An Open Letter to General Mills
Dear General Mills,
I want to start by thanking you for providing my mornings with tasty breakfast cereal delights for almost 30 years. As I sat at my dining room table this morning, blearily enjoying a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, I began to rehash a theory I concocted back when I was but a wee lad. The theory concerns the familial relationship between several of your popular cereals, specifically Kix, Cocoa Puffs and Trix. As a young boy I figured that Kix were the base cereal: The healthy, slightly sweet but mostly mild tasting parental unit of the “round corn puff” family. From there the offspring went either to the rich chocolate side with Cocoa Puffs or to the tangy fruit side with Trix. It isn’t much of a theory, really, but it seemed very clever when I was six and I haven’t quite been able to push it from my mind in the years since.
But as I reflected over my silly little theory, I was struck with a sense of—not sadness really, but more of a mild melancholy (this is only cereal we’re talking about here). The melancholy was wrought from the evolution of the Trix brand.
Compared to its family members, Trix is a vastly different foodstuff than it was in my childhood. Cocoa Puffs and Kix have retained their same basic shape and taste through the years, earning a kind of classic elegance in their stalwart consistency. Sure, you have improved the texture and added extra chocolate flavor to the Cocoa Puffs and have slightly sweetened the Kix as well as give them a heftier crunch, but the same basic structure and flavor has remained steady.
Not so the Trix. My memory of Trix is of a tri-colored bowl filled with tasty, fruity orbs floating in a pool of icy milk that turned ever so slightly pink near the end of the breakfast. The biggest alteration to the formula was introducing the purple (grape) spheres to the formula, a welcome addition. By the time I began to enter high school, a few more changes—not so welcome—had materialized: Green (lime?) colored orbs and blue (flavor uncertain) were making their way into the cereal. I went through a period where “kiddie” cereal was not an acceptable breakfast choice and drifted away from Trix for a few years. When I returned after learning how not to take myself quite so seriously, I found a Trix cereal that I didn’t even recognize.
Gone were the simple round puffs with such perfect texture and mouth-feel. In were bizarre fruit approximations, which not only altered the visual appeal of a bowl of evenly-spaced cereal pieces, but changed the overall texture of the cereal and impacted the taste as well. Or perhaps it was the “new fruitier flavors” that had crept in during my brief hiatus from the cereal. More disturbing was not just the changed flavors but the additional flavors of mysterious origin. The sum was a cereal that held practically nothing in common with the food that had once ranked in my top five breakfast choices.
It was as if Trix had abandoned its family in search of a new experience but in the process had lost its entire identity. How could this cereal that bore no flavor similarities or physical likeness to what I had once so enjoyed still continue to be called “Trix”?
I don’t denounce your choices regarding the Trix brand. Hopefully it has brought you many additional sales and continued prosperity. But I hoped I could offer a modest suggestion, to appeal more to the old school cereal lovers like myself: Classic Trix.
Please imagine with me a cereal with the added heft and robust crunch of modern Cocoa Puffs but with the classic three (or four) colored fruit flavors of Trix from twenty years ago. Add a bit of nostalgic artwork to the box (hopefully you still have the printing plates around!) and advertise them as “Limited Edition” for extra marketing punch. However you were to handle it, introducing a product of this type would guarantee an order for a full case from one lone consumer. I can’t be positive, but I would wager that I would not be alone.
Thank you for your consideration,
Paul A. Hamilton
Experience Music Project: A Homework Assignment
The Experience Music Project building is something you literally have to see in person. Pictures, descriptions and prose do it absolutely zero justice. At best you can try to think of the most bizzare architectural design a drunken Dr. Suess would have crafted as an elaborate joke and then cover half of it with arbitrarily sized metal sheets. The artistry is amazing in its ridiculousness yet somehow compelling. It certainly invokes a strong desire to see the insides which, perhaps, is the whole point.
Inside the modern hipster vibe thrusts out of every Ikea-inspired accessory and display. A series of winding staircases wrap the main lobby in tentacle-like claustrophobia leading to various attractions or locales within the building. Signs with sans-serif fonts point the way to the upstairs bar (The Liquid Lounge) or the art gallery currently showing some sort of educational mashup between classic and modern artists, described in the adversarial parlance of hip hop remixes: Monet vs. de Kooning.
After paying a pricey entry fee, a staircase winds past the strangely shaped interior wall, covered with some sort of spray-on coating that looks vaguely like congealed oatmeal and harshly detracts from the intrigue of the same wall’s opposing surface. On the way up the stairs, a uniformed guide questions visitors about their cameras, confiscating them if they choose to reveal that they are indeed carrying. Pictures of any kind are not allowed in the EMP, although no explanation for why that might be so is offered. It is simply so.
The second floor of the EMP building is the central hub of the Project’s exhibits. Centerpieced by a towering sculpture made of dozens if not hundreds of assorted instruments (mostly guitars), it stretches above in a conical shape toward the third floor. Several listening stations and conservative signage suggest that some of the mechanical contraptions strapped to several of the instruments allow them to be played automatically by computer and suggest that by navigating the touchscreen stations a visitor may be able to influence what the sculpture sounds like. Why this is significant considering that the sound of the self-playing art/instruments is audible only at the very listening stations ostensibly controlling it is never made clear.
The exhibits of the EMP all try to toe the line between complete hipster aloofness (witness the brilliant History of the Guitar feature which includes a guitar-geek’s barrage of ancient or classic guitars, placard-mounted dissertations on the various styles and influences particular brands or models made on music history and smug references to how rare some of the specimen are) and drab historical or cultural fact-reporting. The ambience is medium-high tech with occasionally placed media stations or expensive-looking effects screens while most of the relics and exhibits are standard museum fare. The Music of the Northwest hall struggles with this dichotomy as it tries to inject some relevance to the Seattle area outside of the early 90s grunge fad but lacks the visual flair or self-assuredness of the Guitar exhibit so boils down to little more than a history of Heart, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Hardly worthy of the real estate it is given, the lack of air-quoted innovations in the side passage speaks volumes to the truth behind the gushing hyperbole of the textual accompaniments to such noteworthy artifacts as the original lyric sheet to Soundgarden’s “Buden in My Hand” and a Metal Church leather tour jacket.
The third floor of the EMP is perhaps the best example of what the Project’s ambitions could realize. There are a dozen or so “sample studios,” little booths with specially designed instruments or musical equipment accompanied by a touchscreen interface. You can choose to either simply play or to follow a short tutorial on the basics of the instrument. There are drums, guitars, basses, keyboards and even samplers, mixing boards and turntables. Each is restricted to prevent excessive maintenance (no de-tuning the guitars, thanks!) and the tutorials are instructional and high level so even the least musically inclined guest can still have some fun. In additon to the mini-booths there are a series of soundproofed micro-studio rooms with instruments set up and automated timers that allow visitors to engage in free jam sessions. The rooms even record the ten-minute sessions digitally and allow you to purchase the results on a burned CD for a nominal fee afterward. It’s quite engaging and there were more than a few families that seemed to be truly bonding over the experience, which is what music is exceptionally good at encouraging.
The paradox of EMP lies in its strained efforts to be cool and relevant. There is a certain stoic stodginess to the whole proceedings, almost like a traditional museum framework that the EMP group wished to sweep away with fancy high tech replacements but ran out of inspiration or funding. The result is a hybrid of old and new that has a hard time truly gelling into something different and instead feels more like a terrific amount of money thrown at an otherwise average enterprise.
Of course there is the whole oil and water sensation of celebrating the rebellious and the raucous with a somber and mostly traditional business venture. In some ways the EMP’s ultimate failure is its lack of ability to hide the suits that stand behind the longhairs: Popular music (or perhaps popular rock n’ roll) has always been a sort of strained balancing act between the Man and his “rebellious” avatar whom is always allowed to push the envelope so long as the envelope comes back stuffed with cash. In many cases it works since the important parts come through in the product everyone is trading in: The music. But here among the deep-voiced narrators and the precisely framed concert posters and the carefully placed graffiti wall there is less real music to be found and more celebration of the marketing hype that surrounds the music. The veneer between the nebulous image projected by the artist and the hype created by the marketing departments is thinner here and without the music itself (references alone hold no artistic merit) to pad the barrier, it is gossamer and the puppet strings start to show.
But cynicism aside there is enough about EMP to warrant a visit, at least once. If nothing else the third floor alone is a pretty good way to kill a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. But you may want to avoid the $50+ “Membership” packages.
After yesterday’s gripe about Chris Buffa’s rant on why gaming journalism sucks was discovered (by me, at least) just before his follow-up piece hit.
Now I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but the guy keeps putting this out so I’m going to keep having to reveal why he’s missing the point. Go ahead and read the article… or just skim it so you get the gist. It’s cool, I can wait.
All done? Didja notice anything? Like, for example, it’s the same stupid article as before? Subtract some of the mindless griping and add in a bit more explanation for why his talking points matter (or I suppose how they can be fixed although his ideas are so simple I wonder if his four-year-old niece helped him out). To wit, Buffa’s brilliant plan for improving games journalism is:
- Learn to write better.
- Be more original.
- Don’t let PR people dictate content.
- Actually play or critically analyze games being reviewed.
- Challenge conventions.
- Step up the quality control.
You will note that I have summarized his (needlessly) two page article into 28 words. I can do it even better, though. Check this out:
- Increase professionalism.
- Display journalistic integrity.
So Buffa spends like 30 paragraphs saying what he could have said in five words. But I digress because people in glass houses, you know?
Anyway, the point here is that he’s stating the obvious like it was some grand revelation when it should be… well, obvious. More professionalism? Gee, you sure that will really work? But again, the problem is that the audience isn’t impressed by professionalism: Gamers don’t care about that, generally speaking. I wonder after reading this who Buffa is trying to impress—the audience or other journalists. Does he wish he could sit in on White House press conferences and ask hard-hitting questions of President Bush about whether he likes the DS Nintendo sent to him and be taken seriously? Because honestly if he’s looking to make his current profession more impressive on the ol’ resume for his “serious journalism” gambit a few years down the road then he’s going to be sorely disappointed.
But on the other hand I do agree that games journalism is lacking in originality and the PR issue is legit. Of course as in my summary this is easily rectified by applying some journalistic integrity (which is why this really comes down to a management/hiring issue and not some inherent problem with people who want to write about video games). Still, let’s assume that the only people who want to cover videogames are those to whom journalistic integrity is a really long word they don’t want to bother looking up. The root problem here? Buffa is reading the wrong publications and going into them with the wrong expectations.
Sad that it may be, big gaming rags like EGM, GameSpot and GamePro are full of yes-men (not all contributors are, but each seems to have some) who succumb to the PR machine. If you want some proof, take a look at the game scores: A game has to practically rend your hardware in half or reduce it to a smoldering hunk of charcoal in order to get a 50% score on the scale. A game that is half as good as the maximum should be a mediocre game in a reasonable scale system, but game publications would rather give scores like 7.9 for mediocre games because it sounds better that way and they don’t have to explain to irate PR reps why they trashed a game with a lousy score. Granted 7.9 is a lousy score and the review text itself may indicate the game is best used post-bowel movement to clean one’s backside, but at least they can say “Hey, it still got a 79% out of 100, right?”
The solution is not to whine and moan about how broken those publications are but to either not read them or to learn some critical thinking skills and accept that reviews should come from trusted sources, not just anyone with a half-dozen spare decimal places and a copy of Microsoft Word. And of course when it comes to reviews you have to acknowledge that they are at best one man’s opinion and at worst they are one man’s misinformed opinion. What score someone gives a game is mostly irrelevant if a second individual holds a different perspective. If you really want to know if a game is likely to appeal to you the only reliable methods are something like MetaCritic or reading reviews from someone you know has similar taste as you.
I’d agree that more “features” should have original premises except that coming from a guy who’s writing Yet Another Article On Why Game Journalism is Poop, it just doesn’t really resonate that well.
Well, I Asked For It
So the Sharks finally traded Nils Ekman. About time! I’ve been asking for this for… uh… wait. What? They got what for him?
A second round draft pick from the Penguins.
Well, that was worth it.
Anyway, the Sharks farm system has been firing out a lot of pretty good prospects lately so hopefully that was the strategy. Meanwhile they lost Scott Thornton and Alyn McCauley (no great loss on either front) but looted bottom dweller Chicago Blackhawks for Mark Bell and Curtis Brown, both acceptable acquisitions. Hopefully Bell will deepen the attack from the Sharks top line next year (he’s reportedly going to play LW on the Thornton-Cheechoo line) where Ekman could not and I’d not mind seeing Brown on a grinder line with Nieminen.
You know how I know when I’m ready for hockey to start again? I’m no longer so bitter with the end of the Sharks season that I refuse to check the news to see what they’re up to in the offseason.