The Ethics of Rebooting the Dead

On Halloween, Stacey Dowden spoke to her 91-year-old father over FaceTime as he lay in bed in Nebraska, his eyes closed. He was already in a hospice when he began exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 that Thursday, and Dowden thought if she didn’t talk to her dad soon, there might not be another opportunity. Facilitated by a nurse’s iPhone, she and her sister spoke to him at 3 pm from their homes in Pittsburgh and Brewster, Massachusetts, respectively. “We were able to see him and say ‘I love you, and bye,’” recalls Dowden. By 5 o’clock, he had passed.

As the Covid-19 quarantine has worn on, digital interfaces have become enmeshed in our emotional connections to loved ones. Friends and colleagues stay in touch over Zoom. Almost everyone has a go-to group chat. Family members, like Dowden and her sister, say goodbye using technology, which often provides the only tool a dying person has to help them through the last transition. “We often see people hanging on until that relative arrives or that child is born,” says Christopher Kerr, chief medical officer at Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo and the author of Death Is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life’s End. Video calls, he adds, can help facilitate passing on.

But what about the whole expanse of time after they die, and the people they leave behind? Kerr has long studied end-of-life events, and he notes that often the bereaved experience sensory visitations from deceased loved ones. These phenomena “tend to be very vivid, and they tend to leave them with a sense that the loved one is OK.” He hesitates to speculate on the underpinnings of a natural physiological response to loss, but he says these extraordinary experiences point to “a spiritual capacity that clearly exists in people.”

Explicable or not, when someone has the sense that the people they’ve lost are still there, they want to retain that feeling. And recently, some have turned to technology to simulate it. Earlier this year, the devastating South Korean documentary Meeting You showed a mother, Jang Ji-sung, in a virtual reality headset trying to touch an avatar of her late 7-year-old daughter, Na-yeon. In 2017, Eugenia Kuyda built Replika, an AI chatbot designed as a digital remembrance of a friend who had died, then released the code so that anyone could try to build one of their own. That same year, in a piece for WIRED, journalist James Vlahos chronicled his similar quest to create a “Dadbot” of his father after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The same week that Dowden’s father passed away, Kanye West gave his wife Kim Kardashian West a birthday present: a hologram of her late father Rob Kardashian dancing and offering her a birthday wish from the beyond. And innovators like Finnish engineer Jussi Tuovinen are pushing technology even further—Tuovinen is at work on a haptic teddy bear that can transmit touch from one user to another.

As the functionality to recreate a person’s touch, appearance, voice, and unscripted dialog progresses, the notion of resurrecting people as digital entities is becoming less hypothetical. So much so that it almost feels inevitable. It’s already been a Black Mirror episode. But just because something can be done, doesn’t always mean it should be.

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For starters, such a thing isn’t always a healthy form of coping. If someone conjures a visceral memory of a lost friend, that’s one thing. (Kerr’s work on this topic will be featured in Surviving Death, a Netflix docu-series premiering in February.) But, Kerr says, allowing them to synthesize one virtually is quite different. “Let’s say somebody is having trouble transitioning and becoming functional in some way,” he says. “And then, all of a sudden, they click a button and that person’s recreated—that could be extraordinarily traumatizing.”

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The Last of Us Is Getting a TV Show, Which Seems Redundant

Greetings, and welcome once again to Replay, WIRED’s twice-monthly column about everything happening in the world of video games. It’s a holiday week, so you’d think that the news might be slow, but that’s far from the case. In fact, we have news about The Last of Us, DOTA 2, and, surprisingly, Super Mario Bros. 3. Strap in.

The Last of Us Is Getting a TV Show, Which Does Seem a Little Redundant

Finally, the hammer of decision has struck: HBO is turning Sony and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us into a television series. On the one hand, it’s a match made in TV heaven. HBO’s prestige programming is the perfect home for the game’s plotty, grimdark series of twists and turns, harrowing moments of the human soul, and scary monsters doing monster murders.

But that, in and of itself, is what’s so weird: The Last of Us is already more dedicated to film and TV-style storytelling than almost any game out there. You could easily lift the plotting and acting wholesale from the franchise and you’d have a pretty OK show. So how does this new HBO thing differentiate itself? Well, it has the talent: Craig Mazin, who helmed Chernobyl, will be executive producing, working alongside longtime series writer and director Neil Druckmann. No word yet on casting, though it’ll be hard to replace the iconic performances of Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker. Then again, Johnson’s character, Ellie, does sort of look just like Ellen Page …

A Valve Employee Banned a DOTA 2 Player for Hilariously Petty Reasons

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and small amounts of power corrupt hilariously. That, at least, is the case for one Valve employee, who, as explained by Rock Paper Shotgun, abuseD his power over the game DOTA 2 in order to, uh, ban someone who made him mad. Sean Vanaman, Valve employee and former founder of Campo Santo, which developed Firewatch, got mad at a teammate in the game, who goes by “Minijuanjohndoe” on Reddit, and booted him into low-priority matchmaking, a penalty doled out to those who break the rules. Thus, this guy had a harder time getting games and earning rewards for them … because he annoyed Sean Vanaman.

After being called out on the offense, Vanaman was investigated internally, and the Valve team found that, yeah, that mess was petty. He apologized, saying, “The team looked into this case and concluded the user clearly did not deserve the ban. Even if the user did deserve a ban, however, we all think it’s clear that manually banning users is not a good idea because of how hard it is to be objective in DOTA games that you are in. … That has been the team’s informal policy in the past, but it has clearly failed in this case. It won’t remain informal going forward—manual bans like this won’t be allowed anymore altogether. And sincere apologies to user u/minijuanjohndoe.”

Why that was not a formal policy is beyond us. But, at least, this won’t happen again. So feel free to annoy Valve employees all you want, gamers. They’re powerless to stop you. (Actually, please do not annoy video game employees recreationally; they have a very difficult job.)

An Original Super Mario Bros. 3 Cartridge Is Apparently Worth a Lot of Money

Super Mario Bros. 3 came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988, where it retailed for, you know, a normal amount of money. But an unopened copy of a rare version of the game recently sold for a lot, lot more.

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Why Aren’t There More Sci-Fi Movies About Dreams?

In the recent movie Coma, everyone who falls into a coma finds themselves inhabiting the same surreal landscape. Science fiction author Anthony Ha enjoyed the film’s premise, and is surprised there aren’t more science fiction movies about dreaming.

“There isn’t quite as much as I would have expected,” Ha says in Episode 441 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “There’s so much dream fantasy fiction—and certainly there are a number of science fiction examples too—but it seems a lot less common.”

The best-known science fiction dream movies, such as Inception and The Cell, are at least a decade old, and the best-known novels on the subject were published in the 1960s and ’70s. Writer Sara Lynn Michener says that despite their age, classic novels such as The Dream Master and The Lathe of Heaven are still worth reading.

“On the one hand, a lot of these plots I’ve seen repeated over and over again,” she says, “but on the other hand, it almost doesn’t matter, because the richness of the worlds that are being created here are unique and descriptive enough, and rich enough, that you feel you’re experiencing it from a different perspective.”

Why isn’t there more science fiction about dreaming? Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley thinks it might have to do with our changing attitudes toward dreams. “My sense of it is that there’s a growing body of scientific discourse that feels that dreams are just sort of random noise, and whether that’s true or not, I do wonder if that connects to dreams not being a more popular subject for science fiction books and movies in the past few decades,” he says.

Science fiction professor Lisa Yaszek agrees. She says it’s not surprising that the irrational nature of dreaming would appeal more to fantasy fans, and that science fiction writers have largely abandoned dreamworlds for the more technology-oriented playgrounds of virtual reality.

“Science fiction at its heart wants to explain everything,” she says. “It’s not about the mystery, it’s about unraveling the mystery, and explaining the mystery, and dreams are not explicable. You can barely articulate your dreams in any meaningful way, and science fiction is all about articulating the real.”

Listen to the complete interview with Anthony Ha, Sara Lynn Michener, and Lisa Yaszek in Episode 441 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

David Barr Kirtley on psychology:

“My understanding is that the field of psychology has sort of moved on [from Freud], and that cognitive behavioral therapy is the state of the art, but I feel like Freudianism and Jungian psychology is so rich for fiction. If you want to tell a story about psychology, I feel like Freudianism just offers you so much, and there’s this whole idea—like in The Lathe of Heaven—that psychologists or therapists are sinister. I feel like it’s much easier to tell a story about a sinister therapist in a Freudian context, where it’s all hypnosis and dreams and secrets, and this sense that you’re not in control, and the therapist knows all these things about you that you don’t know.”

Anthony Ha on Coma:

“I liked it a lot. I was very skeptical, just because I hadn’t heard about it, and at least the version I rented was dubbed—and not dubbed particularly well. It also has just obviously not top-budget CGI, and so the whole thing has this kind of video gamey look to it. So at first I was very, very resistant and thinking it wasn’t going to be good. But once we started to see more of the world, once you just got used to the fact that the CGI has a slightly fake sheen to it, I thought there were a lot of great images and there were a lot of really interesting ideas. I wasn’t crazy about the final act, where there are some twists that I didn’t find super-interesting, but I’m glad I saw it. I actually liked it a lot more than I was expecting.”

Sara Lynn Michener on nightmares:

“I had a recurring dream when I was a child about what I can only imagine now was either hell or war or something in between. I just remember being surrounded by bodies—some were dead, some were in pain. I had this dream multiple times, and as dark and spooky as it was, I wasn’t a part of it. I was an observer, feeling pity for the people around me. I went to my mother and climbed into her lap and told her what happened, and she held me, but she told me I was the victim of what she called ‘spiritual warfare,’ and that ‘the enemy’ was out to get me—which is the devil. For a six-year-old to hear this, expecting comfort and getting the opposite—being told that the devil is after you and that’s why you’re having nightmares—I was fairly disturbed by that.”

Lisa Yaszek on Amazing Stories:

“The weirdest thing I found was that dream narratives were actually popular in science fiction in the early 1930s in Amazing Stories, after Hugo Gernsback was forced out and his second-in-command took over, T. O’Conor Sloane. Sloane was a really well-known scientist and science journalist, and he was all about ‘mundane science fiction’ before that term ever existed, and he banned faster-than-light travel from science fiction stories in Amazing. So everyone had to figure out some way to get their people into outer space, and they went back to dream narratives, of all weird things. So again it’s dreams as a way to travel through time and space, before you have cyberspace or computers to help you do that.”


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Putting ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ on HBO Max Is a Smart Move

Face it, stans: This was inevitable. After having its release date bumped no fewer than three times, Wonder Woman 1984 is going to debut in US theaters and on HBO Max on December 25. That means you may not get the big popcorn-filled summer-weekend blockbuster opening you would’ve liked—and that Diana Prince probably deserved—but you will be able to see director Patty Jenkins’ sequel to her 2017 hit Wonder Woman, and you will, if you so choose, be able to watch it from the comfort of your couch.

It’s probably for the best. As much as any film fan worth their salt wants to plop their butt in a stadium seat with an overpriced soda to watch a superhero movie, Covid-19 is still tearing through the country, and the one villain Wonder Woman can’t lasso is ’rona. The US is averaging more than 150,000 new cases per day, and as winter sets in, there’s a chance that number gets worse. Half of the country’s theaters are closed, and cinema chains have been frustrated with studios delaying their major releases this year. (A spokesperson for the National Association of Theatre Owners declined to comment for this story.) While fans are being asked to wait for other films that had been primed for a 2020 release, like Dune or the James Bond flick No Time to Die, getting to see the year’s Last Film Standing on any platform is a bit of a respite.

Warner Bros. has called its move to release Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and on its streaming platform at the same time “historic.” It could also prove to be a bellwether. Even before the pandemic, the streaming wars were heating up. Every content-producing company with a back catalog—and even some without (ahem, Apple TV+)—was launching its own service, walling off its own garden of movies and television shows. Now, with theater attendance plummeting as Americans quarantine, services like Disney+, Peacock, and HBO Max allow their corporate owners to test whether going straight to consumers with major movie releases the same day they hit the big screen is a viable option.

Whether this strange experiment’s results are what Warner Bros. will want to see is another story. Wonder Woman 1984 was originally projected to be a billion-dollar blockbuster. It’s unlikely the release will have that kind of performance now, but it could significantly impact HBO Max’s subscriber numbers at a time—the holiday season—when folks are home and looking to be entertained. When Disney released the live-action remake of Mulan on Disney+ this past summer, downloads of the app reportedly increased 68 percent. HBO Max could see a similar spike, especially since the new Wonder Woman will be available to all Max subscribers automatically. (Disney charged $30 for Mulan on top of the regular monthly membership fee.) WarnerMedia also just made a deal to get HBO Max on Amazon Fire TV devices, opening up a whole new market of potential customers. (If they could do the same with Roku, which represents about half of the connected TV market, they’d be swimming, but that stalemate continues apace.)

Look, broadly speaking, this isn’t an ideal situation for anyone. Sitting in air conditioning in the middle of July to watch a movie at the multiplex is fun, and the prolonged theater closures brought on by Covid-19 are not good for the movie business at large. But according to Ann Sarnoff, head of the WarnerMedia group that oversees Warner Bros., it was the best way for the studio to keep its business “moving forward” while also appeasing fans and navigating a pandemic. Sure, Warner could have pushed the film into 2021 like most of the other big 2020 releases, but at a certain point, something’s gotta give. The problems brought on by the coronavirus may not end next year; studios should be taking a chance on alternative release strategies. If Wonder Woman can’t rope moviegoers into a new way of life, maybe no one can.

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What Will Happen to the Far-Right After Trump?

Last Saturday, thousands of protesters thronged maskless in the streets of Washington, DC, to deny the reality that the 2020 presidential election is over, and Joe Biden won. Some participants in this Million MAGA March (which fell hundreds of thousands of MAGAs short by most counts) were simply ardent supporters of President Trump, people who showed up to cry foul because they’d been convinced by his baseless claims of mass voter fraud. Others, though, represented far-right extremist groups—antigovernment Oath Keepers, “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys, open white supremacists. They walked together, wore Trump 2020 and Confederate flags like capes, and insisted that the election had been stolen.

Later that night, they clashed violently with counterprotesters, leading to 21 arrests and widespread digital finger-pointing. Counterprotesters blamed the skirmishes on Trump backers. Trump supporters claimed that it was Black Lives Matter groups or “antifa” who incited the violence. All sides blamed DC police for not protecting them while the president tweeted about “ANTIFA SCUM” and urged the police to “do your job and don’t hold back!!!” Eventually, the scene settled down, but even as the US prepares to swear in President-elect Biden and envisions a day when Trump’s tweets won’t be national news, Americans may have to get used to this.

Since Saturday, agitation has continued. Infowars’ Alex Jones urged people to swarm the governor’s mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. A former Milwaukee County sheriff called for the Proud Boys to start a chapter in Wisconsin. Throughout the week, right-leaning media outlets from NewsMax to Fox News have either pushed or failed to counter conspiracy theories about the validity of election results, further fueling viewers’ suspicions and anger. So far, though, those frustrations have been mostly expressed in online theorizing and small demonstrations that occasionally erupt into ugliness, like the scene that developed when extremist groups got involved in Nevada. The situation hasn’t been ideal, but many experts and watchdogs were expecting something far worse.

For months prior to November 3, researchers warned that a Trump defeat might spark violence from right-wing extremist groups, especially the antigovernment militias that had already become restive during quarantine. Trump appeals to these factions for a variety of reasons—some love that he’s a political outsider, others admire his combative attitude with progressive activists, others like his history of bigoted remarks and policies—but regardless, he’s their guy in a system they find otherwise bankrupt. Now that Biden’s won the election, observers are waiting to see what happens next. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it’s been this calm,” says Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a researcher at American University who studies extremism. “But a lot of folks are waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Extremist groups are notorious for their bluster and for fracturing into ever-tinier factions and eventually oblivion, and that could very well be what happens to the far right once Trump is no longer in the White House. But there’s also reason to believe that, for the moment, it’s only conspiracy theories and election misinformation that are keeping that shoe aloft. “Experts remain quite concerned about this. There is still quite a bit of activity and collected momentum,” says Kathleen Belew, a historian of the white power movement at the University of Chicago. “In the past, the moment that’s lead to violence against American citizens, federal officials, infrastructure, and more is the moment white power and militia activists conclude that mainstream politics does not offer what they want.” That’s what happened in 1983, when white supremacists realized Ronald Reagan wasn’t about to restore Jim Crow. Due to the flood of election misinformation being spread by the president and his allies, that moment has not yet arrived for many pro-Trump conservatives—let alone right-wing extremists.

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‘Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’ Is an Uneasy Mix of Two Very Different Worlds

So much about Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is like bowling in a run-down alley. Not just in the way Princess Zelda rolls her magic bomb into a horde of Bokoblins, sending them flying like pins, or in the way Daruk curls into himself and barrels into a huddled cluster of Lizalfos. No, it’s the way it feels: You might line up the kids’ ramp and let gravity do the work for you, or you might hook a well-greased bowling ball with calculated wrist torque. Given enough time, either way, you can knock all the pins down eventually. But since the alley’s janked up, there isn’t much satisfaction to be had by trying.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is an uneasy mix of smart and stupid. Out November 20, the hack-and-slash crossover melts Dynasty Warriors’ horde-mashing into Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s world, characters, and aesthetic. The former is a decades-old franchise about mowing down canon-fodder armies of assailants; the latter, a dazzling 2017 fantasy role-playing game with thinky puzzles and boundless opportunities to explore. From that medley of influences, it plucks out the “canon fodder” and “fantasy” and adds in just a whiff of “thinky,” making for a fun but thin Zelda spin-off.

The game opens 100 years before the events in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You start out as Link, and over time collect more playable fighters, including Zelda, Impa, Daruk, Revali, Mipha, and Urbosa, all rendered with loving fidelity to the original game. In various battlegrounds around Hyrule—lava-filled Death Mountain, the green fields outside Hyrule Castle—you encounter mob after mob of monsters. In Dynasty Warriors fashion, most take only a couple hits before becoming dust. Fighting your way through the scenarios’ winding maps, you ramp up to larger and larger bosses before completing the objective. At any point, including mid-battle, you can switch from one character over to another who’s better-placed on the map or has a more relevant combat toolkit. After a successful mission, you have the opportunity to level up weapons, craft food, upgrade into cooler combos, and mess with other systems before jumping into another scenario.

A little like a Soulcalibur-style fighting game, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s combat relies on these combos. Also like Soulcalibur, you can basically just button-mash. Link has a light sword attack (x) and a heavy sword attack (y). If you hit x, x, y, Link propels himself forward, sliding along the ground and knocking a line of enemies into the sky. If you hit x, y, and b, he slashes upwards before opening up his paraglider, from which he can drop down for a big attack from above. These combos balloon in complexity as the game goes on, and are decidedly fun to execute just right. They also help charge characters’ unique specials for cinematic, big-boy blowout attacks.

Every fighter has access to Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s runes: Cryosis, Magnesis, Stasis, and remote bombs, which manifest for each in exciting, different ways. Where Revali rains down neat lines of bombs, Daruk haphazardly tosses a cluster somewhere into the distance. Their unique animations are delightful, and for Zelda: Breath of the Wild fans they might momentarily transport you back into the original game’s magic.

Most of the fun I’ve had so far with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity has been within the first few minutes of unlocking a new character. It’s rewarding to optimize loyal nursemaid Impa’s battalions of Impa clones, or knock mobs into Daruk’s molten rocks, which explode into fiery lava. After those first few moments, the gameplay experience went downhill. I didn’t get out of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s fights what I put into them. One-two-three combos might level wave upon wave of Bokoblins with the bombasity of a WWE superstar, but a lot of the time I could have just hit x a dozen times. It’s a common complaint about these musou games, but here the combat’s shortcomings aren’t easily attributed to differences in taste.

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‘One Person’s Apocalypse Is Another Person’s Day-to-Day’

I had the uncanny sense of reading science fiction when I began Blockchain Chicken Farm—technically a work of nonfiction, thoroughly researched and intricately pieced together. On the surface, it’s a mind-boggling survey of how technology is shaping and creating economies across China, particularly in its countryside. Or as author Xiaowei Wang writes, inverting that influencer-influencee trope: “Rather than seeing the way technology has shifted or produced new livelihoods in rural China, I have been humbled to see the ways rural China fuels the technology we use every day, around the world.”

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In the book’s loose travelogue framework, we find ourselves in unexpected places. There’s Dinglou village, which has improbably transformed itself into a global costume manufacturing hub, with family homes doubling as fulfillment centers. In the namesake “blockchain chicken farm,” located in the mountainous village of Sanqiao, we’re introduced to a supply chain that provides for affluent urbanites, who view online videos to verify the authenticity of their free-range poultry. There’s even the virtual space of Facebook Live pearl parties, where prepaid oysters from the “pearl city” of Zhuji are pried open to reveal their treasures—a more surreal, celebratory version of YouTube unboxing videos. If Blockchain reads like sci-fi, that’s because, in overlooked parts of the world, the future is already here. I can’t think of any other recent work that comes close to capturing the alternate reality that is China today.

As our narrator, Wang is generous with hyperspecific details, while periodically zooming out to give us the fuller picture. They are a writer, artist, and programmer, as well as the creative director of Logic magazine. Recently I spoke with them over email about their travels, the concept of shanzhai, Chinese dishes, skincare gadgetry, and shopping.

Ling Ma: This book spans a great deal of territory, both geographically and in its wide range of subjects. How did you realize that all of these belonged in the same book?

Xiaowei Wang: The subjects and places throughout the book have a mood that I like to term “modernity gone off the rails.” For example, Dinglou village was a boomtown—it had developed really fast, from farmland to a bustling center. Dinglou and the neighboring village had high-speed internet, lots of money flowing in, hot pot restaurants, but at the same time large craters on the side of the road and some really bizarre, uncomfortable interior architecture. The buildings had been constructed to aspire to some image of being “cosmopolitan” or “modern,” but falling short in an absurd way. There were dazzling light fixtures and shiny granite floors at the hotel where I stayed, but no hot water for a good chunk of the day.

“Modernity gone off the rails” is, to me, the combination of mundane and inspiring, the absurd and creative. It connects people on opposite sides of the world in unexpected ways that remain hidden to them, most of the time. It’s a little punk rock. It’s the messiness that happens in the day-to-day while both learning to live in an interconnected, technologically rich world and at the same time pushing against the prescribed instruction manual. It’s also a willfulness, to keep hustling, keep trying, whether you’re a young pearl entrepreneur in Zhuji or a Facebook livestreamer involved in a multilevel marketing scheme.

I’m reminded of what happens in user testing digital products: As a designer, you find that there’s always surprising ways people use the product, that exceeds what you intended, perhaps against all your safeguards or instructions. This kind of friction troubles some of our desires for a frictionless world. To me, the friction points to how so much of the objects and tools are actually the result of this large-scale fiction we’ve all built up, together. Some of the rural folks I met were encountering this fiction for the first time, which meant that they could see through the made-up rules of markets, of socially acceptable ways of achieving success, in a way that I couldn’t.

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Can Pepe the Frog Ever Be Redeemed?

Amongst all the talk of the 2020 election, it’s easy to forget everything that led up to Donald Trump winning the presidency in 2016. But if you keep your eyes shut and concentrate you might remember a few things: heated debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton, a chaotic Twitter landscape, and an otherwise cute frog that became the mascot of internet-savvy 4chan users who were trying to meme Trump into the presidency.

Back in 2016, Pepe the Frog was added to the Anti-Defamation League’s database of hate symbols. But before that, he was just a part of a layabout group of friends in Matt Furie’s comic series Boy’s Club. He was never intended for anything but a good time. But when the internet got ahold of him, he became a face of the NEET 4chan masses and ultimately a symbol of the so-called alt-right.

The documentary Feels Good Man, which is currently available on PBS and several streaming services, traces that journey. It also chronicles how Furie, a mild-mannered San Francisco artist, attempted to reclaim Pepe and turn him back into a symbol of love. It’s a formidable task, but perhaps not impossible. As filmmakers Arthur Jones and Giorgio Angelini show in their doc, Pepe actually became a symbol of resistance to authoritarian rule during the protests in Hong Kong just last year.

In this week’s episode of the Get WIRED podcast, senior editor Angela Watercutter talks to Jones and Angelini about the journey they went on with the creator of Pepe—and what the little green frog means now.

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The Best PS5 Exclusives Out Now (and the Ones Coming Soon)

The Xbox Series X still looks like an expensive fridge, the PlayStation 5 a cheap modem. But really, who cares? What matters is the games.

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This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.

Last-gen, the PlayStation 4 killed the Xbox One in this regard, and now, at launch at least, it looks like it will continue this domination, with a reasonably impressive launch line up (though the Xbox hasn’t put up much of a fight.) Here’s the best of the games you can pick up during what is Sony is calling the console’s ‘launch window’—a maddeningly vague period of time that seems to cover everything between today and next summer.

Demon’s Souls

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The first of FromSoftware’s fiendish yet rewarding series is remade for Playstation 5. Unlike the rushed and glitchy Dark Souls Remastered, the game also looks stunning, truly next gen. It’s been rebuilt from the ground up—this is good news, because some of Demon’s Souls’ difficulty derived from clunky design choices which, though endearing ten years ago, needed an update. The smoother combat and PvP of the later iterations will be a particularly nice addition. A must buy.

The Pathless

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The Pathless didn’t stand out among the 27 titles Sony showed off during its big console reveal back in June, but to be fair, neither did much among that bewildering array of cookie-cutter sci-fi titles. This wasn’t fair, though, because The Pathless is a good game, and worth picking out among the launch titles. You play as the hunter, a master archer trying to lift a curse on a gorgeous painterly world, a feat you have to accomplish without a mini map. There’s a definite Breath of the Wild influence here, and that’s no bad thing.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

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Marvel’s Spider-Man, released in 2018, was a smash hit for the PS4 and one of its best exclusives. Unsurprisingly, web swinging between massive skyscrapers makes for an entertaining video game. In this continuation—think a giant piece of downloadable content with a new story and new quests—you play as Miles Morales, another Spider Man trained by Peter Parker. Parker travels abroad to see his girlfriend, and Morales must defend New York City from the evil Tinkerer.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

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The Ratchet and Clank series is a PlayStation staple, so it’s no surprise to see it appear here. The graphical leap Insomniac Games has achieved from this generation into the next is very impressive (which makes sense, since it’s been seven years). Rick and Morty-like, the cutesy duo leap through great rifts in space and time into colorful worlds, each one teeming with alien life. Looks like a blast. No release date yet, but expect to see it very soon, sometime early next year.

Bugsnax

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Bizarre but charming adventure puzzler—you may have already heard its irritating melody, written by British indie pop band Kero Kero Bonito. You play a reporter tasked with exploring Snaktooth Island. In a hallucinogenicly weird premise that you would only find in a game, you must examine and capture half-bug-half-snack creatures, with names like Tacroach and Weenyworm. (Yes, really). Catching Bugsnax is the goal here, and it’s a varied affair—luring out Bugsnax with ketchup for instance. There’s a definite Pokemon snap influence, which the developers have admitted, but there’s a deeper tale hiding beneath the Bugsnax catching. Give it a go.

Astro’s Playroom

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This little number comes bundled with the PS5 and, as might be expected, it shows off all of the console’s new innovations, particularly the DualSense controller where Astro the robot and his playroom reside. Guiding your ship using haptic feedback and the new adaptive triggers is a blast. The game also functions as a kind of Playstation history lesson – each world brims with artefacts from different eras of Playstation history. All in all, an excellent little game to play on the day you get your PS5.

This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.


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Terry Gilliam Movies Are All About Imagination

Over the course of a nearly 50-year career, Terry Gilliam has established himself as one of the film industry’s most original directors. Humor writer Tom Gerencer has been a fan of Gilliam since the days of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Time Bandits.

“I’m envious of this guy who was born with this fantastic, fertile imagination superpower, and then was able to make a living off it, and make so many great works of art out of it,” Gerencer says in Episode 440 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “My hat’s really off to him. I think he’s an astounding human being.”

Science fiction author Matthew Kressel admires Gilliam’s creative vision, but is sometimes frustrated by his lack of structure. He thinks that many Gilliam films overstay their welcome or become needlessly complex.

“He’s an incredibly creative director, and I like that he’s not doing these traditional Hollywood plots,” Kressel says. “That being said, I think that one of his weaknesses is when he goes too far into his imagination, and then you lose the thread of the story.”

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley says that Gilliam’s whimsical worlds work best when there’s plenty of witty banter to liven things up. “His sensibility works really well when it’s really funny, and I think that Brazil and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote both have some amazingly funny character interactions,” he says.

Fantasy author Chandler Klang Smith feels that some of Gilliam’s films, such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, go too far in suggesting that imagination can overcome all obstacles. She prefers the world-weary nuance of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

“It seems like in some ways The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a more grown-up Terry Gilliam movie,” she says. “Instead of the dreamer being up against this non-existent opposition or completely our hero, it seems like dreams themselves are something that can tug in both positive and negative directions.”

Listen to the complete interview with Matthew Kressel, Tom Gerencer, and Chandler Klang Smith in Episode 440 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

David Barr Kirtley on maps:

“My favorite interview growing up was with Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series. The games all came with this actual cloth map of the fantasy world that you would explore. He said that when Time Bandits came out, he was really mesmerized by the map in the movie. There was a dollar movie theater, and he would just go over and over again, and every time the map came on the screen he would try to draw it in a spiral notebook, to figure out if there was any logic to it or not. … That always just struck me, that dedication and passion. ‘I’m going to watch the whole movie over and over again, just so I can copy down the map during the five seconds that it’s on the screen.’”

Chandler Klang Smith on imagination vs. reality:

“In [Gilliam] films there’s always a fabulist character—an escapist character, a character who represents the imagination—and in his strongest films that character meets meaningful opposition. I think that Terry Gilliam probably in his own life, in his own artistic career, has so often felt that he was battling against these opposing forces that he sometimes doesn’t want to put those forces in his stories, because he loves his characters too much. He doesn’t want them to have to endure that struggle. But when he does it, when he has the unstoppable force of the imagination run up against the immovable wall of reality, that’s when he just completely shatters me.”

Tom Gerencer on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote:

“My read on it was that Don Quixote was never a person, but Don Quixote is such a strong concept and character that he becomes this kind of independent spirit that can possess people, and so down through the ages maybe he’s just been skipping from person to person. He possessed [Jonathan Pryce], and then when his body wore out he moved into Adam Driver, and he was building that through the whole movie, getting ready for that transition. … If there would have been one more thing about ‘There was this guy who used to think he was Don Quixote in these parts as well, but he just died,’ then that would have cemented it a little more.”

Matthew Kressel on Time Bandits:

“I saw this movie in the theater, and two things scared the crap out of me. The first was when [the dwarves] come into his bedroom and start pushing on the wall, and the wall goes further and further back, and then the Supreme Being’s face comes out. ‘Give me the map.’ I think I was six years old. I was terrified. And then at the end, you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s back home.’ Then basically it ends like a horror movie. His parents touch the piece of Ultimate Evil and they vanish, and then the movie ends. And you’re like, ‘Wait, the fire department left, everyone left. This kid’s alone. He just traveled through space and time. What does he do now?’ As a kid that was horrifying.”


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