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A Game You Can’t Win

“Empathy games” are among the more interesting genres to emerge from the world of independent and small-studio video games. These intimate interactive experiences put the player in the shoes of others dealing with difficult life situations.

Game designers Ryan and Amy Green used the structure of a game to tell the deeply personal story of losing their young son, Joel. That Dragon, Cancer makes its “player” a participant as Joel is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The player witnesses the family’s unsuccessful fight to save him. Through the familiar design of a point-and-click adventure game, players journey through parks, cancer wards, and imaginary landscapes borne of the couple’s frustrations.

It’s a game you can’t win. The player’s options are limited, much like the Greens’ were in life. But through the journey, narrated by the couple themselves, the player understands the difficult struggle with a depth no other art form could deliver.

Scott Shackford

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The film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tosses Tina Fey (of SNL and 30 Rock fame) into a war zone, as reporter Kim Baker, a desk jockey turned adrenaline junkie. While Fey has been careful to say in the media that the film “has nothing to do with what should be done about Afghanistanit is 100 percent not that,” the whole plot turns on how difficult it is for people who are caught up in the heat of battlecombatants, civilians, and pressto keep perspective.

“I’ve gotta go. I’m starting to feel like this is normal. You know this is not normal, right?” Baker says to her war photographer friend-with-benefits (played by a casually debauched Martin Freeman) as she tosses clothes into a suitcase in her grimy Kabul bedroom. Unremarked uponthough the film does not entirely ignore itis that she, unlike the Afghans she meets, has the luxury of leaving “the Kabubble” when she’s had enough of war.

Katherine Mangu-Ward

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LAPD v. O.J. Simpson

FX’s 10-part series The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story avoids the fate of so many cheesy “ripped from the headlines” TV dramas by being both well-crafted and admirably true to the facts.

It’s fascinating to watch how the trial’s relitigation of Simpson’s history of domestic violence changed public opinion about spousal abuse, taking what was previously considered a behind-closed-doors family matter and rendering it socially unacceptable even for popular celebrities.

Most striking is the specter of police brutality and racism hovering over the trial. Prior to joining the prosecution, Christopher Darden is shown working in the D.A.’s Special Investigations Division, desperately trying to hold officers who shot a black woman in the back accountable for their actions.

When defense attorney Johnnie Cochran gets a detective to admit he took evidence to his home in Simi Valley, the jury catches the subtext. Simi was where the officers who infamously beat Rodney King in 1991 were stationed.

Anthony Fisher

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The Good Lord Loves a Rebel

Veteran graphic novelist Chester Brown’s new book, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible (Drawn & Quarterly), presents comic-book versions of Bible stories involving prostitutes. The libertarian-leaning Brown is a partisan for the quasi-heretical belief among some outré Bible scholars that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a prostitute.

But Brown’s larger message goes beyond just whether God can forgive, or even glorify, women who sell sex for moneythough Brown is sure He can. In a detailed prose afterword, Brown offers up evidence for his own esoteric take on scripture: From Cain and Abel to Job to Jesus’ parables of the Talents and the Prodigal Son, Brown insists the Bible tells us that God admires and rewards those who don’t follow the rules.

—Brian Doherty

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