Unpredictable is a column from Caty McCarthy about recent games and other happenings bustling in the world of media. This week: the game Wolfenstein: The New Order and the Netflix show Terrace House: Aloha State. Note: Yes, this week's game is not recent, but E3 dominated our week and the announcement of The New Colossus inspired me.
When I started playing Wolfenstein: The New Order over the weekend, a game I had started and dropped in the past during its early hours, I did not expect it to be so solemn. I was led to believe it would be goofy, self-aware, mindless in a way—much like DOOM was last year. It's anything but.
Where I am now (to be as vague as humanly possible), my seemingly-meathead main character B.J. Blazkowicz has embarked on a long, exhausting mission. Over the radio, he speaks with his partner Anya over typical mission plans. B.J.'s on his way to steal a German U-boat after all, and after that, who knows what's next. (Turns out: a lot.) It could be awhile until he makes his way back home. Anya knows they can't keep up the mission chatter forever, so she offers to read her "cousin" Ramona's diary to B.J. as he swims and crouches along.
I opted to listen to them as they arrived in waves. One notification popped up as I slowly began to approach an enemy saturated area. Another in the quiet, much later in a separate chapter after I had already moved locations. Ramona's Diaries were stringing our connection along. I imagined B.J. listened to them, diary by diary, just because he wanted to hear Anya's voice since he had to be away for so long. Even as I was trapped in the confines of the menu to listen to them, I imagined B.J. crouching behind storage containers, exhausted from shooting Nazis (as you do in Wolfenstein), listening to his beloved read these harrowing and often disturbing tales. I imagined his quiet but accepting realization when this "Ramona" probably didn't exist at all.
That's the depth in Wolfenstein: The New Order. B.J. isn't your typical protagonist who only shoots bad guys; he relishes in the violence and revenge, just as much as he resents it. The first words out of his mouth after being essentially comatose for 14 years is almost comical: an angered "Nazi scum!" as he drives a knife into a neck. Then in a flash, he's toned down, spouting poetic musings. The rambling type of internal dialogue, bleak stuff—the stuff he'd never dare say out loud. (Except maybe to Anya.) He's a character who could have been whatever in another shooter, but is here driven simultaneously by a stern desire for revenge and a deep, genuine love in this pulpy drama.
The romance could have been shoehorned in or forgettable, as it usually feels in games, but instead it's hard to imagine The New Order without it. It's what sets the game apart, and fleshes out a familiar Nazi-slaying hero of games into a person with some layer of emotional depth. With each cinematic the two characters share together, with every kiss (or more), with each diary entry read aloud with no commentary surrounding it, players feel connected to B.J. and Anya. Experiencing all this, the pairing between the two lovers feels naturalistic, in ways that few games outside of maybe the Uncharted series or The Witcher series successfully do.
This sweet-natured, complicated, complex romance was probably the last thing players expected when they embarked on Wolfenstein: The New Order back when it was released a few years ago. And honestly, the game is drastically better for it. Even if shooting Nazis feels pretty damn good too.
I love Terrace House. I love Terrace House in ways I haven't loved a reality show since The Hills and Laguna Beach, which are admittedly the phoniest of phony reality shows. But Terrace House is set apart from the "throw a bunch of young adults together" model that other reality shows have taken in the past—instead, Terrace House often feels the opposite. It feels real. Albeit, with some suspended belief of cinematic framing and convenient close-ups of food at restaurants.
Terrace House is a Japanese reality show that puts a group of young adults—three girls, three boys—together in a fancy apartment. They go about their daily lives as normal, just now under the ever watchful eye of the Big Brother-like presence of reality television. There's also a panel of commentators, celebrities from across Japanese media, who offer their own observations in mini-intermissions throughout episodes. I don't know what's specifically endearing about them, except that maybe the fact that these people are given the freedom to be themselves instead of beacons of drama helps.
The first season was aired in Japan, but since then, Netflix has stepped in to pick up the show. The "first" Netflix season premiered last year, with Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City, which was situated squarely in Tokyo. Since then, Terrace House: Aloha State has premiered in chunks, which takes place far away from Japan: in Hawaii.
Part Three of Terrace House: Aloha State premiered last week, promptly in the middle of E3 chaos. Over the weekend, in a nearly comatose state, I binged all eight new episodes of the show knowing full well that a cliffhanger likely awaited me (it did), twists were around every corner (they were), and I'd be sad when it was through (I was). And binge away I did. Before I knew it, I was done.
The appeal of Terrace House is that instead of randomly materialized drama, the housemates of Terrace House often feel like adults. They (mostly) talk through their problems when they arise, and in the biggest twist on the genre of all, the roommates of Terrace House are not even forced to stay there. They live their lives on their own, whether it's working part-time jobs, going to school, or whatever else. And they're also free to leave Terrace House for good, whenever they wish. Terrace House members often come to live in the group setting to achieve some sort of goal, like "becoming a firefighter" (huh?) or "finding a love worth dying for" (*barf*). Everyone's different. Human. People with their own goals and hobbies.
And that's what makes Terrace House so endearing to watch. You feel close to them, in a weird way. Like when your heart swells with joy when two housemates kiss, or drops with distress over the news that someone's leaving. In dropping the phony facade that plagues American reality television, Terrace House is a delight to behold: simply because it puts the reality back in reality tv.