Analyzing “Games Ponies Play”

Text version:

Games Ponies Play is a really mediocre episode of MLP, sprinkled with the kind of gold nuggets that the show is usually good for and, I suspect, wouldn’t hold up under episodes of this quality without.

Even though the plot was’t remotely engaging, I still smiled and laughed through most of the episode because the show is almost predisposed to providing great character-based comedy. The ongoing joke about Rainbow Dash’s childhood disappointment is good, and some of Pinkie Pie’s jokes are really good, though also some of them are stupid as shit. The scene wherein this season’s mane five put on a cheer is excellent and very well animated, though other parts of the episodes feature awkward animation and weird camera angles.

That comment about the mane five, by the way, was out of spite for this STILL not being a FUCKING Rarity episode. A thirteen-episode season, and we got TWO fucking Spike episodes, but no Rarity episode. At least Rarity already has two of the best episodes of the show, so she’s still in a better boat than Applejack.

The biggest problem with this episode is that the plot is fundamentally uninteresting and poorly done. The stakes are set up that if the games inspector doesn’t like what she sees, then the Crystal Empire won’t get to host the Equestria games. But the games inspector ends up relegated to a practically nonexistent role, while we instead follow some other random mare whom the ponies mistake for the games inspector and give a tour instead.
The only source of tension, then, is that we know they’ve got the wrong pony. The minute we saw the inspector on the platform, that bit of tension was established, but the entire time they’re giving a tour to the wrong pony, the tension isn’t expanded on at all. What was even the point of this plot thread? What did it add to the episode?

Even the tension over Rarity not being able to get Cadence’s hair right is botched because there’s never any close call with the inspector seeing it all wrong. It was just a way to tie up Cadence for the rest of the episode, and it resulted in also taking Rarity out of the group antics as well, cementing her into a season-long role of being largely inconsequential.

The resolution of the episode is incomprehensible. Harshwhinney claims that she’s now heard an unbiased opinion of the place, which makes no fucking sense, because in reality, she was the one receiving unbiased treatment. She’s admitting that her judgement of what town is deserving is based on how well they can pamper her, considering that the way the town treated what it thought was a regular-ass visitor was actually terrible.

So yeah, the plot is basically Swiss cheese, and impossible to care about. Nevertheless, Dave Polsky works in some of his unique brand of fun dialog. This episode isn’t going to make anyone start liking Polsky, nor make me feel good about defending his episodes in the past, but at least he gave me a reference to Neo-Gothic architecture out of nowhere. Also, Rarity said auspicious, which my fifteen year-old brother had to ask me the meaning of.

No but really, there’s genuinely excellent parts of this episode that deserve to be looked at.
Most prominent among these is the sub-plot of Princess Cadence teaching Twilight how to calm herself down. I adore that this entire sub-plot unfolded wordlessly throughout the episode. First, Cadence shows Twilight the technique, and Twilight picks up on its purpose just by feeling it. Twilight sees Cadence use it to calm herself when she gets the bad news, and is intrigued at the sight of it.

Twilight actually uses this technique to calm herself at all of the points where we’d expect her to start yelling in an ordinary episode. This is a brilliant use of her character, and the scene where she starts basically hyperventilating the technique is hilarious. It even ties in well with Just For Sidekicks, because when I watched that episode, I thought it was strange that Twilight expected Spike to have done a great job, even though she’d been suspicious about him. This episode reveals that she was only expecting as much because of her new found calming technique.

While I’m on the subject of subtle characterization, I should also mention how the unnamed earth pony is ultra-claustrophobic for some reason. Also I kept expecting that she was going to turn out to be one of the athletes or something, after watching her outrun Shining Armor’s entire track team.

And that’s about it. No, I’m joking, you know I wouldn’t have ended this video without metnioning Rainbow Dash’s PARENTS. That’s parents with an S by the way.

Now before I go for real, I know someone’s gonna ask if I’ve heard about Fighting is Magic, which I have. I will talk about it later in a video I have planned as a follow-up to the end of season three. In the meantime, check out AnY Pony’s video about the subject. And whatever you do, just keep calm and brony on.


4 thoughts on “Analyzing “Games Ponies Play”

  1. Dave Polsky nooooooo

    Has he ever yet written a properly thought-out episode? Oh, boy—he could benefit from reading a couple of plotting novels and taking a writing course. For fuck’s sake, just ask for tips before you release your work.

    This post is pretty damn awesome, because it’s so rich and concise. There’s little else to add; I can try to wring something out, though.

    The whole project turns to shit from the very beginning, because its own premise is deeply-flawed. Twilight wouldn’t have tossed the meet-up note—unless the text specifically cued that she does it out of some pre-established bent toward error. In other words, we needed a real narrative element showing us what within Twilight causes her to leave behind said note. For example, if she was blowing off Rainbow’s obsessiveness, or seriously preoccupied, or something else. In fact, the suggested idea (which is bullshit) is that she *is* preoccupied: she’s trying to levitate the note and close the doors at the same time. That implies a deliberate choice, rather than a flippant one—which is a definite narrative failure, on so many levels.

    This extends into the stupidity of their not confirming with a name (“Harshwhinney?”). The plot element could have been rectified if there was a clear reason why they didn’t ask. Here’s one that might work: if they’re really, really tentative, they might expect their guest to anticipate waiting-on. That would discourage direct name addressing. The problem is that they talk to royalty easily, so enough of a fear of Harshwhinney would have to outweigh this social easiness. That takes delicate characterization, elaboration. Lastly, Peachbottom is mean at first, but then softens up bizarrely easily. Huh? What needed to be made clear is that Peachbottom is a mercenary woman who will change her tune when nice things and preferential treatment are given her (most of us do this; it isn’t all good, and it isn’t all bad). A good writer would hint at this reality in other little ways.

    The question that needed to be asked is: “What does preferential treatment do to people? And what does the later removal of it do to people? What are the implications of having/not having it? How much preferential treatment can reasonably be given, and why are people pressed to do it at various psychological states?” Sad to say, this ep was all over the place. Too much fluff, not enough impact.

    Oop! A last point: transactions. Holy shit, transactions. Games Ponies Play is taken from the title of a 60’s psychology/psychiatry work (substitute “People” for “Ponies”), which basically says that bad relationships arise from an incorrect assumption of roles. Treating your spouse like a child, for example. Ugh…kinda Freudian. The book’s been said to be really accurate, though, and it does make some intuitive sense. What we often call “mind games” are basically the natural outgrowth of these manipulative relationships. To a degree, we slip into using them within healthy relationships, to get what we want.

    Anyway, the thread is completed in this ep. Imperfect transactions are at the core of Spike’s side of things. The jewels are different sizes, and the Mane Six reacts in different ways to Spike’s offer (Fluttershy’s manipulative). Whereas in this ep, the Mane Six are trying to avoid manipulative actions that don’t exist—though they were all bamboozled by Spike. In his arc, he’s the one who becomes the bigger man (i.e. the Adult) first, and Angel’s power to fuck with him vanishes. In other words, Spike shifts into an “equal” relationship with them, as perhaps only a perpetual sidekick can (I wrote this when commenting on that ep).

    In the mares’ arc, their own actions are (or rather, should have been) revealed to be a twisted mind game in its own way; Rainbow’s vicarious hopes are included here. After all, we know that “defending” against a mind game often deteriorates into a mind game. Because they’re caught in a particular mind game that doesn’t really exist, they don’t question the incongruities of Peachbottom’s behavior. Peachbottom’s appraisal *is* “unbiased,” because she’s a tourist—but it’s cast into (unfortunately, poorly-structured) unreliability. For example, the “honesty” of the conversation between Peachbottom and Horsewhinney relies on (mutual) blindness—cucumbers over eyes, and turned upside-down—not mutual eye-to-eye sight. So blindness and equilibrium are paired uncomfortably; there are times when either one may work. Here, cue close-call nature of Spike’s arc.

    Of course, in pushing the others aside and stepping forward, was Rainbow marginalizing them? Food for thought.

    Fuck, these eps could have been so damn good. I watched them, I laughed…but they could have been…ehh, it is what it is.

    • Making this episode good would’ve taken so, SO much more thought than what was evidently put in. Never does it feel like the implications of what happens are taken into consideration. This is the kind of episode that I can’t try and explain away, because the way it was written was too wrong-headed and bad. It’s like Boast Busters in that regard. Coming up with reasons for what happens isn’t even satisfying. It’s too hard to get past what should (or in this case, mostly shouldn’t) have been.

  2. You know that mare who you claim and might very well be Dash’s mom? I was rewatching Winter Wrap-Up, and she appears a number of times. She actually has a speaking role in the episode, and her cutie-mark is a rainbow. I wonder if this was intentional right from the beginning. 0.o

  3. I agree’d almsot to the letter on this episode – except that I find it way worse with little to no redeeming factors.
    The ones that are redeeming, like twiligth learning to calm herself and the impressive cheering scene.
    Other then that – this episode fell FLAT on it’s back. It’s cutie mark would be something… not pleasant, let’s stop at that! :S

    What was that episode even about, really? And in the end, it just ended without any proper explonation.
    It was like: “I had this really awefull time here! I kept being ignored, and people kept soaking me down by running past me near water! Not to mention, you did take the wrong pony… But sicne this random pony told me what a wonderful time she had, which I never saw or know about – then everything is alright!”… WHAT?!?

    I mean, they could atleast have made that random pony being a very highly ranking sprinter (,I mean, they even made her run really fast at some parts), altough she could still be a little bit of a gulable airhead who just loves to run. :P
    That way it would make sense that they were both there! That way they might have had a bit of history. And it would just mean they could change out a minutes pointless dioalog from some other part of the epsiode and just tell us that they actually know eachother!
    That way this random pony would have an actual influence of the final decision. No, it was just a random pony out of nowhere really… and the episode ended with everything being well, and the episode was… Pointless. :(

    I know you already stated that double episodes have a tendency to streatch themselves to much so there is a much bland moments in those episodes.
    With all the different questions and so on, I have a hard time believing they can’t fill 2 or more episodes with some plots – like the final episode.
    So personaly, I’d rather they’d skip this, pointless, episode and rather focus on developing the last episode further.
    I am sure that even I could come up with a decent script to last 2 episodes portraying Twilights “ascension”. Mostly focusing on the meaning of destinies and buildup and question waht Twilights destiny is to be – and in the second episode do the unfolding.

    I know I went from this episode and talked about my view of the Finale – but since this is the one that leads up to the Finale, and might aswell have been ignored to focus more on A BIG CHANGE IN THE SERIES.
    I mean, Nightmare Moon never really changed anything. Since we didn’t know her.
    Crystalis didn’t change anything. Sombra… hmmm, might have changed some things now that the crystal empire is present – but again, it have so far only been used to create this needless episode… so again, not really any change there.
    But in the finale we have THE FIRST PONY that we were introduced to changing into an almsot Divine entity… and it was only given one episode. Not even that, the first half was basicly sorting out her misstake. :(

    To sum it up, I’d rather this was never made and the Finale was developed further.

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