Thursday, September 30, 2010
In the twentieth century, the men in power who had mustaches were either dictators or progressive republicans. The progressive republicans were really a pre 1920s North American phenomenon, where as the dictators pretty much ruined facial hair world wide for holders of high office.
Vladimir Ilych Lenin
Led the Russian Revolution with his well groomed mustache.
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin
Stalin successfully alienated every intellectual in the world from a once popular Marxist philosophy and did it with a great mustache. Originally Stalin was good friends with another famous mustache, Adolf Hitler. They later battled it out on the eastern front over who had the better mustache and who could be the evilest dictator.
A demonstration of how one man can ruin a particular style for all of history. Hopefully the next evil dictator will wear hipster glasses.
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti
The fact that Saddam had a great mustache is often overshadowed by his participation in genocide, and by ‘participate’, I mean orchestrated as a dictator. His beautiful lip hair is also overshadowed by his disheveled appearance after being yanked out of a hole by the US military.
William Howard Taft
Usually associated with being the fattest president, Taft was the last president to have facial hair, thus ending the facial haired precedent started by Abraham Lincoln. On a sidenote, Charles Curtis, the 31st vice president, had a nice silver haired mustache for Herbert Hoover.
Venustiano Carranza de la Garza
Technically a goatee, Carranza’s mustache is hands down the best mustache of all twentieth century world leaders.
Consolation (the Cuban connection):
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
Rocked a stache as a youngster but conquered Cuba with a beard.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara
Typically went bearded, but it was so shitty looking, that it can be easily mistaken for a mustache.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I did not like being a child, a tween, a teen, or a putative adult. I did enjoy some music while I was doing those things. Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was -- be prepared to be staggered at my disgusting youth -- the first really good album I ever heard. I think I was seven. From the beginning I knew there was a lot of crap on those twin CD's (which we called, in my household, Happy Baby and Sad Baby respectively), especially the latter. I also knew, from the very beginning, how utterly absurd were the lyrics to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings." I didn't understand instinctively what a douchebag Billy Corgan probably was. That took seeing his clothes. None of it mattered. If you're going to wallow -- and teenagers will, and so will I -- it might as well be to something pretty. And if right-thinking individuals find songs like "Bullet..." ridiculous, they should at least be able to admit the simple joys of "Tonight, Tonight," "Jellybelly," "An Ode to No One," and even the equally ridiculous "Zero." ("Emptiness is loneliness and loneliness is cleanliness and cleanliness is godliness and God is empty, just like me." [LoL!])
I was surprised to feel nostalgia not so much because I haven't enjoyed most of my life as because I see nostalgia as essentially a form of identification; identification with a phenomenon or a fan base, identification with a past self. I am not very good at identifying with anything. My admiration for certain writers is the closest I get, and usually I try to keep them at arm's length so I can go on liking them (people tend to piss me off, especially artists, when I actually know how and what they think/believe). I don't identify with my MFA class or program very well, sometimes because they (like everybody) piss me off but mostly because I assume they wouldn't want me as one of them. I don't identify with any movements of writers (I assume they don't want me either) or social circles, or, well, much of anything. I have a vague sense of identification with other atheists (we're embattled!) and with the Democratic party (not because I'm proud of them, but because I feel like now that I'm a party-line voter and apologist I've got to own up, take responsibility, live in shame, etc.).
Since this attack of nostalgia began, I've dug out my Nirvana albums as well, and proven nostalgia transferable by somehow branching out from there to the collected works of Led Zeppelin. (I don't know either. But "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" is a really great song.) Nirvana's unplugged album is my favorite of theirs, in part because I just really love the way the production sounds and in part, no doubt, because it was the first album I actually owned (a Christmas gift, I think, from my Grandma). My brothers and I used to sing "Lake of Fire" pretty often.
This post has a lot of parantheticals. I could be happier with that but I'm not going to change it.
What makes you nostalgic? Is it like identification for you, or another feeling? Does it make you happy? It actually mostly makes me sad, but a good kind of sad.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I am getting in touch with you regarding the estate of a deceased client with similar last name and an investment placed under our banks management.How sizable was this investment? 8.35 million United States dollars!
This spam makes me melancholy because I wish I lived in a cartoon world in which it was feasible that Aslin Roger of the Royal bank of Scotland would write to me regarding orphaned bank accounts, even if they were in the amount of $5. Even if they were in the amount of -$5.
Of course, the 8.35 mill would be even nicer. I'd swim in it like Scrooge McDuck. I'd actually swim in a lot of things. If I were at home now I'd take some photos and illustrate this post with images of me swimming in old issues of literary journals, or library books, or unused cat litter, or old drafts of stories, or jars of spices, or . . .
I also wish people named Aslin would contact me. Aslin! What a name!
Maybe I'll start writing under the name Aslin. I've certainly considered lots of false names but was turned off to pen names during my time working on lit journals, when the most ludicrous and purple bylines came swimming in atop overwrought poetry and fiction.
I've also considered changing my name entirely. Neither my fiancee nor I love our names but we can't decide on a new one we both love. The closest we've come is this: Roboto.
Other strong options: Flightdeckduo. Noodles. Bonecracker. Tremens.
Amber Sparks was kind enough to include me in her Ancient City project at Necessary Fiction, and you can see my contribution here. The other entries are wonderful and they all take unique angles of approach to the shared subject matter. Gabriel Blackwell wrote earlier about the project, and will contribute to it, and Roxane Gay contributed something a few days ago.
Sometimes when I look at games with a focus on user-generated content I feel guilty about Little Big Planet. The game was a gift for a friend. If you're not familiar, Little Big Planet is a platformer for you and up to three friends. You jump around, sort of like Mario. It's really simple and usually pretty laid back. What sets the game apart is that the users can make levels just as good as (or better than) the ones that come packed with the game, using a series of extremely powerful tools. I could easily make levels for this game. I've had a few ideas for levels, even, that seemed pretty cool. I doubt I'll ever get around to it. I'll probably buy the sequel at some point after it comes out, and marvel at the levels other people made, and then go on not contributing anything myself, though I like to think of myself as a pretty smart dude, fairly capable, etc.
The thing is, though, that there's not much point in playing Little Big Planet levels apart from the fact that you could have, given sufficient time and skill and energy and planning and so on, perhaps maybe made them yourself. Tracy makes sounds of genuine delight when something interesting or cute or exciting or unexpected or innovative or clearly difficult-to-make happens in a level she's playing, and often this is followed by verbally congratulating the maker of the level for what he or she has done. There is a sympathy, a meeting of the minds, that reminds me of the pleasure I feel in reading a book I feel I could have maybe someday, given sufficient time and skill and energy and planning and talent and luck and so on, maybe kind of sort of written myself. I would be happier if I had really written it, perhaps, but there are other books for me to write, and I feel a profound connection to the one that did make it. I feel gratitude, delight. I feel as if I've extracted some of the joy of the making. When we play Little Big Planet, we are constantly engaged with the joy of the making as well as the thing made.
The joy of that experience is often diluted by the fact that most people apparently prefer recreating movies and other video games rather than creating their own original levels. It seems so lazy, so unimaginative, so depressing -- given the opportunity to make practically anything they can imagine, they make a Castlevania knockoff.
But this impulse is cast in a more charitable light by the painstaking recreations of major architecture in Minecraft. To rebuild Notre Dame in Minecraft is probably less difficult than to recreate a Mario level, especially if you do anything witty or interesting in your interpretation of the Mario concept. You also generally cannot perfectly reproduce a Mario level, while in recreating architecture one might actually use the blueprints: the interpretation is, at least potentially, terribly literal. But I instinctively respect the effort of those rebuilding already-existing buildings.
Part of it is the visual austerity of the buildings, I imagine. Part of it is their apparent solidness. Probably it's mostly a highbrow/lowbrow thing. In any case, it makes me feel that one might remake a Mario level for the same reason one might remake Notre Dame -- to drag one's fingers over its texture and its curves very slowly. To roll it on one's tongue. To imagine what it might be like to build the thing oneself. To participate in architecture, in building, in making. To remake Mario is to imagine making Mario, just as I love to imagine building that model Earth, but do not want to take the time to do it now, or just as I want to make fun of Freedom, but without having to take the time to read the thing I laugh at. But nobler, I guess, than that.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Robbie is more widely known under the super-classy moniker "Robert Alan Wendeborn," which is, as far as I know, his real name. He blogs about food with our friend Carrie at Master of Fine Eats. He's published poetry with PANK, with PANK again, in Strange Machine, and probably in other places I forgot about. His poetry is often sweet, sad, hilarious, painful, lovely. I'm proud to call him a friend. Hopefully he'll be writing posts for us soon -- he promised me one last night about mustaches.
To your left is a super-classy photo of Robbie reading. As NMSU student and photographer Josh Bowen says, "Black and white makes things serious."
Friday, September 24, 2010
If you’re tired of blaming your lack of writing on bullshit like fake distractions, why not buy a more effective distraction remover? Why not try ū—? Available for Windows, OS X, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and Moleskine.Merlin Mann is my hero.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I had originally chosen to include the excerpt because I wanted to spend at least one day on works that blurred genre. I'm not sure how Biss would describe her own work, apart from the fact that her website says she "teaches and writes" nonfiction. When I first read her work I somehow hadn't heard the term "lyric essay," which might be one reasonable point of consensus, but poets seem to have adopted her as their own, and some people describe her as a poet. One of my students today described her as something like "a poet who writes prose." Other students compared the excerpt to a play, or a screenplay. I suggested a documentary that used the conventions of interviews and stock footage.
We didn't worry about classification so much as the formal operation of the text. We spent pretty much an entire hour slowly reading over one segment and discussing how each piece related to the last piece, and what it made us think of.
Here is the section we read, from pages 9-10:
Mother: "I couldn't stand his friends from medical school. They were all pompous and awkward. They knew how to memorize but they didn't know how to be human. Rochester was cold and ugly. Everything there was the same color. I was incredibly lonely."
She had her first child that year.
Malcom McPherson recently collected a book of transcripts from cockpit voice recorders called The Black Box: All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts of In-Flight Accidents. It is the updated version of a 1984 "classic." On some of these flights, there were no survivors. only voices were salvaged.
Mother: "If your father got his residency in Iowa I would have gone to graduate school there. I was already accepted. He was sent to North carolina instead."
The transcripts in malcom McPherson's book were edited by the National Transportation Safety board before he published them. Any emotional material was deleted. The curses and apologies that were yelles out just before the crash were deleted. Only material useful to the public in determining the cause of the crash was retained.This section was initially brought up by one of the students, and I immediately realized this was the section t discuss. We went through it one paragraph at a time. I would read the first and the second paragraph, and then we would talk about how their juxtaposition made a larger thing. I would read the second and third paragraph, and we would talk about the same. And so on.
Mother: "I'm amazed that more people don't commit suicide. They just keep on living. It's so hard and they just keep doing it."
Useful to the public?
The combination of different formal elements and subjects creates a larger narrative and argument without ever actively arguing: the reader finds an extremely satisfying experience in imagining what happens in the gaps between paragraphs, why element X is in this position and not that one. This encourages active reading. I made them go over every single thing that came to mind about this process in order to make them more conscious of it, and at the end of class, I argued that everyone's work operates more or less like this -- that the gaps are usually less explicit, but always there, and often very productive. I suggested they try making the gaps in their own work a little bigger -- not puzzling, but sometimes, in some ways, a puzzle.
I think it went pretty well! I would suggest this book, or a similar one, to anybody teaching CW, in any genre.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I spent several years as one of those writers who really wanted to be a musician. I even put it in my bios when I found publication: "Mike Meginnis blah blah blah. He realizes, once daily, that he should have been a musician." The rare instance of success as a writer only seemed to make me feel more acutely my original mistake, possibly because it was in these moments that the reality no one would really read me finally seeped through. (And of course that isn't reality: people do read things, no matter what Franzen says.) I wanted to be a musician in spite of any lack of marked ability or natural talent, and also in spite of the rather sharply crooked pinkies that conspire to make most complicated manual tasks rather more difficult. (Come watch me type sometime: I invented a system!) It was my belief for a long time that I could, with sufficient effort, train myself to do anything. This is the strange, unwarranted confidence of autodidacts.
What I can do, however, is make mix CD's. I'm pretty good at it! In this post, we will discuss the art of the mix CD, and I will also demonstrate it, by way of some YouTubes. (YouTubes!)
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
It's not that I don't understand where the praise comes from. Good-hearted, well-meaning, smart-thinking people are often surprised at the wishy-washy way I talk about publishing and shopping myself around--surprised, because they always thought of me as a good-hearted, well-meaning, smart-thinking person, and their feeling is that I deserve to get published and succeed at what I'm doing. So why the lack of confidence? Coupled with the fact that I'm in a graduate program and to most people of my acquaintance this means I must be a pretty advanced practitioner, I get a lot of general encouragement when I talk about my pursuits, and a lot of faith that I'll simply succeed--why wouldn't I? I've succeeded at pretty much everything else they've seen me do. I've, you know, graduated well from things. I've held down a job.
This logic even makes sense in a lot of other disciplines. If you've done well at school and you've excelled at all your business classes and you've always had a real knack for leading people, you'll probably do well in your field. It's not that writing is harder, but that everyone who wants to can kind of do it, and a whole slew of people who did and didn't go to graduate school can do it pretty well, and then more people are really pretty great, and who knows how that happened. Who knows how you "earn" it. Then there's editors--people whose jobs are assessing your work for all sorts of factors like greatness, yes, but also for appropriateness to venue, and style, and length, and all those things. And, also, for liking it, personally, and wanting other people to read it. The system for success is different. Success in writing is a very private measure until it is very, very public--accepted, printed, sold, reviewed. You can feel very confident in your work and have very good reasons for being confident, but never get published once.
But as a teacher of young writers, I wonder about my position on this. I'm a profuse encourager of my students. And I have a reason: I don't think it's worth teaching a writing class from the perspective that every student wants to become a writer by profession, and I don't think it's useful to harp on imperfections and certain definable missteps from a publishing perspective (one almost certainly limited by personal tastes and experience with publishing) when you have no idea (at least at the outset) where the students want to take their writing. I've heard tell of professors who take it on themselves to tell students whether or not they've "got it," whether or not they can realistically go forward in writing. I think this is very dumb at the undergraduate level, and pretty dumb at the graduate level, where hey, if there's a talentless hack in your program, you're the one who put 'em there.
I think there's a peculiar nature to our work that requires a bizarre mix of roles: teacher as encourager of young sensitive writers, teacher as source of book knowledge and field experience, teacher as gatekeeper to the professional practice of writing. How do we navigate the role of teacher while acknowledging and teaching to the realities of our field? Should we try?
exist, if you feel like you're not currently getting enough encouragement from your office supplies.
Monday, September 20, 2010
So it's a bad book. As for whether this will be a good game, that's a little harder to say, but my guess is that no it definitely won't. For one thing, waving a little virtual match around is not an exciting experience. For another, neither is jabbing at animated flies. Video games shouldn't be literary, they should be games -- the most artistically successful games so far have aggressively eschewed language in almost every case, and there was a reason for that.
I don't know. This stuff only pisses me off to the extent that it reduces my faith in humanity's ability to learn anything at all from experience. Gimmicky bullshit mixed media never works, and if you're the sort of person who thinks we need to "save reading," you might want to consider the possibility that doing so by tarting up and obscuring language only reinforces the idea that reading is not fun.
In fact reading is fun. In fact it is about the most fun possible. In fact, it need not look like a twenty year old PC-CDROM version of Murder on the Orient Express, which was, in fact, not as fun as the book either.
The premise of the game, for those of you who don't know it, is wonderfully simple. You're this guy. He is I guess called Wander -- I don't remember this being mentioned in the game, but people call him that. You've come to a temple in a forbidden holy land, dead woman in hand. You were riding your horse. You put the dead girl on an altar. A large voice tells you to kill the colossi. The implication being that she can come back, this woman, if you do as you're told. You find them. You kill them. Each time you kill one your body becomes more sick. It is clear this will not end well. You look at the woman on the altar. You go on killing.
In some ways Colossus is extremely old school. There are basically three mechanics in the whole game. One is the exploration mechanic. When it's time to kill a colossus, you hold your sword up in the air. It reflects a beam of light that shows you the general direction of your next victim. So you hop on your horse and explore the holy land, where there are some lizards, a few birds, a few trees, some hills, some mountains, some bodies of water, and so on. The environment is gorgeous in a sort of gray, understated way that sometimes also seems to be dead, or dying. The music is quiet when it is present at all. Your horse behaves much like a real horse, which makes it a pleasure to ride -- it won't run head-on into things, it will not leap blindly off a precipice, it walks or runs according to the traditional inputs (your heels, your voice). This is an exploration mechanic. There are no collectibles. (Well, there are two, but the game doesn't tell you that, they don't matter, and you should probably ignore them. Anyway they don't look like collectibles, which is the main thing.) It's really simple and easy and mostly stress-free. You do this for maybe twenty minutes at a time. It's nice.
The second is the climbing mechanic. This works pretty much like climbing in most games these days; you look for a ledge or other grippable surface, you jump up, you grab on. Now you can jump again, or crawl around, or whatever. The difference is that in this game you can climb on the colossi. They tend to have a lot of fur or other grippable surfaces on them so that once you get up there it's not tremendously complicated how you make your way to their weak points. Sometimes getting onto the colossi is pretty difficult. Sometimes you have to jump around on them like Mario for a little while. That's pretty crazy. Sometimes they try and shake you off. You have to hold on. It looks awesome.
The third is the attack mechanic. Here's how that works: you get to the part you want to stab. You press the square button to charge your attack. Your guy holds his sword up and clenches his muscles. You put the sword in. Black blood like ink squirts out in these horrifying torrents. After you do this a few times you probably have to find another weak point. There's also a bow and arrow, which mainly serves to annoy the colossi, and to make you feel like the guy from Princess Mononoke when you aim your horse in a general direction, send him running, and then focus yourself on the important business of aiming and firing while he gallops. It looks awesome.
That's the game. The mechanics barely feel like mechanics at all. There are long stretches, both in the calmest moments and the most intense, where you are barely pressing any buttons at all. What the game has done is give you a series of contexts in which you can exist.
One of those contexts is riding your horse through the environment. This looks very calm. It is calming. There's also something about the snatches of natural sound, the small, brief washes of music, the colors of the environment, that feels very poignant. You want to cry a little. You think how beautiful things are, and how sad. The save points in this game are stone monuments at which you can pray. You can pray for as long as you want. This makes you think, if you are me, "No wonder I'm sad. I'm preparing for battle. I'm preparing to die, or to kill. This may be the last time I see such beauty. Perhaps I do not deserve such beauty." And so on.
Ico also used save points brilliantly: they were couches. You could sit on them with the girl you were trying to save from the palace. You could hold her hand or not hold her hand. You could pull her there to sit or you could sit and then wait for her to sit down beside you. You would sit together, touching or not touching, for as long as you wanted. She never took your hand; you had to take hers. It made you want her. It simultaneously created and captured a feeling you were having and already had -- a confusion of innocent good will and almost lustful wanting, a need for her and a respect, a desire to protect her and the desire to be protected by her, the desire to be mothered, to be a little brother, to be a husband, and so on. These feelings were created by the save points, and you were reminded or you discovered that you had always felt this way -- it was implicit in the "holding hands" mechanic, in the way you protect her though she knows more and is older than you. Sometimes I would sit there with her on the couch for whole minutes at a time, just breathing. The characters would look around, and relax. They were resting. They had earned their rest. So had I.
This is how great game design works, and will work going forward, to create narrative: not so much by dialog or cinematic devices, but by the creation of contexts that demand character. To give me the opportunity to rest for as long as I want, and to present me with a compelling image of that rest, and to put the resting under my control, as in the monuments in Colossus or the couches in Ico, tells me without saying that my character must be exhausted. That I am exhausted. And I feel it. Creating the context of exploration manufactures in me the need to explore, and giving my character a way to hesitate will suggest to me that he hesitates, that I hesitate, that we are afraid, ashamed, etc.
Another context is that of the combat itself. The thrilling, menacing music and the constant need to run disguise the fact that these are puzzles. They are, however, urgent and beautiful puzzles that inspire exhilaration and genuine fear.
Probably the defining "holy shit" moment of the game is the sequence when you fight the big bird. You've been exploring for a while now. You come out onto this huge lake. It just goes and goes. You have to leave your horse behind. You jump and swim. You come out to the center of the lake. You feel very alone. There's this bird thing flying around above you. It settles on one of several pillars. It's very far away -- a sepia blot. You can't get up to the bird, but you have this bow. You have to piss the bird off. It's got to come to you. So you piss off the bird. It comes down from the pillar. So far so good. It comes toward you. This is what we wanted.
You see how large it is. It's coming toward you. It's swooping. It's getting really big now. This is what we wanted. Right? It's right here, it's going to hit you like a train.
You jump straight up into the air.
You catch the wing.
For the rest of this fight (if it goes well) you will be on this bird while it flies far, far above the lake. You will be terrified. You'll probably say "oh shit" a lot. You'll crawl around on it, tentative. You have to go out on the wings. Its wings that it is flapping. If you fall, it really feels like falling. You may scream.
In terms of gameplay, in terms of systems, this sequence is all very simple. It doesn't take a tremendous amount of skill. Again, you don't actually press many buttons, don't actually do much actively. But it feels very involving. You have all these feelings. As you tense your muscles, as you prepare to plunge your cursed sword into the wing of the glorious terrible creature you ride a mile above the holy land, as a plume of hot black blood erupts around your fists, you'd better believe you have feelings. Beautiful, awful.
The boss fights aren't all this good, but many are close. I'm especially fond of the giant serpent you fight in the water. You hold onto it, you clutch, and it drags you under the surface, where you can't breathe. I have a weird phobia of water in video games that only seemed more strange when I met a guy who shared it. What's to be so worried about? This sequence gave me something to worry about. I was horrified. I felt, in a way I never feel in other more ostensibly action-driven games, like a hero, like a resourceful survivor, like I was actually brave.
And then the guilt sets in. This is the part of Colossus both most thrilling and most ultimately troubling, from the perspective of those who would tell stories through games. The first colossus you fight feels like a normal boss, if one perhaps a little more interesting than most. That is to say, you never for a second doubt that it deserves to die. Of course it does. The second time, though, you have some doubts. It's got this face. It wears this expression. You feel awful about what you're doing. It's sort of flashy, the feeling, the way certain sequences in Saving Private Ryan are flashy. The guilt was surprising and pleasurable then. It still is now, more or less, but I don't love it now the way I did.
The thing is that a) the game sometimes takes control away from you, briefly, to foster the guilt. This feels artificial within the design, it feels disruptive. And b) this is more of the same moralizing bullshit other media have been depending on for some time. That is, I'm playing a video game. Video games are, as of this moment, violent. There are many reasons for this, the main one being that it's easy to make a violent game fun and interesting. You made the violent game. You made the context in which I committed these crimes, and you created my character such that this was all he could do. It's sort of shitty to lay the blame on me, here, isn't it? This is like the way Princess Mononoke and, to a greater extent, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, its mother, create this desire in you to see exciting, violent sequences of combat and then punish you for wanting to see those things.
Of course, the alternative -- creating the desire to see violence and then glorying in the violence -- isn't much better, but it doesn't smack so much of hypocrisy. Sometimes I don't care about hypocrisy, which I think is generally a useless idea. Sometimes I do care. These are bad times for me to play Shadow of the Colossus, or to enjoy certain other highbrow art, which tends to invest quite a lot of its energy in guilt, which sometimes seems to me a very second-rate emotion, and sometimes seems to me the only possible emotion.
What ultimately sells the guilt, what makes it work, is the exploration sequences. There is the possibility, implied by the game but never emphasized, that you could go on praying forever. That you could simply walk around the holy land with your horse, seeing the sights, swimming in the water, and so on. You might play Shadow of the Colossus forever without actually fighting any colossi. Of course no one does this. Eventually you would get bored, or you would remember your character's motivation (the dead woman), and you would go back on the hunt. But you do have something like a choice. You have opportunities to doubt yourself before you kill. This isn't a perfect solution, but it's something.
What Shadow of the Colossus ultimately teaches us about how to make games capital-A Art, however, is not the importance of shame and guilt, or even narrative. Other games since Colossus have guilted you about the fact that you were playing the game they gave you, which is ultimately a way (especially in BioShock) of commenting on the fact of your playing the game. What Shadow of the Colossus does better than anything else is the simultaneous discovery and creation of character through context, and not just art direction or mood music but player interactions. In some ways the heart of the game is the moment where a colossus is trying to shake you off and you, against all odds, hold on. This requires very little input, sometimes none, but it's a choice that you make, it's a space and a scene in which to live and breathe (if you can breathe) and feel. How you live and breathe and feel in this scene creates your character. It is the narrative. It makes your Wander who he is, and reveals who he always was.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Batman is awesome, but only because he's so smart. He figures out exactly what he'll need in the field and stuffs in all into his Batsuit and utility belt. This is exactly what inspired the U.S. Air Force's "BATMAN" program, which aims to develop new equipment so that soldiers are as capable as Batman himself.
BATMAN stands for Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge. Sure, it cheats, but who's really going to criticize the Air Force when it's running a program called BATMAN? BATMAN program engineer Reggie Daniels says: "[Batman's] devices allow him to have an advantage. That is what we're trying to do."Really excited to see where the military looks for its next big idea. A Hawkman unit? Darkseid blac-ops? Green Lantern super-jets? The exact freakin' premise of Captain America?
"What if a guy had a metal arm like Cable, and a glowy eye like Cable, and but also he could absorb energy, like Bishop, and shoot it out his guns, like Bishop." "WHAT IF WE HAD A SOLDIER COVERED IN BLUE FUR."
Something I've been thinking about a lot recently, partly in relationship to Tracy's last post, is reader participation. What is it? What forms does it take? How can we foster it?
When I think of participation in a story or poem or whozit I think of "playing along." I think of my legs predicting the arrows in DDR through a constantly evolving matrix of possibilities implied by the mood of the song, by where my feet have been before, by where they could be soon. There are only four arrows, which can be stepped on in six combinations. (Down-right, down-up, down-left, right-up, right-left, up-left). Most people don't understand music very well, but they understand it well enough to dance. Even people who can't dance can play along with DDR because the options are so limited. Your feet have a high chance of already being in the right place as long as you're standing, as long as you're in the game.
Pop music uses our knowledge of music against us. It creates a thought virus with only one purpose: the manufacture of desire for itself -- that is, the manufacture of desire for desire to desire for desire to desire for--
Which is why we can't always listen to pop, especially the evil stuff. (The good stuff, the stuff made with love, occasionally bothers to satisfy the need it creates.) Minimalism is sometimes the next best thing. You can understand "In C" even if you couldn't predict or perform it, exactly; when I saw it performed, they projected the sheet music above the orchestra, so those who knew how to read music could better understand the performance. I couldn't at the time read music (and now can only read a little) so it didn't do me much good, but I immediately grasped the concept: the song has pieces, there are a limited number, the musicians will work through them according to their instincts and experience and knowledge of each other, and the feeling of the room, and so on. You can participate in "In C" if you can recognize a tune, which again, most of us can do. Its slow, spiraling, beautiful, redundant, stuttering structure allows you to enter at almost any time and participate in its performance, if not by influencing the song itself then by imagining parallel worlds and thereby understanding the choices the musicians make instead.
And this is key: because there are limited options, and even more limited coherent options, we can game out possibilities (unknowingly, usually) and appreciate what's chosen instead as better, or equal, or object to it as worse. This is the chief means by which art can attract its audience's participation, which in turn makes it the principle means of generating, well, meaning.
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Friday, September 17, 2010
First, many thanks for Mike & Tracy for allowing me to post this on here.
This is a video of myself giving a reading of 'Rampage'--a selection from 'Leave Luck To Heaven', a collection of lyric essays based off of 8-bit Nintendo games.
I hope to be posting a few more of these in the future (and some non-video posts too) on here.
I rented this game from Showbiz Video when I was a kid and spent an entire Sunday morning beating the game. It has the worst/most anticlimactic ending ever, and the levels never get any harder/more interesting. Not suggested.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The real problem that results is the conception that good fiction is its own reward. Never mind that no other form of entertainment works that way.
book on "fun" theory--how to, err, engineer fun, basically. I would like writers, especially writers of fiction, to talk about this notion more. The prevailing idea, I think, is that fiction isn't entertainment--it's art, and art is not meant to be constrained by the same commitments to providing (shameless) entertainment that TV and movies and video games do. But creating fun, imagining an experience for the end user (reader), shouldn't be considered a constraint. Making meaning in absence of fun is, in my opinion, the greater constraint--because making fun is just another way of creating interaction, of giving the reader somewhere to go other than where we lead, which in turn makes meaning. Meaning doesn't exist in a vacuum; it requires readers to build using our materials. In other words, if the reader is having fun, it's because they're interacting with what they read, learning, making decisions. They're playing. When this happens, fun creates art.
If we really need to, we can replace "fun" with "rewards."
This list of reward types in game design is perhaps a little glancing; I'm not sure. But it offers some good examples, some good points for comparison. Here's my list, recast for fiction:
- Knowledge Rewards: The acquisition of facts, systems, clues that can be used to game out characters or intuit future events. Writing to encourage guessing, forecasting, puzzle-solving. Setting up expectations to be thwarted or met.
- Physical Rewards: Rewards that cause readers' bodies to react: laughter, tears, goosebumps, chills, illness, arousal, dizziness, a sense of stopped time or altered place.
- Narrative Rewards: Anything that occasions the perception that something has moved or is about to move in the overall narrative, from basic exposition to moments of crisis and climax. Learning more about a character, uncovering a new piece of the plot. Seeing the character take the next step in a known or intuited course of action, make a change, make a mistake. Seeing the author pick up where we last left off, return to the scene of the crime. Revelations. Epiphanies. Cliffhanger endings.
- Emotional Rewards: Rewards that bring satisfaction or disappointment: joy, sadness, anger, fear, hope, doubt. Feeling sorry, feeling upset. Feeling personally tied to the characters--a wish to help, a wish to hurt. Wanting things on behalf of the characters--peace, vengeance. Wanting things on one's own behalf.
- Novelty: Anything that is unfamiliar to the status quo of the fiction, something that can be experimented with rationally (based on old knowledge) or freely (in absence of new knowledge). New characters, new places, new points of view, new information, new ideas, new forms.
- Rank Rewards (think leveling up--how to level up in fiction?)
- Completeness (think collecting, discovering, defeating--everything, 100%)
- Victory (winning! conquering!)
I guess what I'm arguing is--if there's no real structural difference in creating art versus creating entertainment, isn't it all just a game of reoutfitting the language? Can we talk about fun without cringing?
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Don't stare at other members while they workout. It's rude and distracting.This was laid over an image of a woman staring out of the screen. She looked angry and a little disturbed. Damn, I thought. Has there been a problem with this lately? What the hell is going on in this gym? Knowing that people have to be directly told not to be creepy perverts--that this part of the social contract has been forgotten--is a little worrisome.
I started meeting this woman who wore skirts she'd sewn herself and who wanted to ferment her own wine and who didn't like me wearing deodorant. When we broke up I didn't want to stop thinking about her but I wanted to throw a glass of her homebrew wine all over her living room. I thought the best thing to keep her memory bright while still kind of laughing at it would be to home brew my own deodorant. I was excited about the idea for a day and then one of the clerks at the co-op talked me into soap instead.
"Our butcher will give you fat for tallow," she said.
"Tallow?" I said.
When I got the bag of pork fat home I stuck it in the fridge and then thought maybe I wasn't supposed to refrigerate it. It felt about how you'd expect, so that I wanted to juggle it or throw it across the living room and see if I could catch it on the other side without smashing through the window.
I got on the internet and then imagined myself running into Bliss. I smell you're using soap again, she'd say. Soap I made, I'd say. And then we'd be back up here together.
I went through recipes and procedures. I mean I really combed the internet. I thought I'd make the best soap I could and I took the wildest recipe I could find and then made it better, dumped cinnamon and a cap of bleach into a bowl while the fat rendered. When it was done I got everything together. You were supposed to use molds but all I had was an ice cube tray and I didn't want to chase little wedges of soap around the shower so I left the soap in the bowl.
Then I went to this little bar down the street. It was a little room with a few tables that looked dragged in from thrift stores. The bartender kept on me about the different levels of hops in the beers and this had all been charming before but without Bliss it was too much. I got back to my place and the soap was done and so good that it had cleaned its way through the bowl and in a long gouge over my kitchen counter and was bubbling through the tile floor. I stooped to get the blob and it was heavy and then it cleaned right through my hands. All my fingers were mostly just gone and parts of the palms too. I kicked at the soap and it cleaned right through the tip of my shoe and then cleaned through the wall and into the living room.
I went for my cell but couldn't even unlock the screen. The soap boiled away beneath my coffee table and then was gone and there was a heavy thonk as it hit the floor of the apartment below me. Well, I thought, they'll call the police at least, but then nobody came and nobody yelled. I looked down through the hole and the soap boiled away and then was gone into the basement. I knew I should get outside and yell for someone but how was I supposed to handle the knob? And anyway I couldn't take my face out of that hole in my floor. Downstairs they had everything, two leather couches and a clean table with a photo album on top and I could only imagine the happiness inside.