All posts by Eyejinx

The West Wing Stands the Test of Time

Like most television series, we didn’t get into The West Wing right off the bat.  I think we picked it up somewhere in the second or third season, and had to go back and catch up on DVD (this was before Netflix).  At the time, there were a lot of reasons why we fell in love with it, but one of the central ones was that in the middle of the “W” presidency, it was a reassuring fantasy to believe that well-intentioned, hard-working, smart, articulate people could potentially run the country and do it well.  I have wondered since then how important this was to our experience of the show.

Well, recently, we started watching the show again (on Netflix), and I have to say that it still stands up.  Sure, the writing of Aaron Sorkin, with its playful, highly-literate treatment of dialogue was sure to appeal to our language-loving hearts.  Of course, the cast was spectacular, and the characters were all appealing in their own ways.  The cinematography and careful use of music were just as good as we remembered.  The intellectual, academic approach to political issues and realities was bound to make sense to us.

The surprising thing, at least to me, was how effectively the show makes use of silence.  Even in the early episodes of the first season, when many shows are struggling to find their footing, to establish the rhythms and themes that add up to a larger body of work (I’m looking at you, X-Files), there is a confidence in the direction and performances that shows through in the quiet moments.  As much as we love Sorkin’s call-and-response repetitions and the intricate rants he puts into the mouths of his characters, the moments when the characters are still, when things sink in, when the performance is all body and no words, these are truly masterful.

All too often, shows these days are all about action, plot, exposition, relentlessly moving forward as if our information-saturated brains would flip channels if given any pause.  That may be the reality.  But, The West Wing takes the time to space out its beats.  The frenetic pace of many scenes is offset in the tranquility of others.  At these moments, it is not the story that is being told, but the way that it is told that steps to the front.  And it is still a joy to watch a great team of storytellers at work.

Retail Is Not Dying

There was an interesting article on Gamasutra today.  While it is specifically concerned with an analysis of GameStop, I believe that it holds an important lesson for the broader retail market of the games industry.

At first glance, it would seem like the retail market has never been more challenged than it is today.  There are more alternatives to brick-and-mortar stores than ever before; in games alone, we now have a variety of platforms, each with their own digital delivery systems and currency (iOS, Kindle, Facebook, etc.), even PC gaming has digital delivery services that cover wide swathes of the market (Steam, GoG, etc.), and publishers are more and more capable of reaching out directly to their own consumers (Activision Blizzard, EA, etc.).  If that fails to meet your needs, you can currently buy any number of console or PC titles either directly from the platform holders or at a variety of online outlets (Amazon being the mothership).

Matt Matthews points out, astutely, in his article that even as online businesses are thriving, conventional retail outlets are taking advantage of these new economies by providing currency purchasing through cards.  His example is Steam Wallet sales for GameStop, but look around your local Target or Walmart, and you’ll easily find an entire section devoted to virtual currency sales representing most of the above mentioned businesses and quite a few others besides.  In other words, people are buying physical items at brick-and-mortar stores that represent virtual currency for online activities.  What is with that?

There are two aspects of this that are not going to shift radically anytime soon; there will be a gradual shift, to be sure, but it’s more likely to be generational.  The first is a resistance to e-commerce.  While many of us have moved wholeheartedly into the 21st century, embracing online shopping, banking, and bill-paying, there are still many people who remain skeptical or outright refuse to put their credit card information into more sites than they absolutely have to.  That’s aside from all the people who do business in cash out of necessity, like having no credit cards, limited access to banking, budgeting in cash, or being kids.  I have little doubt that the Millenials are going to convert faster and in higher numbers than Generation X did, but that’s a slow process, and it’s going to take time.

The second important consideration here is gift-giving.  Again, the social conventions here are going to be slow to change, because the polite e-mail that says you’ve received a gift just isn’t going to have the same impact as the pretty little box with a bow on it, or even the Hallmark card (and the fact that they haven’t gone out of business should tell you something about the longevity of outdated businesses) with a card tucked inside.  There are very good reasons why the traditional “holiday window” extended from the calendar fourth quarter into the following quarter and publishers are now willing to launch high-profile, big investment titles in January rather than squeezing everything out in December.

Keeping in mind impulse buying, the joys of browsing, cluster purchasing behaviors, personal interaction, and the merits of physical artifacts as nostalgia inducers, there are plenty of reasons why brick-and-mortar stores are not going anywhere.  Smart businesses understand this and are partnering, rather than resisting.  And that trend will extend the lifecycle much longer.