a middle-of-the-road 80s comedy story universe seems to have struck two different chords. On the one hand, making the lead characters female is a heinous crime against comedy, apparently, and that’s a shame. For others who loved it (7.8 from me), what was simply supposed to be a fun night out at the movies was tinged with a different kind of shame. Why would you subject film-makers and actors to this much grief?

The night Mish and I went to see it there was a Hodor-like fella sitting a few rows behind us at our screening doing a deep ho-ho-ho laugh every few minutes. It was a little creepy at first. He started right from the beginning of the movie. Was it some kind of Gamergate intervention I wondered? I don’t think so but it set off a chain of nervous laughter  — complementing enormously the film’s stupid gags for some 360 degree fun.

I liked the nice-but-inept co-worker gags. I liked the way a lot of “the most disliked movie trailer in history” bits were cut from the release to tighten it up. I loved the Bollywood-inspired dance number throughout the end titles. Sony pulled out all the stops on that one.

I loved all the cameos, especially the cameo-as-testimonial reference. A newscaster asks Bill Murray’s character to confirm that his approval would provide legitimacy to the new crew. He agrees and then pronounces they are absolutely not legit.

And it wasn’t just us old farts enjoying it. The teens in the row behind us seemed to be having a great time. Obviously too young to have their childhoods ruined. “What’s Zuul?” one muttered after the credits. “Have to look that up.”

This movie aces the Bechdel test. No hubbies back home to bog down the plot. No kids to feed. Just a bunch of women getting shit done. Which is clearly outrageous. As the New York Times said, Ghostbusters “shows girls they can run science labs and have fun”. Enough said.

The action sequences are equally no-nonsense. Apart from a cringeworthy “Ms-Pacman” style Slimer character, the ghostbusting action is generally free of sexual puns and suitable for a family audience. Sony is clearly laying the groundwork for their franchise. And why shouldn’t they? This thing cost a bomb. The 3D effects (worth the ticket price if you like your high-end VFX with cheese) are obvious and fun.

That fun night at the cinema was all we were asking for. But no. After leaving the cinema to the sound of happy punters, we got to read about online harassment of the on-screen talent. To hear that comedian Leslie Jones has been hounded off Twitter.

My only beef so far with Ghostbusters has not been the film but the much-vaunted VR extension at Madam Tussaud’s in NY. I was so looking forward to The Void’s Ghostbusters Dimension where you wear a backpack mounted VR kit but The Verge’s review makes me now hesitate.

“I found it a little disappointing that Dimension, a tie-in for an all-female Ghostbusters film, has each player default as a generic white male avatar from your perspective”

Ghostsbusters Dimension — more diverse avatars on the way?

And then there’s the comments section of the review. No surprises there. Writes commenter MRIsHere (now deleted):

“I stopped reading this moron’s article after seeing this idiotic comment. Seriously? Must have been difficult to drag both sex and race into an article about MR (Mixed Reality). Congratulations.”

For every irritated person wondering why the SJW (“social justice warriors”) just keep bringing up this bloody topic, there are probably another ten or so who simply roll their eyes and move on with their lives. Why bother engaging with a culture that excludes you? Result —  more boredom for the rest of us. For those who’d like diverse voices and faces in our media, which now includes VR, this is a problem.

I get folks like MRIsHere. They see Male as default human and anything else as fringe. But that’s not reality. It doesn’t have to be virtual reality either.

IMDb has become the battleground where the haters’ campaign tactic is to rate it 1-star and those who disagree rate it 10-stars simply to pull the average up.  As of today Ghostbusters is rated 5.4 on IMDb with an almost equal percentage of 1 star as 10 star reviews.

It’s only a movie but what a fuss.

Technologists like me build this internet platform thingy but it’s up to all of us to make it work. The social network system providers aren’t responsible for managing social mores, nor should they be. Facebook may own Oculus but they won’t pull back future VR fanboys from going feral. That’s up to us.


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